Pargas on Slave Family in the U.S. South

Pargas, Damian Alan. “Boundaries and Opportunities:  Comparing Slave Family Formation in the Antebellum South.” Journal of Family History 33 (2008): 316-345.


Our understanding of the marriage strategies and family formation of enslaved people remains clouded by disagreement among contemporary scholars. A perusal of the historical literature suggests that two issues lay at the root of this disagreement: First, scholars disagree over the extent to which slave family life was shaped by the external factors of slavery, or rather slave agency; and second, scholars appear reluctant to abandon their singular views of the slave family. This article addresses both of these gaps by formulating a middle ground in the slave agency debate and by redefining the slave family in plural form. An analysis of the boundaries and opportunities for family formation in northern Virginia and lowcountry South Carolina, this study shows that while the establishment of co-residential two-parent households was the ideal for slaves, not all were able to realize that ideal, and those that could not adapted their marriage strategies and family lives accordingly.

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