Most slave-owners encouraged their slaves to marry. It was believed that married men was less likely to be rebellious or to run away. Some masters favoured marriage for religious reasons and it was in the interests of plantation owners for women to have children. Child-bearing started around the age of thirteen, and by twenty the women slaves would be expected to have four or five children. To encourage childbearing some plantation owners promised women slaves their freedom after they had produced fifteen children. Several slaves recorded in their autobiographies that they were reluctant to marry women from the same plantation.
As John Anderson explained: "I did not want to marry a girl belonging to my own place, because I knew I could not bear to see her ill-treated." Moses Grandy agreed he wrote: "no colored man wishes to live at the house where his wife lives, for he has to endure the continual misery of seeing her flogged and abused without daring to say a word in her defence." As Henry Bibb pointed out: "If my wife must be exposed to the insults and licentious passions of wicked slave-drivers and overseers. Heaven forbid that I should be compelled to witness the sight."
A study of slave records by the Freedmen's Bureau of 2,888 slave marriages in Mississippi (1,225), Tennessee (1,123) and Louisiana (540), revealed that over 32 per cent of marriages were dissolved by masters as a result of slaves being sold away from the family home.
Slavery in the United States (£1.29)