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Southern rape laws embodied race-based
double standards. In the antebellum period, black men accused of rape were
punished with death whereas white men could rape or sexually abuse female
slaves without fear of punishment. In fact, by the nineteenth century, popular works
in the South depicted female slaves as lustful, promiscuous “jezebels” who
shamelessly tempted white owners into sexual relations, thereby justifying
abuse perpetrated by white men against black women. Children, free women,
indentured servants, and black men also endured similar treatment from their
masters, or even their masters' children or relatives. While free or white
women could charge their perpetrators with rape, slave women had no legal
recourse. Their bodies technically belonged to their owners by law. The sexual
abuse of slaves was partially rooted in a patriarchal Southern culture that perceived
all women, whether black or white, as chattel, or property.
in 1662, Southern colonies adopted into law the principle of partus sequitur
ventrem, by which children of slave women took the status of their mother
regardless of the father's identity. This was a departure from English common
law, which held that children took their father's status. Some slave-owner
fathers freed their children, but many did not. The law relieved men of the
responsibility of supporting their children and confined the "secret"
of miscegenation to the slave quarters. By 1860, just over 10 percent of the slave population
breeding" refers to those practices of slave ownership that aimed to influence
the reproduction of slaves in order to increase the profit and wealth of
slaveholders. Such breeding was in part motivated by the 1808 federal ban on
the importation of slaves, which was enacted during an intense period of
competition in cotton production between the South and the West. Slave breeding
involved coerced sexual relations between male and female slaves, as well as
sexual relations between a master and his female slaves, with the intention of
producing slave children.
owned, controlled, and sold entire families of slaves. Slave owners might
decide to sell families or family members for profit, as punishment, or to pay
debts. Slaveholders also gave slaves away to grown children or other family
members as wedding settlements. They considered slave children ready to work
and leave home once they were 12 to 14 years old.
Concubines and Sexual Slaves
Some female slaves called “fancy
maids” were sold at auction into concubinage or prostitution, which was termed
the “fancy trade.” Concubine slaves were the only class of female slaves who
sold for higher prices than skilled male slaves.
In the early years of the Louisiana colony,
French men took wives and mistresses from among the slaves. They often freed
their mixed-race children and sometimes the mistresses themselves. A
considerable class of free people of color developed in and around New Orleans
and Mobile. By the late 1700s, New Orleans had a relatively formalized system
of plaçage among Creoles of color, which continued under Spanish rule. Mothers
negotiated settlements or dowries for their daughters to be mistresses to white
men. The men sometimes paid for the education of their children, especially
their sons, who they sometimes sent to France for schooling and military
“Women and Slavery.”
Boundless U.S. History
Boundless, 20 Nov. 2016.
Retrieved 28 Feb. 2017 from