"Hanging Matters": Enslaved Women, Bodily Punishments, Death, and "Sacred Terror" in Urban Barbados

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:20 AM
Room 204 (Hynes Convention Center)
Marisa J. Fuentes , Rutgers University-New Brunswick, New Brunswick, NJ
This paper takes up instances of brutality to expound upon the construction of enslaved females as objects and subjects in eighteenth- century Bridgetown, Barbados and the ways in which they were criminalized, punished, confined, put to death and perversely immortalized by the white community.  Although Vincent Brown suggests, through an eighteenth-century overseer, that “entering into relationships and being taken as domestic servants afforded women social roles and protections unavailable to men,” the expressions of brutal power by the white population permeated the black female body in life and death.[1]  It was precisely due to laboring in the domestic realm of the city where enslaved women faced, acutely, the domination of enslavement.

            The purpose of this paper is to elucidate the experiences of enslaved women as victims of the brutality of colonial slavery as well as to put on record the ways in which their bodies were marked, confined and put to death in Bridgetown.  It is also an attempt to contend with the plethora of scholarship which invokes the “possibilities” and social nobilities purported to be inherent in an urban female enslaved experience in relation to domestic work and “domestic relationships.”  Finally, the archival sources themselves both mask and reveal instances of torture, pain and the sentience of enslaved women.  This paper seeks to address the following questions: How does examining black female bodies in peril change our understanding of the narrative of urban enslavement and the manner in which enslaved people were criminalized?  What does it demonstrate concerning the contradictions of the construction of subject-hood, commodity and criminal?  And finally, how does the experience of torture and pain evade historical articulation?

[1] Vincent Brown, “Spiritual Terror and Sacred Authority in Jamaican Slave Society,” Slavery and Abolition, 24 no. 1 (2003): 25.