“To Give and Grant Unto Mine": Examining Death, Inheritance, and Family through the Wills of Antebellum Slaveholders

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 12:10 PM
Molly A (Hyatt)
Jamie A. Warren , Indiana University
Relying primarily on the wills of slaveholders, their correspondence, and ex-slaves recollections this paper examines the relationship between inheritance practices and concepts of kinship in the context of antebellum slavery. Inheritance offers a unique and useful lens for studying the presence and consequences of death in slavery’s communities, because inheritance offers a tangible connection between the living and the dead—a material legacy of continuity or a site of disruption and familial breakdown. Wills are particularly useful documents for historians of antebellum slavery.  For within these handwritten records lie clues about the moral and emotional terrain in which slave owners imagined themselves. Indeed, wills illuminate the vexed relationship between nineteenth-century paternalistic ideology and concepts of kinship in the slave South. Through the drafting of a will, white planters did more than create legacies for their heirs; they also expressed their desires and hopes for the world they were leaving behind.
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