The Father’s Role in the Slave Quarter Family

The Father’s Role in the Slave Quarter Family

The Father’s Role in the Slave Quarter Family

Excerpted from: Deep Like the Rivers: Education in the Slave Quarter Community, 1831–1865
By Thomas L. Webber 172–174

An important aspect of the father’s role in the quarter family was to be ready to assume the double role of father and mother if and when the need arose. Though most quarter fathers were given much assistance by a grandparent, an aunt, or an older child at the death or sale of their wives, the primary obligation of taking over mother’s role functions often was his.

When (Charles) Ball’s mother was sold to a Georgia trader, Ball was raised mainly by his father and grandfather.85 When Roxy Pitts’ mother, who was part Indian, ran off, his father filled in and raised all the Children.86 Sometimes, of course, father assumed much of the primary care of his children without mother’s death or sale. Lula Jackson says that her father raised not only all of his own children but those of his wife’s first husband as

For three months every year Betty Guwn accompanied her mistress to the deep South while her husband “stayed at home to see after the family, and took them to the fields when too young to work under the task master, or overseer.”88

Far more important than the frequency of the contact between quarter children and their parents was the intensity and loving nature of those interactions they were able to have together. Irella Wlker remembers how her father used to patiently rub her shoes with grease to make them more comfortable for Margaret Nickerson’s father tended to her beaten legs.90. Though he came to see them only on Sunday, the visit of Oscar Rogers’ father was the high point f the week or Oscar and his brothers and sisters. He came early and stay till bedtime. We all run to meet him. He kiss us all in bed when he be leavin’.”91

Finally, by observing their father and his relationship with his wife, his own parents and brothers and sisters, and with them, the children of a quarter family learned the responsibilities and the value of membership in a strongly bound family. From their father they learned not only how to hunt, fish, grow crops, and steal but that it was expected of them to do likewise. From observing their father’s efforts to provide for, protect, and educate his family, they learned not only the means but also the idea that they were responsible for each other’s nurture, protection, and education.92

Some recollections show that not only the useful but the poetic clung to the mind. John Collins remembers how “Daddy used to play wid mammy just lak she was a child. He’d ketch her under de armpits and jump her up mighty nigh to the rafters of the little house us lived in 93 Another ex-slave recalls how he loved his father. My mother just rejoiced in him. Whenever he sat down to talk she just sat and looked and listened. She would never cross him for anything. If they went to church together she always waited for him to interpret what the preacher had said or what he thought was the will of God. I was small but I noticed all these things. I sometimes think that I learned more in my early childhood about how to live than I have learned since.94

The role of father was not necessarily played by a child’s biological father. Sometimes a grandfather accepted the duties of father towards his grandchildren. Sometimes an uncle or an older brother became the father of a child’s family. And sometimes, father was a member of the larger community who was completely unrelated by blood but who, nevertheless, was willing to accept the responsibility of being father to a fatherless child.95

From the time Mingo White was sold away from the rest of his family at age five, “the only ’that I had or ever known anything ’bout was give to me by a frien’of my pappy. His name was John White. My pappy tol’ him to take care of me for him. John was a fiddler an’ many a night I woke up to find myse’f sleep ’sleep ‘ twix’ his legs whilst he was playin’ for a dance for de white folks.”96. Althoughthere seems to have been a substantial number of quarter children who lived in a household which did not contain both a biological mother and father, rarely did a quarter child lack a significant relationship with an older black man who felt and assumed responsibility to help nurture and protect him and who became instrumental in his education.

85Charles Ball, Fifty years in chains (New York: Published by the author, 1825) pp.16–23.

86 Roxy Pits in George P. Rawick ed., American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Company, 1972) Alabama, VI, p. 99.

style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>87 style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>Fisk style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'> University style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>, God Struck Me Dead: Religious Conversion Experiences and
Autobiographies of Negro Ex-Slaves
(Nashville, Tennessee: Social Science
Institute, Fisk University, 1945), p. 162.

88Betty Guwn in class=SpellE>Rawick, ed., Indiana,

89 style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>Irella Walker
in Rawick, ed., w:st="on">Texas, V (4), p. 123.

90Margaret Nickerson in Rawick,
ed., Florida,
class=GramE>P. 253.

91 style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>Oscar James Rogers in class=SpellE>Rawick, ed., Arkansas,
X (6), p. 70.

style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>a style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>( style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>Excerpter note: Liberating/taking
food from the master/mistress was not considered stealing by slaves.

92Laneb, pp.11–12. style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'> Aunt Sallyc,
p.59. Campbelld, p. 29. class=SpellE>Grandye, pp. 17–18. style='mso-spacerun:yes'>  Orland Armstrongf,
pp. 266–68. Fisk
Collection, Unwritten History of Slavery;
Autobiographical Account of Negro Ex-Slaves
, pp. 2, 64, 285].
Austin in Rawick, ed., w:st="on">Florida, XVII, pp. 22–23.

class=GramE>b style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>Lungford style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'> Lane, The Narrative of

class=SpellE>Lungsford Lane
, Formerly of w:st="on">Raleigh, North
(Boston: by the author, 1842),

class=GramE>c style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>Aunt style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'> Sally Aunt Sally; or, the Cross the Way to Freedom. A
Narrative or, the Slave-Life and Purchase of the Mother of Reverend Isaac
Williams of Detroit, w:st="on">Michigan
(Cincinnati: American Track and Book Society, 1958).

class=GramE>d style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>Isreal style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'> w:st="on">Campbell, Bond
and Free: or, Yearning for Freedom from My Green Brair
House. Being the Story of My Life in Bondage and My Life in Freedom

(Philadelphia: by the author, 1861)

class=GramE>e style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>Moses style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'> Grandy,
Narrative of the Life of Moses class=SpellE>Grandy, Late a Slave in the w:st="on">United States of America (Boston:
Oliver Johnson 1844)

class=GramE>f style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>Old style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'> w:st="on">Massa’s People: The Old Slaves Tell Their style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>Story (Indianapolis:
Boobs-Merrill, 1931)

93 style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>John Collins in class=SpellE>Rawick, ed., South
, II (2), pp. 224–24.

style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>94 style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>Fisk style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'> University style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>, God …, p. 161.

95 style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>See Eugene D. Genovese, style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Made
(New York Pantheon Books, 1974), p. 493. 
Interestingly enough, the myth of the typical fatherless slave family
seems to have originated in the black sources themselves; in the well read
autobiographies of Frederick Douglassg,
Henry Bibbh, and William wells class=SpellE>Browni. style='mso-spacerun:yes'> “It is almost impossible,” writes Bibb, “for
slaves to give a correct account of their mail parentage.” style='mso-spacerun:yes'>  Bibb, p.14. Douglass
writes: “A person of some consequence in civilized society, sometimes
designated as father, was literally unknown to slave law and to slave practice.”
Douglass, p. 27. Brown relates that he knew little of his father and only
learned his name by being told it by his mother. style='mso-spacerun:yes'>  W.W. Brown, p. 13. style='mso-spacerun:yes'>  It seems more than coincidental that all three
were the biological sons of white men.

class=GramE>g style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>Frederick style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'> Douglass, style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass
(New York: Collier Books. 1962). Reprinted from the revised
edition of 1892.

class=GramE>h style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>Henry style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'> Bibb, Narrative of the Life and adventures of Henry Bib, An American Slave
(New York: published by the author, 1849).

class=GramE>i style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'>William style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Book Antiqua"'> Wells Brown, style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>Narrative of William Wells Brown, a Fugitive
Slave, Written by Himself (Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1847).

96Mingo White in Rawick, ed.,
Alabama, VI. pp. 413–14.