|Date(s):||January 1, 1833 to December 27, 1858|
|Location(s):||Edenton, North Carolina | Shenandoah County, Virginia|
|Tag(s):||Slavery, Rape and Slavery, Female Slave Abuse|
|Course:||“Human Trafficking: Yesterday and Today,” University of Richmond|
|Rating:||4 (2 votes)|
Many male enslavers coveted African American women. White enslavers used their authority to assert their dominance over enslaved women in countless cases, raping them with consistency and without remorse. Being raped became a staple of life for female slave’s and many were purchased solely for the sexual fantasies of their owners.
Harriet Jacobs, a slave girl from Edenton, North Carolina, was one of the few lucky women who narrowly evaded the sexual predation common to the practice of slavery.. She left her entire life’s struggle in her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, written by Herself. After her mother passed away, her master, Margaret Horniblow, took Harriet in. However, she was gifted to Horniblow’s niece, Mary Matilda, the daughter of Dr. Norcom. She lived with Dr. Norcom for just under twenty years during which time she, was tormented by Norcom’s unsolicited sexual advances as well as the cruel jealously of his wife. Despite constant rejection and her definite refusal to become his mistress, Norcom proved to be relentless. Jacob’s only escape from her master and his sexual predation was an escape from slavery itself, made possible by her taking another white man as a lover and hiding in a small, three-foot high cabinet for seven years. With his protection, she secretly fled the state on a train to Philadelphia after years of hiding.
However, both married and single slaves alike were subject to the advances of their owners. Bethany Veney, a slave women in Virginia, left behind her autobiography, The Narrative of Bethany Veney, in which she writes she knew that her decision to be with only her husband was not hers to make. She and her husband to be, Jerry, a slave from a neighboring plantation, were given the blessing of their owners to be formally wed. When the minister was marrying her and her husband, she later wrote that she, “did not want him to make us promise that we would always be true to each other, forsaking all others, as the white people do in their marriage service, because I knew that at any time our masters could compel us to break such a promise.” (Veney 18) Veney knew that as a slave women, she would always be subject to white enslavers’ sexual predation.
When examining the history of enslaved women, it is impossible to ignore the immeasurable cases of rape and sexual violence they were subject to. These cases of abuse towards female slaves complete negate the argument of paternalism, presented in Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told, enslavers used to justify holding slaves. The constant raping of female slaves was a selfish and cowardly way for enslavers to reassure their own selves of their power. When focusing solely on the maltreatment prevalent for female slaves, the entire argument of paternalism is derailed. This is because there is no plausible way that an enslaver can believe that by raping and abusing a woman he is doing her a favor. His brutal actions are not saving her from her own inhumane tendencies, they’re breaking her. When studying the arguments of paternalism that are present in many justification arguments, one must extensively consider how rape cases and sexual violence make it hypocritical; male enslavers purchased female slaves not to take them under their wing as paternalism argues, but rather to use and abuse these women for their own selfish gains.