Enslaved men endured many forms of abuse at the hands of their masters and overseers, including whippings and beatings. Women slaves, too, felt the pain of the lash, as well as other forms of mistreatment. Many women were also sexually abused, whether by being harassed, raped, or forced into concubinage.
The attached letters address two different forms of sexual abuse. They are both addressed to Rice Carter Ballard, a slave trader and planter. Ballard was involved in the interstate slave trade in the 1820’s and 1830’s, and by the early 1840’s he was purchasing and managing plantations in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. He co-owned some of these with Judge Samuel Boyd.
The first letter, J. M. Duffield to Col. R. C. Ballard, is from a man who tries to convince Ballard to let him buy an enslaved girl named Maria. Maria is being terribly abused by Judge Boyd, and Duffield wants to buy her so he can free her. “All these cruelties have been inflicted upon the feeble frame of that girl — and are frequently inflicted — she must die under them.” It is possible that Duffield has fathered a child with Maria, for at the beginning of the letter he talks of the arrangements he has made for the little girl.
The second letter, from Virginia Boyd to R. C. Ballard, is from a pregnant slave who has been Judge Boyd’s concubine. Virginia writes to Ballard from a slave trading post in Texas, where she has apparently been sent by Boyd. She asks Ballard to intervene and keep her from being sold. “Do you think after all that has transpired between me & the old Man, (I don’t call names) that its treating me well to send me off a mong strangers in my situation [pregnant?] to be sold….” Apparently Ballard did not help Virginia; he received a letter on August 8 from slave trader C. M. Rutherford, stating that Virginia and one of her children had been sold.
J.M. Duffield to Col. R.C. Ballard, May 29, 1848
From Jackson (“Private and in Confidence”)
I desired, in the first place, to apprise you, that I had made arrangements to send the child northward, there to be brought up, and educated, and there forever to reside. I have made all my arrangements for her, and she will start on the 6th July. I shall be in Natchez, when she goes….
The next was, to endeavor to do something for Maria. Her health seems to be sinking and she has been a sufferer of great agony mentally and bodily. You will recollect the cruelties which you described to me once in confidence that had been perpetrated, by a certain person in whose power Maria is [Judge Boyd], and I recollect the horror you expressed of it. All these cruelties have been inflicted upon the feeble frame of that girl — and are frequently inflicted — she must die under them. Long ago would I have freed her from them, if I had been able to do so….
Will you not, Colonel, let me have her. She is sickly, suffering, and will die soon if she remains where she is. I buy her only to free her. Lashed as she is like an ox, until the blood gushes from her, I know, your kind, humane heart must revolt at the barbarities she is constantly enduring. I would do anything on earth to relieve her from her present position….
Only listen to the dictates of your own kindly nature, and you will grant the request, which I make as a matter of favor to me, and goodness to her, and as another memorial of your generosity.
Virginia Boyd to R.C. Ballard, May 6, 1853 – Houston, TX
I am at present in the city [sic] of Houston in a Negro traders yard, for sale, by your orders. I was present at the Post Office when Doctor Ewing took your letter out through mistake and red it a loud, not knowing I was the person the letter alluded to. I hope that if I have ever done or said any thing that has offended you that you will for give me, for I have suffered enough Cince in mind to repay all that I have ever done, to anyone, you wrote for them to sell me in thrity days, do you think after all that has transpired between me & the old man, (I don’t call names) that its treating me well to send me off among strangers in my situation to be sold without even my having an opportunity of choosing for my self; its hard indeed and what is still harder for the father of my children to sell his own offspring Yes his own flesh & blood. My God is it possible that any free born American would brand his character with such a stigma as that, but I hope before this he will relent & see his error for I still beleave that he is possest of more honer than that. I no too that you have influence and can assist me in some measure from out of this dilemma and if you will God will be sure to reward you, you have a family of children & no how to sympathize with others in distress….
Is it possible that such a change could ever come over the spirit of any living man as to sell his child that is his image. I dont wish to return to harras or protest his peace of mind & shall never try [to] get back if I am dealt with fairly….
I have written to the Old Man in such a way that the letter cant fail to fall in his hands and none others I use every precaution to prevent others from knowing or suspecting any thing I have my letters written & folded put into envelope & get it directed by those that dont know the Contents of it for I shall not seek ever to let any thing be exposed, unless I am forced from bad treatment &c
Source — http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h3436.html
selected material from the Rice C. Ballard Papers and the Hayes Collection
Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill