Sex in Black, White and Mulatto


Sex is part of human nature. It always has been; it always will be. When people think of sex, normally it is as a pleasure. Unfortunately, for slaves in antebellum America, this was not always the case. Rape, slave breeding, married slave couples being split up at slave auctions were all forms of sexual tensions found on nineteenth-century American plantations.
Their owners did not often treat slaves as people, but instead as property. If they were treated as people, then the slaves could be seen as equal to their master. However, as property, slaves were inferior and therefore, masters believed they had the right to do what they wanted with them. This included having sex with them. If sex did not include consent, then it included force, or rape.
There were no laws present in America at this time protecting female slaves against the sexual advances of their masters.1 Slave owners then had the opportunity to take advantage of their slaves without having to worry of prosecution. Without laws that would allow these enslaved women to resist, there is a presumption then that they were always willing to oblige to their master's requests for sex.2 This, of course, is not true. Not all slave women were so compelled to give into their owner's demands.
For some slaves the only way they could resist the advances of an oncoming sexual predator was through resistance. Such an example is Jermain Loguen's mother. When attacked, "she picked up a stick and dealt her would-be rapist a blow that sent him staggering. She stood her ground even as he rebounded with a knife, and finally she knocked him out cold."3 The punishment for such aggressive actions though often involved a whip, a slave auction or a bullet to the head. Another reason some enslaved women would fight this sexual aggression was to protect their reputation among male slaves. Few men felt comfortable with slave women who appeared to "prefer sexual attention of white rather than black men."4

"Those slave women who found a direct manner to resist emerged in the lore and mythology of slave women both as models for black female conduct and as symbols of resistance that were unique to the black female experience. Mothers would tell these stories to their daughters to help grow a sense of group pride."5

Some slave husbands would also lash out against masters who tried to abuse their wives and daughters. As Josiah Henson describes, her father was one of these:

"Furious at the sight [of the attempted rape of his wife], he sprung upon [his overseer] like a tiger. In a moment the overseer was down, and, mastered by rage, my father would have killed him but for the entreaties of my mother, and the overseer's own promise that nothing should ever be said of the matter. The promise was kept-like most promises of the cowardly and debased-as long as the danger lastedů The authorities were soon in pursuit of my fatherů And the penalty followed: one hundred lashes on the bare back, and to have the right ear nailed to the whipping-post, and then severed from the body."6

Nineteenth-century American law did not even protect slave women from male slaves. In 1859, George, a male slave, was found guilty of raping a slave girl who was under the age of ten.7 The Mississippi court, though, overturned the verdict and released George because there was no law "which embraced either the attempted or actual commission of a rape by a slave on a female slave."8 "While there were slave women raped by black men, this abuse is overshadowed by white male exploitation of black women, and it is often overlooked because it hardly ever turned up in court since there was no legal injunction against it."9
Some female slaves gave into other's sexual desires. One must look at why a slave would give in. Was it because they genuinely desired their master, or was it in fear of the consequences that would result from resistance? Women could use sex to get favors from white masters, free-blacks and slaves.10 Female slaves were manumitted more than twice as often as men.11 When a female slave achieved manumission, it was normally because freedom had been granted. Male slaves