Kinship and Godparenthood: the Effect of Organized Plantation Labor on the Afro-Caribbean Slave Society’s Family Structure

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The organization of plantation labor in the 18th and 19th century was probably one of the most efficient labor systems operating in the Western world, but because of its distinctive framework, it had a direct influence on shaping the unique kinship and family structure of its slave society. The most obvious way plantation labor’s efficiency is revealed is through the absence of sexual differences in all the major labor tasks associated with the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of crops, and the high percentage of persons who were employed at all ages in life. Whatever the disincentives for working that existed among slaves, heavy supervision of laborers organized in gangs based on physical abilities and performing common tasks in a common setting helped compensate for lack of enthusiasm (Gaspar, 8). Between force, rewards, high labor participation rates, close supervision, and systematizing of the labor tasks, the plantation slaves produced high levels of output (Klein, 22).

The absence of sexual discrimination in labor assignment of slaves was apparent not only in the organization of the plantation labor tasks but also in the prices and rents planters were willing to pay for slaves. Slave prices of unskilled and healthy male and female slaves remained equal until early adulthood, when male field hand prices rose about 10 to 20 percent above female prices (Gaspar, 17). The differential then declined as slaves passed the prime working years. These changing price differences appear to reflect physical abilities that differed markedly only in the prime-age categories. Despite differences in the ratios between whites, free colored, and slaves among the colonial powers, plantations remained fairly constant through time and across national boundaries. These plantations were most commonly run with 100 or so slaves, although the number varied from 50 to 200 (Slavery, 5). Despite this range, they all shared such basic features as the lack of sexual...
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