History IV

Length: 4-6 pages (1000 – 1500 words)

 

  • In her book, Suspect Relations, Kirsten Fischer argues that the stability of the colony was based on the maintenance of a hierarchical social order rooted in the image of the “proper” English family. Using Suspect Relations, Stono Rebellion, and at least one other source from our readings, please answer the following questions: Why were colonial Americans afraid of defiant women, defiant slaves, and/or defiant workers? How did their ideas about gender, race, and class influence the political culture of the 17th and early 18th centuries?

 

  • According to Fischer, ideas about race and gender became increasingly rigid and hierarchical over the course of the 17th and 18th Using Suspect Relations, Stono Rebellion, and at least one other source from our readings, please answer the following questions: How did laws reinforce social status?  How did violence play a role in enforcing these new ideas?  How did these forces curtail or expand the agency of different segments of colonial American society?  How, then, did race, class, and gender work together to create and sustain a social and political hierarch in the American colonies?

 

  • Fischer emphasizes that many people resisted these emerging beliefs about race and gender as the society imposed stricter regulations on people’s behaviors and identities. Using Suspect Relations, Stono Rebellion, and at least one other source from our readings, please answer the following questions:  How and Why did people attempt to resist the growing divisions in the American colonies?   What did they stand to gain from the former social, political and economic connections among people in early America?  What did the elites stand to gain by these new divisions and boundaries built on race and gender?   How, then, did race, class, and gender work together to create and sustain a social and political hierarch in the American colonies?
  • According to Fischer, the colonists ordered their world differently before the advent of racial slavery. Using Suspect Relations, Stono Rebellion, and at least one other source from our readings, please answer the following questions: How was the legal system used to reinforce social status? How did ordinary (poor) whites participate in this process?  What did they stand to gain?  To lose?  How, then, did race, class, and gender work together to create and sustain a social and political hierarch in the American colonies?
  • Fischer emphasizes that many people resisted these emerging beliefs about hierarchy as the society imposed stricter regulations on people’s behaviors and identities. Using Suspect Relations, Stono Rebellion, and at least one other source from our readings, please answer the following questions:  How and Why did people attempt to resist the growing divisions in the American colonies?   What did they stand to gain from the former social, political and economic connections among people in early America?  What did the elites stand to gain by these new divisions and boundaries?  How, then, did race, class, and gender work together to create and sustain a social and political hierarch in the American colonies?

Reading guide for Suspect Relations, chapters 1 & 2

  (only read pp. 13 – 19, 54 – 57, 61 – 74, 85 – 94)

 

Quick overview:

Chapter 1 explores the ways in which gender and race worked together to create a hierarchical system in colonial North Carolina.  Early Americans brought over a belief from England that the family was a “little commonwealth,” equivalent to the government.  As a result, any instability, insubordination, or insolence within the family represented a challenge to the entire political system on which the colonies were based.  Thus, the matrilineal and matrifocul systems within American Indian societies not only threatened European systems of power, but really upset them!

Chapter 2 begins by demonstrating how common sexual relationships between blacks, whites, and Indians were in early 17th century North Carolina.  The important factor in determining the legitimacy of relationships was class; black and white indentured servants (and, to a lesser extent, Native Americans) shared intimate relationships freely.  Gradually, however, the colonists began to move away from a class-based system of power and toward a race-based hierarchy.  Interracial relationships now became quite problematic and even threatening to social order and the governing elite created new laws to discourage people from pursuing them and to punish those who did.

 

  • Consider these questions while reading these chapters:

    • Why do defiant women personify social disorder?  Conversely, how do obedient women demonstrate the stability and success of the colony?
      • How are these ideologies linked to the property rights of white men?
    • Who are “trading girls”?  What is their importance in the relationship between the EuroAmericans and the American Indian nations (for both sides)?
      • How did they deploy these “trading girls” as diplomatic envoys?
      • How did the colonists interpret American Indian women’s sexuality?
      • How did American Indians understand sexuality differently?
    • How do the laws concerning marriage begin to put distance between people and create racial categories?
      • How do ideas about birth and the racial identity of children demonstrate that the colony is moving toward a more biological-based understanding of race?
    • How do Native American understandings of race change as well? (hint: think about their origin myths)
    • Who is Gottlieb Priber?  Why is he important?  What eventually happens to him?  Why?

 

 


Reading guide for Suspect Relations, chapter 3

  (only read pp. 101 – 122)

 

Quick overview:

This chapter examines illicit sexual relationships among indentured servants, poor whites and free blacks.  Fischer attempts to demonstrate that “illicit sex was defined, pursued, and penalized in ways that significantly shaped the colonial social order” (101).  In other words, the ways that the authorities responded to people having ‘unlawful’ or ‘abnormal’ sex tells us a lot about people’s attitudes regarding race, gender and class.  Perhaps even more importantly, who had the power to decide what was “normal” and “legal” (vs. “abnormal” and “illegal”) reveals important power dynamics in colonial America.

Fischer also maintains that “the symbolic importance of sexual and social misconduct often eclipsed the impact or intent of the original misdeed…white women’s illicit behavior represented a symbolic challenge to the ability of lawmakers and court judges to enforce their notions of order and good government” (122).  Here, she is explaining that men and women’s willingness to engage in illicit sex – in spit of the legal and cultural consequences – threatened the power of the colonial governors.  Put simply, governments maintain their power through regulating people’s bodies and sexual acts.

  • Consider these questions while reading this chapter:

    • How/why were illicit relationships more dangerous for women than for men?
    • Why did the community or the authorities sometimes tolerate illicit relationships while other times prosecute them harshly and swiftly?
      • What are some examples of these different and changing responses?
      • How can we explain the shifting attitudes?
    • What examples can you find for different punishments doled out to men and women?
      • Why are these punishments assigned unevenly?
    • What were the differing attitudes toward abortion and infanticide in the colonies?
      • What does the fact that both men and women shared this knowledge indicate?
      • According to Fischer, why do prosecutions for infanticide decrease in the eighteenth century?
    • Why were people encouraged to report instances of illegitimate pregnancies to the authorities?
    • What privileges did masters enjoy over the lives of their servants?
      • What did masters stand to gain by servants’ pregnancies?
    • Why were attitudes toward illicit sexuality more flexible among indentured servants and the poor?
    • What examples can you identify of indentured servants and the poor expressing contempt for the authorities?
      • Why was this attitude more common among them?
      • Why did this attitude so trouble the authorities?

Reading guide for Suspect Relations, chapters 4 & 5

  (only read pp. 131 – 134, 140 – 158, 159 – 190)

Quick overview:

Chapter 4 analyzes a series of defamation suits in order to understand how “common” (re: poor or ‘middling’) whites participated in the creation of race.  According to Fischer, these court records tell us what insults that people considered so bad that they had to sue someone in order to defend themselves against the charges.   This process created race in two distinct ways: first, only whites could bring charges in court, so this access gave them an important privilege over African Americans.  Second, the charges white colonists often seemed most upset about were sexual relationships with blacks, thus further differentiating people by race and discouraging interracial relationships.  Gender also played a key role in this important development, as the charges against which white men sought to defend themselves changed significantly over the course of a century.

Chapter 5 describes the ways in which violence was a central component in the move toward both a biological understanding of race and a hierarchical system based on racial difference.  As a sign of their privilege, power, and control, white men had access to and control over the bodies of white women, black women and black men.  There were no restrictions on the severity of punishment for slaves (though there were for indentured servants) and if a slave died as a result of these penalties, the government compensated the slave owner.  Sentences were doled out according to the race of the accused criminal and race, rather than status (free or un-free) determined the severity of the punishment.  These developments only further solidified the growing consensus that blacks were physically different than whites, as they were “baser,” better equipped for hard labor, and in more need of physical castigation.  All of these factors contributed to the colonists’ idea that African Americas were thus suited for slavery.

 

  • Consider these questions while reading these chapters:

    • Hint: Fischer lays out her argument quite well on pp. 133-134 & again on 151
    • How do defamation cases tell us about the construction of race?
    • By the 18th century, how had the suits brought by white men changed?  How had their punishments and/or the retribution they received?
    • Why did men bring civil suits (rather than legal ones) on behalf of their wives?
      • Why didn’t their wives sue their accusers in court?
    • How does the fact that interracial sex has not only become “illegal and immoral” but also “unnatural” (p. 158) contribute to the idea that race is a biological construct?  Why is this important?
    • Fischer argues that the “divergence in legally acceptable forms of violence reinforced the idea that the bodies of African Americans were innately different and inherently ‘black’.” (160).  What does she mean here?  Why is it important?
    • How did the colonists interpret the nakedness of slaves?  How was their appearance different than indentured servants in this regard?  Why is that important and what does it tell us about the emerging system of slavery?
    • What does the journal of William Byrd tell us about the relationship between white plantation owners and their slaves?
    • How do the harsh punishments of black men and women further reinforce racial difference?  (Hint: its not just that these punishments are different that is important here.)
    • Fischer argues that ideas of physical difference allowed slavery to exist (albeit uncomfortably) alongside of rhetoric about liberty and independence.  Explain how this is and why it is important.

Last Updated on February 10, 2019 by Essay Pro