Wednesday, June 18, 2014

McMurtry-Chubb on Overseer Contracts in the Antebellum South

Teri A. McMurtry-Chubb, Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law, has posted Race Unequals and Social Betters: Overseer Contracts, Class, and the Meaning of Whiteness on Southern Antebellum Plantations.  Here is the abstract:
The employment relationship between white planters and white overseers solidified planters' class position and aided in defining the whiteness upon which southern antebellum society was built. The duties of the overseer, embodied in overseers’ contracts and plantation management manuals, preserved planters' class position in two main ways. First, planters' inconsistent or inadequate payment of wages to overseers limited overseers’ access to land and slaves: two items that defined the ideal whiteness, or the upper class whiteness of planters in the Antebellum South. Second, time constraints imposed by overseers’ contracts ensured that even if they were able to acquire land, they would not have the time to maintain it. These limitations on overseers placed them in a position of not only economic inferiority to planters, but also racial inferiority. Overseers' economic status aided in defining their whiteness as something less than their planter counterparts.

This study seeks to examine these aspects of southern antebellum society in five categories. Occasional Pay, Consistent Work explores how contractual arrangements limited overseers’ upward economic mobility and attempted to define their social status. Scientific Management, Micro-Management & White Men, Race Rules, and Characteristics of Class discuss the continued attempt of planters to regulate overseers' social behavior through plantation management manuals, and the micro-management of overseers that resulted. The last two sections, Immoral Men, Social "Others" & Industrious Overseers, Profitable Planters, examines more closely the moral requirements of overseer contracts and overseers' "investment" in the overall well-being of the plantation. Interspersed before and between these sections is a brief contextual framework for the historical study of race and class relationships in the Antebellum South, overviews of overseers' lives, duties, and responsibilities, and of the plantation management phenomenon.

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