Enmeshed in the exploitative world of racial slavery, overseers were central figures in the management of early American plantation enterprises. All too frequently dismissed as brutal and incompetent, they defy easy categorisation. Some were rogues, yet others were highly skilled professionals, farmers, and artisans. Some were themselves enslaved. They and their wives, with whom they often formed supervisory partnerships, were caught between disdainful planters and defiant enslaved labourers, as they sought to advance their ambitions. Their history, revealed here in unprecedented detail, illuminates the complex power struggles and interplay of class and race in a volatile slave society.
Table of Contents
1. One Plantation World: Overseers and Plantation Management in Eighteenth-Century Virginia and South Carolina
2. "But Where Shall We Find a Careful Overseer?": Recruitment and Duties
3. The Overseeing Class? Status, Skill, and Experience
4. "Respecting Wages & Privileges": Contracts, Terms and Conditions
5. "Unmerciful Overseers" and Conflicts of Power: Violence, Defiance, and the Practice of Authority
6. A "Good Overseer" and an "Excellent Leader": Enslaved Overseers and the Plantation Enterprise
7. "Clever Active" Women and "Mad Bitches": Overseeing Wives and Female Supervisors of Slavery
8. "The Tyranny and Villainy of Overseers": Slavery, Overseers, and the American Revolution
9. Professionals, Pragmatists, and "Horrid Hellish Rogues": Challenges, Opportunities, and Prospects of Overseeing
Conclusion: Overseers Reassessed
Laura R. Sandy is a lecturer in American history at the University of Liverpool and Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of International Slavery.