Mastered by the Clock
is the first work to explore the
evolution of clock-based time consciousness in the American South.
Challenging traditional assumptions about the plantation economy's
reliance on a premodern, nature-based conception of time, Mark M.
Smith shows how and why southerners--particularly masters and their
slaves--came to view the clock as a legitimate arbiter of time.
Drawing on an extraordinary range of eighteenth- and
nineteenth-century archival sources, Smith demonstrates that white
southern slaveholders began to incorporate this new sense of time
in the 1830s. Influenced by colonial merchants' fascination with
time thrift, by a long-held familiarity with urban, public time, by
the transport and market revolution in the South, and by their own
qualified embrace of modernity, slaveowners began to purchase
timepieces in growing numbers, adopting a clock-based conception of
time and attempting in turn to instill a similar consciousness in
their slaves. But, forbidden to own watches themselves, slaves did
not internalize this idea to the same degree as their masters, and
slaveholders found themselves dependent as much on the whip as on
the clock when enforcing slaves' obedience to time. Ironically,
Smith shows, freedom largely consolidated the dependence of masters
as well as freedpeople on the clock.