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Slave Against Slave

Plantation Violence in the Old South

544 pages / 6.12 x 9.25 inches / no illustrations

ebook available

Southern History | Slavery Studies

  Hardcover / 9780807161111 / November 2015

Winner of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize

Winner of the PROSE Award Honorable Mention

In the first-ever comprehensive analysis of violence between slaves in the antebellum South, Jeff Forret challenges persistent notions of slave communities as sites of unwavering harmony and solidarity. Though existing scholarship shows that intraracial black violence did not reach high levels until after Reconstruction, contemporary records bear witness to its regular presence among enslaved populations. Slave against Slave explores the roots of and motivations for such violence and the ways in which slaves, masters, churches, and civil and criminal laws worked to hold it in check. Far from focusing on violence alone, Forret’s work also adds depth to our understanding of morality among the enslaved, revealing how slaves sought to prevent violence and punish those who engaged in it.
Forret mines a vast array of slave narratives, slaveholders’ journals, travelers’ accounts, and church and court records from across the South to approximate the prevalence of slave-against-slave violence prior to the Civil War. A diverse range of motives for these conflicts emerges, from tensions over status differences, to disagreements originating at work and in private, to discord relating to the slave economy and the web of debts that slaves owed one another, to courtship rivalries, marital disputes, and adulterous affairs. Forret also uncovers the role of explicitly gendered violence in bondpeople’s constructions of masculinity and femininity, suggesting a system of honor among slaves that would have been familiar to southern white men and women, had they cared to acknowledge it.
Though many generations of scholars have examined violence in the South as perpetrated by and against whites, the internal clashes within the slave quarters have remained largely unexplored. Forret’s analysis of intraracial slave conflicts in the Old South examines narratives of violence in slave communities, opening a new line of inquiry into the study of American slavery.

Jeff Forret is professor of history at Lamar University and the author of Race Relations at the Margins: Slaves and Poor Whites in the Antebellum Southern Countryside.

Praise for Slave against Slave

“Forret's archival research is broad, thorough, detailed, and imaginatively deployed. . . . Highly recommended. All college and university libraries.”—CHOICE

“Jeff Forret’s Slave Against Slave makes a significant contribution to the field. This well-researched book provocatively traces the history of intraracial violence among those enslaved.”—Journal of Southern History

“In raising questions about the degree of solidity in slave communal life, his deeply researched volume provides a feast of information and useful generalizations that will be studied, cited, and refined for decades to come by researchers seeking to understand the mysteries of what had been one of the most ubiquitous institutions in history.”—Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

“An impressive work of scholarship about an important but largely neglected subject: violence between enslaved people. . . . Evidence of violence between enslaved people is scattered among many sources that are not indexed and are difficult to piece together. Only a historian who is fully aware of the methodological problems involved, endowed with considerable imagination, and willing to exercise the patience and care necessary to complete such a monumental project over a ten-year period could have successfully completed the job.”—North Carolina Historical Review

“The Gone With the Wind impression of happy bondage eventually gave way to the ideal of a resilient “slave community” supporting its members and, at least passively, resisting oppression. Jeff Forret’s close examination of the records in his fascinating Slave Against Slave reveals a more complicated picture.”—Shepherd Express

“[An] impressively researched and well-written book. . . . Forret’s study is certainly a hallmark and guaranteed to contribute mightily to the discourses on slavery, violence, and the implication of both for years to come.”—Journal of the Civil War Era

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