Rethinking Sexual Violence and the Marketplace of Slavery
Damn old missis was mean as hell. . . . She made me have a baby by one of demmens on de plantation. De old devil! I gets mad every time I think about it. . . . De baby died, den I had to let dat old devil’s baby suck dese same tiddies hanging right here. She was always knocking me around. I worked in the house nursin’.
Henrietta Butler was a victim of sexual violence, and a white woman was responsible for her violation.1 Her owner, Emily Haidee, sanctioned an enslaved man to have sex with Henrietta against her will, and when she remembered her life as a slave many decades later, she bitterly recalled the bodily violations she suffered at the behest of her mistress. Emily Haidee not only authorized Henrietta’s sexual assault, which brought forth a child who died shortly after birth, she forced Henrietta to provide maternal and nutritive care to her baby while Henrietta likely mourned the loss of her own. Henrietta’s remembrances do not include a cruel and lascivious master who took advantage of his access to her sexualized body: just a white woman who enacted a litany of cruelties on her, including sexual violence.
Scholars have long discussed white southern men’s sexual exploitation of enslaved females. They have similarly described white men’s commodification of enslaved females’ capacity to reproduce and the increased value they placed on fecund women. They have talked about instances of forced breeding, and white men’s purchase and sale of particular groups of enslaved women—namely light-skinned, typically racially mixed females, also known as “fancy girls”—for sexual purposes. In much of this literature, scholars describe all of the sexual perpetrators as white men with unfettered access to enslaved female bodies. Conversely, historians describe white women as either a victimized group that had no choice but to endure their male kinfolks’ adulterous interracial liaisons with enslaved women, or as vengeful, brutal, and even murderous perpetrators of physical violence against these men’s enslaved objects of affection. Sometimes, white women do not figure at all into studies of sexual violence during slavery.2
In spite of the new directions taken by ambitious and nuanced historical studies of gender, sexuality, and slavery, many scholars continue to see sexual and sexualized violence as the province of men. By extension, white women’s access to enslaved people’s bodies appears to be anything but sexual. Few if any scholars discuss women like Emily Haidee, who forced enslaved women like Henrietta Butler to have sex with men who were not of their choosing, and to give life to children born of rape. But Emily Haidee was not alone.
This chapter attends to some of the ways that white southern women committed acts of sexual violence in the nineteenth century. It begins by contemplating how gender biases in nineteenth-century law and in custom, as well as ideologies about racial difference, shape our understanding of sexual violence in this period. It also elucidates how our reliance on these laws in our studies forecloses the possibility of recognizing female perpetrators and uncovering their victims’ experiences. The chapter explores how enslaved African Americans defined sexual violence beyond nineteenth-century legal discourse and outside the halls of southern courtrooms, and in doing so, challenges the masculinization of sexual exploitation and human commodification. It contends that enslaved people characterized white slaveholding women’s complicity in white men’s sexual violation of their bodies, which manifested in both passive and violent modes, their involvement in possibly coercive relationships with enslaved men, and their participation in forced breeding practices, as acts of sexual violence. It shows how some women sought to profit from acts of sexual exploitation and reveals how their choices allowed them to benefit from the slave market economy and contribute to the perpetuation of slavery. In all of these ways, this chapter offers a new conceptualization of the complex relationship between gender, power, sexual violence, and the slave market in the nineteenth-century South.
White women who were involved in acts of sexual violence against enslaved people have remained largely invisible in historical scholarship. This is due in part to our reliance on early English and U.S. lawmakers’ circumscribed definition of rape. For them, rape was “the unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman by a man forcibly and against her will.”3 This definition precludes many acts of sexual and sexualized violence that could be committed on the bodies of females and males, and while English common law acknowledged that women could be responsible for aiding and abetting sexual assaults, it nevertheless rendered female perpetrators invisible.4 Using this conceptualization as a starting point, many scholars describe sexual or sexualized violence as a kind of brutality that only men were capable of committing, and this gendered understanding has profoundly shaped how we have thought about sexually violent acts committed in the plantation South.
What is less apparent from this definition is that race played a decisive factor in determining who could or could not be recognized as a victim of sexual violence in the eyes of the law. Nineteenth-century southern courts and legislative bodies routinely refused to acknowledge black female victims of sexual violence, and virtually all male victims as well.5 In light of this, historians lack the discursive tools to even begin to study white women who were involved in sexually violent acts against enslaved people. But if we initiate this line of inquiry by looking closely at how we have defined white men’s sexual and sexualized violence against enslaved people, we find a framework within which to understand these women and their behavior.
When discussing the sexually violent acts that white men committed within the context of American slavery, historians recognize a spectrum of actions that fall outside of the scope of nineteenth-century rape law. Scholars include acts of nonconsensual sex with and fondling of female slaves by male masters, overseers, or community members. They classify instances of forced breeding as acts of sexual violence too. The eroticized acts of stripping and then whipping enslaved women’s naked, bleeding, writhing bodies—or the sanctioning of someone else to do so—have also been included in historians’ discussions of sexually violent events.6 And the psychosexual violence brought about by white men’s incessant harassment of enslaved females has not gone unnoticed by historians either. From prevailing vantage points, male perpetrators are responsible for all of these acts, and our emphasis on the sexual dimensions of this violence has contributed to our tendency to focus on men.
Nevertheless, a more expansive understanding of sexual violence as it operated in the context of U.S. slavery makes it possible to see that women could perpetrate acts of sexual and sexualized violence against enslaved people. According to Kirsten Fischer, “violence was a social practice, another performance of race, that transformed official categories of race into a physical relationship: some people had rights to freedom from violence while others did not. . . . As violence inscribed a racial identity onto the body, it also contributed to the racialized understandings of masculinity and femininity.” Furthermore, Walter Johnson contends that “the landscape of slavery and labor was a matrix of sexual vulnerability” that shaped the lives of enslaved children and adults, and that “being enslaved . . . was always already a condition of sexual violation.”7 There were slave owners who used their power to compel enslaved people to perform labor in and around their homes with their bodies partially exposed. While enslaved people were completely or partially nude, white southerners disciplined and publicly examined them within southern slave markets. In the case of enslaved women, their breasts might also be exposed to nurse white children. In a variety of ways then, white southerners sexualized the bodies of enslaved people, and although Johnson never writes this in his book, white women were not shielded from any of this. These sexualized dimensions of captivity are not only critical to understanding the dynamic environment within which white men perpetrated acts of sexual coercion and sexualized violence against enslaved people, even men: they help contextualize the sexual violence white women committed against enslaved people as well. White women’s complicity in acts committed by others also needs to be understood within this more expansive framework.8
How did enslaved people, especially victims, define sexual violence, and whom did they identify as the perpetrators of sexually violent acts? Contrary to what many historians have presumed, enslaved people defined sexual violence in ways that moved well beyond the male perpetrator / female victim paradigm. When they talked about these acts, they very deliberately included white women in their remembrances. Enslaved people focused on white women’s complicity in and acceptance of white men’s sexual violation of their bodies. They spoke of white women’s physical violence against them for refusing to relent to white men’s sexual violations. And on rare occasions, they described white women’s potentially coercive sexual relations with enslaved men and their initiation of and involvement in incidents of forced breeding.
Harriet Jacobs provided one of the most well-known cases involving a white slaveholding woman’s complicity in her husband’s sexual violence. From a very young age, Harriet’s master, Dr. Flint, verbally harassed her and propositioned her for sex. She tried to ignore and avoid him but eventually neither of these options was possible. At her wit’s end, she appealed to his wife for help and protection. Instead of being Harriet’s ally, Mrs. Flint misplaced her anger, pain, jealousy, and sense of betrayal on her husband’s young and helpless victim. When Harriet’s mistress refused to shield her from Dr. Flint, Harriet learned an important lesson about sexual violence in the context of slavery: the law did not protect enslaved females from bodily violation, and neither did scores of white women.9
Harriet understood that what was happening to her would remain invisible, unacknowledged, and unnamed in southern courts. Yet, in Harriet’s rendering of this injustice, her mistress’s inaction and eventual response constituted more than mere complicity, helplessness, jealousy, or rage; her mistress’s conduct was an extension of the southern judicial system’s failure to shield her from this violence. Harriet cast her mistress as a coconspirator in Dr. Flint’s sexual harassment and abuse. In Harriet’s mind, her mistress was just as guilty as her master for the wrong being done to her.
While enslaved people frequently cited jealousy as the reason behind white women’s inaction, others maintained that their mistresses simply accepted the sexual violence that took place around them. These women were not overtly jealous or vengeful toward enslaved women. They did not complain to the men who engaged in these behaviors either. Nor did they acquiesce because they feared white men’s reprisals for protecting enslaved people from their abuse. Exposed to a spectrum of violence enacted on enslaved people since girlhood, white women likely saw sexual exploitation as part of that continuum. They also knew that such acts could augment their families’ slaveholdings and their wealth. Chris Franklin said as much when he claimed that mistresses “didn’t ’ject [object], ’cause dat mean[t] more slaves.”10 Other formerly enslaved people thought the same, but there were other reasons too.
Some white women did not object to sexual violation because they believed that intervening would endanger enslaved people’s lives even further. Annie Young’s aunt repeatedly resisted her master’s sexual advances. After one attempt too many, she ran away. Her master unleashed bloodhounds on her and when he tracked her down, he beat her about the head until she “bled like a hog.” Out of options, she asked her mistress for protection. To her dismay, her mistress instructed her to give in to his sexual advances because otherwise he would likely kill the enslaved woman for refusing him.11
Another slave-owning woman refused to intervene because of her belief that her husband’s power over the people they owned included the right to sexually violate them. Jacob Manson recalled how “one of de slave girls on a plantation near us went to her missus a tole her ’bout her marster forcing her to let him have sumthin to do wid her an her missus tole her, ‘Well go on you belong to him.’”12 Her mistress did not refuse to help her because she feared her husband’s power as patriarch, or because she thought that the enslaved woman had somehow seduced him or welcomed his advances. Her refusal to intervene was grounded in her obscene respect for his property rights that, as she saw it, granted him unfettered sexual access to the human beings he owned.
White women went beyond merely turning their backs on the enslaved women who appealed to them for help. Some of these women physically beat enslaved females into submission, or commanded others to do so, when they refused white men’s sexual advances. One enslaved woman repeatedly fended off her master’s attempts to sexually violate her, and each time she did so, he concocted reasons to punish her in retaliation. She began to physically fight him, and when her master’s mother learned of these altercations, she asked the enslaved woman why she was doing so. The enslaved woman told her about the sexual abuse and asked for protection. Rather than chastising her son for his misdeeds, she sent the enslaved woman to the local courthouse to be beaten for resisting him, and her decision to do so led to further sexual exploitation. The men responsible for this enslaved woman’s punishment stripped her naked and whipped her in front of an audience.13 As this enslaved woman understood it, the punishment she received was also a kind of sexual violence, doled out by male hands, but ordered by a woman.
When enslaved women resisted white men’s sexual advances, some white women personally punished them for their refusals. Fannie Moore grew up on a plantation where the overseer repeatedly attempted to sexually assault an enslaved woman named Aunt Cheney. When Aunt Cheney refused to have sex with him, he told her mistress. Instead of reprimanding him, Aunt Cheney’s mistress ordered her to the kitchen, stripped her naked, and beat her until she was “jest black an’ blue.” After that, Aunt Cheney knew the price she would have to pay for resisting him. She relented and eventually gave birth to two of his children. Aunt Cheney suffered multiple acts of sexual violence, some committed in their crudest form by a white man, and another sexually sadistic one inflicted by her mistress.14
The work of historians such as Martha Hodes and Loren Schweninger has documented white women’s consensual sexual relations with African-descended men.15 Yet we rarely question whether such encounters were consensual for the men involved. In some respects, this makes sense. In the early colonial period, British North American lawmakers penalized white women who crossed the color line for love or intimacy. In colonial Maryland, white women who had sex with enslaved African-descended men and gave birth to their mulatto children could be sentenced to a lifetime of servitude. Their offspring would also be enslaved for thirty years. When free white women gave birth to mixed-race children in colonial Virginia, court officials fined them, and if they could not afford to pay, the courts bound them out to the church for five years. They also sentenced their children to serve the church for thirty years.
While southern colonies like Virginia and Maryland enacted the earliest bans on interracial intimacy between white women and African-descended men, northern colonies, including Massachusetts, banned interracial marriage and relationships as part of its black codes in 1705, and Pennsylvania did the same in 1725. Pennsylvania lifted its ban as part of its gradual emancipation laws in 1780, but the prohibition in Massachusetts remained in effect until 1843. Additionally, as the nation expanded west throughout the nineteenth century, new states also implemented bans on interracial marriage that included a range of ethnic groups, such as the Chinese, Japanese, South Asians, and indigenous peoples. However, antimiscegenation laws in the west imposed the most stringent penalties for European-and African-descended couples.16 These were stiff penalties to pay for loving, or at the very least having sex with, African-descended men.17
Bearing these laws in mind, many white women almost certainly weighed the advantages and disadvantages of interracial intimacy and decided that there was far too much at stake. But others continued to love and have sex with free and enslaved African-descended men long after southern laws criminalized these behaviors.18 However, were these intimate encounters consensual for the African-descended men involved?
The very idea of a male victim of sexual violence is only beginning to gain traction in legal and social contexts. However, historians are uncovering instances in which individuals committed acts of sexual exploitation against enslaved men. In her study of gender and slavery in antebellum Georgia, Daina Ramey Berry argues that slaveholders’ practice of forced breeding constituted one form of sexual violation against enslaved females and males.19 She emphasizes the fact that enslaved men did not always desire or consent to have sexual or romantic relationships with the women their masters chose for them. The man who Emily Haidee compelled to have sex with Henrietta Butler, for example, may not have consented to this ordeal.20 And while slave owners may not have forced these men to engage in nonconsensual sex with enslaved women under the threat or the actual infliction of brutal punishment, they understood that refusing their masters’ demands could result in such discipline.
If we recognize the sexual victimization of enslaved men in the coercive and nonconsensual context of forced breeding when orchestrated by white men, and we acknowledge the sexual violation of enslaved men at the hands of other men, as historian Thomas Foster has done, we should be equally prepared to consider the possibility that white women subjected enslaved men to exploitative sex acts.21
On rare occasions, formerly enslaved people expressed their belief that white women had ulterior motives for complying with or accepting white men’s sexual exploitation of enslaved females: their own sexual relationships with enslaved men. One formerly enslaved person told of how “in them times white men went with the colored gals and women bold . . . but the women went with the colored men too. That’s why so many women slave owners wouldn’t marry, ’cause they was goin’ with one of their slaves.”22 Even when they did not proffer rationales for white women’s sexual liaisons with enslaved men, they nevertheless spoke about them. J. W. Lindsay, a formerly enslaved man born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Tennessee, claimed that “there were cases where white women f[e]ll in love with their servants,” and he offered an account of a married white woman who had sex with an enslaved male that her husband owned. She eventually gave birth to the enslaved man’s child, and after rumors circulated around the community about the affair and the infant, the child was “sent off South.”23 While Lindsay talked of love on the part of white women, he said nothing about whether the enslaved objects of these women’s affections reciprocated their feelings.
Matilda Henrietta Perry’s experiences in slavery not only reveal how sexual violence shaped the lives of generations of white and black females, it elucidates the ways that slaveholding women could possess near absolute power over enslaved men’s sexualized bodies as well. Matilda’s mistress was also her great-aunt (her mistress’s brother had sex with Matilda’s grandmother). When Matilda came of age, a white man on the estate where she lived tormented her with sexual innuendos and threats and attempted to have sex with her. Matilda went to her great-aunt for protection, and her mistress’s intervention ended this man’s sexual advances. Matilda had no doubt that the outcome of this incident would have been very different had she not been related to her owner: “if I hadn’t been kin, you understand, I would not come through like dat.”24
Matilda was saved from coerced and nonconsensual sexual contact, but her father was not so lucky. During the Civil War, her father’s master hired a local white man named Bud Robertson to be his substitute, and he sent Matilda’s father to manage Robertson’s estate and look after his wife while he was away. During that time, Robertson’s wife and Matilda’s father had sex and gave birth to a child. When Robertson returned home to find that his wife had given birth to a mixed-race baby, he gave her an ultimatum: give the child away or leave. Robertson’s wife decided to stay with her husband and give the baby to Matilda’s father. He subsequently gave the child to a local woman to raise as her own. As Matilda talked about the nature of the acts committed against her and those that happened to her father, she framed them all as coerced and nonconsensual: “it was slavery times and you had to do what the white man said or the white woman said. You understand.”
Enslaved people’s allegations about coerced and nonconsensual sex between slave owners and the individuals they kept in bondage were audacious for a number of reasons. These formerly enslaved people not only accused white slave-owning women of shirking nineteenth-century gender conventions and sexual mores, they also charged them with breaking southern laws. More profoundly, they spoke about the sexual relations between white slave-owning women and enslaved men in tandem with the exploitative acts of sexual violence that white men perpetrated against enslaved women. When these formerly enslaved people spoke of white women’s potentially coercive sexual encounters with enslaved men alongside white men’s sexual violation of enslaved women, they explicitly-tied these instances of coercion together. Speaking of such things in an era and region marked by racial violence was a courageous act.
What does nonconsensual mean when black men undoubtedly possessed more physical strength than the white women in question? Would physical force and tactics of intimidation be necessary in order to make an enslaved man submit to nonconsensual sex acts? White men did not always use physical force to subdue their enslaved female victims, and white women did not have to utilize it either. When enslaved women refused white men’s advances, these men often used the threat of violence and sale against these women. White men did this to create coercive and harassing circumstances that they hoped would compel enslaved women to relent to their sexual assaults, without ever using physical violence. White women had these tactics at their disposal as well and could mobilize them for the same purposes.
Furthermore, law and custom worked in white women’s favor and against recognizing their possible victimization of enslaved men. African American men’s racial identity and their enslaved status made it more likely that they would be accused, convicted, punished, and even executed for sexually violating white women or attempting to do so.25 The common-law emphasis on male force and female resistance diminished enslaved men’s chances of legal recognition as victims of sexual violence. And the cultural assumption that male dominance and force and female resistance characterized broader sexual relations, something that Sharon Block has called the “blurred divisions between consensual and coercive sexual relations,” similarly decreased the likelihood that judicial officials or the general public would entertain the idea that enslaved men could be victims of sexual coercion. For example, the Richmond Examiner published a story about the 1862 arrest of a free white woman named Mary E. Sawyer. A police officer stormed into her home and discovered David, an enslaved man who belonged to Mary Smith, in Sawyer’s bed. The paper did not suggest that Sawyer compelled David to have sex with her. The reportage found her brazen remark about David being “as good as any white man” to be more notable.26
Enslaved people repeatedly learned that their female owners’ economic investments were equally bound up in their reproductive bodies, and the products of their sexual labor. These lessons sometimes came when white women compelled or forced them to have sex against their will for the purpose of breeding.27 Some enslaved people merely surmised that their mistresses were engaging in breeding practices, but others possessed direct knowledge of their mistresses’ intentions or heard their female owners articulate these ideas to others. Rhoda Hunt’s owner, Eleanor Patton McGlaun, tied slave breeding to her female slave’s freedom. She promised to free Rhoda’s mother after she gave birth to twelve children. She never got the chance to keep her word. Rhoda was the twelfth child, and Eleanor died a month before she was born.28 Another formerly enslaved woman recalled a conversation between her mistress and an individual who wanted to buy her when she was a little girl. Her mistress told the prospective buyer that she “wouldn’t sell her for nothing,” and “wouldn’t take two thousand [dollars] for her,” because she was her “little breeder.” In response to her mistress’s assertion, she cursed her and said, “damn you, I won’t never be no breeder for you.”29
Before she had even reached childbearing age, her female owner already declared her priceless simply because of the future promise of her womb.30 Her mistress also clearly understood that enslaved females possessed an enhanced value because of their capacity to reproduce. She recognized that she possessed the ability to create conditions—sexually violent or otherwise—under which she could reap the rewards of owning an enslaved female. It is quite possible that this woman merely deployed breeding discourse as a way to acknowledge the enhanced value that coincided with this enslaved girl’s childbearing potential. But it also suggests that she possessed a measure of comfort with the darker dimensions of breeding: the physical and psychological tolls breeding could have on the girl, the kind of sexual violence that typically characterized breeding practices, and the pecuniary advantages of selling any children that may have been born as a result of such acts.
Underlying this enslaved girl’s refusal lay an implicit understanding of what being a breeder meant. Her staunch rejection of her mistress’s plan suggests that she may have already known about the sexual violence inherent in forced breeding practices. It also hints at the possibility that she knew that enslaved people did not use the term breeding to refer to consensual sexual relations with a partner of their choice. Rather than acquiesce to her mistress’s plans for her body, she was determined to make sexual choices for herself.
White slave-owning women invested their economic futures in the possibilities of enslaved female bodies, and when African-descended women and girls shattered their hopes, they paid a brutal price. As Eli West traveled through the South, he recalled his yearlong stay with slave owner Esquire Starky and his mother. They owned two hundred slaves, but one enslaved woman of childbearing age simply could not, or would not, conceive. After continuously failing to have children, her mistress had her stripped naked and then she whipped her severely. When this brutality proved ineffectual in remedying the problem, her mistress sold the enslaved woman to slave traders.31 Eli West’s testimony elucidates how important enslaved women’s reproductive capacity was to some white women and the lengths to which they would go in order to reap the tangible rewards of owning female slaves.
Some enslaved women were not able to thwart their mistresses’ plans for their wombs, however. Henrietta Butler’s mistress, Emily Haidee, not only forced her to engage in nonconsensual sex with a man, she commanded Henrietta’s mother to do the same. Emily Haidee knew the value that enslaved females in particular possessed, and she developed long-term financial strategies to maximize their worth. When those coerced sexual acts produced enslaved offspring, she was known for “sellin’ the boys and keepin’ the gals.”32 For Emily, sexual violence was part of a business strategy that made practical sense, and black female bodies lay at the heart of it. She understood that black women’s sexualized bodies held a self-perpetuating, economic promise that black men’s bodies did not possess. But she was not unwilling to use enslaved men’s bodies too. She knew all too well that pairing enslaved male and female bodies together was the key to increasing her economic investments in the institution, and this is precisely what she did.
Deeply embedded in formerly enslaved people’s testimony about slavery and sexual violence lies a more profound discussion about the ways in which white women sought to benefit financially from their capacity to reproduce. And the experiences of the white women and enslaved people discussed in this chapter compel us to reconsider how we define acts of sexual violence in a legal context that denied the very existence of female perpetrators and black victims. Formerly enslaved people’s reflections about white women’s involvement in sexually violent acts not only unveil dimensions of their enslavement that have heretofore remained obscured, they also reveal important new intersections among gender, violence, sex, and the marketplace of slavery.
White women throughout the slaveholding South resigned themselves to the acts of sexual violence that their white male kin and employees perpetrated against enslaved people. Some further traumatized enslaved women by committing acts of sexualized violence on them in an attempt to make these women submit to further violation. And others sanctioned and ordered enslaved people to have sex with each other against their will. Why did they do these things?
Historians such as Thavolia Glymph have shown that white southern women were far from the natural allies of enslaved women, or men for that matter. Yet the idea that white women sympathized with enslaved people because they considered themselves bound by the legal, economic, and political constraints of marriage continues to pervade studies of white women’s relationships with enslaved people.33 The experiences of the enslaved men, women, and children discussed in this chapter offer evidence to challenge this notion. The white women discussed were part of a society that was predicated on the perpetual subjugation of an entire group of people. White women owned and used them, bought and sold them, and sometimes brutalized them. They were part of a culture of violence, and for those women deeply invested in the institution of slavery, sexual violence was part of that culture—it was inseparable from bondage. But there was more to it than that. Raised in slaveholding households and communities, most of these women realized that enslaved females and males possessed different monetary values that were contingent on their biologically distinct bodies, and they banked on this knowledge. White women were members of the South’s slaveholding community and their investments in white supremacy and African American enslavement frequently outweighed other sentimental alliances.
1. Interview with Henrietta Butler, Mother Wit: The Ex-Slave Narratives of the Louisiana Writers’ Project (New York: Peter Lang, 1990), 38.
2. See, for example, Thelma Jennings, “‘Us Colored Women Had to Go through a Plenty’: Sexual Exploitation of African-American Slave Women,” Journal of Women’s History 1, no. 3 (1990): 45–74; Adrienne D. Davis, “‘Don’t Let Nobody Bother Yo’ Principle’: The Sexual Economy of American Slavery,” in Sister Circle: Black Women and Work, ed. Sharon Harley (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 103–27; Edward Baptist, “‘Cuffy,’ ‘Fancy Maids,’ and ‘One-Eyed Men’: Rape, Commodification, and the Domestic Slave Trade in the United States,” American Historical Review 106, no. 5 (2001): 1619–50; Joshua Rothman, Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Families across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787–1861 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); and Sharony Green, “‘Mr Ballard, I Am Compelled to Write Again’: Beyond Bedrooms and Brothels, a Fancy Girl Speaks,” Black Women, Gender & Families 5, no. 1 (2011): 17–40. Thomas Foster’s work on the sexual abuse of enslaved men is helping to move us beyond this paradigm. See Thomas A. Foster, “The Sexual Abuse of Black Men under American Slavery,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 20, no. 3 (2011): 445–64.
3. Mary R. Block, “Rape Law in 19th-Century America: Some Thoughts and Reflections on the State of the Field,” History Compass 7, no. 5 (2009): 1392; and Sharon Block, Rape and Sexual Power in Early America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 16. Kirsten Fischer defines sexualized violence as acts “that may not have involved intercourse or have aroused sexual feelings on the part of either victim or perpetrator.” See Kirsten Fischer, Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001), 161.
4. William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (London: John Murray, 1862), 4:236.
5. On the juridical refusal to recognize black female victims of sexual violence, see Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985), 152; and Block, Rape and Sexual Power.
6. Fischer, Suspect Relations, 161.
7. Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013), 195.
8. Richard Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 193; and Fischer, Suspect Relations, 160–61.
9. Harriet Ann Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself, ed. Lydia Maria Child (Boston: Published for the author, 1861), 45.
10. Interview with Chris Franklin, “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936–1938,” U.S. Work Projects Administration (USWPA), Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html (hereafter “BIS”); and interview with unidentified slave, “Compilation Richmond County Ex-Slave Interviews, Mistreatment of Slaves,” Georgia Narratives, vol. 4, part 4, “BIS.”
11. Interview with Annie Young, Oklahoma Narratives, vol. 13, “BIS.”
12. Interview with Jacob Manson, North Carolina Narratives, vol. 11, part 2, “BIS.”
13. “Mistreatment of Slaves,” Georgia Narratives, vol. 4, part 4, “BIS.” White women knew all too well what happened to the enslaved women they sent to be whipped in these establishments. See, for example, “Testimony of Angelina Grimke Weld” in Theodore Dwight Weld, American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839), 52–54.
14. Interview with Fannie Moore, North Carolina Narratives, vol. 11, part 2, “BIS.” Other women engaged in the same kinds of eroticized, sexually sadistic whippings. See “Slavery as It Is. Slavery Illustrated,” Frederick Douglass’ Paper (Rochester, N.Y.), May 11, 1855.
15. See Martha Hodes, White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999); and Loren Schweninger, Families in Crisis in the Old South: Divorce, Slavery and the Law (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 22–27. See also Fischer, Suspect Relations, 164.
16. “For the Better Preventing of a Spurious and Mixt Issue, &c.,” in The Charters and General Laws of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay (Boston: T. B. Wait, 1814), 747–48; and “An Act for the Better Regulations of Negroes in This Province,” in James T. Mitchell and Henry Flanders, The Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania from 1682–1801, vol. 4, 1724–1744, chapter 222, [1725–26] section 8 (n.p.: Clarence M. Busch, State Printer of Pennsylvania, 1897), 62–63; Amber D. Moulton, The Fight for Interracial Marriage Rights in Antebellum Massachusetts (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015), 10–48; and Peggy Pascoe, “Race, Gender, and Intercultural Relations: The Case of Interracial Marriage,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 12, no. 1 (1991): 6.
17. Maryland State Archives, Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly January 1637 / 8–September 1664, “An Act Concerning Negroes & Other Slaves,” 1:533–34, http://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc2900/sc2908/000001/000001/html/am1—533.html; “Act XVI. An Act for Suppressing Outlying Slaves,” in The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619, ed. William Waller Hening (Philadelphia: Printed for the author, by Thomas Desilver, 1823), 3:86–88. See also Paul Finkelman, “Crimes of Love, Misdemeanors of Passion: The Regulation of Race and Sex in the Colonial South,” in The Devil’s Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South, ed. Catherine Clinton and Michele Gillespie (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 124–38; and Peter Bardaglio, “‘Shamefull Matches’: The Regulation of Interracial Sex and Marriage in the South before 1900,” in Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History, ed. Martha Hodes (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 112–38.
18. Hodes, White Women, Black Men; and Schweninger, Families in Crisis, 22–27. See also Fischer, Suspect Relations, 164.
19. Daina Ramey Berry, “Swing the Sickle for the Harvest Is Ripe”: Gender and Slavery in Antebellum Georgia (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 77–88.
20. Butler interview, 38.
21. Foster, “Sexual Abuse of Black Men.”
22. Interview with unidentified slave, “Compilation Richmond County Ex-Slave Interviews.”
23. Interview with J. W. Lindsay, 1863, Canada, in John W. Blassingame, Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977), 400.
24. Interview with Matilda Henrietta Perry, Weevils in the Wheat: Interviews with Virginia Ex-Slaves (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976), 224–25.
25. Diane Miller Sommerville, Rape and Race in the Nineteenth-Century South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); and “The Rape Myth in the Old South Reconsidered,” Journal of Southern History 16, no. 3 (August 1995): 481–518.
26. Estelle B. Freedmen, Redefining Rape: Sexual Violence in the Era of Suffrage and Segregation (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2013), 1–32; Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, 4:233–39, Block, Rape and Sexual Power, 18; Richmond Examiner, October 21, 1862, 16.
27. Historians have discussed slave breeding for decades and many have sought to address the questions of whether it really took place and how frequently it occurred. They have generally concurred that it did happen, but the matter of prevalence remains contentious. See, for example, Richard G. Lowe and Randolph B. Campbell, “The Slave-Breeding Hypothesis: A Demographic Comment on the ‘Buying’ and ‘Selling’ States,” Journal of Southern History 42, no. 3 (1976): 401–12; Richard Fogel and Stanley Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (New York: W. W. Norton, 1974), 78–79; and John Boles, Black Southerners: 1619–1869 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984), 69. More recently, Gregory D. Smithers examined African American people and abolitionists’ deployment of the idea of forced breeding as a metaphor through which they sought to articulate the horrors of slavery to various audiences. Gregory D. Smithers, Slave Breeding: Sex, Violence, and Memory in African American History (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2012). In this chapter I do not seek to revisit these questions. Rather, I examine actual incidents in order to suggest more expansive ways of conceptualizing the violent nature of those events and to highlight white women’s involvement in a practice we typically associate with male perpetrators.
28. Interview with Rhoda Hunt, The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography, Mississippi Narratives, part 2, supplement series 1, vol. 7 (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood Press, 1977), 1075.
29. Social Science Institute, Fisk University, Unwritten History of Slavery: Autobiographical Accounts of Negro Ex-Slaves (Washington, D.C.: Microcard Editions, 1968), 77.
30. Jennifer L. Morgan’s examination of white slave owners’ wills in colonial South Carolina and Barbados demonstrates the importance that enslaved women’s childbearing potential held for these individuals as they sketched out their bequests to descendants. As recipients of these slave inheritances, white women understood that enslaved infants augmented their wealth just as white men did. See Jennifer L. Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 102.
31. Weld, American Slavery as It Is, 68–69.
32. Butler interview, 38.
33. Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).