Abstract: Slave Economies and the Paternalist Ideal in Antebellum South Carolina

Justene G. Hill


Over the past several decades, historians of slavery in the antebellum United States have challenged and reframed the scholarly conversation about slaveholders' visions of themselves as benevolent masters. This is a controversial ideology known as planter paternalism. In a related, but separate, literature, historians have illuminated enslaved African Americans participation in local market economies. This paper unites these scholarly discourses by posing two questions. Assuming that southern planters lived by paternalism as a philosophy, how did they apply this philosophy in their daily interactions with enslaved people? Specifically, how did slaveholders' practical application of paternalism influence enslaved peoples' participation in networks of trade and commerce? This paper offers a new perspective on the paternalism debate. First, it considers slaveholders' practical application of the paternalist ideal. Second, it examines the ways in which paternalism influenced the slaves economy in antebellum South Carolina. Using plantation account books and ledgers, in this paper I interrogate trade arrangements between slaveholders and slaves. I argue that slaves' interest in trade and slaveholders' ideals of mastery supported the growth of internal plantation economies in South Carolina between the 1830s and the late 1850s.