Reconsidering the Slave Community: Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence in the African Diaspora

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 12:30 PM
Room A601 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Tyler Dunsdon Parry, California State University, Fullerton
Using gender as the primary category of analysis, this paper (re)assesses the intersections between violence, domesticity, and race in Anglophone slave societies. In analyzing slave marriages I specifically reconsider traditional understandings of the “slave community”, arguing that enslaved marital partners were often privy to private disputes and public conflicts. While past scholarship correctly emphasizes that violence is a critical element for understanding slavery’s brutality, issues of intra-racial violence among slaves of African descent have yet to receive adequate attention. However, when viewing plantation journals, slave narratives, artistic depictions, and court documents in Western African, the West Indies, and the US South it is apparent that instances of domestic violence and sexual abuse happened with some frequency within the slave quarters. This paper uses sources from slave societies throughout the Atlantic world to further contextualize the precarious position of enslaved women. Specifically, I show how enslaved men, seeking to claim some semblance of masculinity in their condition, committed acts of wife-battering, assault, and sexual violence upon enslaved women. Such actions were noticed by planters, legislators, and former slaves, all of whom suggested these events were not uncommon among enslaved couples. At times, enslaved men were even empowered by the plantation master or overseer to commit such violence. Conversely, I also show that while enslaved women endured such abuses, they also resisted these infractions using various methods, including physically confronting their abusers, gaining favor among other slaves to secure protection, or alerting higher authorities to their marital predicaments.