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Reading: Freedom in the Night: Antebellum Slave Life After Dark


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Freedom in the Night: Antebellum Slave Life After Dark


Bekah Smith

Virginia Tech, US
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The movement of slaves during the night is not an area that seems to have generated much conversation among scholars. The main narrative that slaves fall into is that of the brutality and oppression they endured in the South. While that narrative is important to reconstruct, the movements and actions of slaves after their work hours is just as crucial to our understanding. Looking at slave choices during the night can speak to what male and female slaves wanted for themselves as well as their families. Stephanie Camp and Deborah White both speak at great lengths in their books of the slave’s nights, especially those of female slaves. Larry Hudson’s book, To Have and To Hold, focuses on the nuclear slave family and included descriptions of their activities during the hours of darkness. The topic of slavery brings about many questions, but observing slave movements occurring at night may answer some of those questions. What roles did men take on during the night? What were the responsibilities of women after work hours? Did night play a significant role in slaves attempting or successfully running away? What was the reaction of white Southerners to slave mobility during the dark and did this mobility threaten daytime work? What were the sleeping conditions of slaves? In the antebellum South, nighttime offered slaves more than sleep. Night for slaves allowed them greater freedom such as white men experienced during the day. A sense of freedom existed for slaves, both male and female, during the hours of darkness: freedom not just from exhaustive hours of labor, but the freedom of choice in how to spend their time without the watchful eye of overseers.
How to Cite: Smith, Bekah. 2017. “Freedom in the Night: Antebellum Slave Life After Dark”. The Virginia Tech Undergraduate Historical Review 6. DOI:
Published on 01 Oct 2017.


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