Jacob Ferguson is the winner of the 2018-2019 Franklin Riley prize for best undergraduate paper for his work on “Paternalism and Property Rights in the Slaveholding South: F.A.P. Barnard’s Trial at the University of Mississippi, White Southerners, and Slave Testimonies.” This prize, which was decided by an awards committee consisting of Professors Rebecca Marchiel (chair), Garrett Felber, and Eva Payne, comes with a $250 award.
Ferguson’s paper, which was completed for Professor Anne Twitty’s HST 498: Slavery and Its Legacies at the University of Mississippi during Fall 2018, asks why and to what extent white southerners and slave owners listened to slave testimonies. His entry point into this examination is the rape of Jane, an enslaved woman claimed by University of Mississippi Chancellor F.A.P. Barnard, who was attacked by a white student in 1859. Though the Board of Trustees found the accused student legally not guilty, Barnard had the student’s guardians withdraw him from the university, which led to questions among university faculty and prominent community members about whether Barnard was sound on the slavery question. Eventually, Barnard’s decision to take the word of a slave over that of a white student led to a second trial to determine where Barnard’s loyalties lay, and Barnard’s eventual resignation. Ferguson then considers a variety of situations in which enslaved people commanded an audience, including moments when masters were expected to listen to and respond to slave complaints. In discussing these circumstances at length, it arrives at a more nuanced understanding of the traditional master-slave relationship and what it meant to be a respected southern slave master.