In the urban peripheral spaces of antebellum tenements, domestic workers and outworking seamstresses labored late into the night with cheap, explosive turpentine lamps. Using newspaper accounts, travel narratives, and letters between turpentine camp overseers and slaveholders, this chapter explores how the gendered politics of space and time in the ready-made clothing revolution were made through a new slave-produced illuminant called “camphene.” A volatile mixture of spirits of turpentine and high-proof alcohol, camphene connected outworking seamstresses in New York with the enslaved woodsmen laboring in remote North Carolina turpentine camps to accumulate nearly every drop of turpentine in the United States. Reading against the grain, the chapter reconstructs how seamstresses and slaves attempted to navigate, shape, and sometimes escape from spaces and work processes dominated by slaveholders, clothiers, and husbands. Through the antebellum making and using of this piney light, white women working in the home and black men tapping pines far from plantations endured terrible violence and danger, rendered spatially, temporally, and culturally invisible, to underwrite the worlds of Northern and Southern white men. The chapter attempts to pull this antebellum relation out of the shadows by exploring the worlds of freedom, slavery, and gender made through piney light.
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