Iffen I doan love yo' den dar ain't no water in tar riber : courtship and love amongst the enslaved in antebellum North Carolina
This thesis explores the significance of courtship and love in the lives of the enslaved men and women in antebellum North Carolina. It underlines how the current historiography concerning the enslaved has largely neglected the emotional terrain and dynamics of enslaved life and argues that the existing historiography of courtship and love has similarly marginalized the experiences of the enslaved. Whilst more recent research has focussed upon enslaved familial and personal relationships, there still remains the need for a more in-depth and sustained consideration of the meaning and importance of courtship and love in the lives of the enslaved. This thesis will attend to these gaps in historical scholarship by considering how the enslaved established and managed their courting relationships. It considers the practicalities of courtship for the enslaved as they mediated their own emotional needs and desires with the demands of the slave system and the slave-owner. it also examines the factors defining the shape of these relationships, including the opportunites available for the enslaved to establish courtships and the geographical and temporal spaces in which this could occur. It situates courtship within a narrative of resistance, illustrating the fact that courtship represented a significant social space for the enslaved through which they were able to resist and renegotiate the mechanisms of control and regulation embedded in the system of slavery. The majority of source material for this research derives from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) narratives. These narratives of formerly enslaved men and women reveal much to the historian interested in slavery and the psychology of the enslaved in the American South. As well as the WPA narratives this thesis draws attention to the folklore tale as an aspect of enslaved culture that can reveal much regarding the norms, values and ideals that structured the private and personal world of the enslaved.