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And this was not restricted only to unmarried women. In numerous contemporary accounts, particularly violent slaveowners forced men to witness the rape of their wives, daughters, and relatives, often as punishment, but occasionally as a sadistic expression of power and dominance. As property, enslaved women had no recourse, and society, by and large, did not see a crime in this type of violence. Racist pseudo-scientists claimed that whites could not physically rape Africans or African Americans, as the sexual organs of each were not compatible in that way.
State law, in some cases, supported this view, claiming that rape could only occur between either two white people or a black man and a white woman. All other cases fell under a silent acceptance. Pregnancies that resulted from rape did not always lead to a lighter workload for the mother. And if a slave acted out against a rapist, whether that be her master, mistress, or any other white attacker, her actions were seen as crimes rather than desperate acts of survival. For example, a year-old slave named Celia fell victim to repeated rape by her master in Callaway County, Missouri.
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Between and , Robert Newsom raped Celia hundreds of times, producing two children and several miscarriages. Sick and desperate in the fall of , Celia took a club and struck her master in the head, killing him. On November 16, , after a trial of ten days, Celia, the year-old rape victim and slave, was hanged for her crimes against her master. Gray was the enslaved housekeeper to Robert E. National Park Service.
Gender inequality did not always fall along the same lines as racial inequality. Southern society, especially in the age of cotton, deferred to white men, under whom laws, social norms, and cultural practices were written, dictated, and maintained. White and free women of color lived in a society dominated, in nearly every aspect, by men. Denied voting rights, women, of all statuses and colors, had no direct representation in the creation and discussion of law. Husbands, it was said, represented their wives, as the public sphere was too violent, heated, and high-minded for women.
Society expected women to represent the foundations of the republic, gaining respectability through their work at home, in support of their husbands and children, away from the rough and boisterous realm of masculinity.
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In many cases, too, law did not protect women the same way it protected men. Life on the ground in cotton South, like the cities, systems, and networks within which it rested, defied the standard narrative of the Old South. Slavery existed to dominate, yet slaves formed bonds, maintained traditions, and crafted new culture. They fell in love, had children, and protected one another using the privileges granted them by their captors, and the basic intellect allowed all human beings.
They were resourceful, brilliant, and vibrant, and they created freedom where freedom seemingly could not exist.
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And within those communities, resilience and dedication often led to cultural sustenance. But religion, honor, and pride transcended material goods, especially among those who could not express themselves that way.
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The issue of emigration elicited disparate reactions from African Americans. Tens of thousands left the United States for Liberia, a map of which is shown here, to pursue greater freedoms and prosperity. Most emigrants did not experience such success, but Liberia continued to attract black settlers for decades. Library of Congress. Economic growth, violence, and exploitation coexisted and mutually reinforced evangelical Christianity in the South. Led by Methodists, Baptists, and to a lesser degree, Presbyterians, this intense period of religious regeneration swept the along southern backcountry.
By the outbreak of the Civil War, the vast majority of southerners who affiliated with a religious denomination belonged to either the Baptist or Methodist faith. Southern ministers contended that God himself had selected Africans for bondage but also considered the evangelization of slaves to be one of their greatest callings. Some black and white southerners forged positive and rewarding biracial connections; however, more often black and white southerners described strained or superficial religious relationships.
As the institution of slavery hardened racism in the South, relationships between missionaries and Native Americans transformed as well. Frontier mission schools carried a continual flow of Christian influence into Native American communities. Some missionaries learned indigenous languages, but many more worked to prevent indigenous children from speaking their native tongues, insisting on English for Christian understanding. Slaves most commonly received Christian instruction from white preachers or masters, whose religious message typically stressed slave subservience.
Anti-literacy laws ensured that most slaves would be unable to read the Bible in its entirety and thus could not acquaint themselves with such inspirational stories as Moses delivering the Israelites out of slavery. Many slaves chose to create and practice their own versions of Christianity, one that typically incorporated aspects of traditional African religions with limited input from the white community.
Nat Turner, the leader of the great slave rebellion, found inspiration from religion early in life.
He claimed to have had visions, in which he was called on to do the work of God, leading some contemporaries as well as historians to question his sanity. Inspired by his faith, Turner led the most deadly slave rebellion in the antebellum South. Turner initiated the violence by killing his master with an ax blow to the head. By the end of the day, Turner and his band, which had grown to over fifty men, killed fifty-seven white men, women, and children on eleven farms. By the next day, the local militia and white residents had captured or killed all of the participants except Turner, who hid for a number of weeks in nearby woods before being captured and executed.
After the rebellion, fearful white reactionaries killed hundreds of enslaved people—most of whom were unconnected to the rebellion— and the state created stricter, more limiting laws concerning slavery. African American Intellectual History Society. Evangelical religion also shaped understandings of what it meant to be a southern man or a southern woman. Southern manhood was largely shaped by an obsession with masculine honor, whereas southern womanhood centered on expectations of sexual virtue or purity.
Honor prioritized the public recognition of white masculine claims to reputation and authority. Southern men developed a code to ritualize their interactions with each other and to perform their expectations of honor. This code structured language and behavior and was designed to minimize conflict.