Households Built on Shifting Sands: Slavery and Emancipation in the Western Border States

Open Access
Brinton, Anne Y.
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
August 22, 2011
Committee Members:
  • William Alan Blair, Dissertation Advisor
  • William Alan Blair, Committee Chair
  • Nan Elizabeth Woodruff, Committee Member
  • Anthony Edward Kaye, Committee Member
  • Lovalerie King, Committee Member
  • slavery
  • household
  • slave market
  • Civil War
  • Reconstruction
  • antebellum
  • gender
  • Border States
  • Missouri
  • Kentucky
This dissertation engages with recent scholarship on the slaveholding household and on struggles over the terms of labor as slavery underwent its internal collapse. Slavery stood at the crux of Border State political economies and political identities on the eve of Civil War. Vigorous markets in hiring and sale distributed widespread access to enslaved labor, disrupted black familial and social life, and stood as a terrain of struggle across which both white and black identities were articulated. Border State emancipation, no less traumatic than its Confederate counterpart(s), nonetheless took a different path. Recent scholars have observed that in much of the Confederacy, wartime emancipation was neither secure nor absolute. In the loyal Border States, it was more fraught yet. Slaves and ex-slaves struggled to navigate the overlapping terrains of federal policy, civil law, and the market in their labor as they began to lay the material and ideological foundations of free households. Long experience with hiring markets and geographical mobility gave Border State freedpeople valuable tools in the post-war economy. Nonetheless, many remained enmeshed in ongoing relations of coercion and dependence with the former master class, and still others found that waged labor required hard, often agonizing choices, once again compelling the separation of husbands from wives and children from parents in order to ensure the survival of all family members.