Reconstructing Southern Womanhood

  • Rebecca J. Fraser
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


With the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 6, 1865 officially abolishing slavery in the United States, Benjamin Williams was forced to face the bitter realities of what Union victory would mean for former wealthy elite slaveholders such as him. Men like Ben were faced with “ruined fields, dilapidated buildings, confiscated stock, an emancipated labor force, and scattered fortunes” at the close of the Civil War. Two-thirds of Ben’s wealth had consisted of slaves and consequently he found himself not only in dire financial circumstances in the immediate postwar period but also bereft of the mastery he had once exerted over enslaved African Americans. Forced to reconsider the running of the turpentine lands in Ware, Ben turned to hired labor and contracts of employment. He appointed Aaron Reppard, a native of Pennsylvania, who had moved to Georgia in 1844 as a millwright, to manage his saw-mill operations working on a commission basis. The terms of Reppard’s employment soon left Ben several thousand of dollars in debt to Mr. Reppard by the late August of 1867.2


Nineteenth Century African American Woman Postwar Period County Seat Union Victory 
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  1. 2.
    L. F. Edwards (1997) Gendered Strife and Confusion: The Political Culture of Reconstruction. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press), 113; Bonner, “Plantation Experiences,” 546, fn 76; 27 August 1867, SFHW Letters, fol. 6. 1856–68.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Burr, The Secret Eye, 7, 3 May 1869, 309–10, 2 January 1880, 392; Anderson, Brokenburn, 10 October 1865, 362; J. Turner Censer (2003) The Reconstruction of White Southern Womanhood. (Baton Rouge, LA, and London: Louisiana State University Press), 19.Google Scholar
  3. 12.
    R. Fraser (2008) “The Meaning of Freedom for African American Men,” in J. Campbell and R. Fraser. eds, Reconstruction: People and Perspectives. (Santa Barbara: ABC Clio Press). For other useful works on the reconstruction of freedpeople’s lives in this era, see Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage, Chapter 5, “A Sundering of Ties,” Chapter 6, “A Makeshift Kind of Life: Free Women and Free Homes”; Edwards, Gendered Strife and Confusion;Google Scholar
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    E. Foner (1990) A Short History of Reconstruction. (New York: Harper Perennial), 175–78, quote from 176.Google Scholar
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    See E. West (2004) Chains of Love: Slave Couples in Antebellum South Carolina. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004).Google Scholar
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    J. D. Smith (1997) Black Voices from Reconstruction: 1865–1877. (Gainesville: University of Florida Press), 51–52, quote from 51; Johnson, Soul by Soul, Chapter 4, “Turning People into Products,” quote from 123.Google Scholar
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    D. Sterling (1976) The Trouble They Seen: The Story of Reconstruction in the Words of African Americans. (Cambridge, MA; De Capo Press), 292–93.Google Scholar
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    M. V. Wetherington (2001) The New South Comes to Wiregrass, Georgia, 1860–1910. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press), 234–35; Lott-Clark, Webb, Jr. and Webb, Lott-Bailey Families, 37; 1880 United States Federal Census, Waycross, Ward 1, Ware, Georgia, s.v. “Martha F. Williams,”; A. Davis (1983) Women, Race & Class. (New York: Vintage Press), 88.Google Scholar
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    27 August 1867, SFHW Letters, fol. 6, 1856–68; Censer, Reconstruction of White Southern Womanhood, Chapter 5, “Women in Public: Schoolteachers and Benevolent Women;” for a brief discussion of Sunday school teaching, see 185; Lott-Clark, Webb Jr. and Webb, Lott-Bailey Families, 265, 266; L. Singleton Walker (1934) History of Ware County, Georgia. Revised edition compiled by M. E. McDonald Black (1990). (Greenville, SC: Southern Historical Press), 118.Google Scholar
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    C. J. Carter (2006) Southern Single Blessedness: Unmarried Women in the Urban South, 1800–1865. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press), 153; Censer, Reconstruction of White Southern Womanhood, 32.Google Scholar
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    Huxford Genealogical Society, Georgia, “Williams, Benjamin F. 1820–1892, Ware”; E. L. Ayers (1992) The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction. (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press), 66; Censer, Reconstruction of White Southern Womanhood, 33.Google Scholar

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© Rebecca J. Fraser 2013

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  • Rebecca J. Fraser

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