There is a considerable body of work about friendships between enslaved African Americans and the rewards that strong emotional ties conferred upon men and women living in bondage. However, much less has been paid to the bonds of friendship between free people of color, the tangible benefits these relationships provided, as well as their effect on the psychological well-being of men, women, and children. This article examines practices of friendship among property-owning free people of color in Natchez, Mississippi in the nineteenth century. It argues that free blacks formed friendships for the usual reasons of providing companionship and emotional support. Further, though, property-holding free men and women of color had to be particularly strategic in their choice of friends. They often limited their circles to other free people—family members especially—and to powerful whites because a well-chosen friend was often the key to maintaining one’s freedom and property in a society that continued to constrict the liberties of free blacks up to the Civil War.
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