Edenton, 1852: Conduct ‘unbecoming’ a slave

“In December 1852, William Pettigrew reported to a slaveholding correspondent, the town of Edenton, North Carolina, was still full of talk about a rebellion said to have been planned by Josiah Collins’s slaves in October.

“Those  implicated had been sold to a trader and gathered into a coffle [that is, a line of slaves chained together] when they broke out into song. ‘The town has been much shocked,’ Pettigrew wrote, ‘at the unbecoming manner in which Mr. C’s Negroes…. conducted themselves… [Those slaves not in the coffle] spent their time singing and dancing until Hempton the landlord threatened to confine them in the dungeon….

” ‘One of their favorite songs was “James Crack Corn I Don’t Care.” Their  object was said to [be to]  set their master at defiance, and to show their willingness to leave him…. The good people of the place were rejoiced when they left, feeling apprehension of the insubordinate influences such conduct might have on their [own] Negroes.’ ”

— From “Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market” (1999) by Walter Johnson