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In the girl three decades, gender has become an indispensable category of analysis in the study of slavery in the Americas, illuminating both the day-to-day lives of enslaved and enslaving peoples and ideas about race and slavery. While studying gender means much black than studying women, the literature on enslaved women is especially influential, in part because of gender analysis's origins in women's history and in part because of women's central importance in slavery: women and ideas about them shaped slavery from beginning to end. This article discusses the origins of slavery, the gendered division of slave labour, reproduction in slavery, sexuality, enslaved families, black femininity and masculinity, mastery and slave gender identities, and politics. Keywords: slavesenslaved womengender analysisslave labourreproductionsexualityfemininitywhite gender identitypolitics. Gender analysis has also reconfigured the study of politics, and, as is increasingly clear, studying gender seeking much more than studying women. Still, the literature on enslaved women is especially influential, in part because of gender analysis's origins in women's history and in part because of women's central importance in slavery: women and ideas about them shaped slavery from beginning to end.


Unmasked: many white women were southern slave owners, too

Jones-RogersUC Berkeley associate professor of history, expands our understanding of American slavery and the 19th century slave market with an investigation into the role of white women in the slave economy. She found they were active participants, profited from it and were as brutal as men in their management techniques.

On Monday, Oct. The event takes place during the national observance of the th anniversary of the forced arrival in of enslaved Africans in the English colonies. Berkeley is participating with a year-long series of events that honor and celebrate the extraordinary intellectual, social and cultural contributions of African Americans, examine the long-lasting impacts of slavery and explore the roots and consequences to our society of continued discrimination, bias and inequality.

Edited by mark m. smith and robert l. paquette

She was well-known because she became the subject of a scandal when local members of her community discovered she was torturing and had even murdered some of the slaves she owned. She was married and the mother of two daughters at the time of the discovery.

What I found remarkable was not her violence, but what was clearly a deep economic investment in slavery and the extraordinary level of control she exercised over the enslaved people in her household. She was the only slave owner in the household and, as a consequence, she was the only person who exercised control over them.

I wanted to know whether there were other women like her — that is, white married women who also held legal title to enslaved people and who exercised control over them. The cover to Stephanie E. But I found that they rarely discussed their economic investments in slavery.

This compelled me to look elsewhere, and I examined the records which scholars of the African American experience look to when they study the lives of the enslaved — testimonies of enslaved and formerly enslaved people and a collection of interviews which the federal government conducted with formerly enslaved people in the s and s. I was astonished to discover just how frequently formerly enslaved people identified married slave-owning women who owned them or others and how they talked about the deep economic investments these white women had in the institution of slavery.

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Taking my cue from formerly enslaved people and using some of the details they provided in their interviews, I ventured into other archives — financial, legal, military records, newspapers, and letters and personal correspondence — to tell the story that unfolds in my book. The typical female slave owner claimed legal title to 10 enslaved people or less.

Far more often, she owned less than five, and this holds for the average male slave owner, as well. Much of the scholarship about white women and slavery tends to examine their relationships to enslaved people in adulthood, but my book starts the story far earlier, when these women were young girls and infants.

By doing so, I was able to show that white girls often received enslaved people as gifts; some were only infants when they were given enslaved people as their own. While many of these girls and women inherited enslaved people from loved ones throughout their lives not just when a family member diedthey also bought them from slave markets throughout the South.

Berkeley News is helping the campus observe the th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans to the English colonies.

It was quite common for girls and women to own enslaved people. The question of just how many women and girls owned enslaved people is a complicated one to answer for several reasons, but I am completing a quantitative project that I hope will bring us closer to an answer.

This is a figure that also holds in data collected by Catherine Hall at the University College London. In my book, I focus primarily on married slave-owning women, rather than single and widowed women there are many studies that focus on them.

Prevailing scholarship contended that married women rarely possessed control over property because of a legal doctrine called coverture. This was certainly true for some women, but not all of them.

In the book, I show the ways that these married women circumvented the disabilities that came with marriage, particularly as those impairments pertained to property ownership. The institution of slavery necessitated a culture of violence, and white women and girls were a part of this culture.

In order to sustain the institution and to keep enslaved people in a state of near submission, violence and the threat of violence were vital. This culture of violence also created opportunities for some people to indulge their propensity toward sadism, and women were not immune to this.

Women perpetrated acts of extreme violence against enslaved people for the same reasons that white men did. One woman kept the enslaved people she owned in a state of near-starvation and would tempt a young enslaved girl who cleaned her bedroom by leaving a piece of candy on her dresser each day.

One day, the enslaved girl yielded to temptation and ate the candy.

When the slave-owning woman discovered the candy missing, she accused the young girl of stealing it and proceeded to punish her by placing her head on the floor underneath the curved portion of her rocking chair. This woman then summoned her young daughter to help her punish the enslaved girl. When they finished punishing the enslaved girl, she was irreparably disfigured. She was never able to eat solid food again because her jaw would constantly slide to one side of her face.

When she reached adulthood, her teeth never grew on that side, either.

Children learned vicariously by watching their parents and other white adults in their communities interact with enslaved people, and some parents even allowed young white girls to manage and discipline enslaved people themselves. Because slavery necessitated a culture of violence, and it required constant reinforcement, white girls were constantly immersed in this culture. Even more than this, they played critical roles in it, too. They learned about the power and authority as white people, and they also came to understand their roles in sustaining the institution of slavery.

Ultimately, they came to learn that, while they might endure oppression because of their gender, they possessed extraordinary power as white people, and they embraced this power.

Photo by Lily Cummings. As a descendant of enslaved people, this was a hard book to write. When they gave these interviews, they lived in a nation plagued by racial violence, when African Americans were lynched for not using the right salutations when addressing a white person or moving out of the way when a white person approached them on the street. The interviewers were primarily white Southerners, and some of them were the descendants of slave owners.

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Formerly enslaved people knew this, and they knew the risks of telling these white interviewers about the most intimate dimensions of their lives, about the brutality they endured, and they told them anyway. In spite of the trauma, I owed it to them to persevere. A few factors could be at play. The women in my book could be counted among the majority of slave-owning women, rather than the minority. Because many of these women were not literate or elite, historians often miss them.

But using the interviews conducted with the formerly enslaved people they once owned, I was able to tell their story. And lastly, I think we hold out hope that women represent the better half of humanity; we hope that women will save us. This book dashes those hopes.

The th anniversary of the landing of African-descended people in what would become the United States allows us to center the story of slavery and the lives of African Americans in our national narrative. The story of our founding and the story of American slavery are far too often masculine ones.

My book disrupts these masculine narratives by showing the fundamental roles that white women played in the enslavement of African-descended people and in sustaining the institution of slavery until its end. Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by. Notice - The latest information on how UC Berkeley is responding to coronavirus.

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Harriet Jacobs and her autobiography, The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl , has become a fixture in courses on American slavery.


The National Archives holds rich collections of records on nineteenth-century Southern African American women.