SPLIT-UP FAMILIES (Illustration) Biographies African American History Civil Rights Law and Politics Nineteenth Century Life Social Studies American History Slaves and Slave Owners

A slave mother pleads to stay with her husband and child, but her cries fall on deaf ears.  Henry Bibb describes this typical scene in his Narrative, which also includes this illustration.  Online, courtesy "Documenting the American South."


At a very young age, John Fields' family was separated when the plantation "master" died. His mother lost 12 children in one day!

There was 11 other children besides myself in my family. When I was six years old, all of us children were taken from my parents, because my master died and his estate had to be settled.

We slaves were divided by this method. Three disinterested persons were chosen to come to the plantation and together they wrote the names of the different heirs on a few slips of paper. These slips were put in a hat and passed among us slaves. Each one took a slip and the name on the slip was the new owner.

I happened to draw the name of a relative of my master who was a widow. I can't describe the heartbreak and horror of that separation. I was only six years old and it was the last time I ever saw my mother for longer than one night.

Twelve children were taken from my mother in one day...My mother was later allowed to visit among us children for one week of each year, so she could only remain a short time at each place. (See Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves Indiana Narratives, by United States Work Projects Administration, at page 74.)

In other families, black husbands and wives were separated, never to see each other again. Sarah Graves, age 87 when she was interviewed in 1937, relates the sad story of her parents' fate:

We left my papa in Kentucky, 'cause he was allotted to another man. ["Allotted" slaves were "rented" by their "masters" who received payment for them from the lessee.] My papa never knew where my mama went, an' my mama never knew were papa went. They never wanted mama to know, 'cause they knowed she would never marry so long as she knew where he was.

Our master wanted her to marry again and raise more children to be slaves. They never wanted mama to know where papa was, an' she never did.

At age 87, Sarah Graves still carried scars of lashes she endured as a slave.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5183stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jun 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Feb 05, 2017

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"SPLIT-UP FAMILIES" AwesomeStories.com. Jun 01, 2002. Nov 19, 2019.
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