Love of Freedom: Black Women in Colonial and Revolutionary New England

Love of Freedom: Black Women in Colonial and Revolutionary New England

Love of Freedom: Black Women in Colonial and Revolutionary New England

Love of Freedom: Black Women in Colonial and Revolutionary New England

Synopsis

They baked New England's Thanksgiving pies, preached their faith to crowds of worshippers, spied for the patriots during the Revolution, wrote that human bondage was a sin, and demanded reparations for slavery. Black women in colonial and revolutionary New England sought not only legal emancipation from slavery but defined freedom more broadly to include spiritual, familial, and economic dimensions.

Hidden behind the banner of achieving freedom was the assumption that freedom meant affirming black manhood The struggle for freedom in New England was different for men than for women. Black men in colonial and revolutionary New England were struggling for freedom from slavery and for the right to patriarchal control of their own families. Women had more complicated desires, seeking protection and support in a male headed household while also wanting personal liberty. Eventually women who were former slaves began to fight for dignity and respect for womanhood and access to schooling for black children.

Excerpt

Several generations of black women in New England were willing to lay down their lives for the cause of freedom. For some a life in bondage was no life at all; in word, deed, and in the memory of their neighbors they testified to their love of liberty. Enslaved women in colonial and revolutionary New England sought their freedom through legal manumission, profession of their Christian faith, property ownership, and reunification of their families. Their story begins in the 1630s with the appearance of the first African women in Massachusetts Bay colony and ends with the emergence of a new ideal for educated free women, that of the African lady in the 1790s. Their long history of struggle injects new meaning into such key terms of American history as freedom, family, faith, entrepreneurship as well as womanhood. Rarely acting alone, black women often achieved their freedom alongside black men and black children. Yet amidst unity, common purpose, shared identity, and the bonds of family was a general belief in the subordination of women to men. This book chronicles the assumptions about family, masculinity, and femininity embedded in the love of freedom, the meaning of freedom for both black women and men, and the significance of gender to the development of the free black community right after emancipation from slavery.

Slavery and marriage based on patriarchal principles were both fundamental institutions of American life. Both of these institutions limited the nature of freedom black women could enjoy. Among slaves and free blacks physical force, ritual, law, religious beliefs, naming practices, women’s educational disadvantages, and the gendered division of labor reinforced male dominance of women. While emancipation was equally meaningful to black women and black men, the moment of winning freedom actually brought to the fore longstanding conflicts between black women and men. Only . . .

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