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AfriGeneas Slave Research Forum

FPOC as slaveholders: Benevolent or Exploitative?
In Response To: Re: slavery research paper ()

As this spirited discussion has demonstrated, Woodson touched off a long-lived debate with his 1924 book Free Negro Owners of Slaves in the United States in 1830. Were FPOC slave-owners primarily motivated by preserving their families (a sort of anti-slavery slave ownership), or were they motivated by opportunities for profit, like most of their white slave owner neighbors? For over eighty years, historians have used anecdotal evidence and theory to argue this question about FPOC slave owners.

Of course, the issue never had a simple "either-or" answer. There was always the liklihood of other motivations or combinations of motive -- and, most importantly, the fact that as an individual human being trying to live a respectable life in a white-supremacist society, each FPOC operated with his or her own set of life-circumstances, beliefs, goals, and personality.

The Journal of Southern History (vol. 71, number 3; August 2005) features an interesting article by David L. Lightner and Alexander M. Ragan, "Were African American Slaveholders Benevolent or Exploitative? A Quantitative Approach." The authors present a quantitative analysis of Woodson's census data that compare patterns of slaveholding between FPOC and whites. The manner and degree to which these patterns were similar or different might suggest the reasons behind the slaveholdings.

To tell you the authors' conclusions before you read their well-reasoned discussion of the evidence is like giving away the ending of a movie, but I'll do it anyway. All quotes are from page 555:

(1) "Slaveholding by African Americans was more common than has been supposed . . . a white person was only three times as likely as a free black person to own a slave."

(2) "Woodson was correct when he he said that the majority of black slaveholders were motivated by benevolence."

(3) "the minority of black slaveholders who are assumed here to have been exploitative [conservatively estimated at 27%] was more substantial and their slaveholdings far more significant than Woodson implied."

(4) "the majority of all slaves owned by African Americans in 1830" were owned by persons whose patterns of ownership point to exploitation rather than benevolence.


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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