Black Slave Family’s Moral Situation in Mississippi during the Civil War

  • Angela D. Sims
Part of the Black Religion/Womanist Thought/Social Justice book series (BRWT)


The black family, while it had no legal existence in slavery, was in actuality one of the most important survival mechanisms for the slave.1 Perhaps it was with this awareness that Elizabeth Warrenton Wells and James Wells Sr.2 chose to marry.3 By the time the Civil War started, “the white population in 1860 was in the minority”4 and “Mississippi’s social, economic, and political institutions were hopelessly entangled in the web of slavery. An increasing dependence on staple agriculture created a slave-based cotton culture that affected all of the state’s white residents to one degree or another.”5 When Ida B. Wells, the oldest6 of Elizabeth and James Wells’s eight children, was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16, 1862 the nation was in the second year of a civil war. At the time of Wells’s birth, “Holly Springs was one of Mississippi’s most vibrant towns.”7 But within three months after her birth, in “October 1862, General John C. Pemberton8 ordered the army to evacuate Holly Springs and the Confederates moved south through Oxford and Water Valley to Grenada. As planned, Ulysses S. Grant9 also moved south in pursuit. He occupied Holly Springs and there established a major supply depot designed to fuel his move into central Mississippi.”10 Within approximately five months of Wells’s birth, in December 1862, the Southerners drove the federal cavalry away and afterwards Grant halted his advance to redeploy some of his men.


Black Family Slave Owner Sexual Infidelity Chattel Slavery Ethical Predicament 
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  1. 1.
    John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), 78.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    For additional information on slave marriages in Mississippi, see Noralee Frankel, Freedom’s Women: Black Women and Families in Civil War Era Mississippi (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999), 8–14.Google Scholar
  3. 20.
    Charles Sackett Sydnor, Slavery in Mississippi (The American Historical Association, 1933; Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1965), 248.Google Scholar

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© Angela D. Sims 2010

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  • Angela D. Sims

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