The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 76, July 1972 - April, 1973 Page: 396
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
The scarcity of records makes it difficult to say what recognition of
the slave's humanity meant to the enslaved individual. Legally, it
brought some degree of protection for his body and life although en-
forcement of the laws certainly was not perfect. Personally, it could
mean special treatment for an old or especially favored bondsman or for
a slave family. It might even mean that an owner would consider the
psychological state of his workers and attempt to use good treatment as
an inducement to good work. Dr. William Baldwin provided an un-
usual example of this approach. According to one of his former slaves,
Baldwin kept a barrel of whiskey on his front porch and allowed slaves
to get a drink on their way to the field. Still there was no guarantee
that an individual owner would recognize his slaves' humanity. And the
slave could hardly be secure in the knowledge that he was a human, let
alone that he would be treated like one. Will Adams, born a slave in
Harrison County in 1853, remembered years later that he had once
remarked to his grandmother about how well their owners had treated
them. He also remembered her answer: "Why shouldn't they-it was
The Negro slave was almost certainly a profit-producing part of Har-
rison County's antebellum society. This is not the place, however, to
pursue the complicated and much-controverted question of the profit-
ability of slavery. The matter of productivity and profitability is an
important one, but it says little about the slave to differentiate him
from any other piece of property. The Negro was much more than a
unit of capital investment and labor supply to Harrison County in the
1850's, and, although his humanity probably created tensions for many
slaveholders, the Negro's utility as a slave was frequently enhanced by
his qualities as a human. Slavery might have disappeared had it been
unprofitable, and its destruction would have been a simpler matter had
the slave been white, but the institution's social utility extended beyond
profitability and racial control. The Harrison County experience sug-
gests that possibly Sellers and Morrow underestimated the complexity
of the situation. The Negro's humanity was the ultimate flaw of slavery,
but, ironically, in some ways his capacities and contributions as a hu-
man only strengthened his bonds as property.
28 Texas Narratives, Part i, pp. 1-3; Part 4, pp. 89-91. The quote is from Part i, p. 1.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 76, July 1972 - April, 1973, periodical, 1973; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101202/m1/452/: accessed September 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.