NORMAN HARPER ESSAY Once a year AJAS publishes the ...

NORMAN HARPER ESSAY Once a year AJAS publishes the ...

NORMAN HARPER ESSAY Once a year AJAS publishes the ...


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<strong>NORMAN</strong> <strong>HARPER</strong> <strong>ESSAY</strong><br />

<strong>Once</strong> a <strong>year</strong> <strong>AJAS</strong> <strong>publishes</strong> <strong>the</strong> Norman Harper Essay, named in honour of<br />

<strong>the</strong> late Norman Harper, Professor of History at <strong>the</strong> University of<br />

Melbourne and one of <strong>the</strong> founding figures of ANZASA. The Essay is<br />

selected by members of <strong>the</strong> editorial board from undergraduate essays<br />

submitted by individuals and/or tertiary institutions. This <strong>year</strong> <strong>the</strong> readers<br />

examined what were probably <strong>the</strong> strongest papers in <strong>the</strong> history of <strong>the</strong><br />

prize. Emily Pollnitz is <strong>the</strong> 2005 winner with a paper that was well written<br />

on an important and interesting topic. She showed an excellent grasp of <strong>the</strong><br />

historiographical issues as well as an ability to reconsider <strong>the</strong> evidence in a<br />

way that went well beyond <strong>the</strong> usual undergraduate arguments.<br />



WOMEN IN SOUTH CAROLINA, 1830-1861.<br />


Relationships of intimacy and mutual affection between mistresses and <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

female slaves have proved problematic in <strong>the</strong> historiography of <strong>the</strong> ‘peculiar<br />

institution’. They have grated against feminist historians’ search for, and<br />

valorisation of, females who resisted bondage, and <strong>the</strong>y have too easily been<br />

lost in revisionists’ focus on black culture and kinship ties. The reformulation<br />

of <strong>the</strong> concept of resistance and <strong>the</strong> rejection of <strong>the</strong> “Mammy” stereotype that<br />

such studies have achieved have been invaluable, but <strong>the</strong>y have come at a<br />

historical price: <strong>the</strong> blurring of potential lines of inquiry into interracial<br />

relationships between women. 1 The African-American women once enslaved<br />

in South Carolina, on <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r hand, had no qualms in prioritising precisely<br />

<strong>the</strong>se relationships in <strong>the</strong>ir interviews with fieldworkers from <strong>the</strong> Federal<br />

Writers’ Project of <strong>the</strong> Work Projects Administration (WPA). By<br />

acknowledging <strong>the</strong> importance ex-slaves placed on <strong>the</strong> mutual attachments that<br />

developed between <strong>the</strong>mselves and <strong>the</strong>ir mistresses, by re-writing <strong>the</strong>m into our<br />

understanding of antebellum slavery and by reconsidering <strong>the</strong>m in <strong>the</strong> light of<br />

more recent feminist <strong>the</strong>orisations of resistance, far more potent motivations for<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir recollections are suggested than <strong>the</strong> nostalgia typically used to explain and<br />

dismiss <strong>the</strong>m. Revaluation of <strong>the</strong> ways in which positive interracial<br />

relationships between women have been written about in <strong>the</strong> history of slavery<br />

indicates that such relationships posed a direct challenge to <strong>the</strong> system that kept<br />

slaves in bondage in <strong>the</strong> politically charged decades preceding <strong>the</strong> Civil War.<br />

Positive relationships between mistresses and female slaves may have received<br />

little scholarly attention because of <strong>the</strong> more gripping material available on<br />

relationships of violence between slaveholder and slave. It is, admittedly, <strong>the</strong>


same disturbing fascination in which this paper had its genesis. In an<br />

enthusiasm to discover <strong>the</strong> grisly details in <strong>the</strong> ex-slave interviews, South<br />

Carolina was selected as a potentially ripe site. (The state was, after all, where<br />

proslavery politics was most fervently espoused and where, in <strong>the</strong> face of a<br />

black majority, slaveholders’ fear of insurrection might elicit more severe<br />

treatment.) 2 Instead, <strong>the</strong> bonds between female slaves and <strong>the</strong>ir mistresses<br />

came to cast into <strong>the</strong> shade <strong>the</strong> reports of cruelty that sat alongside <strong>the</strong>m.<br />

African-American women recalled <strong>the</strong>ir attachment to <strong>the</strong>ir mistresses as<br />

children and young adults, and both male and female ex-slaves retold <strong>the</strong> stories<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir mo<strong>the</strong>rs had passed on to <strong>the</strong>m, narratives of affection between <strong>the</strong>mselves<br />

and mistresses.<br />

Agnes James of Marion, South Carolina, recalled in her interview <strong>the</strong> pleasure<br />

she took in being <strong>the</strong> first child to walk through <strong>the</strong> woods of a morning ‘to see<br />

if I could find a blossom to fetch old miss’. 3 Hester Hunter cherished <strong>the</strong><br />

memory of <strong>the</strong> gift she received from her mistress when, on one of <strong>the</strong> many<br />

walks <strong>the</strong>y took toge<strong>the</strong>r, ‘old Miss’ 4 caught a fish for Hunter to take home for<br />

supper. The mo<strong>the</strong>r of Andy Brice demonstrated her ‘love for old mistress’ 5 by<br />

naming her first child born in freedom after her, and, on <strong>the</strong> Bellinger<br />

plantation, Harriett Gresham and her fellow female slaves loved a mistress who<br />

always contributed ‘some extra “goody”’ 6 for female-orientated events like<br />

weddings or quilting-bees. On occasion, a mistress’s duty of care for her<br />

female slaves extended to her taking on <strong>the</strong> figure of a second or substitute<br />

mo<strong>the</strong>r. 7 Hunter describes her mistress as her ‘white mammy’, 8 and Abbey<br />

Mishow, whose biological mo<strong>the</strong>r died when she was young, considered her<br />

mistress all <strong>the</strong> mo<strong>the</strong>r she needed: ‘I hardly miss my ma, no mudder couldn’t<br />

treat me better dan I treat’. 9<br />

At first glance <strong>the</strong> rosy recollections of women like James, Hunter, Gresham<br />

and Mishow seem to smack of <strong>the</strong> nostalgia and ‘“flattery” factor’ 10 detected by<br />

historians in <strong>the</strong> WPA interviews. In Norman R. Yetman’s 1984 survey of<br />

concerns over <strong>the</strong> collection’s reliability, he suggests that old age and <strong>the</strong><br />

poverty in which many ex-slaves found <strong>the</strong>mselves in <strong>the</strong> Depression <strong>year</strong>s of<br />

<strong>the</strong> 1930s resulted in an idealised vision of childhoods passed in slavery. He<br />

also warns that <strong>the</strong>ir answers were skewed by 1930s race relations. In South<br />

Carolina, where <strong>the</strong> majority of WPA interviewers were white, African-<br />

Americans were more likely to offer <strong>the</strong> answer <strong>the</strong>y thought <strong>the</strong> fieldworker<br />

wanted to hear, or to flatter <strong>the</strong>m with descriptions of slaveholders’ generosity,<br />

than to speak candidly of slavery (particularly if <strong>the</strong> fieldworkers were known<br />

to <strong>the</strong>m as relatives of old masters and mistresses). 11 The existence of<br />

affectionate bonds between women is, however, corroborated in <strong>the</strong> diaries and<br />

letters of antebellum mistresses who described <strong>the</strong>ir fondness and concern for<br />

<strong>the</strong> wellbeing of particular slaves and <strong>the</strong> intimacies <strong>the</strong>y shared with, and gifts<br />

<strong>the</strong>y bestowed on, favourites. 12 The favourable recollections of African-


American women are, moreover, embedded within interviews throughout<br />

which <strong>the</strong>y weave descriptions of relationships too complex to be dismissed as<br />

<strong>the</strong> result of pure nostalgia or insincere flattery.<br />

Harriet Gresham, who reported <strong>the</strong> kindness of her mistress and <strong>the</strong> love her<br />

female slaves felt for her, also takes pains in <strong>the</strong> course of her interview to<br />

inform <strong>the</strong> fieldworker that freedom was a blessing for which all <strong>the</strong> Bellinger’s<br />

slaves thanked God. Gresham continues her <strong>the</strong>me by repeating verbatim a<br />

spiritual which emerged shortly after <strong>the</strong> Civil War and which celebrated <strong>the</strong><br />

breaking of ‘slav’ry chains’ and <strong>the</strong> silencing of <strong>the</strong> ‘driver’s ho’n’. 13<br />

Gresham’s appreciation of freedom and fondness for a mistress who kept her in<br />

bondage may be difficult for <strong>the</strong> historian to reconcile, but for her <strong>the</strong> emotions<br />

were not mutually exclusive. Without needing to internalise <strong>the</strong> ideology that<br />

defined her as a contented, enslaved dependent, she can articulate <strong>the</strong> bonds that<br />

had grown, over three generations, between her mistress’s family and her own,<br />

toge<strong>the</strong>r with <strong>the</strong> elation of freedom and her happiness in marrying a Yankee<br />

and starting an independent family. 14 In doing so, Gresham complicates any<br />

explanation of her affection towards her mistress as nostalgia or flattery.<br />

Freedom is good, and she wants her white audience to know it, but she also<br />

wants <strong>the</strong>m to know that she loved a kind and generous mistress. 15<br />

The relationships that developed between a slave’s mistress and his or her<br />

mo<strong>the</strong>r are also a feature of <strong>the</strong> South Carolina narratives; <strong>the</strong> acts <strong>the</strong>y inspired<br />

likewise evince an affection not to be explained by <strong>the</strong> exigencies of <strong>the</strong> 1930s<br />

interviews. Abbey Mishow thought she had been raised ‘just like a pet’ 16<br />

because <strong>the</strong> relationship between Mrs Reese Ford and her mo<strong>the</strong>r, who worked<br />

as a seamstress on Ford’s rice plantation, had developed into one of trust and<br />

familial responsibility: ‘De missus promise my ma to tek care of me, and she<br />

sho’ did’. 17 In Reverend James H. Johnson’s recollection of <strong>the</strong> day <strong>the</strong><br />

Yankees arrived at his hometown of Camden, it was <strong>the</strong> mistress who received<br />

aid and protection. Johnson ran to <strong>the</strong> mistress’s house and successfully begged<br />

<strong>the</strong> soldiers to spare it and its residents because ‘<strong>the</strong> mistress, <strong>the</strong>n in charge,<br />

was <strong>the</strong> best friend my mo<strong>the</strong>r and I ever had’. 18 Given <strong>the</strong> paternalist ideology<br />

<strong>the</strong>n current in South Carolina—an ideology that defined <strong>the</strong> role of slave as<br />

dependent and of master as protector, and that has been persuasively extended<br />

by Marli Weiner to include, as an expectation of white womanhood, a<br />

mistress’s duty of care for household dependents—Johnson’s refashioning of<br />

<strong>the</strong> roles of master and mistress, mistress and slaves, is striking. 19 It suggests<br />

that domestic affections and responsibilities were not simply bestowed by a<br />

mistress upon a favourite female slave and her relatives, but were shared<br />

between <strong>the</strong>m, and could extend from <strong>the</strong> relatives of <strong>the</strong> slave to <strong>the</strong> mistress<br />



The level of mutual dependence between black and white women hinted at in<br />

Johnson’s interview is given a sharper outline by Sally Layton Keenan.<br />

Keenan’s interview consists chiefly of <strong>the</strong> stories her mo<strong>the</strong>r passed on to her,<br />

regarding <strong>the</strong> family’s forced migration to Arkansas: at each major stage of <strong>the</strong><br />

journey—travel, arrival and return—<strong>the</strong> relationship between mo<strong>the</strong>r and<br />

mistress acts as a reference point to describe <strong>the</strong> experience. The fear of<br />

camping on <strong>the</strong> road overnight is told to and by Keenan as one her mo<strong>the</strong>r<br />

shared with ‘Missus “Dandy”’ 20 (as well as with ‘Marse “Matt” Wallace’ 21<br />

who, as his wife confided to Keenan’s mo<strong>the</strong>r, ‘jump powerful in he sleep<br />

sometimes’, despite professing he was not ‘one bit scared’). 22 The misery of<br />

<strong>the</strong> five <strong>year</strong>s spent outside South Carolina at <strong>the</strong> orders of Wallace is again<br />

described by Keenan as shared with ‘Missus “Dandy”’. When returning home<br />

following <strong>the</strong> death of several elderly slaves and <strong>the</strong> master himself, Keenan’s<br />

mo<strong>the</strong>r is only willing to catch <strong>the</strong> train because of her sense of commonality<br />

with her mistress: ‘if de Missus wuz not feered she would not be’. 23<br />

Keenan’s interview depicts two women who took comfort and drew strength<br />

from sharing feelings of fear, despondency and at last new resolution, on an illfated<br />

exodus ordered by <strong>the</strong> master. They whispered about Wallace’s unmanly<br />

fears behind his back; <strong>the</strong>y shared <strong>the</strong> knowledge of <strong>the</strong>ir unhappiness in <strong>the</strong><br />

place to which he forced <strong>the</strong>m to go; and, in an illustration of <strong>the</strong> world <strong>the</strong>y<br />

shared to his exclusion, <strong>the</strong> slaves kept Wallace’s death a secret from <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

mistress for two weeks, out of <strong>the</strong>ir concern that <strong>the</strong> shock of <strong>the</strong> news could<br />

prove fatal. 24 Both women received benefits from <strong>the</strong> relationship. For<br />

Keenan’s mo<strong>the</strong>r it offered an emotional defence against her master’s authority,<br />

and it provided a vehicle for <strong>the</strong> expression of her discontent because ‘Missus<br />

“Dandy”’, unlike Keenan’s mo<strong>the</strong>r, was not too ‘skeered to speak [her] mind’ 25<br />

to master. In turn, ‘Missus “Dandy”’ had someone to whom she could<br />

cathartically divulge her husband’s failings, and she was offered care and<br />

protection by <strong>the</strong> slaves for whom she was responsible.<br />

Not all women, of course, had <strong>the</strong> opportunity to form <strong>the</strong> relationships that<br />

intimate contact with a mistress allowed. Jane Johnson, whose parents worked<br />

<strong>the</strong> fields on her master’s plantation, only remembers seeing her mistress when<br />

she was sent to <strong>the</strong> Big House on an errand, which was rare. 26 Those who did<br />

spend most time with <strong>the</strong>ir mistress were <strong>the</strong> house servants, <strong>the</strong> women and<br />

girls who worked as maids, cooks, nurses and seamstresses in <strong>the</strong> Big House,<br />

but at a variety of stages in <strong>the</strong>ir life nearly all slave women living on large<br />

plantations would perform work that brought <strong>the</strong>m into contact with <strong>the</strong><br />

mistress. 27 Young mo<strong>the</strong>rs might be required to act as wet nurses for a<br />

mistress’s child, a mistress might dedicate time to teaching female slaves to sew<br />

or weave (skills Sallie Paul’s mistress taught <strong>the</strong> African-American women on<br />

her plantation and for which Paul held her in great esteem), and young girls


might be brought into <strong>the</strong> house to serve as maids, before <strong>the</strong>y were deemed old<br />

enough to work <strong>the</strong> fields. 28<br />

Life on <strong>the</strong> plantation, which could prove particularly lonely for a mistress, also<br />

encouraged <strong>the</strong> formation of interracial relationships. The proscriptions of her<br />

gender located <strong>the</strong> mistress firmly within <strong>the</strong> boundaries of an estate on which<br />

she might be <strong>the</strong> only white woman and from which her husband might be<br />

absent for long periods. The lack of suitable chaperones restricted opportunities<br />

for travel for reasons of propriety as well as <strong>the</strong> pragmatic dangers of travelling<br />

alone. Domestic and managerial responsibilities restricted <strong>the</strong> time available<br />

for outside jaunts even when an opportunity presented itself. 29 Mary Kendall in<br />

a letter to her sister in 1853 described a situation faced by many white women<br />

living on <strong>the</strong> dispersed plantations: ‘I seldom see any person aside from our<br />

own family, and those employed upon <strong>the</strong> plantation. For about three weeks I<br />

did not have <strong>the</strong> pleasure of seeing one white female face’. 30<br />

Female slaves were more confined to <strong>the</strong> plantation than <strong>the</strong>ir male<br />

counterparts. The nature of <strong>the</strong>ir work offered <strong>the</strong>m less mobility than male<br />

carpenters or mechanics who might be hired out, and those who were mo<strong>the</strong>rs<br />

had children that required supervision. Female slaves were also conscious of<br />

<strong>the</strong> dangers of travelling alone, even though <strong>the</strong>y might have absentee partners<br />

or husbands who could visit <strong>the</strong>m only rarely. 31 In contrast to <strong>the</strong>ir mistresses,<br />

however, African-American women on large plantations lived, worked and<br />

spent <strong>the</strong>ir leisure time within a community of men and women with whom<br />

<strong>the</strong>y shared <strong>the</strong> experience of bondage. 32 The situation seems to have led some<br />

white women to establish relationships with <strong>the</strong>ir slaves based on coercion or<br />

overt compulsion. Victoria Adams witnessed a soldier buy a girl from <strong>the</strong><br />

block so his childless wife would have a companion, and Jessie Sparrow’s<br />

mo<strong>the</strong>r, Sally Stevenson, told her daughter that <strong>the</strong> ‘ole Missus’ 33 took her from<br />

her family when very young. 34 Stevenson was not allowed to visit <strong>the</strong> slave<br />

quarters, was required to sleep on a pallet on <strong>the</strong> floor next to <strong>the</strong> mistress’s bed<br />

and to spend her days with her mistress learning to sew. Later, Stevenson<br />

worked alongside her making clo<strong>the</strong>s for <strong>the</strong> plantation’s slaves, but she found<br />

her life in <strong>the</strong> Big House so constricting that she married at 13 to escape. A<br />

room was <strong>the</strong>n built onto <strong>the</strong> kitchen in order to keep Stevenson close by, even<br />

in marriage. 35<br />

The experience of Sparrow’s mo<strong>the</strong>r illuminates a paradox that characterised<br />

relationships between female slaveholders and slaves. It demonstrates <strong>the</strong><br />

power imbalance inherent in a relationship where white women possessed <strong>the</strong><br />

authority to determine rules and parameters, but it also reveals <strong>the</strong> emotional<br />

dependence a mistress might develop, shifting some power into <strong>the</strong> hands of <strong>the</strong><br />

bondswoman. 36 Young house girls like Stevenson functioned as constant<br />

companions—someone to sit with, to talk to, as well as to order around—and


<strong>the</strong>y performed quite intimate acts for <strong>the</strong>ir mistress: combing hair, dressing and<br />

sleeping close at hand, on <strong>the</strong> bedroom floor. 37 Such intimacy could be<br />

claustrophobic, leading to impatience, insolence or violent outbursts on <strong>the</strong> part<br />

of ei<strong>the</strong>r or both women, but it could also breed a dependency as it did for<br />

Stevenson’s ‘ole Missus’, offering <strong>the</strong> bondswoman some room to negotiate for<br />

preferential treatment. The advantage was not lost on Stevenson who managed<br />

to ensure her children were kept close at all times and were well fed from <strong>the</strong><br />

mistress’s own kitchen. 38 For o<strong>the</strong>r women, as it was for Adeline Hall, <strong>the</strong><br />

emotional attachments that could develop outweighed any outrage over<br />

enforced separation or coercion. As maid and companion, she not only enjoyed<br />

<strong>the</strong> clo<strong>the</strong>s, food and escape from fieldwork: she revelled in feeling part of <strong>the</strong><br />

family and in <strong>the</strong> 1930s still recalled trials and tribulations of her mistress’s<br />

sons as if <strong>the</strong>y were her own siblings. 39<br />

Despite <strong>the</strong> evident importance African-American women and <strong>the</strong>ir children<br />

placed on <strong>the</strong> relationships <strong>the</strong>y built with <strong>the</strong>ir mistresses, only recently have<br />

<strong>the</strong>se received due consideration in academic scholarship. The brief<br />

appearances women like Hall and <strong>the</strong> mo<strong>the</strong>rs of Johnson and Keenan have<br />

made in earlier feminist histories have, moreover, been more censorious than<br />

informative. They are Angela Davis’s ‘traitors’, <strong>the</strong> female slaves who were<br />

‘indifferent’ and did not ‘realise [<strong>the</strong>ir] potential’ 40 for resistance, and <strong>the</strong>y are<br />

Fox-Genovese’s ‘pretentious house servants’ 41 who were bound more closely to<br />

<strong>the</strong> white household than to black kin. In o<strong>the</strong>r studies on African-American<br />

women, <strong>the</strong> bonds formed with white women have been obscured, lost to <strong>the</strong><br />

focus on relationships within <strong>the</strong> black community, in spite of <strong>the</strong> evidence that<br />

contact with a mistress formed part of most female slaves’ lived experience. 42<br />

As <strong>the</strong> value-laden language of Davis and Fox-Genovese in <strong>the</strong> 1970s and ’80s<br />

betrays, historical inquiry into relationships between white women and <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

female slaves has been, partly focused, partly clouded by contemporary<br />

concerns. Befriending a mistress did not sit comfortably within <strong>the</strong> framework<br />

of second-wave feminist politics attempting to deconstruct an essentialist<br />

approach to women’s liberation and history. 43 By apparently accepting <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

subordination to <strong>the</strong>ir oppressors, <strong>the</strong>se women could too easily be read as<br />

accepting <strong>the</strong> dictates of patriarchy, worse, as exemplifying a sisterhood in<br />

which <strong>the</strong> discrimination faced by all women was equal—a fallacy of which<br />

African-American women were all too aware. Fox-Genovese’s concern to<br />

reject such an essentialist interpretation is evident in her utilisation of <strong>the</strong> now<br />

classic tripartite, gender, race and class, to illustrate that <strong>the</strong>re was no sisterhood<br />

between white and black women under <strong>the</strong> domination of white men, whatever<br />

small material advantages it might offer slave women. 44 Race and class divided<br />

<strong>the</strong>m into a hierarchy in which <strong>the</strong> white woman’s privileged position was<br />

dependent upon <strong>the</strong> labour and subordination of <strong>the</strong> black woman. 45


More recent gender histories are less pressed by <strong>the</strong> urgency of a politics of<br />

difference since its general academic acceptance and since <strong>the</strong> final debunking<br />

of <strong>the</strong> “Mammy” myth. They have provided a forum for reconsidering positive<br />

relationships between mistresses and female slaves. 46 In her 1998 study of<br />

plantation women in South Carolina, Marli Weiner extends and reformulates<br />

Fox-Genovese’s suggestion that intimacy could allow slaves some negotiating<br />

power: intimacy provides scope for exchange. 47 Weiner details <strong>the</strong> material<br />

and political benefits that could flow from close contact with white women:<br />

extra food, soap, clothing as well as supplies for special occasions; <strong>the</strong><br />

overhearing of information regarding <strong>the</strong> world beyond <strong>the</strong> plantation; <strong>the</strong><br />

powers of intercession and persuasion of a mistress willing to prevent a beating,<br />

to veto <strong>the</strong> sale of a family member or to secure a lighter workload. 48 Most<br />

significantly, Weiner suggests that relationships between white and black<br />

women could, if characterised by ‘a reciprocal measure of respect’, 49 transcend<br />

two tenets central to <strong>the</strong> justification of slavery: <strong>the</strong> coexisting definitions of<br />

slaves as property and as uncivilised dependents. 50<br />

In Weiner’s formulation <strong>the</strong> power to transcend <strong>the</strong>se ideologies rests firmly in<br />

<strong>the</strong> hands of <strong>the</strong> white woman. It is on her offer of kindness and concern that a<br />

slave depended if she was to be empowered to respond with mutual respect or<br />

to receive <strong>the</strong> benefits that enabled her to live with some dignity. It is only<br />

within <strong>the</strong> slave community that Weiner allows <strong>the</strong> female slave those more<br />

active roles, sustaining culture, values and family ties, that encouraged selfrespect<br />

and affirmed African-Americans’ essential humanity. 51 A re-reading of<br />

<strong>the</strong> testimonies of ex-slaves in <strong>the</strong> WPA interviews, however, suggests that <strong>the</strong><br />

female slaves of South Carolina were less than passive partners when it came to<br />

realising <strong>the</strong> subversive potential of relationships with mistresses.<br />

African-American women interviewed in <strong>the</strong> 1930s recalled <strong>the</strong> hard labour<br />

performed and <strong>the</strong> skills acquired during slavery with some pride but also with<br />

a measure of resentment. 52 Mary Jane Kelley boasted that she was capable of<br />

working as hard as a man, but she expressed her indignation at having to,<br />

linking it to <strong>the</strong> humiliation of being whipped just ‘like men’ 53 too. Aware that<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir labour and punishment articulated <strong>the</strong> division between <strong>the</strong>ir status and<br />

that of <strong>the</strong> mistress—whose womanhood protected her from heavy work and<br />

(for <strong>the</strong> most part) physical abuse—slave women sought o<strong>the</strong>r avenues for<br />

defining <strong>the</strong>ir conception of gender roles and behaviour. 54 Historians, including<br />

Weiner, have typically looked to relationships and activities within <strong>the</strong> slave<br />

community to identify ways in which <strong>the</strong> slaves consolidated <strong>the</strong>ir female<br />

identity. Again, however, <strong>the</strong> accounts of relationships with mistresses in <strong>the</strong><br />

South Carolina narratives demonstrate that in <strong>the</strong>ir interactions with whites<br />

female slaves also resisted <strong>the</strong> ‘defeminisation’ 55 imposed on <strong>the</strong>m by owners. 56


The strong identification of Sallie Layton Keenan’s mo<strong>the</strong>r with her ‘Missus<br />

“Dandy”’ prioritises <strong>the</strong>ir shared experience as women over any distinction<br />

based on <strong>the</strong> labour Keenan’s mo<strong>the</strong>r performed. What role she held on <strong>the</strong><br />

plantation in South Carolina and Mississippi is, in fact, never mentioned by<br />

Keenan. Ra<strong>the</strong>r, for Keenan and her mo<strong>the</strong>r, it is <strong>the</strong> shared experiences with<br />

‘Missus “Dandy”’ that are central to her narrative and identity. By retelling her<br />

mo<strong>the</strong>r’s life through stories that recreate <strong>the</strong> two women’s common emotions<br />

and <strong>the</strong> world <strong>the</strong>y shared to <strong>the</strong> exclusion of Master Wallace, Keenan claims<br />

for her mo<strong>the</strong>r <strong>the</strong> status and dignity of full partnership with ano<strong>the</strong>r woman—<br />

this in spite of a system that would minimise her femininity and, in order to<br />

justify her labour, deny her equality. 57<br />

Adeline Hall similarly recalls her own life as maid and companion to <strong>the</strong><br />

women of <strong>the</strong> household in terms that dismiss <strong>the</strong> Sou<strong>the</strong>rn race, class and (in<br />

her case) age distinctions that would o<strong>the</strong>rwise have defined her subordination.<br />

Through <strong>the</strong> fondness she had grown to feel for her mistresses during <strong>the</strong> long<br />

days <strong>the</strong>y spent toge<strong>the</strong>r, Hall assumed parity between <strong>the</strong>m. She describes <strong>the</strong><br />

master addressing her and her mistress on equal terms when informing <strong>the</strong>m of<br />

important family news: ‘Marse William come in dere where me and de mistress<br />

was and say: ‘Tom’s run away from school’. 58 In Hall’s account, <strong>the</strong>re is no<br />

sense of overhearing a news report intended solely for her mistress. Ra<strong>the</strong>r,<br />

Hall assumes <strong>the</strong> position of a family member expected to feel concern for<br />

Tom’s plight. Locating herself as <strong>the</strong> gender and class equal of her mistress,<br />

Hall assumes <strong>the</strong> power to transcend Sou<strong>the</strong>rn ideologies that sought to oppress<br />

her femininity and her humanity. 59<br />

Adopting a wealthy owner’s class status also offered female slaves a sense of<br />

superiority over working-class whites. In South Carolina, where wealth in land<br />

and slaves was concentrated in <strong>the</strong> hands of a particularly small elite, slaves<br />

were well aware of <strong>the</strong> distinctions within white society. 60 Most frequently<br />

referred to in <strong>the</strong> WPA interviews was <strong>the</strong> distinction between plantation<br />

owners, with whom slaves identified, and ‘white trash’, 61 non-slaveholding<br />

locals who, as <strong>the</strong> ex-slave Samuel Boulware explained, often worked as<br />

overseers or were active members of slave patrols. 62 Although <strong>the</strong><br />

identification of female slaves with <strong>the</strong>ir white family could be interpreted as an<br />

internalisation of paternalism, it was invoked by some ex-slaves as proof that,<br />

contrary to proslavery ideology and <strong>the</strong> cruel treatment <strong>the</strong>y received, <strong>the</strong>y were<br />

not on <strong>the</strong> lowest rung of <strong>the</strong> social or evolutionary ladder.<br />

Manda Walker identified with <strong>the</strong> class of <strong>the</strong> ‘young misses’ 63 among whom<br />

she had her upbringing. Her assumption placed her in a position of class and<br />

moral superiority from which she could heap contempt on <strong>the</strong> ‘poor white trash<br />

patrollers’ 64 who threatened her family life. Ra<strong>the</strong>r than accept that patrollers<br />

were entitled to brutally beat her fa<strong>the</strong>r because he was a slave, Walker claimed


her family’s right to protection and good treatment based on <strong>the</strong> relationship she<br />

had with her ‘white folk’ 65 and <strong>the</strong> class status it conferred on <strong>the</strong>m. 66 Sena<br />

Moore in her interview was ano<strong>the</strong>r to emphasise <strong>the</strong> distinction between<br />

African-Americans and ‘low down white’ men and women, explaining that<br />

whites ‘can git low downer than a nigger’. 67 As fragile and inconsequential as<br />

Walker and Moore make <strong>the</strong> claim to class status and human dignity seem, it is<br />

important to remember <strong>the</strong> odds stacked against women faced with extreme<br />

race, class and gender discrimination. Harriet Gresham complicates her<br />

enjoyment of <strong>the</strong> status of a white daughter of <strong>the</strong> plantation by acknowledging<br />

<strong>the</strong> constant challenges made to it: ‘I aint know I was any diffrunt fum de<br />

chillen o’ me mistress twel atter de war. We played and et and fit<br />

togetter…Somethin allus happened though to remind me dat I was jist a piece<br />

of property’. 68 Gresham’s acknowledgement is testament to how difficult and,<br />

as a consequence, how powerful a statement it was for slave women to claim<br />

moments of equality with <strong>the</strong>ir mistresses.<br />

A relationship with a mistress did, however, offer some African-American<br />

women insights into a mistress’s vulnerabilities or place <strong>the</strong>m in a position from<br />

which to bestow knowledge that conferred not only a sense of equality but of<br />

superiority. Out on ano<strong>the</strong>r walk with her mistress, Hester Hunter spotted a<br />

runaway slave hiding in an abandoned house. Her mistress pretended not to see<br />

<strong>the</strong> man but <strong>the</strong> looming rain clouds instead and quickly suggested <strong>the</strong> two<br />

make <strong>the</strong>ir way home. Hunter’s ability to see through her mistress’s pretence<br />

redefined <strong>the</strong>ir relationship. The shift is perceptible in <strong>the</strong> way Hunter tells her<br />

story, relating scenario after scenario in which <strong>the</strong> timid slave girl requires her<br />

mistress’s comfort and <strong>the</strong>n, when <strong>the</strong>y reach <strong>the</strong> abandoned house and <strong>the</strong><br />

runaway slave, suddenly reversing roles and power relations. The role reversal,<br />

in which Hunter possesses <strong>the</strong> knowledge and <strong>the</strong> mistress is shown as <strong>the</strong> timid<br />

party, defies <strong>the</strong> configuration of paternalist ideology and evidently gave Hunter<br />

considerable pleasure. 69<br />

Ann Palmer, too, took pleasure in <strong>the</strong> knowledge she held and chose to bestow<br />

on her mistress. While talking to Miss Belle on <strong>the</strong> back porch, Palmer took <strong>the</strong><br />

opportunity to warn her that <strong>the</strong> screeching owls were an omen of death. Miss<br />

Belle’s dismissal of Palmer’s <strong>the</strong>ory did not deter <strong>the</strong> slave who backed up her<br />

argument by pointing out that <strong>the</strong> cows had also been making a racket at night.<br />

Although Miss Belle looked ‘furious like’, 70 she did not pose ano<strong>the</strong>r challenge<br />

to Palmer’s divination. Whe<strong>the</strong>r Miss Belle was angrily sceptical, or convinced<br />

and superstitiously frightened at being taken beyond her social convictions, is<br />

questionable. Was she furious because she feared <strong>the</strong> slave might be right, or<br />

angry that Palmer had had <strong>the</strong> effrontery to push her point? Whichever <strong>the</strong><br />

case, for Palmer, Miss Belle’s silence was read as confirmation that she had<br />

imparted knowledge to her superior, defended her point and successfully<br />

changed her mistress’s mind—a triumph Palmer still relished in her old age.


By rejecting <strong>the</strong>ir defeminisation, by staking <strong>the</strong>ir claim to <strong>the</strong> same privileged<br />

class status as <strong>the</strong>ir mistresses and by realising, through <strong>the</strong>ir intimacy with<br />

<strong>the</strong>m, moments of superiority over <strong>the</strong>m, African-American women grasped <strong>the</strong><br />

subversive potential of <strong>the</strong>se relationships, <strong>the</strong>reby challenging <strong>the</strong> belief<br />

structures that justified <strong>the</strong>ir enslavement. Across race and class lines <strong>the</strong>y<br />

constructed a respect, based on shared womanhood, which forced mistresses to<br />

recognise <strong>the</strong>ir femininity and right to dignity in a society where normative<br />

gender roles required African-American women to be both less than upper-class<br />

and less than women to rationalise <strong>the</strong>ir labour. Through <strong>the</strong>ir relationships,<br />

<strong>the</strong>y adopted <strong>the</strong> class status of <strong>the</strong>ir white owners in a move that made a<br />

mockery of <strong>the</strong>ir characterisation as savages. Finally, by recognising <strong>the</strong><br />

weaknesses of a mistress and advising and influencing her, <strong>the</strong>se women<br />

demonstrated <strong>the</strong> fallacy of <strong>the</strong> paternalist ideology so critical to proslavery<br />

politics: <strong>the</strong>y showed <strong>the</strong>y were not childlike dependents.<br />

The challenges relationships between female slaves and mistresses posed to<br />

Sou<strong>the</strong>rn ideologies were particularly potent in South Carolina and in <strong>the</strong> period<br />

from which <strong>the</strong> ex-slaves’ memories date. In <strong>the</strong> three decades preceding <strong>the</strong><br />

Civil War, as <strong>the</strong> system of bonded labour came under increasing attack from<br />

abolitionists and as its maintenance became entangled in <strong>the</strong> sectional conflict,<br />

political and religious leaders in South Carolina passionately espoused<br />

proslavery rhetoric. Stephanie McCurry has observed that proslavery<br />

republicanism drew on <strong>the</strong> hierarchical structure of <strong>the</strong> household to argue <strong>the</strong><br />

natural inequality that existed amongst god’s creatures, articulating <strong>the</strong> intimate<br />

connection between public and private spheres: ‘“high” politics was <strong>the</strong> politics<br />

of <strong>the</strong> household’. 71 By challenging <strong>the</strong> hierarchies of race and class in <strong>the</strong><br />

slaveholding household, female slaves were engaged in politically charged roleplaying.<br />

Their gambits opposed precisely those arguments employed by lowcountry<br />

pundits to keep <strong>the</strong>m in bondage. 72 The tracts and speeches of<br />

ministers and politicians configured <strong>the</strong> slave as perpetually childlike and in<br />

need of protection; slavery was represented as a benign and civilising influence<br />

upon African-Americans. African-American women, on <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r hand,<br />

dispensed with <strong>the</strong>se stereotypes through <strong>the</strong>ir relationships with <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

mistresses; <strong>the</strong>y strove to establish ties of mutual care and responsibility that<br />

overturned <strong>the</strong> pretence of <strong>the</strong>ir dependency and conferred on <strong>the</strong>m moments of<br />

equal status, dignity and recognition of <strong>the</strong>ir capacity to act as informed social<br />

agents.<br />

Finally, it is important to consider what <strong>the</strong>se claims to <strong>the</strong> status of a mistress<br />

meant for <strong>the</strong> ex-slaves who made <strong>the</strong>m in <strong>the</strong> 1930s. By recalling a mo<strong>the</strong>r’s<br />

or <strong>the</strong>ir own relationship with a mistress, <strong>the</strong>se elderly women, living through<br />

<strong>the</strong> poverty of <strong>the</strong> Depression, claimed for <strong>the</strong>mselves an identity that was<br />

feminine, strong, upper-class, self-sufficient and dignified—identities that


transcended <strong>the</strong>ir current situation as <strong>the</strong>y battled with poverty, old age and <strong>the</strong><br />

legacy of Sou<strong>the</strong>rn racism, as well as its contemporary forms. In passing stories<br />

of <strong>the</strong>se relationships on to <strong>the</strong>ir children, repeating <strong>the</strong>m ‘over and over’ 73 as<br />

did Sallie Layton Keenan’s mo<strong>the</strong>r, ex-slave women indicated <strong>the</strong> significance<br />

<strong>the</strong>y placed on <strong>the</strong>se relationships as part of <strong>the</strong>ir life history. In turn, <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

daughters indicated <strong>the</strong> significance such stories continued to hold for <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

generation by selecting <strong>the</strong>m for transmission to WPA fieldworkers. Calling<br />

into question <strong>the</strong> historical validity of <strong>the</strong> WPA narratives makes it too easy to<br />

overlook <strong>the</strong> significance <strong>the</strong>se memories held for <strong>the</strong> women who elected to<br />

relay <strong>the</strong>m.<br />

John Blassingame warned scholars in 1975 that a superficial reading of <strong>the</strong> exslave<br />

narratives would lead to a ‘distorted view of <strong>the</strong> plantation [a view] where<br />

<strong>the</strong> chief feature of life was mutual love and respect’. 74 In a paper devoted to<br />

eliciting and analysing <strong>the</strong>se very emotions, it is a trap difficult to avoid, but<br />

perhaps by stepping straight into it relationships too often sidelined by history<br />

can be re-explored. African-American women did build friendships with <strong>the</strong><br />

women who held authority over <strong>the</strong>m. In doing so <strong>the</strong>y demanded recognition<br />

of <strong>the</strong> femininity <strong>the</strong>y shared with <strong>the</strong>ir mistresses, as well as <strong>the</strong>ir dignity and<br />

essential humanity. Living in a society that attempted to deny <strong>the</strong>m <strong>the</strong>se<br />

rights, African-American women formed relationships with <strong>the</strong>ir mistresses that<br />

should nei<strong>the</strong>r be dismissed as pure nostalgia, nor simple acquiescence to <strong>the</strong><br />

system that enslaved <strong>the</strong>m. The relationships <strong>the</strong>y constructed can be read as<br />

resistance: ‘I want to be in hebben wid all my white folks…sorta lak…slavery<br />

time’. 75<br />


1 See, for instance, Deborah Gray White, Ar’n't I A Woman? Female Slaves in <strong>the</strong><br />

Plantation South, W. W. Norton, New York, 1985, pp. 46-59 (Mammy), pp. 16-17<br />

(Sambo); Levine, Lawrence W., Black Culture and Black Consciousness: African<br />

American Folk Thought From Slavery to Freedom, Oxford University Press, Oxford,<br />

1977.<br />

2 Stephanie McCurry, ‘The Two Faces of Republicanism: Gender and Proslavery<br />

Politics in Antebellum South Carolina’, Journal of American History, 78, 4, 1992, p.<br />

1247. African-Americans had formed <strong>the</strong> majority of <strong>the</strong> population of South Carolina<br />

since <strong>the</strong> 1720s. This dominance did diminish in <strong>the</strong> late eighteenth century but by<br />

1820, <strong>the</strong>y were once again a majority (Ira Berlin, ‘Time, Space, and <strong>the</strong> Evolution of<br />

Afro-American Society on British Mainland North America’, American Historical<br />

Review, 85, 1, 1980, p. 58; Michael Trinkley, Growth of South Carolina’s Slave<br />

Population, South Carolina Information Highway, (2003), at<br />

, viewed 30 September 2004). Note:<br />

only those interviews with slaves who experienced bondage in South Carolina have<br />

been drawn on in this essay.


3<br />

Agnes James, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, ed. George P. Rawick, The American<br />

Slave: A Composite Autobiography, vol. III, part III, Series I, Greenwood Publishing<br />

Company, Westport, Connecticut, 1941, p. 9. Citation of volume, part and page number<br />

to be condensed henceforth to 3.3, 9 (i.e. vol. III, part III, page 9). The South Carolina<br />

Narratives published in Supplementary Series I will be indicated by SS1.<br />

4<br />

Hester Hunter, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 2.2, 337.<br />

5<br />

Andy Brice, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 2.1, 76.<br />

6<br />

Harriet Gresham, ‘Florida Narratives’, ed. George P. Rawick, The American Slave: A<br />

Composite Autobiography, vol. XVII, Series II, Greenwood Publishing Company,<br />

Westport, Connecticut, 1941, pp. 158-59 (enslaved in South Carolina).<br />

7<br />

Marli Weiner, Mistresses and Slaves: Plantation Women in South Carolina, 1830-80,<br />

University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1997, p. 123.<br />

8<br />

Hester Hunter, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 2.2, 340.<br />

9<br />

Abbey Mishow, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 197. For ano<strong>the</strong>r example of a<br />

mistress acting as a substitute mo<strong>the</strong>r, see, Eliza Scantling, ‘South Carolina Narratives’,<br />

3.4, 80.<br />

10<br />

Norman R. Yetman, `Ex-Slave Interviews and <strong>the</strong> Historiography of Slavery',<br />

American Quarterly, 36(2), 1984, p. 188.<br />

11<br />

Yetman, ‘Ex-Slave Interviews’, pp. 187-88. For instances of ex-slaves who knew<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir interviewers were <strong>the</strong> descendants of slaveholders, see, Charley Barber, ‘South<br />

Carolina Narratives’, 2.1, 29-33, Ed Barber, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 34-7, and<br />

Genia Woodberry, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.4, 218-26, Mary Woodward, ‘South<br />

Carolina Narratives’, 3.4, 257-59. There is also evidence to suggest that state editors<br />

revised unflattering interviews before sending <strong>the</strong>m to <strong>the</strong> WPA national office. George<br />

Rawick’s research, however, indicates that <strong>the</strong> South Carolina narratives were not<br />

revised at a state level (George Rawick, introductions to Supplementary Series 1, 3.1,<br />

1.2, 5, 12, of The American Slave, cited in Sharon Ann Musher, ‘Contesting “The Way<br />

<strong>the</strong> Almighty Wants It”: Crafting Memories of Ex-Slaves in <strong>the</strong> Slave Narrative<br />

Collection’, American Quarterly, 53, 1, 2001, p. 2.<br />

12<br />

There is, of course, also some self-flattery in mistresses’ records of <strong>the</strong>ir generosity to<br />

slaves. For examples, see, Mary D. Curtis to Eliza Ann DeRosset, 15 January 1842,<br />

Moses Ashley Curtis Family Papers, Ella [Gertrude Clanton] Thomas Journal,<br />

November 1857, Duke, and Eliza Cli<strong>the</strong>rall Autobiography and Diary, ms. vol. 4, 35,<br />

UNC, cited by Weiner, Mistresses and Slaves, 84; Sarah Gayle to John Gayle, 17<br />

December 1831, Bayne and Gayle Family Papers, SHC, Sarag A. (Haynsworth) Gayle<br />

Journal, 30 July 1833, 15 December 1833, 17 February 1835, and 4 May 1834, SHC,<br />

cited by Ca<strong>the</strong>rine Clinton, The Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World in <strong>the</strong> Old South,<br />

Pan<strong>the</strong>on Books, New York, 1982, pp. 24-6.<br />

13<br />

Harriet Gresham, ‘Florida Narratives’, 161.<br />

14<br />

For this paternalist ideology, see, Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The<br />

Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, William Morrow, New York,<br />

1984, pp. 41-2.<br />

15<br />

Harriet Gresham, ‘Florida Narratives’, 156-63.<br />

16<br />

Abbey Mishow, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 197.<br />

17<br />

Idem.<br />

18<br />

James H. Johnson, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 46.<br />

19<br />

For fur<strong>the</strong>r reference to slaveholder’s paternalist ideology see, Edward Thomas Heriot<br />

to Anna Bruce Cunningham, 20 April 1853, Edward Thomas Heriot Papers, DUL, cited


by Charles Joyner, Down by <strong>the</strong> Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community,<br />

University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1984, p. 56; Charles Manigault, ‘The Close of <strong>the</strong><br />

War – The Negro’ [1870], 12, 4, 10, VII, SHC, cited by William Dusinberre, Them<br />

Dark Days: Slavery in <strong>the</strong> American Rice Swamps, University of Georgia Press,<br />

Georgia, 1996, p. 46, see also, p. 202; and Giddings, When and Where I Enter, p. 41.<br />

As Marli Weiner has demonstrated through <strong>the</strong> diaries of elite plantation women, <strong>the</strong><br />

ideology of domesticity meant <strong>the</strong> role of mistress included a duty of care to her<br />

household dependents. Weiner, Mistresses and Slaves, pp. 72-4.<br />

20 Sally Layton Keenan, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 78.<br />

21 Ibid., 74.<br />

22 Ibid., 75.<br />

23 Ibid., 77.<br />

24 Sally Layton Keenan, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 76.<br />

25 Idem..<br />

26 Jane Johnson, 3.3, 48-9. See, also, Sam Polite, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 273-<br />

74; and, Mack Taylor, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.4, 158.<br />

27 Weiner, Mistresses and Slaves, 118.<br />

28 See, for instance, Hector Godbold, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, SS1, 11.2, 144; Sallie<br />

Paul, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 236. See also Jacqueline Jones, Labour of Love,<br />

Labour of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and <strong>the</strong> Family from Slavery to <strong>the</strong> Present,<br />

Basic Books Inc. Publishers, New York, 1985, p. 23, and Weiner, Mistresses and<br />

Slaves, pp. 8-9. Weiner also provides evidence of women working in <strong>the</strong> house just<br />

before and just after pregnancy, when recuperating from illness, or when invalided or<br />

elderly, Weiner, Mistresses and Slaves, p. 10.<br />

29 Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Within <strong>the</strong> Plantation Household: Black and White Women<br />

of <strong>the</strong> Old South, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina,<br />

United States of America, 1988, p. 39; Clinton, The Plantation Mistress, pp. 164-65.<br />

30 May Kendall to ‘Sister Lydia’, 20 June 1853, Hamilton-Kendall Family Papers,<br />

GDAH, cited by Fox-Genovese, Within <strong>the</strong> Plantation Household, p. 39.<br />

31 Although particularly skilled domestic servants might be ‘lent out’ or ‘borrowed’ by<br />

plantation owners, this was not a form of travel available to many women (Weiner,<br />

Mistresses and Slaves, p. 17). See also, White, Ar’n't I A Woman, pp. 131-32, and<br />

Elizabeth D. Blum, `Power, Danger, and Control: Slave Women's Perceptions of<br />

Wilderness in <strong>the</strong> Nineteenth Century', Women's Studies, 31, 2002, p. 251.<br />

32 Clinton, The Plantation Mistress, p. 43. For an example of women’s social and<br />

community life on <strong>the</strong> plantation, see, Elmer Turnage, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 2.1,<br />

1-3.<br />

33 Jessie Sparrow, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.4, 126.<br />

34 Idem.; Victoria Adams, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 2.1, 11.<br />

35 Jessie Sparrow, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.4, 121-22, 126. The form of<br />

punishment inflicted on <strong>the</strong>se young girls also articulates <strong>the</strong> coercive nature of <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

relationships: <strong>the</strong> mo<strong>the</strong>r was fetched to do <strong>the</strong> whipping. It was a punishment designed<br />

to alienate <strong>the</strong> child from her mo<strong>the</strong>r and to encourage an attachment to <strong>the</strong> mistress. In<br />

Adeline Hall’s case, for instance, <strong>the</strong> mistress rescued her from a beating Hall’s mo<strong>the</strong>r<br />

had been ordered to inflict (Adeline Hall, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 37).<br />

36 For this power imbalance see Weiner, Mistresses and Slaves, p. 124.<br />

37 Adeline Hall, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 36-7; Jessie Sparrow, ‘South Carolina<br />

Narratives’, 3.4, 121-22, 126.


38 Jessie Sparrow, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.4, 126. For instances of bad relations<br />

between a mistress and a female house slave see, William Pratt, ‘South Carolina<br />

Narratives’, 3.3, 277; Victoria Adams, ‘South Carolina Narratives’ 2.1, 11; Millie<br />

Barber, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 2.1, 40. See also Jones, Labour of Love, p. 25; and<br />

Weiner, Mistresses and Slaves, pp. 125-28.<br />

39 Adeline Hall, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 37.<br />

40 Angela Davis, ‘The Black Woman’s Role in <strong>the</strong> Community of Slaves’, Black<br />

Scholar, 3, 4, 1971, p. 13.<br />

41 Fox-Genovese, Within <strong>the</strong> Plantation Household, p. 167.<br />

42 See, for instance, White, Ar’n’t I A Woman?; Jones, Labour of Love; and Giddings,<br />

Where and When I Enter.<br />

43 Audre Lorde, ‘Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference’, Sister<br />

Outsider, Crossing Press, Freedom, California, 1984 , pp. 114-23, in, Susan Moller<br />

Okin and Jane Mansbridge, (eds), Feminism, vol. II, Edward Elgar Publishing, Hants,<br />

England, 1994, p. 5; Susan Osborne, Feminism, Pocket Essentials, Herts, England,<br />

2001, p. 29.<br />

44 Fox-Genovese, Within <strong>the</strong> Plantation Household, pp. 34-5, 48, 131.<br />

45 Ibid., pp. 34, 144.<br />

46 For <strong>the</strong> deconstruction of this stereotype, see, White, Ar’n’t I a Woman?, pp. 46-59.<br />

47 For this concept of exchange I am indebted to Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of<br />

Virginia 1740-1790, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1982, p. 337.<br />

48 Weiner, Mistresses and Slaves, pp. 120-21.<br />

49 Ibid., p. 125.<br />

50 Ibid., pp 124-25, 147. Ryer Emmanuel offered a neat summary of this ideology and<br />

<strong>the</strong> slaves’ acute awareness of it: ‘Us was same as brutes en cows back dere cause us<br />

been force to go by what white man say all de time’ (Ryer Emmanuel, ‘South Carolina<br />

Narratives’, 2.2, 24).<br />

51 Weiner, Mistresses and Slaves, pp. 124-25, 147.<br />

52 Ibid., 131.<br />

53 Mary Jane Kelley, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 89.<br />

54 There is evidence that some husbands physically abused <strong>the</strong>ir wives, but Jones<br />

considers this to have been atypical behaviour (Jones, Labour of Love, pp. 26-7).<br />

55 White, Ar’n’t I A Woman?, pp. 120-21.<br />

56 Weiner, Mistresses and Slaves, pp. 130-34. See, also, White, Ar’n’t I A Woman?, pp.<br />

119-41.<br />

57 For sou<strong>the</strong>rn gender conventions that defined women as <strong>the</strong> weaker sex and <strong>the</strong>refore<br />

unfit for work, see White, Ar’n’t I a Woman?, p. 120; Clinton, The Plantation Mistress,<br />

pp. 16-17; and Weiner, Mistresses and Slaves, p. 54. For this need to minimise female<br />

slaves’ femininity in order to justify <strong>the</strong> work <strong>the</strong>y performed, see, Weiner, Mistresses<br />

and Slaves, p. 6. Sallie Layton Keenan, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 74-9.<br />

58 Adeline Hall, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 37.<br />

59 The claim to equal status with ei<strong>the</strong>r a mistress or <strong>the</strong> white children of <strong>the</strong> household<br />

is evident in interviews with several o<strong>the</strong>r female ex-slaves who were <strong>the</strong> companions or<br />

favourites of <strong>the</strong>ir mistresses when young. Interviewees emphasise that <strong>the</strong>y played<br />

with <strong>the</strong> white children of <strong>the</strong> family, that <strong>the</strong>y ate from <strong>the</strong> same kitchen, and that <strong>the</strong>y<br />

performed very little work, just like <strong>the</strong> master and mistress’s children. These women<br />

<strong>the</strong>reby turn a relationship that threatened to be coercive to <strong>the</strong>ir advantage, using it to<br />

establish a sense of self-pride and to claim <strong>the</strong>ir right to <strong>the</strong> privileged status of white


Sou<strong>the</strong>rn women and children on <strong>the</strong> plantation. It was a position from which one can<br />

well understand <strong>the</strong>m hoping to benefit as it offered at least some prospect of protection<br />

from sexual abuse (Hester Hunter, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 2.2, 331-46; Jessie<br />

Sparrow, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.4, 121-46; Harriet Gresham, ‘Florida<br />

Narratives’, 156-63; Anne Bell, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 2.1, 51-4. For <strong>the</strong><br />

connection, of which slaves were aware, between being treated like animals and sexual<br />

abuse, see, Cureton Milling, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 194).<br />

60<br />

McCurry, ‘The Two Faces of Republicanism, 1247.<br />

61<br />

Manda Walker, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.4, 170.<br />

62<br />

Samuel Boulware, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 2.1, 67-8.<br />

63<br />

Manda Walker, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.4, 170.<br />

64<br />

Idem..<br />

65<br />

Idem..<br />

66<br />

Ibid., pp. 170-71.<br />

67<br />

Sena Moore, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 211.<br />

68<br />

Harriet Gresham, ‘Florida Narratives’, 156. For a fur<strong>the</strong>r example, see, Nina Scot,<br />

‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.4, 88.<br />

69<br />

Hester Hunter, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 2.2, 338.<br />

70<br />

Ann Palmer, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 223.<br />

71<br />

McCurry, ‘The Two Faces of Republicanism’, 1246, see also, 1247-248.<br />

72<br />

Ibid., 1246-248; Giddings, When and Where I Enter, pp. 41-2.<br />

73<br />

Sallie Layton Keenan, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 75.<br />

74<br />

John W. Blassingame, ‘Using <strong>the</strong> Testimony of Ex-Slaves: Approaches and<br />

Problems’, Journal of Sou<strong>the</strong>rn History, 41, 1975, p. 490, cited by Yetman, ‘Ex-Slave<br />

Interviews’, 186.<br />

75<br />

Adeline Hall, ‘South Carolina Narratives’, 3.3, 39 (my italics).

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