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Central Library E185.8 .P39 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Frank E. Merriweather Library E185.8 .P39 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ
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Summary

Summary

In The Claims of Kinfolk , Dylan Penningroth uncovers an extensive informal economy of property ownership among slaves and sheds new light on African American family and community life from the heyday of plantation slavery to the "freedom generation" of the 1870s. By focusing on relationships among blacks, as well as on the more familiar struggles between the races, Penningroth exposes a dynamic process of community and family definition. He also includes a comparative analysis of slavery and slave property ownership along the Gold Coast in West Africa, revealing significant differences between the African and American contexts.

Property ownership was widespread among slaves across the antebellum South, as slaves seized the small opportunities for ownership permitted by their masters. While there was no legal framework to protect or even recognize slaves' property rights, an informal system of acknowledgment recognized by both blacks and whites enabled slaves to mark the boundaries of possession. In turn, property ownership--and the negotiations it entailed--influenced and shaped kinship and community ties. Enriching common notions of slave life, Penningroth reveals how property ownership engendered conflict as well as solidarity within black families and communities. Moreover, he demonstrates that property had less to do with individual legal rights than with constantly negotiated, extralegal social ties.


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Choice Review

Historians long have known that African American slaves acquired property through an "informal" economy, and that such possessions carried both material and symbolic meaning to the freedpeople upon their emancipation. Penningroth (Northwestern Univ.), however, is the first scholar to examine the meaning of slave property accumulation and post-emancipation claims for property within the framework of black families and communities. He draws on comparative perspectives from African history and anthropology by employing records of the Southern Claims Commission, court records from the West African city-states of Fante (modern Ghana), and federal and state records in the US, and by utilizing various fugitive slave narratives, travelers' accounts, memoirs of former masters, and archaeologists' reports. Penningroth concludes that while postbellum whites defined property in legal and capitalist terms, ex-slaves often interpreted property through extralegal practices and complex kinship and social networks. Just as the freedpeople struggled against their former masters over contested property, they argued vehemently among themselves over issues of property and labor. Emancipation for both Fantes and African Americans provided new opportunities to acquire property and reestablish and expand family networks, and to struggle over the broad meaning of kinship. For university collections. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. J. D. Smith North Carolina State University


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