Of all human injustices, slavery is perhaps the most horrid and dehumanizing form. Specifically, the act of individuals, owning, trading, torturing, and enforcing compulsory labor among people undermines their ability to think and make independent decisions. In practice, slavery negates any perceived or actual freedoms among its victims. Due to its dehumanizing nature, questions normally arise if white women actually engage in this trade.
According to Walter Johnson, women did not actively participate in the slave trade. Johnson espouses that since slavery was male dominated, women found themselves excluded from it in all possible manners. Given that Johnson raised his idea in 1999, this is the often-accepted truth. Nonetheless, Stephanie Jones-Rodgers, in an interview titled Against the Grain: White Women’s Role in Slavery, gives an in-depth analysis of this topic. Overly, she dismisses Johnson’s opinions that women did not participate in the slave trade.
Evidence and Correspondences
In her study, she is able to trace significant female participants in the trade such as Ann Robinson, Anny Poore, and Mary Martins (Jones-Rodgers). Basically, she uses records from court cases, journals, and bills of sale documents. Importantly, these documents reveal that women were active participants in the slave trade.
Ann Robinson, a married woman from Charleston, was a major character in the slave industry. Generally, despite the existence of a coverture that limited women from owning property once they were married, she actively participated in the buying and selling of black bodies. Ideally, she used to buy sick slaves and nurture them until they regained their full strength (Jones-Rodgers). Later, she sold them for a profit. Given that the society recognized her as a feme sole, despite her marriage, she was able to own, buy, and sell slaves just like men.
Unlike Robinson who sold her slaves in the market, Poore made her own trading section on her plantation. Essentially, Poore bought slaves whom she trained on various skills such as carpentry, masonry, welding, farming, and knitting (Jones-Rodgers). Once they were skillful, she would sell them for a profit. Impliedly, Poore was her own slave master, trader, and auctioneer.
Women Working in Slave Markets
To begin with, it was a common practice for women to use agents when buying and selling slaves. As a result, it was difficult to identify if the real perpetrators of this trade were men or women. For example, Bernard Kendrick had a partnership with his aunt Matilda Bushy. Actually, Matilda was the one who financed their slave trading business (Jones-Rodgers). Nonetheless, she was never actively involved in the direct buying and selling of slaves.
Women also indirectly supported this trade by offering services such as accommodation, hotel services, and restrooms for the slave owners. For example, Jones-Rodgers gives the case of Bethany Vinny and another woman in which they were taken to a local female tailor when the owner wanted to buy them new clothes (Jones-Rodgers). Noteworthy, the owner wanted to buy them new clothes so that they would appear in slave market as beautiful and elegant women.
The fancy trade involved procurement of colored women as slaves to work in brothels. Actually, the fancy trade was promoted and financed by women, who were the owners of these premises (Jones-Rodgers). Essentially, this was the use of women for sexual labor, a demeaning and heinous crime.
During the slave era, the federal and the state laws did not legitimize the freedom of a slave who had escaped to a non-enslaving state. Actually, the law prohibited the housing or aiding of such a slave. In practice, it emboldened and empowered the slavery laws among slaves who had escaped or were residing in frees states. For example, by using the state and federal laws, Mary Martins, a white woman from New Orleans, was able to sanction the state to repatriate a slave named Jack who had escaped to New York, which was a free state (Jones-Rodgers).
Colonial Era: A Golden Age to Women
During the colonial era, many white men died at a very young age. Effectively, there was an increase in early widowhood due to the high mortality rates. Owing to this, many women found themselves managing huge estates and vast family business, which included trading in black bodies (Jones-Rodgers). On the same accord, due to the existence of a coverture, some women would sign a pre-marital agreement with their husbands prior to their marriage. Ideally, this contract permitted them to engage in businesses and to own property such as slaves (Jones-Rodgers).
Federal Constitution Clause Criminalizing Importation of Slaves
Contrary to ordinary belief, the criminalization of importation of slaves led to an increase in the domestic slave trade. In general, slaves were traded from southern states, which had excess slaves, to western states. Effectively, this led to the emergence of strong slaving families. These families include the Woolfolk, the Bernard Kendrick and Matilda Bushy, and the Catherine Hinges (Jones-Rodgers).
From the discussion above, it is clear that women actively participated in this trade. Indeed, they promoted, invested, and profited from slavery. Nevertheless, since much of the previous texts are biased on the role of white women in slavery, more research should be done in this field. Evidently, this will enable researchers to find the real impact of slavery among all genders.
Jones-Rodgers, Stephanie. Interviewed by C. S., Song. Against the Grain: White Women’s Role in Slavery. 94.1 KPFA, 2016. Web. 19 April. 2016.