“These Negroes Are All the Property She Has”: White Slaveowning Women and the Pecuniary Destruction of Civil War

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 3:50 PM
Plaza Ballroom A (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Stephanie Jones-Rogers, University of California, Berkeley
Historians have examined the profound effects that the exigencies of battle had upon white southern women’s daily lives in the Civil War era, and they have chronicled these women’s responses to the economic shifts, which the war wrought. But few have explored the economic impact of the war upon slave-owning women. For white slave-owning women, who frequently owned more slaves than land, the Civil War was a pecuniary battle that they fought because they hoped to preserve their investments in an economy and a way of life that were predicated upon the ownership of African-Americans and unfettered access to their labor.

“These Negroes Are All The Property She Has” argues that emancipation, and the subsequent de-commodification of black people, robbed these women of their primary source of wealth and made them economically dependent in ways that they abhorred. It interrogates their excursions into the more expansive wartime terrain, which included Union encampments, military tribunals and court rooms, and it explores the strategies they used to preserve their investments in the institution of slavery amidst its daily fragmentation and dissolution. At their best, slaveowning women freed their slaves and hired them to work their land for wages even before the Emancipation Proclamation. At their worst, they engaged in traumatic and brutal acts of violence against the people they kept in bondage. In between these two extremes lay a host of tactics that white women hoped would allow them to hold on to the institution and their human property for a little while longer.

Overall, this paper shows that the military conflict between the Union and the Confederacy fostered a personal, pecuniary battle that slave-owning women fought everyday not only because they were southerners; but because they were determined to preserve their individual investments in the institution of slavery.