“Give My Regards to Mrs. Glen”: The Business Networks of Slave Traders’ Wives

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 2:10 PM
Director's Row H (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Alexandra Finley, College of William and Mary
The slave trader, like other antebellum businessmen, is seen by default as male. Yet women played a significant role in the domestic slave trade, establishing and maintaining important social networks that facilitated traders’ access to credit and market information. Considering the role of white women in slave-trading firms puts in sharp relief the complicity of female enslavers in sustaining the “peculiar institution.” This paper explores the importance of wives, daughters, and other female kin in slave traders’ pursuit of bank credit and personal loans through a case study of one North Carolina firm.

Isaac Jarratt and Tyre Glen were slave-trading partners in the 1830s, and while their female relatives were not privy to the firm’s official articles of partnership, they nonetheless assisted Jarratt and Glen in numerous ways. Jarratt’s wife Harriet corresponded with the wives of her husband’s business associates, establishing social connections and inquiring into business matters that she then passed along to Jarratt. Glen’s marriage to Margaret Bynum gained him entry into the region’s elite circles, and his new father-in-law assisted him in accessing loans. Margaret Glen accompanied her husband on his trips to Alabama and Georgia, providing domestic labor and socializing with other traders’ wives.

Jarratt and Glen’s firm shows that slave traders, like other businessmen, were not independent actors but relied on a vast array of carefully developed personal relationships. These included those fostered and maintained by wives and female relatives. A case study of Jarratt & Glen illustrates how the slave trade was in many cases a family business. In a market that regularly tore enslaved families apart, the family ties of slave traders were crucial to achieving a profitable business.