Entangled with the yoke of bondage: Black women in Massachusetts, 1700-1783

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This dissertation expands our knowledge of four significant dimensions of black women’s experiences in eighteenth century New England: work, relationships, literacy and religion. This study contributes, then, to a deeper understanding of the kinds of work black women performed as well as their value, contributions, and skill as servile laborers; how black women created and maintained human ties within the context of multifaceted oppression, whether they married and had children, or not; how black women acquired the tools of literacy, which provided a basis for engagement with an interracial, international public sphere; and how black women’s access to and appropriation of Christianity bolstered their efforts to resist slavery’s dehumanizing effects. While enslaved females endured a common experience of race oppression with black men, gender oppression with white women, and class oppression with other compulsory workers, black women’s experiences were distinguished by the impact of the triple burden of gender, race, and class. This dissertation, while centered on the experience of black women, considers how their experience converges with and diverges from that of white women, black men, and other servile laborers. By focusing on work, relationships, religion, and literacy, my research interrogates the limits of black women’s accommodation to slavery as well as the possibilities available to black women in eighteenth century Massachusetts. This project challenges the idea that histories of enslaved females cannot be written because sources are not available for the construction of such narratives. Achievement of these research objectives required a shift in perspective. Whereas black women are often relegated to the fringes of historical inquiry and analysis, my research shifts the study of enslaved females from the margins of established histories of colonial slavery in North America, slavery in the North, and African American women to the center of scholarship on eighteenth century Massachusetts.






Rutgers The State University of New Jersey-New Brunswick