Working Cures: Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations

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Univ of North Carolina Press, Nov 9, 2000 - Social Science - 304 pages
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Exploring the charged topic of black health under slavery, Sharla Fett reveals how herbalism, conjuring, midwifery, and other African American healing practices became arts of resistance in the antebellum South.

Fett shows how enslaved men and women drew on African precedents to develop a view of health and healing that was distinctly at odds with slaveholders' property concerns. While white slaveowners narrowly defined slave health in terms of "soundness" for labor, slaves embraced a relational view of health that was intimately tied to religion and community. African American healing practices thus not only restored the body but also provided a formidable weapon against white objectification of black health.

Enslaved women played a particularly important role in plantation health culture: they made medicines, cared for the sick, and served as midwives in both black and white households. Their labor as health workers not only proved essential to plantation production but also gave them a basis of authority within enslaved communities. Not surprisingly, conflicts frequently arose between slave doctoring women and the whites who attempted to supervise their work, as did conflicts related to feigned illness, poisoning threats, and African-based religious practices. By examining the deeply contentious dynamics of plantation healing, Fett sheds new light on the broader power relations of antebellum American slavery.

 

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Working cures: healing, health, and power on southern slave plantations

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In this work, which is based on her 1995 Rutgers University dissertation, Fett assesses slave health and medical care in the U.S. South. She portrays slave society as a culture that developed its ... Read full review

Contents

Introduction
1
VISIONS OF HEALTH
13
ARENAS OF CONFLICT
109
Conclusion
193
Notes
201
Bibliography
251
Index
281
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About the author (2000)

Sharla M. Fett teaches history at Occidental College.

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