On the Tails of the Trade: Enslaved Women, Slave Traders, and the Households they Shared
Arts and Humanities
History of Gender
Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
United States History
Throughout the antebellum period, enslaved women engaged in intimate relationships with white men, some of whom were actually slave traders, upholding the institution that kept them in bondage. While each individual’s experience varied, the origins and subsequent circumstances of these women emerged from white notions of enslaved and black women’s sexuality and the widespread sexual exploitation of enslaved women, particularly through the “fancy trade,” the trade of enslaved women specifically for their sexual labor. As the companions of slave traders, these women dealt intimately with the quintessential facets of the slave trade firsthand, living and even working around slave pens, auctions, and more. Though these women often resented the slave trade, they were likely compelled by two realities – that they lacked the agency to reject traders’ advances and a relationship could result in some stability and power. Indeed, for many women, it did, as these women’s partners gave them access to expanded resources and enabled them to build lives without fearing sale.