Slave attitudes toward sex and marriage also have a curiously modern ring– for example in the relaxed view of prenuptial sex, the pattern of accepting several marriages, the normal presence of two working partners in a marriage, and an approach toward something resembling equality between the sexes.

It existed after all on the sufferance of the owner, and it was often shattered at his whim. Much of Gutman’s own evidence–whether on the forced breakup of marriages or the interference of masters with the domestic arrangements of their slaves–serves to emphasize this fundamental point. James Henry Hammond interfered in the family life of his slaves at every point, from naming of babies and the care and upbringing of young children to the encouragement of large families and the punishment of marital infidelity–though he did not lead by example in this latter respect. Like most masters, Hammond had a vested interest in the slave family as a means to the achievement of an enlarged workforce.

Gutman was the victim of his own eagerness to demolish the argument of other scholars. For all that, he established that the family was probably the most solid cement the slave community had. It was also uniquely important in that the family linked generations of slaves and their cumulative experience. It was the most powerful transmitter of slave culture. The culture (in the more specialized use of the term) which the family helped to transmit has itself been the subject of much discussion among recent historians.