The Devil's Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South

The Devil's Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South

The Devil's Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South

The Devil's Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South


When Europeans settled in the early South, they quarreled over many things--but few imbroglios were so fierce as battles over land. Landowners wrangled bitterly over boundaries with neighbors and contested areas became known as "the devil's lane." Violence and bloodshed were but some of the consequences to befall those who ventured into these disputed territories. The Devil's Lane highlights important new work on sexuality, race, and gender in the South from the seventeenth- to the nineteenth-centuries. Contributors explore legal history by examining race, crime and punishment, sex across the color line, and slander. Emerging stars and established scholars such as Peter Wood and Carol Berkin weave together the fascinating story of competing agendas and clashing cultures on the southern frontier. One chapter focuses on a community's resistance to a hermaphrodite, where the town court conducted a series of "examinations" to determine the individual's gender. Other pieces address topics ranging from resistance to sexual exploitation on the part of slave women to spousal murders, from interpreting women's expressions of religious ecstasy to a pastor's sermons about depraved sinners and graphic depictions of carnage, all in the name of "exposing" evil, and from a case of infanticide to the practice of state-mandated castration. Several of the authors pay close attention to the social and personal dynamics of interracial women's networks and relationships across place and time. The Devil's Lane illuminates early forms of sexual oppression, inviting comparative questions about authority and violence, social attitudes and sexual tensions, the impact of slavery as well as the twisted course of race relations among blacks, whites, and Indians. Several scholars look particularly at the Gulf South, myopically neglected in traditional literature, and an outstanding feature of this collection. These eighteen original essays reveal why the intersection of sex and race marks an essential point of departure for understanding southern social relations, and a turning point for the field of colonial history. The rich, varied and distinctive experiences showcased in The Devil's Lane provides an extraordinary opportunity for readers interested in women's history, African American history, southern history, and especially colonial history to explore a wide range of exciting issues.


When Europeans settled within the early South, they quarreled over many things--but few imbroglios were so fierce as battles over land. Landowners might wrangle bitterly over boundaries with neighbors, and disputed areas became known as "the devil's lane." Violence or even bloodshed might befall those who ventured onto contested terrain.

We have borrowed this southern colloquialism to provide a provocative tide with several intentions. Perhaps too many of us walk straight and narrow paths as scholars. We are taught to drive a hard stake when making a claim, to build strong fences and few bridges. Most academic training rewards territorial imperative. Southern history has remained a brawling, sprawling, convivial enterprise for many of us, and we want to welcome more into the fold as well as the feud. Compelling and extensive investigations in the area of race relations and gender studies have opened vast new horizons. At the same time, finding crossroads and blazing trails has been an arduous and drawn-out process.

We like to think that this volume is an example of the ways in which our interests as teachers and students, scholars and researchers, converts and skeptics converge. Our anthology brings together a variety of scholarly pieces: talks from conferences, case studies, overviews, previews of coming attractions. These original essays demonstrate the ways in which our fascination with sexuality, race, gender and region individually and collectively reshapes our thinking about the colonial experience and moves us toward dissolving artificial barriers.

As we expand our critical perspectives, we can transform boundaries and navigate uncharted territory. We recognize that some may well feel their carefully cultivated fields are "going to the devil." The demands on all of us grow exponentially, in a limitless, chaotic fashion. As we overload our circuits, we are increasingly bogged down by attempts to keep up with advances in scholarly specialties. Research findings seem more and more accessible--at the end of a modern. But with all these advances, our tasks become more challenging, not less difficult.

We recognize that information remains quite different from knowledge. To this end, we bring together fresh and intriguing highlights of trends in colonial southern history. Our collection is intended as an easy avenue into these new and complex areas of research and interest, showcasing the diverse viewpoints of contributors.

Academics rarely flock to taboo topics. Explorations of sexuality require delving into the most intimate and exploitable personal relationships, with sources difficult to locate and evidence tricky to interpret. Subtle and sub-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.