Patriarchy in America during the early nineteenth century was dominated by white males and their constant hunger for power and control. White males were the predominant owners of massive plantations, which required the work of hundreds of slaves. The roles of enslaved female African Americans were not limited to various physical labors, maids, nurses, and caretakers; female slaves had a task that was both physically and mentally degrading, and the slaves were expected and oftentimes required to complete these tasks by their pompous white male owners. American slavery magnified patriarchy, because of the endless amounts of power that males received during this time. Allowing a patriarchal society to have complete control over an entire race of people proved a disastrous and horrifying fate for those who were enslaved. This was due in part to the perverted and sinister attitudes towards sexuality during the early nineteenth century. Pastor H. Mattison conducted an interview of a former slave by the name of Louisa Picquet. Her interview did not show explicit details regarding the sexual misconduct that took place between female slaves and their owners. However, Louisa Picquet provided a quintessential slave story that portrayed patriarchy’s worst qualities as female slaves were raped and mistreated by their masters due to the infelicitous impacts of a patriarchal society. This paper will explore the ways in which early nineteenth century slavery provoked patriarchy’s worst aspects, as well as the skewed views of sexuality, with respect to Louisa Picquet’s story.
The first logged encounter in which Louisa Picquet experienced the sexual calling of one of her masters was when Mr. Cook purchased her at only fourteen years old. Mr. Cook claimed to be ill and commanded her, along with another female slave, “to come to his room that night, and take care of him” (Picquet 4). Had Louisa not had the courage to voice her concerns to Mrs. Bachelor, she most likely would have endured the sexual consequences of being born a slave. Mrs. Bachelor was an ally to Louisa as she made excuses for Louisa’s absence in Mr. Cook’s bedroom. Mrs. Bachelor’s attitude towards the act of sexual relations with slaves was disapproving and protective of Louisa. Mrs. Bachelor defended Louisa countless times and sent male slaves in her place to serve Mr. Cook’s needs. Despite the aid of Mrs. Bachelor, Louisa endured consequences for her refusal to sleep with Mr. Cook. In Louisa’s interview, she mentioned twice that Mr. Cook whipped her for not visiting his bedchambers: “so he whip[ped] me around the shoulders, so that I won’t forget [to visit his room] another time” (Picquet 6). This was a common occurrence in American slavery. However, not all young girls were as brave as Louisa. Numerous slaves eventually gave in to their masters’ requests because the threat of being flogged or further punished for not abiding by the white male’s requests was a fear that overshadowed the heinous act of sleeping with their masters.
Although the white male’s sexual appetite during the early nineteenth century was a widespread phenomenon, many masters found shame and embarrassment from the act of sleeping with their slaves. One of Louisa’s encounters with Mr. Cook proved this fact. Louisa was taking breakfast to Mr. Cook when he commanded her to shut the door. There was no doubt that Mr. Cook’s intentions in this situation were to rape Louisa. Before Louisa could close the door, a man walked by and looked in the door, which caused Mr. Cook to alter his words saying, “what you stand there crying for, you dam’ fool? Go ‘long downstairs and get me some more salt,” to make it appear that he was scolding her rather than commanding her to do the unthinkable (Picquet 5). This demonstrated that Mr. Cook’s attitude towards sex was lustful, but also shameful. Of course, there were masters that publicly admitted to sexual relationships with their slaves, and even had many children with them. However, the act was one that convicted many masters of adultery, as they had wives and children aside from their female slaves.
This incorporated Mrs. Cook into the story as she was married to Mr. Cook. When creditors came to take his property, Mr. Cook sent his wife away and took his slaves to Mobile, Alabama. Although the interview never mentioned why Mr. Cook sent his wife to live with her sister, it is safe to assume that he wished his wife to be out of the picture, while he attempted to seduce his slaves. This assumption only reinforced the idea that slave masters were ashamed of their sexual acts. In addition, the idea reinforced the twisted attitudes towards sexuality during the time period, as white men knew that the act was unacceptable and looked down upon by society. Regardless of this acknowledgement, they continued in their guilty pleasures. Furthermore, Mr. Williams, the man that purchased Louisa to be his mistress, never admitted that he was the father of all four of her children. If he was ever to have company, Mr. Williams “took them to the hotel” rather than bringing them into his home where he committed his adulterous acts (Picquet 12).
Continuing with the topic of the wife of Mr. Cook, it was interesting to note that there was little mentioned in the interview about Mrs. Cook’s opinions towards her husband’s promiscuity. Had Mrs. Cook defended Louisa and other female slaves, Louisa most likely would have mentioned her actions. However, Louisa did mention that Mrs. Cook “used to read the Bible and explain it to us” (Picquet 10). Mrs. Cook tried to teach Louisa about the sinfulness of stealing and adultery, so it could be inferred that Mrs. Cook was a virtuous and conservative woman. Because of certain gender roles during the 1800’s, wives of slave masters had little say in their husband’s pastimes. The role of women during this time period typically consisted of cooking, cleaning, taking care of their husbands, and having children. Although the thought of their husbands participating in sexual acts with slaves, who were seen as completely inferior, most likely infuriated and depressed the wives of slave owners, there was little that women could do in this time period to end the adultery. White women of this time period esteemed purity and extreme modesty, which only heightened white male’s sexual interest in African American women, as their slave status hindered acts of extreme modesty.
Another aspect of this time period to consider was that many slave owners encouraged reproduction from their slaves. The entire institution of slavery was reliant on the reproduction of slaves. This gave white males during the early nineteenth century further reasons to give in to their sexual desires with female slaves. Higher slave reproduction meant more profit for owners. Even though many children born to slave women were mulattoes, they were still recognized as slaves because they were not fully white. This is evident in Louisa’s story as she was described to have pale skin. She was the offspring of a female slave and a white master. Even Louisa’s mother was white, she was “not white enough for white people” (Picquet 3).
Patriarchy during this time period proved to be ironic because of how whites viewed slaves. White males assumed themselves to be stationed above women and African Americans, especially African American women as they were deemed inferior due to their race as well as their gender. Africans were viewed as inferior because they were thought to be unclean, diseased, and dirty beings. This is ironic considering the role that African-American slave women played during this time period. More often than not, slave women were taking care of white children, cooking and cleaning for whites, and satisfying the sexual desires of white men. If African Americans were in fact as unclean as they were proclaimed to be, whites certainly would not let them suckle their own children or satisfy their sexual needs. This proved another way that white patriarchy was extremely biased and oppressive.
The understanding of Louisa Picquet’s personal accounts of her experiences as a female African American slave gave readers a glimpse into the patriarchal society that so awfully degraded women into sexual objects. Even though her interview lacks harsh details that are typically included in African-American slave stories, readers were able to examine and understand the patriarchy that was so widely spread throughout the United States during the early nineteenth century. Louisa provided a beautiful example of how compassionate and simply human she was, even though she was not seen as a human through the eyes of her masters. An example was when she prayed for her master (this was the master that purchased her to be his personal mistress) to receive religion when he fell ill and was on his death bed. Louisa was one of many women that endured the savage impacts of African American slavery but provided a way for current society to learn from her experiences.
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