Professional Historians have shaped, sanitized, and propagated a benign version of American Chattel Slavery. Slave owners in the United States systematically compelled the reproduction of their slaves to increase their financial rewards. Forced sexual relations amidst the male and female slaves often resulted in forced pregnancies and the favoring of those who could produce comparatively large numbers of offspring. The objective was to fill labor shortages by increasing the number of slaves without incurring the cost.
The Demand for Labor
The forbiddance of the importation of slaves began in 1807 when the Transatlantic Slave Trade Act was signed into statute making it illegal for British colonies as well as the Caribbean Islands. Although the importation of slaves was now prohibited the practice of slavery continued in the United States until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. This came during the time when the invention of the cotton gin expanded the cultivation throughout large areas within the Deep South. The demand for labor increased dramatically. Consequently, the fertility of enslaved women became increasingly important; in fact, their value was determined by their virility.
Historians have often disavowed sex farms and slave breeding they argued, there were no archival documents to prove conclusively slave owners not only initiated but also supported stud farms for the expressed purpose of reproductive sex of enslaved individuals. Conversely, after the Civil War, the oral histories and stories of former slaves were recorded during what came to be known as the slave narratives. It was common for the sexual subordination of the slave to the master, including the male slaves; this was known as buck breaking. The buck breaking process consisted of the slave owner or his proxy forcefully having sex with the enslaved male in full view of an audience. That audience usually included his family and friends. This served several purposes; The primary purpose, however, was to show all in attendance that he was absolutely powerless. In fact, another very common practice was to place a burlap bag over the heads of the male and female prior to the forced sexual encounter, because as often was the case the paired individuals were related by blood. In some cases even Mother and Son, it is believed this is where the term motherfucker was derived. Brothers paired with sisters, fathers with daughters all were common occurrences. Slave owners often interfered with the sexual lives of their slaves. Enslaved women were often forced into sexual relations with their owners; however, their masters considered it as doing them a favor as it was saving them from having sex with Black men, as they were considered animalistic.
It should be noted some enslaved women resisted slavery by resisting reproduction. They employed long-proven methods brought from their African homelands, passed down through generations. For example, chewing on the root of cotton to help terminate a pregnancy. Scientist describes the root as containing a poisonous substance called Gossypol, it inhibits the development of sperm. It was also thought to affect the menstrual cycle by restricting certain hormones. Whether by swallowing an abortifacient as turpentine or calomel enslaved women were fighting back. By resisting reproduction, this enabled enslaved women to regain at least some resemblance of control over their bodies.
Some enslaved women resisted reproduction by simply abstaining from sex, for example; an enslaved woman after being paired with men selected by their master and sharing sleeping arrangements for several months without a pregnancy, the slave owner would declare the enslaved woman as infertile and allowed to go about her way. Surprisingly after being freed, several of these same women would have several healthy offspring. Enslaved women avoided pregnancy to deprive their masters of profit and prosperity in addition to not being willing to subject their children to the horrors of chattel slavery. Despite their efforts, enslaved women averaged 7 children each during the antebellum period.
We must tell our own stories!
“Until the Lion learns to write every story will glorify the hunter” – African Proverb
The Lion Has learned to Write: Bo Ajala