Slavery Not Witnessed:

What Tocqueville and Beaumont Missed

Tocqueville and Beaumont witnessed the remnants of slavery in the North and effects of slavery on modest Southern planters, but they never saw plantation slavery. This was a striking ommission to their observations, as John Michael Vlach asserts in Plantation Landscapes of the Antebellum South, "Yet even though the grand plantation was an atypical landscape for whites, it was for enslaves blacks, on the other hand, a significant and common environment....Through the first half of the nineteenth century the plantation was thus the crucible for a large portion of the black experience" (23).

It is on the plantation that much of slave culture is maintained and revealed. Vlach proposes that this is the site where "African-American expression of music, oral literature, dance, and folk art and craft" actually took shape (23). Why is this significant? If Tocqueville and Beaumont did not see plantation slavery, and therefore plantation slaves' culture, it would be easy for them to accept their informants' assertions that blacks did not have their own culture, but were simply aping that if the dominant class. However, this was not the case; besides a thriving slave culture, many slaves maintained active forms of resistance to their master's edicts.

Charles Joyner's essay The World of the Plantation Slaves Black and White Cultural Interaction in the Antebellum South is an excellent introduction to all facets of planation slaves' lives.

For an excellent glimpse into the life of a plantation slave, consult Frederick Douglass' Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

Abolitionism Violent Resistance