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Caribbean History

School Based Assessment


To what extent were female slaves psychologically affected by sexual
exploitation on the plantation during the 18th century in the British West
Indies?

Name: Mia M. Wilson


Candidate No.:160026261113
School: Holy Faith Covent, Penal
School Code: 160026
Research Topic: Caribbean Economy and Slavery
Subject: Caribbean History
Territory: Trinidad and Tobago
Teachers Name: Mrs S. Joseph-Hamlet
Year: 2016
Table of Contents
Content Page No.

Research Topic 1

Rationale 2

Introduction 3

Body of Research 4

Conclusion 9

Appendix 10

Bibliography 11
Research Topic

To what extent were female slaves psychologically affected by sexual exploitation on the

plantation during the 18th century in the British West Indies?


Rationale

I selected this theme Caribbean Economy and Slavery because during the four (4) years of

secondary school, I was fascinated by Caribbean History, more so, Slavery. When I was given my

School Based Assessment, my mind was already set on the theme.

.My question was developed so as to find out how female slaves were psychologically affected

and how traumatized female slaves were due to sexual exploitation. I wanted to obtain more

knowledge on the subject and understand, as a female, what these female slaves went through.
Introduction
The African women were a new type of women- their black skin, their body structure, their beauty-

all these characteristics enticed the planters and other white men to use their property to their

own advantage. These female slaves were taken advantage of sexually. The sexual exploitation of

women and the psychological effects among other effects of it in the British West Indies during

the 18th century would be discussed in this SBA. This study would demonstrate the extent of

sexual exploitation of African female slaves on the plantations of the British West Indies during

the 18th century.


Body of Research

To what extent were female slaves psychologically affected by sexual exploitation on the

plantation in the 18th century in the British West Indies?

In the 18th century, the production of unrefined sugar in the West Indies relied heavily upon

labour from African slaves. Both the African men and women were taken to work in the fields, but

some women were selected to become house slaves. It was whilst these black women were working

in the house that their unique beauty became noticed by the white men. They became interested in

the womens sexual function or their ability to provide sexual satisfaction for them. Slave owners

exerted power over the enslaved womens entire body. Most sexual relationships between white

men and enslaved women were exploitive. Slave women were unable to reject these unsolicited

sexual relationships without the threat of punitive consequences which made these relationships

exploitive in nature.

White men from all ranks indulged in sexual relations with slave women. They had unlimited

access to the black womens bodies.i A female slave could be called upon at any time- day or

night- to be used as concubines. iiThis lack of control over whom they could share their bodies

with created another form of sexual exploitation for enslaved women. By simply being beautiful

could materialize into a life of servitude for an enslaved woman. Beauty was one factor that

increased the possibility of being sexually abused. As a slave her wishes did not matter, it simply

made it impossible for women to hold on to their virtue. Some women wanted to keep themselves

pure, but under the circumstances they could not, thus, causing them to become frustrated, reckless
or live in despair. White owners wanted them to passively accept this sexual exploitation as their

right and privilege of power. Those who accepted were rewarded with European clothing, and

privileges in the great house whilst those who refused were flogged mercilessly, thus, developing

hate and resistance towards the white man.

The law- The Code Noir- protected the interests of the slave owner over that of the enslaved

woman. However, the purpose of the laws in the West Indies was to regulate the lives of the slaves.

The Siete Partidas of the Spanish islands, Le Code Noir of the French and the fragmentary

regulations of the British, were in reality all devised to keep slaves under control. Colonial laws

were not upheld because there was no one in the islands to supervise its enforcement. Plantation

owners took advantage of this lack of concern by European nations and devised their own laws to

their personal benefit.

iii
Having a husband in the 18th century didnt prevent or protect slave women from being

exploited. Furthermore, slaves were not permitted to marry so although relationships were formed,

women were simply mistresses or mothers but never wives. As a matter of fact, they lived in

constant fear of being raped and/ or beaten by white men. Moreover, white women were absentees

as planters who first came to develop plantations did not travel with their families. They came for

the sole purpose of making money which they sent back to England, France or Spain or wherever

they called home. The white women were considered too delicate to survive plantation life, hence

the reason so few made the voyage. This created a void in the lives of their men who turned to the

black women for satisfaction and in some instances companionship.

The close contact that these women had with white men meant that cultural values and

practices were passed between them. It could be debated whether long term relationships between

white men and slave women were based on manipulation and self-interest, or mutual affection and
caring. Slave owners did not conceive of their forceful sexual encounters with enslaved females

as being problematic, much less rape. However, it has been documented that several female slaves

committed suicide as a means of escape from their tragic lives and some tried to murder the white

men who assaulted them and wound up being killed themselves. One example of this was ivEve

from the 1Thomas Thistlewood Plantation in Jamaica. As property, enslaved women could be

forced to consent by their owners, most often through violence or the threat of violence; in the

minds of slave owners, this force was refigured as consent. They used 2euphemisms as a shield

for their indulgent sexual behavior and abuse of the enslaved women.

v
Reproduction became a central part of the enslaved womans responsibilities, therefore,

ensuring that enslaved women had sexual partners became a priority for slave owners. The

enslaved womans ability to become pregnant with a new generation of enslaved people made her

most vulnerable to sexual abuse from both black and white men and rendered her virtually

powerless over who she would share her body with. Having a child with a black slave meant that

that child would grow up in slavery, but having a child with a white man gave them a bit of hope

that the child may be freed if she became free. The wives of the white men, threatened by the
3
mulatto child, very often sold the child into slavery without her husbands knowledge. This

further emasculated the black woman who had hoped for a better future for herself and her child.

The inhumanity that accompanied the practice of miscegenation allowed planters to sustain their

slave population although some white men protected and defended their black concubines and

their children, it was not enough.

1
He was a British citizen who migrated to Western Jamaica where he became a plantation overseer and
owner of land, property, and slaves during the 18th century.
2
Phrases used to express ideas that might otherwise be unpleasant to hear.
3
The offspring of an European and an African.
The threat of sexual exploitation was not merely a part of their consciousness, but was often

at the forefront of their minds. Acts of sexual exploitation were not discrete events; they echoed

among enslaved people, eliciting emotions and evoking sadness and powerlessness. Indeed, these

acts led to the development of an exploitation consciousness. Acts of sexual exploitation brought

about emotional distress and a sense of helplessness. For enslaved women, this awareness of sexual

exploitation, whether it was from personal experience or word of mouth, generated feelings of

anger, powerlessness and fear. It also informed them of their limited control over their bodies. It

led to the development of feelings of hopelessness not only about relationships, but about life on

a whole. This exploitation consciousness influenced how enslaved women navigated through life.

The emotional and psychological consequences of sexual exploitation were real and were often a

significant factor in enslaved womens decision making. They realized they could never follow

the aspirations of their heart.

For those who were directly or indirectly affected by the trauma of sexual exploitation, sex

became more than simply an expression of love and physical desire between consenting

individuals. They gained a broadened understanding of the meaning of sex and how it could be

used to better their lives. The effects of sexual abuse extended beyond the enslaved woman to

enslaved communities at large. Feelings of pity and helplessness were elicited for those enslaved

women who endured the sexual advances. Though life went on, the psychological effects of sexual

exploitation were ever-present.

It is hard to understand a kind of pain that would cause a mother to abandon her child, or

make a woman beg a man to end her life. However, for many enslaved women, this kind of pain

was not far removed. For those enslaved women who came face to face with the trauma of sexual

exploitation, life could not stop. Obedience was still mandated, work still needed to be performed,
childreneven those who were the product of coerced sexstill needed to be raised, and the

factory that was known as the plantation still needed to be run. Instead of crumbling in the wake

of sexual abuse, these enslaved women had to find means of coping with the damage that had been

done. This kind of victimization bred feelings of fear and distrust for some, and resentment and

the courage to fight back for others. As these instances were experienced and witnessed by

enslaved women and men on plantations all through the colonial time, they left impressions that

would factor into life decisions for generations to come.


Conclusion

From my research and reasoning it can be concluded that the female slaves were indeed

psychologically affected by sexual exploitation in the British West Indies in the 18th century. They

were so affected to an extreme extent that they wanted to commit suicide and many were

successful. A vast number of women wanted to bring about revenge on those who brought pain

towards them and traumatized them, specifically white men (planters, overseers). These

experiences of sexual exploitation were forever embedded in the minds of the female slaves until

they deceased and those who witnessed it, and would forever leave impressions for generations to

come.
Appendix

Plate 1 showing two examples of the Plate 2 showing a women


punishment of female slaves. chained and the words Am
I not a woman and a
sister?.

Plate 3 showing a bar chart showing


Pattern of Thistlewoods sexual
activity over time.

Bibliography

Mark Scheme
Criteria P2 (UK +
EC)
1. Identify an Area of Research /2
2. Develop a Rationale
/3

3. Collection of Data
/8
4. Analysis and Interpretation
/10

5. Presentation and Documentation


/12

TOTAL
/35

i
Rule Karen L., A thesis of Thomas Thistlewood, University of Cantebury 1994, pg.78
ii
Shepherd Verene A., Brereton Bridget, Bailey Barbara, Engendering History, Jamaica 1995, pgs. 208-
210
iii
Shepherd Verene A., Women in Caribbean History , Jamaica 1999, pg.59
iv
Rule Karen L., A thesis of Thomas Thistlewood ,University of Cantebury 1994, pg.79
v
Beckles Hilary McD, Centering Woman , Jamaica 1999, pgs. 22-23