Emancipation in Virginia's Tobacco Belt, 1850-1870

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9780820314150: Emancipation in Virginia's Tobacco Belt, 1850-1870
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An important contribution to the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction era, this book reveals the crucial and remarkably varied roles that African-Americans in Virginia's tobacco belt played in the momentous changes wrought by the transition from slavery to freedom.
The state with the largest number of slaves on the eve of the Civil War, Virginia had undergone a peculiar set of economic developments that made its black population, both enslaved and free, especially diverse. A significant minority had made contact, typically through slave hiring, with a form of wage labor; still others had engaged in independent production and exchange. Because they shared their experiences with the slave majority who remained on the plantations and farms, hired slaves and independent producers helped create a nascent antebellum market culture, which in turn both undermined and buttressed slavery, laid the foundation for Confederate defeat, and influenced the introduction of free labor in the immediate postemancipation period.
Basing her study on extensive research in letters, family papers, and public documents, Lynda J. Morgan traces the complexities of the story from the prewar decade, when Virginia's plantation heartland served as a hired slave-labor reserve for its eastern industry and private households; through secession and the Civil War, when Virginia Confederates failed to adapt African-American labor to their wartime purposes; and, finally, to emancipation and its aftermath, when freed slaves in the tobacco belt infused, with varying degrees of success, their previous knowledge and experience into the state's postwar economy, which was moving toward unbridled capitalist development. Morgan demonstrates that by marketing their labor many former slaves successfully imposed some of their preindustrial notions of property and work upon the new pattern. Thus, freed slaves in the Virginia tobacco belt were often able to adapt to postwar conditions more rapidly than their counterparts in the Cotton South.
As Morgan notes, many other historical studies of emancipation have pivoted on the question of whether the Civil War and the elimination of slavery fundamentally altered the character of southern society. While stressing that these events were in fact nothing short of revolutionary, Morgan's study suggests that elements of continuity were also vitally important. The result is a nuanced view of the postwar South and of the nature of slavery and the culture it produced.

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This is a scholarly examination of slavery in Virginia's tobacco region at the time of the Civil War. Particular emphasis is given to how the "hired slave," through contact with the wider world, became prepared to meet the economic changes caused by the war and by emancipation. Also detailed are the effects of slavery on Virginia's decision to secede, on the war itself, and on the tacit alliance between the Freedman's Bureau and conservative elements to force freed people to reenter agriculture as hired laborers after the war. Although not written for a general audience, this is a useful book for academic libraries.
- Robert A. Curtis, Taylor Memorial P.L., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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