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About this book

Gender, family and sexual relations defined human slavery from its classical origins in Europe to the rise and fall of race-based slavery in the Americas. Gender, Mastery and Slavery is one of the first books to explore the importance of men and women to slaveholding across these eras.

Foster argues that at the heart of the successive European institutions of slavery at home and in the New World was the volatile question of women's ability to exert mastery. Facing the challenge to play the 'good mother' in public and private, free women from Rome to Muslim North Africa, to the indigenous tribes of North America, to the antebellum plantations of the southern United States found themselves having to economically manage slaves, servants and captives. At the same time, they had to protect their reputations from various forms of attack and themselves from vilification on a number of fronts.

With the recurrent cultural wars over the maternal role within slavery touching the worlds of politics, warfare, religion, and colonial and imperial rivalries, this lively comparative survey is essential reading for anyone studying, or simply interested in, this key topic in global and gender history.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Problem of Gender, Mastery and Slavery

Abstract
On the eve of the American Civil War, the wife of a prominent Georgia slave owner wrote of white women affected by their husbands’ sexual abuse of enslaved women, asserting in her diary that ‘southern women are … all at heart abolitionists.’1
William Henry Foster

1. Gender, Mastery and Maternalism: Christian, Muslim and Hebrew Traditions

Abstract
When attention is focused on free families in slaveholding societies, the emphasis naturally falls upon the authority of the father. Countless eyewitness testimonies and historians’ works have developed an image of the universal male household head, receiving his legitimate authority from the fountainhead of a masculine god, clergy or political leadership. Public and private authority were often two ends of the same conduit of power. This chapter is designed to add to and complicate that model by exploring an alternative, additional force at the centre of mastery: maternalism — a female equivalent of father-rule. Sometimes the maternal added to the gravitational centre of the paternal. Sometimes the gravity of mother-rule pulled in a direction entirely its own. It was always socially vital.
William Henry Foster

2. Gender, Mastery and Frontier: Europe, North Africa and Native America

Abstract
Theorists, commentators, law makers and slaveholders in the Christian, Muslim and Jewish traditions developed over time the common idea that sovereignty of a female master derived from the same limited spiritual and customary taproot as a mother’s authority over her children.1 Maternal mastery, though, might remain separate from the prerogatives of father-rule — and therein lay a fundamental conflict. The maternal aspect of authority over slaves was fictional in its nature, demanding that everyone involved to some extent pretend, and play assigned roles. Therein lay the danger. Male masters were notoriously unpredictable when it came to the licence their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters should enjoy; mistresses could not necessarily be counted on to act as mothers; slaves could not be counted on to act as dutiful children. And all this fear and uncertainty rested uncomfortably on the economic reliance that husbands, male relatives and their supporters in public authority placed on the management skills of women.
William Henry Foster

3. Gender, Mastery and Empire: White Servitude in New Worlds

Abstract
In 1743, a hefty two-volume novel appeared in London called Memoirs of an Unfortunate Young Nobleman, Return’d from Thirteen Years Slavery in America. It told the thrilling tale of ‘Chevalier James’ who had arrived from England as a ‘slave’ (meaning indentured servant) in Pennsylvania at age 10 after a sinister uncle had conspired to claim the boy’s birthright. The story made an almost perfect allegory for Anglo-American colonists squandering their greater birthright and heritage by horribly distorting their English values and morals. The innocent, virtuous boy over time lost his ‘sprightliness’, the ‘lustre of his eyes’ and his ‘fresh and rosy colour’, and was reduced to a beaten-down ‘paleness’ and a ‘dead sloth’ in the New World.1 The writer suggested that English greed was to blame for this descent into savagery — the ‘wealth’ produced being illusory. In America, it was suggested, the vigorous sons of Albion became defeated men — slaves to the continent itself. When these new Anglo-Americans claimed to be masters of that land, they did so at the cost of becoming monsters. Women as well could be destroyed — or elevated to a new kind of American tyrant.
William Henry Foster

4. Gender, Mastery and Nation: Race and Slavery in the United States

Abstract
Students of world slavery often grasp by virtue of comparative training what is not so often clear to those who have studied exclusively American practices. Antebellum southern slavery in the United States was exceptional in a number of essential respects. It existed as a very large (4 million by many counts at the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861), enslaved population that was self-reproducing (with no significant external slave trade after 1808), and masters and slaves were separated by race. This system became especially remarkable because of its durability, lasting well into what most would define as an era that was ideologically and economically modern. Certain strains of thought after the American Revolution (1775–83) concluded that eventually the resonance of the American political enlightenment would end human slavery in North America. Indeed, most of the northern United States abolished slavery on their own shortly after the war, and similar sentiments in the British Empire would end the fading practice of slavery in Canada by 1833. However, the explosion of the south-eastern American cotton economy starting in the 1790s created the seeming anomaly of a vast slave-based economic system rising in the midst of modernity — a phenomenon that seemed distinctly backward to those standing outside of it. Whether American slavery was in fact, an economic throwback or something that was suited to supply the intensifying industrial revolution has been a matter of intense, long-standing debate among historians.
William Henry Foster

Conclusion

Abstract
In a sensitive and astute essay called ‘Marriage à la russe,’ scholar of Russian culture Judith Vowles analyses the popular memoirs of a Frenchman named Charles-François-Phibert Masson, a former royal tutor in the Russian court. After his 1796 deportation by Paul I, Masson wrote a devastating critique of the society that had hosted him for so many years. Among his themes was how Russia, unlike the ‘civilised’ nations of western Europe, promoted the savagery of women. He called into question the entire social order based on what he had seen of women’s role in Russian slavery.
William Henry Foster
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