Jonathan Daniel Wells
This article reviews scholarship on class and slavery. The evolution of the historiography on class and slavery is complex, and historians have only recently begun to revisit some of their basic assumptions about class formation, class ideology, and the social structure of the Old South more broadly. New studies raise questions about the ways in which human bondage and class intertwined in slave societies, particularly the American South, and have initiated a discernible shift in the field. While scholars profitably continue to study the plantation and the lives of masters and slaves, many historians now call for a wider view of southern society to take account of life in the region outside the plantation, and the various ways in which different classes of whites interacted with, and were shaped by, the institution of slavery. It is with these new calls that the subject of class is enjoying resurgence.
Eugene D. Genovese and Douglas Ambrose
This article focuses on southern slaveholders. Slave ownership in the South varied considerably, from region to region, from farm to plantation, and from settled society to frontier. Unlike their counterparts in the British and French Caribbean, antebellum southern masters tended to be residents not absentees. Unlike their counterparts in nineteenth-century Cuba and Brazil, they presided over an American-born slave population since the mid-eighteenth century. Unlike slaveholding sugar planters throughout the Americas, few owned more than 100 slaves. Conflicts arose among masters, who, because of slavery's influence, zealously guarded their liberty and grew especially touchy on questions of honour. Slave societies, like all social formations, evolved through time, and masters, as parts of those societies, changed along with them. In the case of southern slaveholders, the most important change over time was that from patriarchalism to paternalism.
Jeffrey Robert Young
This article shows how the same fundamental questions raised by proslavery thought have consistently confronted not only modern scholars but also the very historical actors who battled over slavery's fate in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It discusses early proslavery thought in the Americas, proslavery thought in the age of revolution, the role of proslavery thought in sectional conflict and postbellum sectional reconciliation, and the problem of proslavery thought in the modern world and in twentieth-century historiography.
This article focuses on the concept of ‘race’ and how Americans of various sorts understood it, particularly in relation to slavery. The discussion covers early constructions of race, the introduction of slavery to the Americas, the ‘mixed-race’ problem, the problem of poor whites, and race and Native Americans.
This article reviews scholarship on the religious lives of slaves. The emergent field of Atlantic history has profoundly influenced scholarship on the response of African slaves to Christianity, the nature of black Christianity in the Americas, and the ways that black Christianity differed from that of whites. The study of the religious lives of enslaved peoples in the Americas has benefited enormously from the work of historians and anthropologists who have studied Africa during the centuries of the Atlantic slave trade. In articles and books, John Thornton, most notably, a historian of pre-colonial Africa, has argued for the need to understand the religious lives of Africans before their enslavement and forced relocation to the Americas. Thornton's work underscores that many enslaved Africans were in fact believing and practicing Christians before the Middle Passage. This recognition has implications for the ways in which African Christianity informed slave life and culture in the New World.
This article reviews scholarship on slave culture and the slave experience. Historians of the American South have had an interest in slavery since the early twentieth century but not until fairly recently have they paid sustained attention to the enslaved. Historians have begun to examine slaves, providing a bottom-up analysis of how slavery and slaves shaped their culture, daily lives, and southern white culture generally. This more recent emphasis has been sensitive to the importance of variables: how southern slave culture was shaped by time, place, work patterns, source population (the origins of African-born slaves); whether a region was under English, Dutch, Spanish, Spanish, French, or American jurisdiction; whether slaves lived and worked in societies with slaves or slave societies; whether slaves were skilled, toiled under the task system, or were gang labour; whether they produced tobacco, indigo, rice, sugar, and cotton; their proximity to Native Americans or Spaniards; and whether they lived in times of war or peace.