History ETDs


Sue E. Taylor

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This study examines three interrelated groups — female slaves, female slave owners, and free women of African heritage — living in the city and state of Caracas, Venezuela from the middle of the eighteenth through the middle of the nineteenth centuries in order to improve our historical understanding of gender and slavery. Venezuela represented the largest and longest lasting slave-owning regime in Spanish South America. Slavery, as a system of labor, was an integral part of colonial Venezuelan society and affected all segments of the populace. Understanding gender relations within slavery is crucial to understanding the dynamics of gender, power, race, and sexuality in the society as a whole. Women of Spanish, African, and mixed descent were involved in and affected by slavery. Each group of women had a concept of what honor meant for them and each sought to preserve honor by demanding fair and humane treatment, to be treated with respect and dignity, and to protect their reputations. They also expected those people who had control over them to behave with honor. Sometimes honor, as seen in the cases and as demanded by slave and free black women, corresponded to traditional concepts of honor as birthright as defined by elite members of society and other times not. In other examples, women of color used honor along the lines of Stewarts concept of honor as the entitlement of treatment as a worthwhile person. By looking beyond honor as birthright, the women in my study also invoked honor in their expectation that they be treated with dignity and respect and be able to preserve their reputations in society and with their peers. Slave owners, on the other hand, were sensitive to accusations of being overly harsh in their treatment of their human possessions. Their good reputation required both paternalism and firm control. Slave litigants tested the boundaries of appropriate coercion and restraint in their suits against abusive or unreasonable slave owners. They also showed a sophisticated understanding of legal codes and institutions.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Hall, Linda B.

Second Committee Member

Gauderman, Kimberly

Third Committee Member

McKnight, Kathryn J.

Fourth Committee Member

Morse, Kimberly J.



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