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Title: "Felonious Transactions": Legal Culture and Business Practices of Slave Economies in South Carolina, 1787-1860
Authors: Hill, Justene
Advisors: Hunter, Tera
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: African American History
American Slavery
Legal History
Subjects: American history
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Felonious Transactions sheds light on the relationship between the law, plantation economics, and the slaves’ economy in South Carolina between the Revolutionary era and the Civil War. This study intervenes in the literatures on the antebellum plantation economy and legal culture in South Carolina by connecting enslaved peoples’ moneymaking strategies to the changing landscape of local regulation, state intervention, and commerce in late eighteenth and nineteenth-century South Carolina. It argues that the slaves’ economy persisted in South Carolina not only because of enslaved peoples’ dedication to preserving their own networks of trade, but also because planters, merchants, and non-slaveholders increasingly profited from their economic interactions with slaves. The experiences of enslaved people in local courts and marketplaces reveal that as bondspeople took advantage of customary rights to engage in trade, their dedication to independent economic pursuits ultimately supported South Carolina’s slaveholding regime, and challenged white freeholder coalescence around secession in 1860. Enslaved people in South Carolina made visible their interest in trade, while navigating an economic and legal culture created to protect white citizens’ interests in slavery. Despite social instabilities wrought by the Revolutionary War, early-nineteenth century economic panics, and persistent critiques from white workingmen, enslaved people in South Carolina continued engaging in market activities. Bondspeoples’ public displays of economic autonomy spurred local magistrates to intervene in the early-nineteenth century, as they tried slaves and their white interlopers with engaging in illicit trade. Concurrently, white workingmen argued that state lawmakers had failed to create laws that would properly regulate slaves’ economic activities. Nevertheless, whites’ dependence on the slaves’ economy increased in the early-nineteenth century, particularly in the aftermath of the economic downturn of the late-1830s. This communal dedication to the slaves’ economy, however, did not diminish the exploitative nature of slavery in the late-antebellum period. In 1840s and 1850s, planters compensated enslaved people for extra work that they completed. Though bondspeople gained a modicum of purchasing power, they also committed to overwork simply to purchase necessary goods. Felonious Transactions, therefore, illuminates how the slaves’ economy fit into the landscape of law and plantation economics in South Carolina.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

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