Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Mark M. Smith


This dissertation examines free people of color and the economic and social lconditions they shared with neighboring common-class whites from 1790 to 1860 in rural portions of South Carolina. Though Ira Berlin’s Slaves Without Masters has accurately described free blacks’ liminal legal, social and economic statuses, self-sufficient free black farmers signaled that their actual positions in the countryside were sometimes more complicated. Based on a careful study of free black farm production in three rural Charleston parishes as well as Abbeville, Newberry, and Sumter Counties, this dissertation examines free black farm production, their economic status, and the ways that economic stability cultivated important, yet often fragile and contingent, social advantages for free black farmers. Indeed, while not a majority among the free blacks in rural South Carolina, free black farmers’ economic achievements and complex social statuses challenged the ties between color and slavery and rendered them more than simply slaves without masters.

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