Something that is not often read, discussed or portrayed in movies is the relationships between the White elite women with the #enslaved Black men. Yes, it did happen, and there were severe consequences if a sexual relationship between the two was discovered. The women of the plantation were often made to believe that they were fragile, vulnerable and needed to be protected. It was a way for the White husband, father, or other White male relative to have control over the family. Political scientist, Iris Young, explained as “the role of the masculine protector puts those protected, paradigmatically women and children, in a subordinate position of dependence and obedience.”
When it was discovered that a White woman was having an affair with a slave she went through various degrees of public humiliation. If a planter’s daughter or wife was found to be pregnant by a slave, there were great pains taken to cover up the pregnancy. Many times the child was sold off into slavery. However, there were many times that the infant was murdered as well.
Women who were planter-class were the property of their husbands, they did not have much freedom, and severely limited to staying right on the plantation. If they did travel from one home to the next in the county, they were often chaperoned. It is understandable that the women were unhappy with their lack of freedom. However, most of them remained dutiful, obedient, and pleasant despite knowing that their husbands were busy raping the #Black female slaves. The White plantation wives were not ignorant to the fact that the mixed-raced children popping up on the plantation were their husbands. Many of them were hurt, humiliated and heartbroken.
Women in the South married earlier than those in the North. Some women were just 15 or 16 years old when they were married. These young girls were often left abandoned on plantations while their husbands attended to business afar, were on military duty, or just traveling for pleasure.
There were many dangers for White women to have sexual relations with the enslaved Black man, but for some women it was a chance that they were willing to take. Abortions was largely unregulated if the White woman became pregnant, and the method was not limited to poor, immigrant or Black women, there were many elite White women who had the procedure done because either they were sleeping with an enslaved Black man, or sleeping with another White man, and hadn’t been intimate with their own husband. It is possible that most affairs between the Black man and white woman was over looked, because most people would never think that a White woman would take up the likes with an enslaved Black man. Many people also feel that it was a form of rape as well, however it was the White woman raping the enslaved Black man. Or, blackmailing him into doing what she wanted, or else type deal. There is a great deal of documentation of White women coercing enslaved Black men into having sex with them.
It was also very easy for a White woman to cry rape during that time as well. Because black men (like black women) were seen as inherently lustful and prone to sexual vice, for an elite woman to have illicit sex with a black rather than a white man might have been a slightly safer bet; it was easier to blame a black man of rape than a white man. According to Captain Richard J. Hinton, an abolitionist commander in the Civil War, “I have never found a bright-looking colored man, whose confidences I have won… who has not told me of instances where he has been compelled, either by his mistress, or by white women of the same class, to have connection with them” (Hodes, pp. 130-131). One former slave told Hinton that his mistress ordered him to sleep with her after her husband died (Hodes, p. 131). These are just two examples of the many stories abolitionists like Hinton told to prove the immorality of slaveholding.
Hodes, Martha. White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.
Young, Iris Marion. “The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State” Signs 29, 1 (2003): 11-25.