@Book{ kaye2007,
    author = {Anthony E. Kaye},
    title = {Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South},
    address = {Chapel Hill},
    publisher = {University of North Carolina Press},
    year = 2007,


Profile of Natchez District

  • “Most slaves were only a generation or two removed from the Upper South” (3)
  • “Slaves outnumbered the rest of the population by a ratio of two to one in 1830 and three to one at the end of the antebellum period” (3)
  • Included three of the most productive cotton counties in MS
  • Size of slaveholdings “three times those of the South as a whole, on a par with the South Carolina Sea Islands” (4)


Though defined “precisely” by slaves as “adjoining plantations,” or “joining places,” for Kaye the neighborhood is “the domain of all the bonds that constituted their daily routine,” the place were intimate relations were forged and conflicts took place. It is a dynamic space that was constantly being remade into a place through a process of struggle with slaveholders, who could “unmake neighborhood ties as readily as slaves made them” (4) through sale and migration. “Slaves were forever giving up their neighbors and incorporating folks new to the place” (4).

p. 5:

The neighborhood was a place; the arena for activities of every type; a set of people, bonds, and solidarities; a collective identity. Just as neighborhood, like all collective identities, implied a certain solidarity, so a particular antagonism defined the terrain.

The neighborhood’s boundaries implied distinctions between “insiders and outsiders,” which “both divided and united” enslaved people (6). All, in turn, struggled with slaveholders, who always held balance of power in the region. Nonetheless, Kaye sees the neighborhood as itself a critical achievement: “despite planters’ attempts to control mobility—by the whip, the law, the slave patrol, and the pass system—slaves forged enduring bonds to adjoining plantations. … By pressing social ties across plantation lines, in short, slaves attenuated the power relations of slavery and cleared some ground for themselves to stand on” (6).


Kaye’s approach “reformulates debates” (7) about …

  1. Families: stresses pluralism and diversity of family structures
  2. Resistance: “shifts analysis from resistance to terrains of struggle and points away from an abstract spectrum of actions to three-dimensional places,” thereby conveying “sense of limitations and possibility with which slaves themselves approached it” (8)
  3. Slaves’ economy: never fully independent, because defined by “terms of staple production” (8); “best understood as auxiliary production” (9)
  4. Community: moving away from focus on community as a platform of solidarity that could support individual and collective autonomy, because “slaves did not conceive of themselves in terms of the autonomous individual predominant in the liberal imagination”; to do so was “virtually inconceivable” because struggles for autonomy also took place “on the grounds of another battle for control over social space, a terrain that slaves were compelled to share with owners” (10)
  5. Paternalism: this was a slaveholders’ ideology that few slaves put stock in; there was no “ideological accord between slaves and owners” (11); the hegemony exercised by the latter was that of “ruling classes,” but to see it as an ideological rule “obscures the political character of slave neighborhoods” (12)

Sources and Methods

Introduction concludes with discussion of Giddens’ theory of structuration and the Pension Files that Kaye mines for details about slave neighborhoods in the Natchez District.

Chapter 1

Neighborhoods created in Upper South were transformed by slave trade and reconfigured in Natchez District as Upper South slaves arrived. Further local sales rendered slave ties perpetually under threat.

p. 31: “The slave trade, interregional and local, had a formative ideological impact on slaves. Migrants themselves or the children of migrants, everyone had firsthand encounters with the trade or knew people who had such experience.”

This also “posed the most elemental problems of social organization as vexed questions to slaves: What bonds to one another could they establish, by what means, and for what ends?” (31)

Those problems compounded by physical geography of the place, thanks to which “the geographic center of the neighborhood was invariably out of kilter with its social center” (33), and by boundaries fixed by slaveholders’ power and policing. Planters’ intimate bonds, missionary enterprises, and neighborhoods alternately facilitated and militated against the formation of slave neighborhoods.

p. 41:

When all was said and done, neighborhoods were made in no small measure from stories. Neighbors told each other about where in the Upper South they had come from, how they came to the neighborhood, and other tales about their pasts. They passed along rumors about who said and did what to whom. They told the sagas of struggles with owners and other powers that be, of their intimate relations, their children, and other kinfolk. They gossiped about other people’s romances, who was courting or married to whom, about husband and wives who quarreled, strayed, and parted.

Chapter 2

Personal, intimate relations between enslaved men and women took a variety of forms, from more avowedly temporary unions like “sweethearting” and “taking up” to longer-term monogamous unions like cohabitation and marriage. Kaye stresses that neighborhood social relations and rituals of recognition grounded all of these relationships and served as points of leverage when enslaved people negotiated with owners to have unions formally recognized so that the relations that already existed would be more secure. The process of constructing and recognizing these relations represented a “moral and practical” (81) victory, especially considering the multiple threats, physical distances, and power relationships bearing down on them.

p. 62:

… planters found several virtues in the tie between spouses. It regularized sexual relations in the quarters, mediated competition for partners, and gave runaways pause. Owners seized these advantages most forcefully when they directed recent acquisitions to take a spouse. … Accommodating spouses was a powerful tool in the ongoing struggle for control over space, more reliable than the pass system, less trouble than the whip.

p. 64:

The marriage bond took space [shape?] in a neighborhood in everyday moments of recognition—the work of evaluating a couple and identifying them as married, making overtures for neighbors’ sanction and conferring it, applying the label of marriage and making it stick.

Chapter 3

The cultivation of the cotton crop and the work routines it required worked its way into social relations and marked enslaved peoples’ “sense of time as well as place … The tasks of raising cotton offered a passel of time markers familiar in every neighborhood—preparing the soil in winter, planting in spring, cultivation in summer, harvest in fall” (p. 85).

The work also occurred at “the conjuncture of four divisions of labor: between owners, overseers, and drivers in the task of supervision; between men’s work and women’s work; between staple and independent production; and between occupations in the fields and out.” (p. 85)

Field and House

The “house and field” division was the one over which enslaved people “wielded most influence,” according to Kaye (85). There was a widespread understanding among both enslaved people and masters that “house serve was rightly the province of families with long-standing ties to master, mistress, or their kin” (p. 85)—“family negroes” (p. 86). (Me: An understanding that Henrietta Wood breached when she was placed in the house of Gerard Brandon?)

p. 87: Good description of laundering and house work: “Laundresses needed fifty gallons of water—four hundred pounds—per week. They wrung out each article of clothing as they transferred it from kettle to kettle to soak, boil, wash, and rinse and finally hung it to dry” (p. 87).

And they worked under close surveillance and at risk of “the plantation mistress’s notorious temper” (p. 88) and violent outbursts. Often had to divert attention from their own kin and children in order to care for the planters’ family (p. 89).

In sum, “working in the big house was more burden than privilege” (p. 88).

Owners and Overseers

Reliance on overseeers especially “prevalent” in Natchez District (p. 92), both because of extent of absenteeism and because “there were more elite slaveholders in the five counties of southwest Mississippi than in any state save Louisiana and South Carolina. More than 9,000 slaves—nearly 1 out of every 7 in the district—belonged to planters who owned more than 250 people in 1860” (p. 93).

Summary of work that overseers and drivers performed on pp. 93-95, with comparisons to the lowcountry.

Chapter 4

p. 120 notes “three killings, five years and just a mile or two apart in southern Adams County” that hint at “terrains or struggle”—one the death of the overseer discussed by Michael Wayne. The chapter also discusses the Second Creek plot and its connection to interrelated “slave neighborhoods.”

pp. 129-135: runaways

Chapter 6

War and emancipation

p. 178:

Slaves looked at their society with new eyes during the Civil War, and what they saw told them new powers were afoot. As neighbors caucused about the war, they arrived at the conclusion, like slaves across the South, that this was a struggle about slavery and freedom. Yet in the Natchez District, the consensus was not monolithic but plural. The war counsels of 1861 and 1862 resulted in a cascade of ideological change—in the boundaries of neighborhood as well as in ideas about the nature of power, what freedom was, and how it might come about. Power, slaves recognized, was no longer located in persons in the same way it had been. They heard tell of new forces, largely peripheral to their experience until now, massing in distant parts to converge on their corner of Mississippi.

p. 179: notes that in the 1860 presidential election, Adams County voted for Union and sent “cooperationist” delegates to secession convention

p. 179: “Slaves confronted a police apparatus of unprecedented scope by the spring of 1861. Antebellum slave patrols gave way to an extensive mobilization of local provost marshals, vigilance committees, and paramilitary groups, self-styled the Minute Men in central Jefferson County, the Adams Troop around Kingston, and the Washington Troop outside Natchez.”

p. 190: summary of Union “incursions toward the Natchez District in the fall of 1862”

p. 196: Forks of the Road as an enlistment station for the Union army