A History of Female Slavery in America
For many years female slaves were underrepresented in history. During the 19th century slave women were depicted as mothers and caregivers, but they were often the abuse victims of their white slave owners. In the following, I will answer the question of what does the existence of slavery reveal to us about life in 19th century America? I will also discuss the role of slave women and the myth of the mammy that surrounded them during this time period.
As we all know, slave owners did not make a difference between men and women when dividing work. Women could work alongside their men out in the fields but most of them did work in the houses. However, Female slaves, who worked in the household, were often subjected to cruel beatings and rapes. Sexual relationships between masters and their female slaves were extremely common during these times. These forced sexual relationships most often took the form of cruel beatings and savage rapes. According to Douglass, who witnessed an overseer beating a woman said,” he would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin” (42).
Although most sexual relations between master and female slave were out right rape, there were many accounts upon which some female slaves willingly had sex with their masters. However, this kind of relationship would spark a problem between the slave owner and his wife. This conflict would often result in the sale or severe punishment of a slave. Black women also represented the authority figure within her family or community. In addition, slave mothers would educate their children on how to sew or do other household chores in order to help their families.
Between the late 1700s and early 1800s, the slave population increased from 500,000 to 4 million. Of all the slaves, Black women were the ones who suffered the most. Women were known to be inferior to men and Blacks were inferior to whites. Black women suffered a great deal during slavery. White women were discriminated against, but they were treated according to their gender in society.
Furthermore, the norm in the society back then showed that women’s role was to stay home and cook, while the man’s role was to go out and work. On the other hand, black women did not have the privileged of just staying home. She had to work the fields or do household chores in the slave masters house. She had no gender and she was treated just like a Black man and sometimes even worst. According to White, “Black in a white society, slave in a free society, woman in a society ruled by men, females had the least power and were perhaps the most vulnerable group of antebellum Americans” (15). The severity of the punishments was equal amongst Black men and women. When black women became pregnant, she was still not excused from her daily chores.
After the transporting of slaves from Africa to America became illegal, the need for female slaves became more important for slave masters. Slaves master began to produce slave on their plantation because the accessibility of slaves from Africa was diminishing. Thus, black women became breeders. Therefore, white slave masters raped Black women not only for their sexual pleasures, but to create new slaves that were going to replace the old ones. Sometimes the slave masters forced other Black men to have sex with Black women, while her husband was also forced to watch.
Blacks carried a big burden because of slavery, but Black women had to carry an even bigger burden. After being raped, Black women were assured that they were able to keep their child. Most of the times her child was sold off to another slave master, especially if she was a breeder these divisions affected slave families. The majority of the families were incomplete because most family members were often sold through slavery auction. So, Black females relatives took the role of a father figure.
Everyone was brother and sister because the same institution was oppressing them. Aside from all other things the black woman had to do, she had to also be a teacher to her children because slaves were not given an education. Sojourner Truth was born into slavery is a great example of black women who suffered in slavery. Nevertheless, she made her way to freedom as a young woman became very famous for her involvement in women’s right.
Another issue that I will discuss is the myth of the mammy and jezebel. This I think is one of the greatest myth of slavery and salve women. These are myth created by the white slave owners in order to justify their behavior towards these women. First, I will discuss the ideology of a black woman being a jezebel. According to White, “In every way Jezebel was the counterimage of the mid- nineteenth century ideal of the Victorian lady. However, black women were seen as being very sexual and promiscuous and hence got the name jezebel. According to White, “In some proslavery rhetoric, therefore, Jezebel was made chaste, and the idea of chaste slave women was soothing to Southern whites” (45).
What was a mammy? Well, the mammy as describe by White, “mammy was the woman who could do anything, and do it better than anyone else” (47). The mammy myth is just another stereotype created by slave owners. The woman who cared for black children was commonly designated “aunty” to distinguish her from the “mammy”, the nurse of white children.
Sometimes one woman cared for both white and black children. However, from what we know of history mammies happily take care of white children and do household work for her slave owner. Nevertheless, slave women were not jezebels or mammies. They were women held in bondage and against their will because they were properties of another person. I feel that historians should spend more time studying black women and not the institution that controlled them.
Throughout the nineteenth century, slave women were dominated by their masters and had to conform to the social bearings of the society back then. I think that the institution of slavery during the nineteenth century tell us that the American society was not living up to the laws by which it hah created by the forefathers. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “All men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights”. I think that white Americans during this time period did not feel that slaves were to benefit from the privileges granted by the constitution.