Conference Paper Abstracts
“Buck,” “Pussy,” “Angus” and “Wench”: Naming, Sexuality, and Personality in the Slave South
Daina Ramey Berry
This paper explores naming patterns among the enslaved and newly freed from 1790-1877. Although a small number of historians have published work on nomenclature, few address names with sexual connotations, personality descriptors, or derogatory meaning. Some enslaved people had animal, botanical and physiological roots and derivatives to their names, while others had classical, biblical, or place names. Reviewing enslaved men and women with names like “Buck,” “Pussy,” “Angus,” and “Wench” provides a window into Southern culture, social mores, and ideas about sexuality. Relying upon primary documents such as court records, estate inventories, slave lists, bills of sale, runaway advertisements, and plantation papers, this essay also suggests that contemporary conceptions of what appear to be derogatory names were sometimes terms of endearment in the 19th century. Yet, we view them as “loaded terms” and need more contextual analysis. Examining the meaning(s) of various names enables scholars to consider multiple perspectives of “naming patterns” among the enslaved and freed. For example, who gave bondpeople their names? Did they like; dislike; or modify their given names? Did former slaves change their names after freedom? Finally, how can 21st century scholars read enslaved names in their appropriate historical context?
Why are Slave Women Worth Less?
This paper could be just as easily (and less offensively) be entitled `why were slave women not valued more highly' in slave pricing systems in Jamaica between 1674 and 1784, a period of unrestrained African importations during the Atlantic slave trade. Consistently in Jamaican inventories women were valued less than men, and girls were valued less than boys. This underpricing of females in a flourishing slave system is puzzling because slave women lived longer, on average, than slave men; worked as hard as slave men did in the fields; and should have had a considerable value to slave owners as being both producers and also reproducers of additional inputs, in the form of children, of the most valuable part of slave owners' properties. This paper uses a large dataset of slave prices to try and understand why women were valued less highly in Jamaican slave societies than one might have thought likely. It sheds light on the importance of patriarchy to slave owners and on their relative indifference to reproduction as a way of increasing wealth. In so doing, the paper is a contribution to both economic history and also the history of gender in eighteenth century Jamaica.
Sexual Reparations for Slavery
Adrienne D. Davis
We see and hear about sexual injustice all the time in places far away. Indeed, a promising global trend has been to recognize and combat sexual violence and other gender injuries against women. Because of the on-going association of sex with shame, sexual crimes often remain invisible or are seen as outside of the domain of justice. Even when viewed as wrongful, gender and sexual injuries are often seen as purely private injuries, confined to individual relations between men and women, rather than linked to the public spheres of military, labor, or nation-state conflict. Yet, in the last decade and a half, there has been a shift. An array of global institutions and nation-states have exercised real leadership in efforts to condemn rape as a coercive military weapon and instrument of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Rwanda; to end sexual trafficking from lesser to more developed countries; to combat individual violence against women, through not only criminalization but also enhancing women’s educational and economic opportunities; to account for the world’s nearly one hundred million “missing” females—women and girls who suffered premature death due to their families and communities denying them basic capabilities; to recognize and indict gender violence as political crimes in truth and reconciliation commissions in South Africa, Peru, Argentina, and other nations emerging from repressive regimes. Long cast as outside of the domain of formal justice, sex and gender injuries are becoming increasingly visible and viewed as warranting repair. In addition, thanks to the work of activists, inside and outside of government, we now recognize in these cases that it can be a public injustice, not just a private, individual wrong. That can be harder to see when the injustice is closer to home. This Essay turns its attention to a sexual wrong that the United States has yet to confront or address, slavery’s sexual injustice. It argues that, while sexual exploitation is endemic to slavery, aspects of slavery in the United States make it particularly in need of and amenable to repair. In addition, creating a discourse of sexual reparations has the potential to shift contemporary dialogues of injury and human rights in important ways.
A Man, His Mistress, and Her Cow: Race, Class, Gender, and Bestiality in the Slave South
This paper deals with an unusual court case and explores the role that race, class, and gender played in an accusation of bestiality in early nineteenth-century Maryland. In 1819, a slave named Peregrine Smith was accused of having sex with his mistress’ cow by two white prison guards who supposedly witnessed the act. The two guards gave Smith a beating and brought him before a magistrate, who placed the slave in jail. He was then brought before a grand jury, which issued an indictment against Smith for bestiality. Smith’s case, however, never went to trial, in large part because of his enslaved condition and the influence of his owner, Elizabeth Van Wyck. After charges were filed, the son-in-law of this woman petitioned the governor for redress, claiming that a trial would deprive her of his services. In addition, the thought of a conviction was out of the question because in a family composed mostly of females it will never do to have any ideas of an indelicate nature attached to any of its appendages. Therefore, despite the seriousness of the crime, and the finding of the grand jury, Governor Charles Goldsborough agreed to issue a nolle prosequi, and all charges against Smith were dropped. How this case turned out the way that it did, and some of the larger issues that it raised, will be the subject of this paper.
The Sexual Abuse of Black Men Under American Slavery
Thomas A. Foster
The traditional scholarly interpretation of how slavery impacted black manhood is perhaps best captured by the comments of one former slave, Lewis Clark, who declared that a slave could not “be a man” given that he could not protect his wife and girls from being sexually assaulted by owners and overseers. But black manhood under slavery was also violated in other ways, less easily spoken of (then and now). In 1787 in Maryland, an unnamed enslaved man, at gunpoint, was forced to rape a free black woman. Was he, therefore, not also sexually assaulted? This essay uses a wide range of sources on slavery -- including early American newspapers, court records, slave owners’ journals, abolitionist literature, and the testimony of former slaves collected in autobiographies and in interviews -- to argue that enslaved men were sexually assaulted by both white men and white women. It finds that sexual assault of enslaved men took a wide variety of forms, and included the use of physical force, the direct threat of violence, or implicit power over enslaved men. Although I use a range of terms to describe specific incidents, as feminist scholars of sexual abuse in slavery have argued, given the power dynamic within interactions involving enslaved and free individuals, all such sexual encounters may properly be labeled “rape.” This essay shows that the sexual assault of black men was a component of slavery and took place in a wide variety of contexts and in a wide range of forms. Given the current and historical obstacles to documenting and recognizing the abuse, this essay suggests that sexual abuse of enslaved men was far from rare. In addition to direct physical abuse, we know that early American cultural models of black male sexuality perpetrated a type of psychological abuse that was ubiquitous. This essay, therefore, will not only contribute to our understanding of the experiences of enslaved black men (and their families) but will also enrich our understanding of black masculinity in early America.
Ruinous Affairs: Distressed Sexualities, Race and Cultural Scandal in Eighteenth-Century Bridgetown, Barbados
Marisa J. Fuentes
“Between, the said [Twentieth] Day of May and the Second day of October one thousand Seven hundred and Forty two [Dudley Crofts] carnally knew Agatha the wife of the [Daniel Moore],”(1) resulting in a court case against Thomas Harrison, the Judge of the Court of Common Pleas for the precinct of Saint Michael's Parish, Barbados. Crofts, the male adulterer, was caught in an on-going adulterous affair with the wife of a wealthy planter and was forced to post an exorbitant monetary bond to the courts for his 'immoral' behavior. In his anger and humiliation Crofts sued the judge and sent his young male slave to his lover's house dressed as a female and armed with a dagger to allegedly murder Agatha's husband. Through fifty-five hand written pages of depositions, none of which include the testimony of the three slaves who were implicitly involved, I interrogate constructions of what I call “white female distressed sexuality” against the impossible configurations of 'sexuality,' consent, and shame unavailable to black women in this slave society enslaved or free. This paper thus centers on the 1743 Barbados court case where the specter of race, gender and sexuality lurk beneath a tale of adultery, cross dressing, attempted murder and immorality between a white family and a white male sexual interloper and the men and women they enslaved. The purpose of interrogating this case is to shed light on the sexual culture of eighteenth-century Bridgetown, Barbados in a effort to both demarcate white women's Georgian— and perhaps more fluid than previously imagined— pre-Victorian sexuality with the distinctly unprotected, racialized 'sexualities' of enslaved women and men. The remarkable yet archivally silenced ways in which three enslaved people were involved, one of whom donned a gendered disguise, in the sexual scandal of their white owners exposes configurations of gender, race, sex and power within this entrenched slave society. Though not explicit in these archival documents I closely read Agatha Moore's deposition in which she explains her participation in her own 'ruin,' to delimit white female 'respectability' and sexual distress which places the unfettered access white men had to black women's bodies in stark relief. Though focused on a court case between white slave-owning parties may not seem to elicit evidence of enslaved men and women's sexual lives, I argue that a close look at the ways in which white men and women were intimately connected and their (sexual) power over those they enslaved offers a more complete picture of the sexual culture of enslaved people in the eighteenth century colonial Caribbean.
(1) Barbados Minutes of Council, 1743 CO 31/21 D1, National Archives London.
Men, Women and Sexuality in Deep South Slave Communities
Leslie M. Harris
Addressing the issue of sexuality in nineteenth-century slave communities raises important methodological and historiographical questions. We cannot expect that enslaved people or former slaves will speak about these issues in the language to which we are accustomed. Literary and historical analyses of Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl point to some of the ways in which nineteenth-century men and women, and particularly black men and women, both concealed and revealed their knowledge about and experiences of love, sex, eroticism, and sexual coercion. We must apply close attention to language and silence in the antebellum, postbellum and WPA slave narratives in order to uncover the ways in which nineteenth-century African Americans expressed their understanding of their emotional worlds and possibilities.For African American history and the history of slavery, the peculiar position of African Americans in the body politic has twisted and/or suppressed the study of sexual intimacy. Sexuality is most often presented as something through which oppression happens: rape and other forms of sexual violence, particularly on the bodies of women; and for men, an inability to control the sexual activities of families—which is often presented in very traditional, patriarchal terms. The history of intimacy between black men and women, particularly under slavery, has only been addressed inconsistently. There are good reasons for this. The public uses and abuses to which black sexual relationships have been subjected during and since the era of slavery have made many reluctant to expose what we think of as the most private of histories to the possibility of yet more abuse by the general public. And yet, if we cede this ground of sexuality and intimacy as only seen through oppression, or sexuality as only seen through issues of control, we lose an opportunity to provide ourselves, our students, and really the general public with a powerful and much needed counternarrative to the typical racist depictions of African American families and their intimate relationships. This paper examines the roles of men and women in creating and negotating landscapes of intimacy in the nineteenth-century Deep South. Following a brief evaluation of how twentieth-century historians have discussed sexuality, I will read across fugitive slave narratives, postbellum slave narratives, and selected WPA slave narratives to explore the variety of languages enslaved and formerly enslaved people used to express the possibilities and limits of intimacy and its meanings in the pre-Emancipation era.
“Bound as fast in wedlock as a slave can be”: Marital Love and Sexuality of the Enslaved
Tera W. Hunter
No one more than slaves understood the precarious nature of marriage. Lungsford Lane described the equivocal state of his marriage this way: “I was bound as fast in wedlock as a slave can be. God may at any time sunder that band in a freeman; either master may do the same at pleasure in a slave.” My paper will explore the character of marriage under slavery that put slaves in the most compromising positions with respect to an institution considered to be sacred, inviolable. Slavery and marriage were oxymorons. The most dreaded forms in which ties could be sundered were the separation of couples and the sexual violation of wives. The prospects of such grief gave many slaves pause before they vowed to “forsake all others.” Slave who relented to marriage, or were coerced, had to constantly negotiate the prospect of third-party violations. Actual acts of breech were not always easy to write off or repair, especially after the birth of “outside” children. Those who survived these challenges faced the typical struggles of couples of their day, albeit under the constraints of long-distance relations over which they had little control. Yet the conflicts and struggles, from both external pressures and internal dynamics are documented in the historical record more than other aspects of desire and intimacy. The sexual ethos of the period, of course, has also repressed the archive that could provide insight into the intimate lives of slaves. The paper will seek to delineate what we know and raise questions about we need to understand further.
The Sexual Exploitation of Enslaved Girls and the Legacy of Slavery: What’s New?
“The Sexual Exploitation of Enslaved Girls and the legacy Slavery: What’s New?”recounts the “well-known” historical overview of sexual abuse involving enslaved adolescents who, according to conventional wisdom, were “helpless” victims without legal recourse. To be sure, enslaved girls were abused sexually with abandon and neither the church nor the court shielded them. Yet, selected legal cases involving the sexual exploitation of enslaved adolescents show that exceptions existed, albeit too infrequently, but exist they did in the pre-Civil War South. The Civil War was responsible for disrupting the institution of slavery and the Thirteenth Amendment was responsible for its demise; however, neither the War nor the law altered the behavior of sexual predators who continued to abuse newly freed adolescent girls just as, if not more than, they had abused enslaved ones. Despite this sorry legacy of slavery and the lingering notion that exploited girls were “helpless” without legal recourse, exceptions existed. The selected exceptions do much to answer the question “What’s new?” and show the significance of individual initiatives, community support, and local courts over time. Ironically, the starkest exceptions are found in Mississippi when the 1859 legislature passed a statute declaring that "the rape by a negro or mulatto on a female negro or mulatto, under twelve years of age" was punishable by death or whipping. The range in punishments does negate the fact that the state recognized sexual exploitation of enslaved girls as a punishable crime. A century later, a district court in Mississippi found Norman Cannon, a white man, guilty of raping a fourteen-year-old African American and sentenced him to life in prison. Despite Cannon’s request in 2000 for a new trial to overturn his life sentence, the Mississippi Supreme Court denied it and he remains in prison.
The Possibility of Pleasure: Black Women’s Slavery, Sexuality and Resistance
My paper will discuss issues of sex and sexuality in the context of enslaved women’s lives, especially their efforts to escape bondage. The central question addressed in my work is: How did black women’s ideas and practices of sexuality inform their efforts to escape bondage and their understandings and expectations of “freedom”? For example, my paper presents cases in which enslaved women’s plans for escape included leaving behind a husband and setting out alone or with another lover. The racist ideology that buttressed chattel slavery rested heavily on notions of black women’s animalistic sexuality, licentiousness and promiscuity, justifying the commodification and exploitation of black women’s bodies. Free and enslaved black women certainly strove to combat this dominant formulation but this was not the full extent of their sense of self and sexuality. A wide and complex range of factors shaped the ways enslaved women defined their sexuality across time and place. This paper considers the various ideas and practices that informed enslaved women’s ideas and practices of sexuality and resistance. Drawing on the work of scholars such as Evelynn Hammonds and E. Francis White, this paper discusses enslaved women’s sexuality in terms of agency, pleasure and possibility.
Healing Charity’s Folk: Reconciling Sexual Violence, Survival, and Trauma across three generations of enslaved women in Revolutionary Maryland
This article investigates the relationship between manumission laws and enslaved women’s bodies in Maryland. The point of departure is the 1809 “Act to Ascertain and Declare the Condition of Such Issue as may hereafter be born of Negro or Mulatto Female Slaves,” which minimized age requirements for freeing enslaved children. If the status of living or future children was not established at the time the manumission document for the mother was presented in court, then any such children were to remain in bondage. As this article argues, the 1809 law represented what lawmakers, slaveholders, and bondpeople already knew—that freedom, like enslavement, was tied to a bondwoman’s womb. By investigating apprenticeship records, legal statutes, manumission documents, and African American petitions for freedom, this article argues that the deployment of black women’s bodies within the law challenged, extended, and defined definitions of freedom in the decades following the American Revolution.
Towards a Black Feminist Epistemology of Gender and Slavery
Jennifer L. Morgan
Is there a black women’s way of knowing? This is a question that, by its very nature, pulls us backwards into the originary moment of late 20th century black feminist thought. From the Combahee River Collective statement to Angela Davis’s “Reflections on the Black Women’s Role in the Community of Slaves,” to Hortense Spillar’s magisterial “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar,” black feminist theorists and activists have queried the relationship between the embodied self and the ability to take on the archival silences that surround the question of women’s experience of enslavement in the Americas. This essay will explore the methodological questions that emerge in the historiography of gender, sexuality, and slavery using Black Feminism as the starting point.
Prostitutes, Wives, and Breeders: Feudal and Capitalist Temporality and Visions of Enslaved Black Female Sexuality in Colonial Cuba
The paper uses visions of enslaved female sexuality expressed by colonial Cuban policy makers to revisit the Tannenbaum thesis on the distinctions in Latin American and U.S. race relations. This paper argues that Tannenbaum thesis may be reassessed when the causal importance of religious differences between the regions is reframed within a Cuban political-economic context in which feudal and capitalist practices coexisted and competed. The shifting concerns Cuban policy makers expressed about enslaved black women as either prostitutes, wives, or breeders marked these tensions. It is only with the dominance of Cuban capitalism as of the late eighteenth century that the possibility of imagining enslaved black women as wives was fully displaced in favor of envisioning them as breeders. This view demonstrates a convergence of Cuban and U.S. racial thought that requires greater temporal specificity than Tannenbaum outlined.
‘He Was Sorry He Lost So Good A Chair’: (De)-valuation and Death of the Black Female Body in the Seafaring World of Slavery
On 15 June 1791 sailor John Cranston gave testimony before a federal grand jury to assist in deciding the legal fate of Rhode Island slave trader, James D'Wolf, accused of throwing an enslaved African female overboard while traveling en route from West Africa to the Caribbean aboard the slave ship, Polly. Rather telling through this story is how the Middle Passage becomes foregrounded through a notorious American slave trader responsible for and intricately connected to the murder of a bondwoman afflicted with smallpox. The Atlantic Slave Trade was commonly plagued by the constant transmission of bacteria and disease. However, by playing out within the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, this case offers a useful window into maritime slavery and more importantly how entangled factors of race, class, masculinity, and power became manifested through fear of a woman’s diseased body believed to pose both a medical burden and financial threat against future slave sales once landed. Studies of the Middle Passage continue to proliferate yet we are still far from understanding the range of life altering seaborne experiences that different groups – slaves, sailors, and surgeons – across racial and gendered lines confronted as they crisscrossed the Atlantic. Continually marginalized within the explosion of slave trade scholarship is a paucity of careful consideration of and interrogation into the varied dynamics of bondage black female captives confronted out at sea. This paper uses a human story of slavery, gender, and forcible death to raise a critical question: knowing the dual expectations projected upon black women at the point of sale on both sides of the Atlantic, how did the transmission of disease alter views of their laboring and reproducing bodies? Casting a different gaze upon the obscured spaces black women currently occupy within the history of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, this essay centrally anchors an ailing enslaved female’s body within the socio-medical history of the slave ship experience.
Ladies, Gentlemen, Slaves & Citizens
Tamara J. Walker
Thanks to an emerging guano industry, the 1830s-1860s saw Lima, Peru gradually reclaim its place as a center of amenities after the upheaval of the War for Independence. Purveyors of luxury goods courted so-called señoras del buen gusto, or women of good taste, with newspaper ads touting new stores that carried the latest in European imports including perfumes, handkerchiefs, and a host of garments and accessories. Visitors to Lima paid significant attention to dress in the region, depicting a city in full sartorial bloom. The elegance of limenos’ displays is also visible in the iconography of the era, produced at the hands of visiting artists like Johann Moritz Rugendas as well as of local talents like Francisco “Pancho” Fierro. Fierro’s depictions stand out for their attention to Lima’s dark-hued men and women, who had joined the fight for independence and were now enjoying their first tastes of freedom and citizenship. Through an analysis of print culture, travel accounts, and visual iconography, this paper traces African-descent men and women’s self-presentation in the early years of the new republic.
Additional abstracts forthcoming. Please check back soon.