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FDP Colloquium - Daina Berry

Wed, November 6, 2013 | BUR 214

3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

FDP Colloquium - Daina Berry

‘For Sale a Young Negro Woman’: Auctions, Breeding & Enslaved Women in Early America

C. Abner  of South Carolia wrote to his friend Mr. Kingland in New York describing the slave pens in Virginia. “At Richmond, . . . I have never looked upon a more disquieting sight,” he explained. “Young girls are first on the stand, & undergo the most indecent examination and questioning, they are made to march up & down the room, with their clothes above their knees, so that a gang of slave traders can see the motion of their limbs, dirty fingers are put into their mouths to see if their teeth are good, and if they are pronounced “Sound & Kind” the bidding commences, & the girl is sold to the highest bidder.”[i]

This paper examines the auction and sale experiences of enslaved women and girls in the United States domestic market. The recent historiography of gender and slavery reveals that women faced physical and sexual inspections on the auction block that some might characterize as exploitation or harassment. Likewise, studies of the domestic slave trade confirm that enslaved men also found sales humiliating.Moving beyond the notion that “women were there” or the suggestion that females’ auction experience was “better or worse” than males,’ I argue, that bondwomen approached the block with a variety of emotions. However, their capacity to bear children and their perceived physical attractiveness remained the primary difference in their inspections, valuations, and ultimately sales.

[i] C. Abner to E. Kingsland Esq., November 18, 1859, Virginia Historical Society.


 Daina Ramey Berry [pronounced Dinah] is an Associate Professor of History and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Before joining the faculty at UT Austin, she taught at Michigan State and Arizona State Universities. She completed her BA, MA and PhD in History and African American Studies at UCLA. Berry is a specialist in the history of gender and slavery in the United States with a particular emphasis on the social and economic history of the nineteenth century. Her first book, Swing the Sickle for the Harvest is Ripe: Gender and Slavery in Antebellum Georgia (University of Illinois Press, 2007), examined labor, family, and community among the enslaved. She is the editor-in-chief of the award winning Enslaved Women in America: An Encyclopedia (ABC-Clio, 2012), the first reference volume dedicated solely to bondwomen in the United States. Berry has appeared on several syndicated radio and television stations such as NBC, History Channel, and PBS.  

Her research has been supported by a Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, an American Fellowship from the American Association of University Women, and a postdoctoral fellowship from the Ford Foundation (2003). Recently, she was selected as a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. In 2011 she co-hosted two conferences: “Sexuality and Slavery” (UT Austin) and “Slavery and Freedom in Savannah” (Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah, GA) and is preparing edited volumes with Professor Leslie Harris, Emory University from both conferences. In addition to her editorial work, Berry is completing a book manuscript entitled The Price for their Pound of Flesh: The Value of Human Property from Preconception to Postmortem.



 CWGS Faculty Development Program.

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