Masculinities In American History English Literature Essay

Working Title

DMontae G. Jones

HST 380 – Masculinities in American History

Dr. K. Olbertson

April 19, 2013

The year is 1787, and an enslaved black man in Maryland has just been accused of the rape of Elizabeth Amwood – a free black woman. William Holland, a white man, forced Amwood to "pull up her [clothes] and to lie down…he then called a [Negro] man slave…and ordered him to ‘be grate’ with her." [1] All the while, another white man, by the name of John Pettigrew, pointed a pistol at both of the slaves while they were engaged. Holland and Pettigrew than both began to taunt Amwood and the enslaved black man, asking if it was "sweet" or if "…it was in yet." [2] After the incident, Holland commonly referred to it was "putting a mare to a horse." [3] 

Under covering the history behind American Slavery brings up many new topics time and time again. One topic that has had major focus over time is the sexual abuse of enslaved black women by white men. While, historically, there has been a great deal of scholarship on this subject, scholars have failed to equally shine light on the situation in different terms – the sexual abuse of enslaved black men. According to many scholars, the term rape can historically serve as a defining term for enslavement. Thus, the term equally applies all of those who were enslaved, men and women. "The vulnerability of all enslaved black people to nearly every conveyable violation produced a selective ‘raped’ subjectivity." [4] The best way to accurately depict a scholarly interpretation of the idea of how black manhood was affected by the institution of slavery is by exploring the comments of Lewis Clarke – a former slave.

Clarke states that a slave can "never be a man…because he could not protect his female kinfolks from being [sexually] assaulted by the white man." [5] Historically, Clarke’s concern about the sexual abuse and rape of black women during American slavery has been well recorded and documented. Scholars, such as Thelma Jennings, have thoroughly investigated and analyzed these incidents of sexual assault in a variety of contexts. [6] From various acts of punishment to express desire to systems of concubine relations and forced reproduction, the physical sexual abuse endured by black enslaved women in America has ranges widely. As an indirect effect, the sexual abuse of these black women affected the masculinity of black enslaved men. Without the ability to protect their venerable female dependents, the honor and courage usually associated with manhood was greatly denied to black men. As Deborah Gray White – Professor of History at the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences – put it, "Those who tried to protect their spouses from sexual abuse where then abused themselves." [7] Furthermore, argues White, the toll this took on men – emasculating their psyche – potentially lead them to disdain from monogamous relations or marriage altogether.

When looking at the rape case of Elizabeth Amwood, it reveals to scholars that enslaved black masculinity during American slavery was violated in other ways that you may not necessarily find in your typical history book – sexual exploitation. Historically, while not well articulated, the sexual assault of both enslaved boys and men is well known. [8] Scholarship on the earlier periods of American history exhibit many instances of sexual abuse and rape of young boys and men. Ramón Gutiérrez argues that certain individuals of the "Native American third sex, or berdaches (certain men who would assume the gender identity of the opposite sex), were frequent prisoners of war." [9] Obviously, these men were used for sex and thoroughly emasculated. A few extant sodomy cases also show us how males have been abused. For example, a Connecticut man by the name of Nicholas Senion victimized his male servants by constantly preying on them sexually. When examining all of the cases of sodomy that went through the courts in America’s earlier years, a common theme can be developed. Most, if not all, of the cases involved the violation of status boundaries – masters with servants, teachers with students. However, none of these instances occurred between peers of similar social standings. [10] 

This paper aims to use a variety of sources on slavery – from early American court records, journals, testimonies, abolitionist literature, and newspapers – to assert and explore how enslaved black men were sexually abused. Through vigorous research into a field that lacks major specific scholarship, it is discovered that the sexual assault of black men during American slavery took a variety of forms. These forms include straightforward physical penetration, sexual coercion and manipulation, forced reproduction, and physiological abuse.

The difficulty that lies within this subject matter is determining, with certainty, the prevalence of the sexual abuse of black male slaves. Martha Hodes – Professor of History at New York University – describes the sexual "coercion of black men [in the antebellum South]" as "a great tragedy that lurked as a possibility irrespective of its frequency." [11] The Abolitionist movements during that time documented more instances of sexual abuse than any other era in American history. For example, 19th century sources concerning American slavery in the South are more abundant. These sources drew great attention to sexual degeneracy, which in turn became a fundamental issue in the argument of the immorality of the entire institution of slavery. While there were a variety of cultural and social barriers to documenting the sexual abuse of enslaved black men, it would erroneous to make the assumption that the documents that survived over time accurately depict the historical practice of such abuse. Certainly, the improbability that these cases would have been documents at all suggest that it is safe to say – regardless of the time period or location – that no enslaved many was safe from the sexual threat of abuse.

The documented incidents discussed in this paper have been somewhat hidden in plain sight. Revisiting cases that scholars have discussed in their work on sex and slavery, the main scholarship behind understanding the abuse of enslaved black people is credited Deborah Gray White’s research on planation life for enslaved black women, Martha Hodes’s studies on sex between white women and enslaved black men during the antebellum South, and Thelma Jennings’s work on the sexual exploitation of enslaved black women. Through their dedicated research, these and other scholars, greatly show the ubiquity of the sexual assault of enslaved black women. This establishment brought about a widely accepted conclusion by most historians, who argue that against deep rooted racist portrayals of enslaved black women as hypersexual. Turning to the sexual abuse and exploitation of enslaved men builds upon the perspective of this recent literature to challenge the view of black men as hypersexual and white women as passive and asexual.

Although scholars have acknowledged the sexual assault of enslaved women, none to my knowledge have highlighted the sexual abuse of enslaved men. In part, we have taken our cues from the nineteenth-century abolitionist writers who drew upon certain gender-, race-, and class-infused understandings of sexual assault to appeal to a particular audience. As Martha Hodes reminds us, though, it was not simply that sex between black men and white women was uninteresting to abolitionists. Individuals recognized that it was "dangerous to the cause" to insult the virtue of southern white womanhood. [12] The rape of slave men has also gone unacknowledged because of the current and historical tendency to define rape along gendered lines, making both victims and perpetrators reluctant to discuss male rape. The sexual assault of men dangerously points out cracks in the marble base of patriarchy that asserts men as penetrators in opposition to the penetrable, whether homosexuals, children, or adult women. This article, therefore, confronts our own raced, classed, and gendered perceptions of rape and argues that we have a moral imperative to recognize the coerced sexuality of enslaved men as rape. Narrowly defining sexual assault along gendered lines has obscured our ability to recognize the climate of terror and the physical and mental sexual abuse that enslaved black men also endured.

The sexual exploitation of enslaved black men took place within a cultural context that fixated on black male bodies with both desire and horror. Sexual assault took a wide variety of forms, but the common factor in all was the legal ownership that enabled control of the enslaved body. Winthrop Jordan notes the conflicting messages embraced by Anglo-American culture as it sought to control and circumscribe the bodies of enslaved men and women, on the one hand voicing repulsion for Africans, framing them as beastly, ugly, and unappealing, while on the other hand viewing them as hypersexual. Anglo- American culture had a long-standing view of black men as "particularly virile, promiscuous, and lusty." [13] Although this view is consistently framed as a negative one, given Anglo-American cultural norms of moderation and self-control, it is clear that early Americans also saw erotic possibilities and beauty in black bodies. We know, for example, that some slave masters fetishized and objectified women of color, understanding that sexual abuse was about power and not simply expressing sexual desire. The presence of antebellum "fetish" markets of light-skinned enslaved women, in particular, has been well documented by scholars. Edward Baptist, for example, argues that the antebellum domestic slave trade might be reconsidered as a "complex of inseparable fetishisms" given the slave traders’ "frequent discussions of the rape of light-skinned enslaved women, or ‘fancy maids,’" and "their own relentlessly sexualized vision of the trade." [14] 

The evidence also leads us to speculate that an unusual interest in "light skinned" men may have paralleled the more formalized and documented fetish market in "fancy maids" that Edward Baptist has analyzed. Such an interest is found in testimony presented to the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission (AFIC), which was established by the secretary of war in 1863 to document the conditions of those freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. White abolitionist Richard J. Hinton, for example, testified that "I have never yet found a bright looking colored man" "who has not told me of instances where he has been compelled, either by his mistress, or by white women of the same class, to have connection with them." [15] In another case, a man testified that a man who had been "brought up in the family" was also coerced into sex by his mistress, his family connection suggesting that he was mulatto. We also have some evidence of light-skinned black men as sexually prized. Testimony to the AFIC included reference to light-skinned men as "fine looking." [16] One man told the AFIC: "It was an extremely common thing among all the handsome mulattoes at the South to have connection with the white women." [17] In the antebellum divorce case of one white couple, Dorothea and Lewis Bourne, Dorothea’s chosen lover, an enslaved man named Edmond, is described in the records by more than one neighbor as "so bright in his colour, a stranger would take him for a white man." [18] Such testimony raises the possibility that in this patriarchal society the sexual abuse of "nearly white" men could enable white women to enact radical fantasies of domination over white men with the knowledge that their victim’s body was legally black and enslaved, subject to the women’s control.

Although we have no evidence for a sexual fetish market in black male flesh, historical scholarship shows us that black male bodies might well be eroticized by white observers. Jordan claims that Anglo-American culture long held a fascination with the penises of black men and projected both desire and jealousy upon an objectified and disembodied black phallus. [19] Colonial accounts abound with recorded instances of masters and others commenting not only on the nudity of slaves but on their bodies with a certain fascination. As Philip Morgan reminds us, "daily encounters had a sexual dimension" in part because slaves "wore little or no clothing." One observer in 1781 named William Feltman remarked on the reaction this nudity might provoke among Virginia women, given that "young boys of about [fourteen] and [fifteen] years Old" were "virtually naked." Feltman quipped: "I can Assure you It would Surprize a person to see these d—d [damned] black boys how well they are hung." [20] 

Numerous abolitionist images also fixate on the black male body as perfection, highlighting muscular bodies and, in almost pornographic detail, exposed buttocks, enduring unjust abuse and degradation. William Benemann and others maintain that the image of whipping exposed male flesh carried a homoerotic charge—one that mirrored the nearly obscene fixation on whipping nude enslaved women, as has been suggested by scholars such as Colette Colligan. [21] John Saillant’s work on the eroticization of the black male body in early abolitionist literature also contributes to this view that whites found sexual appeal in black male bodies. He notes that this literature idealized black male bodies in a manner that included an unusual focus on height, musculature, and skin color. Accounts in late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century American publications like the American Universal Magazine and the Philadelphia Minerva described black male characters as "the blackest, the best made, the most amiable," "beautiful in shape as the Apollo of Belvedere," and "Tall and shapely." [22] Black men’s bodies could be described in sympathetic tones: "Jack knelt down—not a muscle of his countenance quivered—he was entirely naked, and was a remarkably muscular and well-made man. He looked like a fine bronze statue." [23] Accounts also discussed the "strength of limb, the roundness of muscle, mind, tender affection, sympathy," in efforts to combat slavery; such details served to underscore the moral injustice of enslaving these men. [24] It is also worth noting that, despite the homoerotic nature of these accounts suggested by their content, women made up the backbone of the abolitionist movement and readily consumed such literature. Accordingly, these descriptions lead us to conclude that white women were exposed to cultural ideas about black male beauty, desirability, and physical prowess.

Yet at the same time, black men’s genitalia were subject to scrutiny and punishment. Castration and other genital mutilations served as punishment in the hands of overseers and owners as well as in popular depictions of public enforcement of "justice." Thus, the Boston News-Letter reported in 1718 the assault of a white woman but with a focus on black male genitalia that warned off "all Negroes meddling with any White Woman": "A Negro Man met abroad an English woman, which he accosted to lye with, stooping down, fearing none behind him, a Man observing his Design, took out his Knife, before the Negro was aware, cut off all his unruly parts Smack and Smooth, the Negro Jumpt up roaring and run for his Life, the Black is now an Eunuch and like to recover of his wounds & doubtless cured from any more such Wicked Attempts." [25] In 1762 a North Carolina enslaved black man convicted of raping a white woman had his "private parts cut off and thrown in his face" as part of his execution. [26] While these articles recall the depiction of black men as agents of sexual assault, still then a notion in formation but one that would long remain in the American tradition, they also underscore how punishments for perceived or actual sexual infractions, in the hands of whites, focused on black male bodies and in particular in maiming the genitalia of enslaved men. Already in the era of slavery Anglo-American culture embraced a message about black men as particularly sexual, prone to sensual indulgence, and desiring white women. Such messages undoubtedly served to demonize and define the population of black men but would also have raised the radical possibility for some women of the desirability of such men as highly sexual and accomplished—a model of masculinity that highlighted power, strength, and mastery rather than one of moderation and self-control. Objectification of black men affected bodies and minds. Depictions of sexual prowess and the myth of the black rapist constituted one form of sexual abuse. This myth contributed to the legal and political disenfranchisement of black men from the earliest days of the Republic. [27] Yet the psychic toll was also high. Being told that one is hypersexual and uncontrollable cannot be dismissed as mere racist caricaturing; for some men such messages would have inflicted great emotional pain.

Like heterosexual relations between white men and black women, sex between masters and male slaves undoubtedly occurred, sometimes in affectionate and close relationships but also as a particular kind of punishment. That we have a handful of documented instances is noteworthy, given the prohibitions against sodomy in early America, the absolute power that owners wielded and that enabled them to keep such moments secret, and the shame that was attached to being sodomized by a master and that could ensure the victim’s silence.

Abolitionist literature demonstrates the possibility of the sexual assault of enslaved black men by slave owning white men of what was called the planter class. John Saillant’s analysis of early abolitionist literature both shows the homoerotics of the literature and provides examples of masters who were said to be sexually abusing their slaves. [28] In one such account, authored by Joseph LaVallée, a slave named Itanoko was subjected to rape by a white slaver named Urban. Urban was described as a "ravisher" who, Itanoko explained, was "struck by my comeliness," and he did "violate, what is most sacred among men." As Saillant explains, although Itanoko was rescued, he found himself on a plantation in Saint Domingue, where he met Theodore, "whose ‘criminal complaisance with the overseer’ allows him to give ‘free scope to his irregular passions.’" As Saillant explains, "The ‘irregular passions’ apparently include sexual activity with black men, which LaVallée calls ‘crime,’ ‘vice,’ and ‘rapine,’ all ‘enormities’ resulting from ‘unbridled disorders’ and ‘passion.’" [29] 

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861 by abolitionist and escaped slave Harriet Jacobs (under the pseudonym Linda Brent), also included mention of male slave owners sexually abusing male slaves. Jacobs alluded to this abuse in the context of the rape of slave women and girls, lamenting that "no pen can give adequate description to the all-pervading corruption produced by slavery." That corruption extended beyond female victims, for, as Jacobs wrote, "in some cases they exercise the same authority over the men slaves." [30] Jacobs’s autobiographical account also includes an incident between a slave named Luke and his owner that Abdur-Rahman reads as "sadomasochistic" and one that "reveals in general the entwinement of desire and coercion that typifies the master-slave relationship." He writes: "Linda remembers Luke as a particularly degraded figure" sent to the master’s son, a man described in coded terms as a depraved homosexually inclined individual. It was in this man’s service that Luke "became prey to the vices growing out of the ‘patriarchal institution.’" [31] Abdur-Rahman points, for example, to passages in Jacobs like the following:

The fact that [the young master] was entirely dependent on Luke’s care, and was obliged to be tended like an infant, instead of inspiring any gratitude or compassion towards his poor slave, seemed only to increase his irritability and cruelty. As he lay there on his bed, a mere wreck of manhood, he took into his head the strangest freaks of despotism; and if Luke hesitated to submit to his orders, the constable was immediately sent for. Some of these freaks were of a nature too filthy to be repeated. When I fled the house of bondage, I left poor Luke still chained to the bed of this cruel and disgusting wretch. [32] 

Even while most of the accounts illustrating sexual abuse of enslaved men came from the nineteenth century, eighteenth-century sources indicate the practice was not limited to that era. Slave owners’ diaries, for example, also reveal instances of sexual assault perpetrated by masters, indicating that the literary examples reflected a certain social reality. The eighteenth-century diary of a Jamaican planter named Thomas Thistlewood tersely noted two incidents of homosexual assault. In one entry he recorded: "Report of Mr. Watt Committing Sodomy with his Negroe waiting Boy." The language is specific enough to indicate this was a case of sodomy—not the more common attempted sodomy found in the historical records. It also notes the power dynamic within a power dynamic by singling out a "boy" and not an adult man. Thistlewood’s diary also noted "strange reports about the parson and John his man." While the term "strange reports" is not precise, Trevor Burnard interprets it as meaning homosexual activity. [33] Again it is worth noting that this act occurred between a slave owner and a close personal servant rather than with a field hand. As such, this type of abuse follows a broader pattern that suggests the closer the proximity to whites, the more likely that sexual abuse was to occur.

In the story from eighteenth-century Maryland that opened this article, it is clear that the unnamed enslaved man was also a victim of sexual assault. Yet such stories have rarely been told by historians, and this account itself was documented only by chance. One of the white perpetrators of the assault, William Holland, was convicted of assault and battery on the free black woman, Elizabeth Amwood. Holland petitioned the governor of Maryland for a pardon. Included in the pardon file was a memorandum from Amwood detailing the assault. [34] The case illustrates the sexual vulnerability of black women, to be sure. But we must also recognize the physical and psychological toll that such an event would have taken on the enslaved man, who was unnamed. Forced to rape this woman at the point of a gun, not only would he have had to deal with the legal and moral consequences of assaulting a free black woman—someone he may or may not have known—but his manhood was also usurped.

Other accounts of forced sex reveal that male slaves could also suffer punishment for a forced attack. An abolitionist newspaper, the National Era, reported in 1853 on the case of another unnamed man, described only as a "negro man, belonging to H. France." The man had been "burned at the stake" for having "attempted to commit rape" and for murder. What makes this case unusual, however, is that after the execution the "citizens of Pettis county" requested that the France family leave the community, "having some suspicion that the negro was instigated to the perpetration of the deed by his master." In addition to "aiding and abetting the murder," the master was criticized for his "bad examples set before slaves, by conversing with them in relation to the virtue and chastity of white women, and in defamation of their character; thereby influencing them to commit deeds of crime and rapine." [35] We must consider that France may well have forced his slaves to assault white women, since to take the story at face value is to accept the rhetoric of an ignorant, animalistic, and docile slave who, excited by France, was set loose upon women.

At a minimum, this last story raises questions about how often slave masters used male slaves to inflict sexual punishment on women, whether free black, enslaved, or white, and about the toll that these forced rapes would have taken on those men, who could rarely resist the will of their masters. one former slave recollected how "Joe was ’bout seven feet tall an’ was de breedinges’ nigger in Virginia." He continued: "Once ole Marsa hired him out to a white man what lived down in Suffolk. Dey come an’ got him on a Friday. Dey brung him back Monday mo’nin’." [36] Another former slave similarly noted how his master had prevented him from engaging in sexual relations with only one woman, forcing him to reproduce with about fifteen women and to father dozens of children. [37] Forcing some enslaved men to reproduce with many different women denied to them a fatherly role even while it prevented their children from bonding with them. A Texas woman who had been enslaved attested to this result when she noted that "half of us young negroes didn’t know who our fathers were." Similarly, one slave named Mary Young remarked: "We never hardly knew who our father was." Another slave, Millie Williams, also commented: "Shuck’s nobody knows who der father waz." [38] It is possible that African and African American men would have viewed this violation differently than Anglo-Americans, given Anglo-American norms of monogamy and traditional West African matrilineal kinship practices, although these differences would have become lessened within long-enslaved populations. Nonetheless, men from both cultures shared the values of male independence and mastery in a broad sense. [39] 

Forced coupling also placed a premium on young and healthy men and implied the lesser value of men who were beyond years thought suitable for reproduction. As Thelma Jennings explains, the former slave Lulu Wilson noted that her father was forced off her plantation once the slave owner considered him to be "too old for breeding." [40] Other men who might be young enough to reproduce but were deemed undesirable were prevented from fathering children. One Tennessee slave woman remarked that a "scrubby man" would not be permitted to father children. Another slave woman, Polly Cancer, noted that her suitor was forced by her master to discontinue seeing her and told "to git coz he didn’t want no runts on his place." [41] The scholarly focus, reflecting the sources, has generally viewed these forced couplings from the point of view of the assaulted woman, often wholly neglecting the male participant. Thus, for instance, despite the very rich testimony she mobilized to explain the sexual exploitation of enslaved women when discussing miscegenation, Thelma Jennings concludes that In this instance, it resulted in the punishment for the slave of death by being burned alive. It is important to note again that the man was unnamed. His designation as only a "negro" man dehumanizes him, rendering him in his assault on the woman a symbol perhaps of all black men, but we must rehumanize him as another type of victim in a multilayered sexual assault perpetrated by white men on both black men and white and black women.

Forced sex also took place within the context of so-called slave breeding. From what little documentation we have, we know the practice of forcing slaves to reproduce had colonial roots. Most scholars identify the early nineteenth century as the period of greatest expansion of this practice, coinciding with the growth of slavery in the United States and the maturation of the domestic slave trade. In his account of his experiences as a slave, William J. Anderson described what he knew about one master’s attempts at forced breeding: "I have known him to make four men leave their wives for nothing, and would not let them come and see them any more on the peril of being shot down like dogs; he then made the women marry other men against their will. Oh, see what it is to be a slave? A man, like the brute, is driven, whipped, sold, comes and goes at his master’s bidding." [42] Many slave owners allowed enslaved men and women to develop personal ties and to form relationships and families of their own choosing. Others, however, clearly took a more active role in selecting for the qualities they wanted in slaves, forcing some to have children or to live as husband and wife. The conclusions that historian Thelma Jennings draws about the power that slave owners held over enslaved women should be applied as well to enslaved men: "The white patriarch had the power to force them to mate with whomever he chose, to reproduce or suffer the consequences, to limit the time spent with their children, and even to sell them and their children." [43] Masters could and did force couples to have sexual intercourse, and if "either one showed any reluctance, the master would make the couple consummate the relation in his presence." [44] 

Testimony from a number of former slaves demonstrates how forced reproduction had the dehumanizing effect of labeling certain enslaved men as "stock men" or "bulls." As Thelma Jennings explains with one example, "On Mary Ingram’s plantation, the master made the decision on who could and could not get married." Or, in the words of Mary Ingram herself, "Him select de po’tly and p’lific women, and de po’tly man, and use sich for de breeder an’ de father ob de women’s chillums." [45] In another example, "only the bondwomen could be subjected to the white man’s passion," overlooking the broader power that white men also held over enslaved black men’s bodies and sexuality. [46] Still, the sources can provide that evidence. In one example, a slave woman named Rose Williams of Texas fought off a slave man, Rufus, despite their owner’s decision to place them together. Rose described Rufus as a "bully" and explained, "I don’t like Rufus." Accordingly, when he attempted to "crawl in" bed with her, she argued with him. He never responded with physical force but instead pleaded with her that she should "hush" and said to her: "Dis am my bunk, too." Rose used physical violence to discourage Rufus from being intimate with her, giving him a "shove" and taking a "poker," with which she "lets him have it over de head." Rufus did not respond with force but did let her know that "dey’s gwine larn you somethin’," indicating the punishment that would await her for disobeying their owner’s intentions. The account as told by Rose rightly positions her as a victim, but we should not overlook that Rufus himself was placed in a position of powerlessness by his owner. Rufus did not retaliate physically even after being assaulted. In the end, however, Rose capitulated after being threatened by her mistress. [47] 

In addition to being forced into sexual situations with women they did not choose, enslaved men could also face the emotional withdrawal and resentment of the women they were then supposed to seduce and marry. Rufus, for example, faced the physical resistance of Rose Williams. After the freeing of the slaves, she was able to leave Rufus, with whom she bore only two children, which some have taken to suggest a resistance to him throughout their "marriage." Jennings’s observations on the psychic trauma of forced marriage for women should also be applied to men. Forced marriage, she argues, caused both "physical and mental anguish" and "may have even caused greater humiliation than concubinage . . . since marriage was long term." [48] A level of resentment and even hatred could more easily be aimed at the enslaved male husband than at the slave master or white overseer. One woman, Mary Gaffner, told her interviewer: "I just hated the man I married . . . but it was what Master said do." [49] In forced coupling, the levels of victimhood were multilayered. Men such as Joe in Virginia who were forced to have children with many women might also have found themselves unwanted within the slave community. These unions might have led to children who would have been desired by the white planter class but certainly not always by enslaved women.

Some slave women, for example, rejected husbands and lovers because of their promiscuity, as did one woman "on account of his having so Many Children." [50] Deborah Gray White notes in one example that after a slave named Molly lost her husband because he ran away, she was "given" a new husband—meaning forced into another arrangement to produce children. Despite having nine children together, however, Molly later rejected this man and exclaimed that he was not her "real" husband despite their years of cohabitation. "In Molly’s heart her real husband was the man sold away by their master." [51] For such men the rejection and resentment of their forced wives would have further compounded their dehumanized situation.

Records from the period immediately after slavery indicate the desire of former slaves both to find family members who had been sold away and to remove themselves from forced spouses. Men and women found themselves able to extricate themselves from sexual partners they had not selected and, in many cases, not wanted. The Florida General Assembly, for example, created legislation for those who sought to legalize their chosen families and spouses but came under fire for failing to address the problem of those who had previously been forced into marriage and who were "opposed to being regularly joined in the bonds of matrimony" with these unwanted spouses. [52] The forced coupling of enslaved men and women denied the individuality of both. Continuing to overlook the victimization of men in such sexual assaults not only denies the full extent of that sexual abuse but also continues dangerously to draw on long-standing stereotypes of black male sexuality that positions black men as hypersexual. In some instances of forced coupling, undoubtedly, some men took pleasure, as did some women. In other instances, for both partners, it may have been a last resort to avoid punishment from masters or overseers. In all such cases, white men controlled the bodies of both black men and women.

The sexual assault of enslaved black men was a component of slavery and took place in a wide variety of contexts and in a wide range of forms. Given the current and historical obstacles to documenting and recognizing the abuse, the examples described here should be seen as the tip of the iceberg and the abuse as far from rare. In addition to the direct physical abuse of men that happened under slavery, this sexual exploitation constituted a type of psychological abuse that was ubiquitous. Without recognizing male sexual abuse, we run the risk of reinscribing the very stereotypes used by white slave owners and others who reduced black men to bestial sexual predators and white women to passionless and passive vessels. The cases discussed here show that the use of physical force and direct threats of violence as well as implicit power imbalances worked against enslaved men as well as enslaved women. The documentary record confronts our own gendered perceptions of rape and creates a moral imperative for historians to recognize the sexual assault of enslaved black men. The cases here should also help us to rethink male sexual abuse in general not only in the antebellum American South but also elsewhere, and future research could further refine these findings along geographic and chronological lines of examination. This article, therefore, is offered as a contribution to our understanding of the experience of black masculinity in early America.