"Artful, Smart, And Of A Smiling Countenance": Delaware's Enslaved Women, 1760-1820
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DepartmentHistory and Geography
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This dissertation analyzed the lives of Delaware's enslaved women from 1760-1820. Delaware's slavery history received little scholarly attention and its enslaved women received even less. During the sixty years examined, Delaware created a body of law that separated it from the rest of slave-owning America. These laws prohibited slave owners from importing or exporting slaves in or out of the state without an act of the legislature. Enslaved women seized the opportunity to petition for freedom if they were illegally moved from or into the state, an opportunity unavailable to enslaved women elsewhere. De facto gradual emancipation separated enslaved women and children, hindering stable marital relations and family security. Delaware's small size and the nearness of free Pennsylvania encouraged enslaved women to escape; however, Delaware's enslaved women fled with large amounts of clothing, personal property, husbands or other men, and children. Some fled while pregnant. They engaged in several forms of resistance, embraced the new Methodist religion, and participated in dance and song. Delaware's enslaved women bore children when young, had large families, and were victims of nonconsenual interracial relationships. Enslaved women performed both domestic and agricultural work; gender lines were blurred or nonexistent. They endured floggings or sometimes death for perceived non-performance in assigned work.Delaware's enslaved women were human beings who persevered to maintain families and, possibly, attain freedom. Primary data include: deed and will books of Delaware's three counties, Quaker manumission records, coroner's inquests, court cases, legislative papers, and county slavery files, all in the Delaware Public Archives. Other data include runaway and sale advertisements in contemporary newspapers, slave narratives, and memoirs of white Delawareans. Analysis of the sources created a narrative of the lives of Delaware's enslaved women.