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Fathers of Conscience: Mixed-Race Inheritance in the Antebellum South University of Georgia Press Bernie D. Jones


10th November 2012 History Books 2 Comments

Fathers of Conscience examines high-court decisions in the antebellum South that involved wills in which white male planters bequeathed property, freedom, or both to women of color and their mixed-race children. These men, whose wills were contested by their white relatives, had used trusts and estates law to give their slave partners and children official recognition and thus circumvent the law of slavery. The will contests that followed determined whether that elevated status would be approved or denied by courts of law.

Bernie D. Jones argues that these will contests indicated a struggle within the elite over race, gender, and class issues–over questions of social mores and who was truly family. Judges thus acted as umpires after a man’s death, deciding whether to permit his attempts to provide for his slave partner and family. Her analysis of these differing judicial opinions on inheritance rights for slave partners makes an important contribution to the literature on the law of slavery in the United States.

An outstanding work that will be an important contribution to the monographic literature on the law of slavery in the United States. –Mark Tushnet, author of Slave Law in the American South: State V. Mann in History and Literature

Bernie D. Jones is an assistant professor in the Legal Studies department at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

An outstanding work that will be an important contribution to the monographic literature on the law of slavery in the United States. –Mark Tushnet, author of Slave Law in the American South: State V. Mann in History and Literature

Fathers of Conscience: Mixed-Race Inheritance in the Antebellum South (Studies in the Legal History of the South)










  • 2 responses to "Fathers of Conscience: Mixed-Race Inheritance in the Antebellum South University of Georgia Press Bernie D. Jones"

  • Brad Pitt
    5:12 on November 10th, 2012
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    Douglas Bristol has written a stylish volume on a subject too long denied a chair at the panel for black history month: the important role of the black barber in American history, especially in the antebellum period. Another Douglas – Douglas Bushman – wrote tellingly of the transformation in American society through the movement of refinement. Doug Bristol shows how the black barber or Knight of the Razor brought a particular “edge” to the general movement of refinement. Of course this progress of black barbers was earned by a trade-off with racialist views of white clients. Professor Bristol is alert to this difficulty but it does not in any way blunt his celebratory treatment of the black barber.

    His book is suffused with the names and background of individual barbers, slaves and freedmen. From a personal point of view, I was gladdened to see the story of Pierre Toussaint told in full detail. Toussaint of course was much more than a hairdresser, yet his relationship with his white clients took rise from his craft. Eliza Hamilton Schuyler, granddaughter of the Secretary of the Treasury referred to his “humble calling” after she attended the Toussaint funeral, a standing room only Mass at Old St. Peter’s on Barclay St. Yet in Toussaint’s will, he speaks of “his friends, the Schuyler family” with perfect amicability. Gone are any seams that might suggest class division or separation by race. If he had a humble calling, it hardly prevented him from forming a bond, eminently personal with New York’s Knickerbocracy.

    Professor Bristol’s polished account serves as a corrective to those works on black history which have demanded that only a “protest-lion” was worth considering. While Knights of the Razor does not underrate those blacks who stood up for principle in a confrontational stance, the book declares on behalf of the black barber whose achievements are underscored. These ought you to have done, and left the others not undone.

  • Alexandra Scott
    8:51 on November 11th, 2012
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    KNIGHTS OF THE RAZOR: BLACK BARBERS IN SLAVERY AND FREEDOM offers a fine survey of black barbers who barbered in antebellum St. Louis – and who enjoyed an uncommon privilege of free speech with the white clients they shaved. This untold story of black barbers in North and South from the American Revolution to World War I is key for any college-level collection strong in civil rights history.

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