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.. The history of miscegenation in this country...demonstrate[s] how society has used skin color to demarcate lines between racial groups and to determine the relative position and treatment of individuals within racial categories. (Jones, 2000, p. 1487)
Prior to the civil war lighter skinned blacks were more likely to gain their freedom, and own property, through favor or inheritance. This is probably in part to the public, sometimes even official, recognition of their lineage, often they were the product of their white masters and favored slaves.
The large number of mulattoes among the slaves freed in Missouri suggests the master's benevolence was a genuinely warm feeling he had for persons he knew to be his blood relations. By 1860, the presence of 1,662 mulattoes in the total free Negro group of 3,572 in Missouri, indicates considerable race-mixing. (Official Manual State of Missouri, 1973-1974 "The Role of the Negro in Missouri History: Free Negroes" (http://www.umsl.edu/~libweb/blackstudies/freenegr.htm) the challenges for those who had no recognized white lineage were arguably greater than for those who might even inherit, upon the death of their master.
Interestingly those items which were the most mutable to inherit were often other slaves owned by the whites. There are also instances of the inheritance of land and homes, more likely to be bestowed upon those of recognizable white lineage.
In 1830, according to Carter G. Woodson, 61 free blacks in Georgia owned a total of 207 slaves (Free Negro Owners of Slaves, 3-4)...The definition of a "free person of color" -- a free person at least one-eighth black, that is, one of whose great-grandparents had been an African -- sometimes necessitated an exercise in genealogy to determine an individual's rights. All agreed, for example, that Joseph Nunez's mother had been white; his legal right to have sold some of his slaves turned on whether his father had been a Portuguese immigrant, an Indian, or a free black. (Wallenstein, 1987, p. 236) very early example of the type of man who gained freedom and then transformed his life into one much like that of his former owners is the example found in Berlin's "Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America" was Antonio (1621) (later Anthony Johnson) who found freedom through hard work and them lived his life much as a white man, farming independently on many acres and owning slaves to work his land. In fact in a dispute with one of his slaves, who fled his property and took shelter with feuding whites, indicating at least an assumed resemblance between the lives of slaves owned by white and black alike as one to be run from, Johnson took the whites to court and won the return of his slave and damages from the other planters. (p. 30) the ownership of slaves by Johnson and his successful sons was obviously a product of economic interest, rather than humanitarian protection of people of his race. "Johnson pursued Casar because, like the Parkers, Casar's labor..." (p. 31)
Like other men of substance, Johnson and his sons farmed independently, held slaves, and left their heirs sizable estates. As established members of their community, they enjoyed rights in common with other free men, and they frequently employed the law to protect themselves and advance their interests. (p. 30)
Jones' work describes the convoluted nature of the world surrounding blacks and whites, but mostly it demonstrates the complicated nature of the world of black slave owners and the slaves they owned. Examples of the kind of ideals that drove the freedman to own slaves and them allowed him to compromise continually to continue to do so are evident throughout this work, as they are through many of the non-fiction works addressing the same times and places.
In Wilson's "New York City's African Slaveowners," there is a clear focus on African-American slave owners who demonstrated the kind of kindness that is the preferred belief of the culture today, the purchase of slaves for protection.
Yet, Wilson also makes clear that it is difficult to determine the nature of such ownership,
African slave ownership has also been a means by which some free Africans have increased their personal wealth and status within their community. In New York City it is difficult to distinguish between "buying freedom" and the ownership of relatives and non-kin among individual free Africans. (p. 22)
Even in the relatively cosmopolitan and often idealized north there was a long history of the ownership of slaves by free blacks.
It often takes a great deal of additional research to determine the relationship between the owner and the owned and manumission was an additional cost that was not always incurred by the new owner, after the laborious work that was often required to come up with the price of initial freedom.
Clearly the message of Jones' work demonstrates that the institution of slavery and the ideals of the cultures where it was furthered are insidious and insipid. Challenges to free blacks were often as great as they were to enslaved blacks and the ability to further ones economic situation and leave a legacy for one's children was often bound in the institutions that built the economic world around then, namely slavery. Clearly free blacks made the sacrifice of self to convince themselves of the necessity to build their estates through the labor of others and Jones' makes an incredible case for the ability of those individuals to build opinions of those they own as inferior to themselves. This could be based on race or behavior but still must be seen as largely conjecture, the reality that supercedes the situation is that these free blacks were a product of the environment in which they lived, where there were owners and owned and without the partnership of such labor success was merely a dream.
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1. Larry Koger. *Black Slaveholders in South Carolina, 1790-1860*.
2. Carter G. Woodson, "Free Negro Owners of Slaves in the United States in 1830," Journal of Negro History vol. 9 (January 1924), p. 42.
3.Ira Berlin. *Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America*.
4. Sherrill D. Wilson. *New York City's African Slaveowners: A social and Material Culture History*.
5. David Roediger and Marian H. Blatt. *the meaning of slavery in the North.*
6. Edward P. Jones. *the Known World"*[continue]
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