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Courtship and Love among the Enslaved in North Carolina

Courtship and Love among the Enslaved in North Carolina

Rebecca J. Fraser
Copyright Date: 2007
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    Courtship and Love among the Enslaved in North Carolina
    Book Description:

    Through an examination of various couples who were forced to live in slavery, Rebecca J. Fraser argues that slaves found ways to conduct successful courting relationships. In its focus on the processes of courtship among the enslaved, this study offers further insight into the meanings that structured intimate lives.

    Establishing their courtships, often across plantations, the enslaved men and women of antebellum North Carolina worked within and around the slave system to create and maintain meaningful personal relationships that were both of and apart from the world of the plantation. They claimed the right to participate in the social events of courtship and, in the process, challenged and disrupted the southern social order in discreet and covert acts of defiance.

    Informed by feminist conceptions of gender, sexuality, power, and resistance, the study argues that the courting relationship afforded the enslaved a significant social space through which they could cultivate alternative identities to those which were imposed upon them in the context of their daily working lives.

    Rebecca J. Fraser is lecturer in American studies at the University of East Anglia. Her essays have appeared in Journal of Southern History and Slavery and Abolition.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-312-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-21)

    “I’ve heard some of the young people laugh about slave love, but they should envy the love which kept mother and father so close together in life and even held them in death.”¹ Alonzo Haywood’s comment reflected on the relationship between his father, Willis Haywood, and his mother, Mirana Denson, who were both enslaved in antebellum North Carolina.² He explained that while his father was enslaved at Falls of Neuse, he fell in love with Mirana Denson, who lived in Raleigh, “He come to see her ever’ chance he got and then they were married.” Reflecting on the strength and...

  5. 1 “Love Seems with Them More to be an Eager Desire”: Racialized Stereotypes in the Slaveholding South
    (pp. 22-31)

    The interaction of particular views and arguments concerning sexuality and race has been central to discussions concerning the enslaved since the colonial period. The enslaved body and enslaved men and women’s sexual identities were constructed in the imaginations of Europeans as symbolic of the “dark continent” of Africa and all that it embodied. The travel accounts of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century male travelers to the Americas and Africa contributed to an emerging stereotype of the nature of West Africans and a view of blackness per se. As historian Jennifer Morgan argues, the African woman and her Native American counterpart became the...

  6. 2 Asking Master Mack to Court: Competing Spheres of Influence
    (pp. 32-51)

    The emotional lives of the enslaved were significant terrains upon which slaveholders could exercise their sense of mastery and claims of ownership. As has been widely documented elsewhere, slaveholders used threats of sale and separation from family members as a tool to discipline and punish their slave populations. In the process they manipulated the emotional ties of their slaves and ripped apart the individual stitches that made up the quarters of the enslaved: budding romances, established courtships, long-term unions, husbands, wives, families, and friends.

    Sarah Devereux, in a letter to her brother Thomas, manager of her plantation in Halifax County,...

  7. 3 Getting Out to Play and Courting All They Pleased: The Social and Temporal Geographies of Enslaved Courtship
    (pp. 52-68)

    Anna Wright’s mother had been enslaved to James Ellis in Scotland County. She recalled that during slavery, although “de slaves worked hard in de fiel’s . . . unless de work wus pushin’ dey had Sadday evening off ter go afishin er do anything de wanted ter do.” Elaborating upon the ways in which the enslaved spent their leisure time and the slaveholder’s role in this, Anna Wright recalled her mother’s remembrances:

    Two or three times a year Marse James let dem have a dance an’ invite all de neighborhood slaves. Dey had corn shuckin’s ever’ fall an’ de other...

  8. 4 Taking a Whipping for Lily: Courtship as a Narrative of Resistance
    (pp. 69-87)

    Lily Perry was an assertive and defiant woman enslaved on a plantation belonging to Jerry Perry in Franklin County. Recalling her bold retaliations to the punishments received at the hands of her master and the overseer, she remarked, “When dey’d start ter whup me I’d bite lak a run-mad dog so dey’d chain my han’s. See hyar, hyars de scars made by de chains. Dey’d also pick me up by de years, an flin’ me foun (around).” Lily’s future spouse, Robert, must have felt every lash of the whip; he pleaded with Lily to behave in the way that the...

  9. 5 A Red Satin Ribbon Tied around My Finger: The Meaning of the Wedding Ceremony
    (pp. 88-100)

    Recalling her marriage to Exter, an enslaved man who resided on a neighboring plantation in Chatham County, Tempie Herndon Durham brought to mind the moments of the day that she and Exter had enjoyed: “When I growed up I married Exter Durham. He belonged to Marse Snipes Durham who had de plantation ’cross de county line in Orange County. We had a big weddin’. We was married on de front po’ch of de big house. Marse George killed a shoat an’ Mis’ Betsy had Georgianna, de cook, to bake a big weddin’ cake all iced up as white as snow...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 101-104)

    The stories told within the pages of this book are not fiction—Willis and Mirana Haywood, Mary Bell’s parents, Lily and Robert Perry, Barbara and Frank Haywood, Annie Tate’s grandparents, Wesley and Minerva Jane, Lucy Ann and Jim Dunn, Tempie and Exter Durham, Lissa and Cleve Lawson were real people. Their stories are true-life narratives reflecting the realities of lives lived under slavery by a people who would have held painful and traumatic memories of their experiences. Stored away in deep chambers of their souls, these memories would only have been recalled with careful and cautious coaxing. These memories were...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 105-122)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 123-132)
  13. Index
    (pp. 133-137)