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Size and Composition of Slave Holdings

Fig. 10. Gooding’s Township slave holdings by size.
Fig. 11. Gooding’s Township enslaved population by sex.
Fig. 12. Histogram of enslaved people’s ages (female).
Fig. 13. Histogram of enslaved people’s ages (male).

Figure 10: In 1860, only 4 individuals-B.F. Borden (GT60-1000CCSH), Henry J. Lovick (GT60-1009CCSH), George W. Perry (GT60-1021CCSH) and Samuel Hill (GT60-1022CCSH) owned over 20 slaves. The overwhelming majority-82%- held 19 or fewer. In historical scholarship, owning 20 or more slaves is often considered a defining characteristic of a planter, an individual of high social standing whose wealth was primarily in land and slaves (Meltzer 161). North Carolina is known for having very few planters. The fact that there were only four in Gooding’s is not surprising. What is surprising is that these four planters owned the majority of the township’s slaves. Indeed, 59% of Gooding’s enslaved community was held by Borden, Lovik, Perry and Hill.

This is extremely significant to keep in mind when considering the mainstream narrative of enslaved life in North Carolina. Within this narrative, it is often emphasized that the majority of white North Carolinians did not own slaves. Those that did are said to have owned only one or two, a fact that contributed to the overall “mildness” of the local slave system (Bassett 82-91). This data tells us much more. While close to half of Gooding’s Township slaveholders held between 1 and 5 slaves, the average slave lived on a plantation with 19 or more bondsmen. This revelation calls into question many aspects of the narrative. Can we really assume that small slaveholders treated their slaves better than large slaveholders? If so, what does it mean that the majority of slaves were held on large plantations, rather than small farms? Why have we decided to characterize the nature of the Craven County slave system based on the free white, rather than enslaved black majority?

Figures 11-13: In 1860, the enslaved community of Gooding’s Township contained almost as many men as it did women. Women made up the majority of the enslaved population by 5.3%, with one enslaved person’s gender left blank. This is fairly consistent with what we know of slave holdings in the antebellum period. In most communities, there was an equal number of men and women. This is one reason why the slave population of the Southern United States was able to self-perpetuate, a factor that became extremely important after slave importation was banned in the early nineteenth century (Mintz). Our data further indicates that the majority of enslaved people were men and women under 30, with roughly half of those being children (aged 1-10) and the other half being people of childbearing age. As there is very little difference between the number of males of childbearing age and females of childbearing age, it is difficult to tell whether or not slave breeding was a broad-scale occurrence. The sheer number of children present, however, tells us that masters may have placed special emphasis on slaves’ reproductive activities. This confirms what is known about late period slavery throughout the south (Sutch 85-86). It also calls  into question how productive farms using enslaved labor could be with so many workers being under the age of 10. What were these individuals expected to contribute to the plantation system in terms of work? How did their workload (or lack thereof) impact that of the older slaves on the plantation?

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