Black Slaveowners: Free Black Slave Masters in South by Larry Koger

By Larry Koger

Have been black masters diverse from white? An research of all features and especially of the commercialism of black slaveowning debunks the parable that black slaveholding used to be a benevolent establishment in line with kinship, and explains the transition of black masters from slavery to paid hard work.

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Many of them were former slaves who were manumitted because of their kinship ties to whites, while others were emancipated for meritorious military duty, faithful service, or saving a life, as well as other reasons. But the majority of the black masters never knew the dehumanization of slavery because they had been born of free black parents. However, the ranks of the slave masters included not only free blacks but also nominal slaves. In many instances, blacks who were not legally emancipated assimilated into the free black community and later became slaveowners.

2 If the under-representation of 1860 was typical, then the early census returns may have excluded as many as one half of the free black slaveowners in Charleston City. By and large, while the federal enumerations can serve as an excellent source to demonstrate slaveownership, they do not adequately calculate the number of free black slaveowners and their slaves in Charleston City. As we leave the confines of Charleston City and enter into the rural areas of South Carolina, the census returns become difficult to interpret.

Consequently, slave boarding was not a major factor in the free black community and cannot account for the majority of recorded slaveholding among free blacks in Charleston City. On the whole, the paranoia of the white community did not allow the vast majority of free black heads of household to have many slave boarders for fear of collaboration which would have led to a possible slave rebellion. Interestingly, black slaveownership did not represent a threat to the safety of the white community.

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