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Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South$
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Kimberly M. Welch

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469636436

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469636436.001.0001

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Your Word Is Your Bond

Your Word Is Your Bond

(p.115) 4 Your Word Is Your Bond
Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South

Kimberly M. Welch

University of North Carolina Press

Debt actions represented one the most common types of lawsuits people of color initiated. Black moneylenders were regular participants in the credit economy of the slave South. Free people of color, in particular, repeatedly extended loans in various amounts to both white and black people. When the sums went unpaid, free black creditors sued borrowers to recoup the money owed. In the Natchez district, a world in which blackness symbolized dependency and whiteness independence, white debtors were bound to black creditors. The legal mechanisms involving debt collection favored lenders—even when those lenders were black. Under such circumstances, the courts could serve as a place where the social and racial relations of a slave society were temporarily suspended, insofar as their suspension furthered the goal of preserving private property. This chapter examines debt recovery from its inception (the loan) to its discharge (whether through payment or execution). The process itself was loaded with symbolic weight, for in the antebellum South, it invoked a set of highly charged ideas about virtue, ethics, membership, and race.

Keywords:   Debt, Credit, Lawsuits, Obligation, Moneylenders

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