Neither Lady nor Slave: Working Women of the Old South

By Susanna Delfino; Michele Gillespie | Go to book overview

Chapter One
Dollars Never Fail to Melt Their Hearts:
Native Women and the Market Revolution
JAMES TAYLOR CARSON

In the spring and summer of 1797, Louis-Phillipe, Duke of Orleans and heir to the French throne, fied the violence of the French Revolution for the hustle and bustle of the New Republic. During his tour of the United States, he and his fellow exiles visited the big cities of the Northeast, the small towns of the West, and, most remarkably of all, the Cherokees of East Tennessee. The duke wrote down much of what he saw, and among the several things that struck him as either odd or novel about Cherokee culture was the allegedly amorous proclivities of the women. He compared their sureness in matters of the fiesh to the women of his homeland, but the apparent commonplaceness of prostitution in the Cherokee towns shocked his otherwise open mind. “[A]ll Cherokee women,” Louis-Phillipe reported, “are public women in the full meaning of the phrase: dollars never fail to melt their hearts.” 1

The love of the dollar that the duke noted was linked to the particular sexual and hospitality mores of Cherokee women that predated contact with Europeans as well as to the inroads that new forms of economic production and exchange were making among the towns and households of the native South in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. For the most part, native women lived and worked beyond the gaze of the settlers, the officials, and the missionaries who created the historical record ethnohistorians use to study the past. They also left very few documents of their own. But when native women appear in diaries, letters, and papers, it is clear that the market revolution challenged older modes of production and exchange and introduced new demands, new forms of exchange, and new forms of household production.

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