is a pathbreaking analysis of slave families
and household composition in the nineteenth-century South. Ann
Malone presents a carefully drawn picture of the ways in which
slaves were constituted into families and households within a
community and shows how and why that organization changed through
the years. Her book, based on massive research, is both a
statistical study over time of 155 slave communities in twenty-six
Louisiana parishes and a descriptive study of three plantations:
Oakland, Petite Anse, and Tiger Island.
Malone first provides a regional analysis of family, household, and
community organization. Then, drawing on qualitative sources, she
discusses patterns in slave family household organization,
identifying the most significant ones as well as those that
consistantly acted as indicators of change. Malone shows that slave
community organization strongly reflected where each community was
in its own developmental cycle, which in turn was influenced by
myriad factors, ranging from impersonal economic conditions to the
arbitrary decisions of individual owners. She also projects a
statistical model that can be used for comparisons with other
The two persistent themes that Malone uncovers are the mutability
and yet the constancy of Louisiana slave household organization.
She shows that the slave family and its extensions, the slave
household and community, were far more diverse and adaptable than
previously believed. The real strength of the slave comunity was
its multiplicity of forms, its tolerance for a variety of domestic
units and its adaptability. She finds, for example, that the
preferred family form consisted of two parents and children but
that all types of families and households were accepted as
functioning and contributing members of the slave community.
"Louisiana slaves had a well-defined and collective vision of the
structure that would serve them best and an iron determination to
attain it, " Malone observes. "But along with this constancy in
vision and perseverance was flexibility. Slave domestic forms in
Louisiana bent like willows in the wind to keep from shattering.
The suppleness of their forms prevented domestic chaos and enabled
most slave communities to recover from even serious crises."