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AfriGeneas Slave Research Forum

David's Response to Art
In Response To: Re: Slave Breeding ()

David wrote: "If there was real evidence out there of breeding farms, in the strict sense, some student would have earned a doctorate and a professorship from that topic by now." Art begged, "Give me a break."
No, I meant it. As closely as American slavery has been scrutinized, I would have expected a monograph on the topic years ago.

Actually, there are examples of individual forcible breeding, but that does not prove the existence of breeding farms. Frederick Douglass, in Chapter 10 of Narrative of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, relates how the slave-breaker Covey bough Caroline "for a breeder" and locked her up in the same room with an enslaved man each night for a year, until she produced twins -- "The children were regarded as being quite an addition to his [Covey's] wealth." Gutman, in The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925, pages 84-85, quotes a very similar story from the WPA ex-slave narratives.

Art wrote: "And as regards 'paper profits'...aren't most, if not all, assets real and chattel, paper profits unless sold by their owners?" Exactly. What I meant to suggest that the slave trade was an inherent, integral, and necessary part of American slavery. The image, promoted by slavery apologists, of slave owners as benevolent patriarchs was a self-deception. So-called "family slaves" remained in a family only until the patriarch needed cash -- then they quickly became merchandise. Slave owners had a favorite phrase by which to threaten their slaves: "I will put you in my pocket."

Art wrote: "I believe . . . that the replenishment of slaves needed attention by means other than just 'natural increase', before and after the importation act of 1807-1808."

I have not seen in any literature that the enslaved (in the US) required reproductive interference to sustain population from about 1720 through the end of slavery. The following website provides some convenient data: http://www.answers.com/topic/birthrate-and-mortality . . . .but, of course, data alone, without suggesting causes, does not "prove" anything one way or the other. Also, the data here is white vs black, not slave vs free; and being "race"-based, it ignores class, culture, and economic status as factors.

The thrust of scholarship in the last decades, especially since Gutman, demonstrates how the enslaved, far from being compliant and passive in the face of owners' tyranny, exercised their will in negotiating or forcing concessions from slave-masters for time and land use, for constructing families, and for exercising autonomous social and economic activities in the very midst of the slave-masters' world. That kind of environment is inconsistent with an idea that slave men's and women's reproductive functions somehow remained under the routine control of slave-masters.

Art wrote (sarcastically): "Slave reproduction was freely talked about but not practiced."

Of course slave reproduction was practiced - by the slaves themselves. Besides exceptional examples of compulsive reproduction, like those cited above, there is evidence that some masters offered incentives to mothers to have children. But was it was a widespread practice to impose unwilling reproduction on slaves for the explicit purpose of marketing their offspring? Not proven. (This is not to dismiss or ignore the many cases of rape and sexploitation, which were motivated by bestial passions and designed as demonstrations of power, but seldom from economic motives.)

David wrote: "Is there evidence that Eppinger deliberately or forcibly bred slaves? No. Did he regard breeding ('natural increase') as a necessary part of his wealth strategy? Most definitely."

Art answered: "This last comment really confused me. Evidence....breeding/natural increase...wealth strategy. Guess you're saying Mr. Eppinger didn't inhale. :)"

Eppinger's "strategy" was to sell enslaved women who did not bear children -- not to forcibly impregnate them.

Eppinger lived in Middle Georgia, so it is interesting that the Freedman's Bureau Assistant Commissioner for Georgia, Gen. Davis Tillson, wrote to Bureau-head Gen. Howard, December 2, 1865, "the lands of upper and middle Georgia are badly worn out -- that the average corn-crop does not exceed eight bushels per acre, and . . . the Planters have relied mostly upon the growth of slaves for an increase of property." (microfilm M752, roll 20)

Did Eppinger and his fellow-planters inhale? I don't think so. They talked about the weather, too, but did not try to make it rain. And in the matter of human "increase," for the most part, they let human nature take its course.


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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