Sweet Chariot

Slave Family and Household Structure in Nineteenth-Century Louisiana

By Ann Patton Malone

412 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 25 halftones, 20 figs., 2 maps, 15 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4590-5
    Published: February 1996
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6315-2
    Published: November 2000

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Awards & distinctions

1993 General L. Kemper Williams Prize in Louisiana History, Historic New Orleans Collection and Louisiana Historical Association

1993 Julia Cherry Spruill Prize, Southern Association for Women Historians

Sweet Chariot 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 populations.

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."

About the Author

Ann Patton Malone is associate professor of history at Illinois State University.
For more information about Ann Patton Malone, visit the Author Page.


"A book of tremendous value to historical demographers, historians of the family, and scholars concerned with regional, race, and ethnic comparisons, differences, and developments. . . . One of the finest books on the family life of enslaved African Americans in the United States written to date."--Journal of Marriage and the Family

"A successful blend of quantitative research and illustrative case studies. In this sense it stands as a superb model of the integration of the two methodologies. By focusing on household composition, Malone adds a new dimension to our understanding of the impact of slavery on enslaved people."--Journal of American History

"This epoch-making study of the slave family in one Deep South state should lead to comaparable studies in other states. Few scholars have the patience to amass so much information about that domestic institution in a single state even with the technology available."--Louisiana History

"This insightful and finely crafted study is an eloquent plea for historians to avoid oversimplification about a social structure as complex as the slave family."--American Historical Review

"Ann Patton Malone expands discussion of the slave family in two significant ways. First, she broadens traditional analysis of the subject by utilizing the demographic model of the Cambridge Group of social historians to explain how slaves organized into domestic units. Second, rather than considering the family as a fixed institution, she examines the influences that changed slave family structures in Louisiana during the nineteenth century."--Journal of Southern History

"Using qualitative and quantitative analyses, Ann Malone has come up with significant findings on the development of slave families and slave societies. No one has done an analysis as detailed as Malone has done for Louisiana. Her book is an important contribution to the study of family, southern society, black culture, and slavery."--Orville Vernon Burton, author of In My Father's House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina