« Stuff You Missed in History Class

They Were Her Property: An Interview With Stephanie Jones-Rogers

2019-05-08 | 🔗

Holly was lucky enough to chat with historian Stephanie Jones-Rogers, author of “They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South,” which pieces together details that add new understanding of slavery in the U.S.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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you missed in history. Class of production of I hurried use, how stuff works hello, unwelcome and upon cast I'm howling fry and I'm crazy wealth in this. one of those interviews we're here as soon as the publishers team emailed us and said that this author was doing users like we have to have her, I think I'd. I taped, maybe an all caps message to Tracy to that effect. I know I kind of jumped up and down in my seat and kind of sent a note to the publisher to that effect. that her they were speaking is Stephanie Jones, Roger she's, an assistant professor at Berkeley Department of History and in twenty thirteen.
dissertation when the learner Scott Prize, which is given to the best doctoral dissertation in U S women's history each year, so she took that dissertation and expanded it into the book that the topic of today's episode that book as they were her property like women as slaveowners and the Americans out this book use, is financial and transactional records to corroborate accounts from formerly enslaved people about their experiences, and there were thing work is unflinching and difficult, but also really important and how it affects our knowledge about the business of slavery and specifically white women's place in it. So first up Stephanie shared what led her to this area of study? And then she talks a good bit about how she conducted her research. So the first thing I have to ask is what first, through you to this particular avenue of reach
urge and writing so am I went to workers University and I was studying with a double Why be great the gray way, and so, as I was completely my course, work, I'm back in two thousand and nine I began to explore the work that has been done on young people in the nineteenth century, as well as scholarship that had been produced about what sudden wondering- and so became really interested in the question of whether wait sudden went in I'm Piccadilly married women had an economic stake in the institutional slavery, whether they invested economically and the institution and that Question seem to have to come to answers emerged in those trees appeal that of industry, though, in history Is written about rights of women and the relish the slavery? The way that that relationship is characterized primarily
all of these non economic weight, though I might be alive with glee, I'm socially even you know, indirectly, perhaps economic, I'm in its basis, but largely there was this idea. That way when in the south and had a very distant relationship, the slavery and far more often that Mary, the men, had no economic relationship to slavery in large part because of the way that lies constrained, migrant ability to own property, each you I'm to hold on to uncontrolled, partly after marriage other hand. Those scholars who looked at the experiences of african American during a period of three people were saying something: very different and they were drawing on a different set of sorted, and they were saying that's one way as they people talk about in they talk about being bought and sold by women, and they talk about other
Individuals with anyone. I can eat with an iron bar or stop. I wanted and travel really interested in this discussion. I became still better disconnect between these teams that deal. This austrian, though I was very interested in any threatening that question had I dressed. The question of whether white woman had an economic, deepen and investment slavery and also showing what those investment to look like I'm from the perspective of those, officials who, may I wonder how the most internet, in deep experience of their their control and their ownership and control and those where people work so that was really were started from colonel. frustration at a moment of frustration and then it grew from there the project where other frustration from there did you find it. difficult to track down information and accounts about white women's role in slavery in their economic stake in it? So I thought was really
ass. An aim was that I just can't briefly mention it just now is that its, the reason why there was this disconnect between, or this lack of, consensus, around the question of whether I went in and married white, one in particular, had an economic investment and stake in the interest of slavery, was largely done by a different sort bases so about the scholars viper women were using agree using the letter than the diaries of White button, women to craft peace accounts and history of white having women's relationship between Greek, whereas those individuals who focused on experiences of african American, were using these interview that were conducted by fellow employees at the behest of the federal government during the nineteen thirty uniting forty, where, following like people were asked about their experiences in bondage
and so for me, it was ok which will be forced back to first, I went to the diary is in the letter of white for everyone to see what they had to say about their economic about with the meat the tunisian awhile. Yes, they do tat we can talk about it often and they didn't talk about the sale and legitimately people very often, and so I had then that ok, while the people were talking about it, most Regan are those individuals who are subjected to this. This control, this power, that is to say all the purchaser than the separation that that were brought about by by these fail. I'm sorry, look too, for millions of people among you, their interviews and used the information that they provided and those introduced to help me to develop a strategy for where'd about neck, though by listening to what they had this paper reading and paying very attentive to what they were,
about white woman, economic investments, institution. I was able to develop a kind of course of action itself on their interview. I then went to financial records. found, winning I'm just a very sad. I work in you know in the records that documented the purchase and sale of unbelief people. They were identified as both the buyers and sellers of enslaved people. I found them in court records where you know if someone had sold them permanently. Person who was unwell and that person getting disclose and illness to them when they purchase than they could go in accordance, do them by found women. You know who I am three people in new workers in court record and during the civil why I found in military porcelain. And between you and offers a confederate officials. And then, of course, there were traders, I'm individual, typically men who
and on average, every job at their profession bought and sold. It lay people for a living, and I found women in their accounts fan letters that they will do their business partner so by by paying close attention. What fondly people said about these these married women's economic relationships to these children, slavery. I was able to find them in all These other bodies of forces and documents, basically collaborating and the June meeting were, People had to say about white married women, economic investments in institution. So I'm glad you touched on is one of the things I really really love about. This book is that you do destroy that tendency that has happened over years and years and years for people to dismiss some of these accounts from formerly enslaved people as unreliable by backing up their stories with a ton of corroborating documentation.
you have all the receipts at what point did you realize that you were gonna, be able to peace, this puzzle together in that way and finally validate some of those voices with evidence that cannot be done you did. What was really fascinating is back. So what I did for what asked what I said to myself back, who better to tell us what you know how deeply invested by they weren't. You call me a slavery down those individuals who you know until by starting from a position by starting from the position that No one could powers the story of wisely on women. Making that institution more clearly what me and more powerfully and following on from the people I took them seriously. I took them at their word and then I started to realize tat. It was hard to make the connection can cooperate. The evidence because, for example, there were individuals.
we identify their former fino owners by last name even There are made, though there were all the ways in which they gave me the gotta get out, we need and what the information that I would need to be able to go to other sorts of by the centre, for example blackened red White one for me, lay person said about an owner, say: ok, they gave me the first middling last name of his person, be your passionate area where they work for the point where the person live and I'll go to the senses, and there were the woman. You know if they thought So you know just by taking them very seriously and using their source it in a way that we use other sports, urging a like watching that New George Washington, you know letters or his diary you. Whenever you know I was able to go to these other sources and find the women exactly where they said they would be The wounded and characterize amount was able to find find info
and that was basically, it is suggested that they were quite accurate in their their characterisation, but the institution, but also the ways in which implicated white, sudden when in a white Mary, very particular in the economy of American freely and then continue subjugation. the evidence, has all been there for a long time Why do you think it took so long for someone like you to go? You know we can put this stuff together, So, on the one hand, and so I should say that there are, of course many scholars who have worked to these sources and have produced these really extraordinary studies of your kind of the complexity of slavery, and they have also implicated no white women in the story of slavery. the economic dimension, particularly when it comes to married one, then I think it on
one hand up issue related to the wild at the time, I'm an actual dimension to shriek. So there were, there was a legal vacuum hot coffee chair, which essentially mandated that, if a woman who would either thing where, where owned any problem, before marriage once He came married once she married all of the wealth that she brought into the marriage. will automatically become her husband, so unless women and figured out ways around this law around me like that Streamed unlimited their ability to own and control property and in three people. This is what would happen and saw for a very long time now, scholars of slavery and many schools, a sudden when I really just think of embrace this idea that this war, a very all, encompassing kind as legal system,
no doctrine that really do for closed the possibility that everyone could in fact and control its own people, ways are showing a book. But what I bid again go towards women in three people had to say, and so they were fainting away. My mission is only by her husband and my book What do they mean by law? How could this be? And so what I found in the people recognise that women leeway for them who, founded by people protecting those who were merry were very explicit about how we came to own and three people they would give. It would provide document and provide proof to the court but in the end that prove what they would demonstrate was there with his chin look ownership that they would establish the ways by which the means by which they came to acquire and three people have their own. And so what This also shows that women sound way married woman found went around these legal constraints and so by listening to what, for me and for people had to say, I was eight,
to ban mean, even and of kind of conceive of the idea that this is possible and by thinking about this as a possibility, I ve learned how to show how it was possible and fill the legal, Show on the wings which one and, where very savvy, gaining on using loophole that navigating around the monkeys, constraints imposed upon I think in large part it was because of- and this is the way that we thought about these wars and the kind of concern imposed upon one another period, be cover a man, woman and a clear because of the law and another thing I think it's because you know when in history was born in a moment on which the women's movement was was powerful We would gain momentum and so the histories produce than those in us. In that moment they were also part of that project. Part of our common project This is a very and I say it all the time. This is a very ugly feminist history
You know I mean from one angle you and these women are able to secure a kind of freedom and autonomy in their lives in a way We would not imagine what that will be Fatima perfectly familiar theory, but their aim to do that by owning include people by owning and oppressing other people. That is that I agree that the urban dimension of this version that story some at the story that doesn't NASH while it getting back well with the feminist project of the sixty seventy, not voting, Those are two primary ripening, although the sword it had been there and people had Moldova, the source to produce external studies using the same author on those things, I think I'm out of cocoa. The possibility that this particular story would be told in the way that I get come.
up, Stephanie, and I talk about how she coped with facing research. That was often really upsetting and really weight on her, but first we're gonna take a little break in here from one of our sponsors. This episode, is broad you by Moscow and the Maza, see Ex thirty a truly remarkable suv, the six thirty aside to be agile and the city while still having the interior space and utility to go anywhere at any time encouraging and active lifestyle then one thing Mazda has done- is design a vehicle that is meant to enhance your experience of moving through an environment not to shut you away from it. There are fewer destroy should see you be focused on the inspiring drive that you are currently on. They really wanted to craft and experience in the form of this vehicle as a hundred eighty six horse power and a hundred eighty six foot pounds of torque. So it also
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There are a lot of accounts in it that you shared that it were relayed by formerly enslaved people, and they are stories that are so important, but they are also really difficult to read in some cases em it's a lot of very heavy, ugly information did research in writing on this subject ever get a little bit overwhelming, for you did you around. It has built up not anymore today, I that was alive, a very frequent a roof. We can agree to the army- I you know at least for some of you are just some of the election has been out now, but I am an algorithm one, and I am defending a copper I undertook nonetheless doesn't hurt. I am the descendants of following enslaved people enter from that position. It was very difficult from a personal position for me. right. This box, because I'm to learning about what my ancestors endured
at the same time. At the historian, it was very difficult for me to grapple with the atrocities that were perpetrated against permanently people. I met they survive, but what I often reminded myself when I would take a minute and then I would have to take a day or two off, because it was still emotionally impact for me and what I would often remind myself is that these forming and three people, either african American or giving ease reviews in a time of one thing at a time of severe racial hostility, racial terror and racial violence, and they did that in spite of the risks and the danger and though they in that underscores me how important these bought it was for us ever nation can no doubt Don T know what they had to endure and to grapple with that as part of our national history. So for me it was it was. It was a duty
in any respect for me to return to these accounts, to return to the rising in order to do justice to the following five people who sat down and with their lives and respects the Tao their story So for me, although it was difficult enough for reader, it very hard to read the accounts, but I put that I put forward in this book, but all always want to bring it back to the fact that these were individual too, but it was so important for us know what happened to them to know what they survive until now that this is part of our national story. Now, though, that that's the thing that brings me back to the work every single time and they are so important, one of the things that you talk,
in this book is how young girls in white families were given this identity of being slaveowners as part of their upbringing, which is something I dont think we always think about children kind of being involved from an early age. Will you talk a little bit about that? Absolutely so You know many of the other, his Greece, that would do her about white linen and favouring the white woman in the context of slavery, often start when an hour ago. When they are married, when they have already you no kind of work with these, had been girl has in a way that they will wake up in the south. But often the story of the relationship between could be ten women adult and when their emerges, widowhood- and so mean? I was really interesting, because the story in infants
you know the laid hold about why girls, even white entrance wife, you know anyone who were given enslaved people get whether at birth, for birthdays weather Christmas gift many times in anger, kitten, many people they were given improve people, s wedding, present so important. When people talk about the fact that well before these were married. They were developing identities, women or southern ski now that work that was tied, the identities that would I q, either actual state ownership or the plum, afraid, ownership at a later date, and so for me, really important to begin the story there, because it helps it. explain a lot of cash. They happened. Great Ahwahnee help explain why, for example, when women one now you were married when slave owner, when embarrassing that the women in this work there are carbon book was willing to remove.
wish their control over and three people and other forms of poverty to their husband. They had developed these identity, that were tied to their ability to only control and lay people entered into own property. They want willing to just simply relinquish that control to their husband. You know so it explained that when you start a story when your little girl and you see how profoundly slavery shake their identity, their southern earth as as White seven in particular, So that's why I start the story there, because that really where I think we need to begin in order to understand what unfolds over the course of their large critical in once they reach adulthood, you also talk kind of, on the other end of the timeline spectrum, about how white wings defended the institution of slavery, particularly as it was becoming apparent that it was coming to an end. Will you talk a little bit about that as well?
One of the things that other historical tat white women's relationship must you think we have shown is that flavouring parent, typical game their daughters, more ways to get my aunt so well, They had in mind this idea that win their their children married that they would have every one of them got everything that they needed to get a great start that what they were typically do if they would give their son I'm the land and would get your daughter I'm warrant by people, I'm so that once those daughters and fund married, they would have everything to get started. Get a helpful started. And so, when you think about the fact that many of these, the women in this book are often, if not a significant slave owner in the household that they go into when they marry. There are others that are primarily the only they are the only
and now pull. Some of these women are the only property owners in the hope of a better the one who bring both displays Anna Land anywhere, except where people onto the house or to their husband their the identity, are not necessarily tight. Swinging insulin, ownership in the ways that they're they're, they're, wife and so women, the civil war, a merger then, and it becomes kind of clear. The wedding is on the wall that a mandate patient is inevitable that the dissolution of slavery is around a corner. these women, who are in some cases more deeply in just good economic growth in the EU institutions. More profoundly try to be as drinking slavery, ownership than their husbands. They understand that the war meetings,
more integration means their financial ruin. So they are fighting tooth and nail to preserve the institutional slavery, not simply as angel work, beneficiaries of institution, but because they have in the west economic stake in the institutions- preservation because they are the primary work or significantly ownership in the household, and so they understand that, with the man's a patient, the value of Gothenburg people that they hold in captivity, it's going to be gone, it can be
Europe, and so they will be financially destitute, so they fight threw out the worthy fight, their own battle to preserve slavery in large part because of these economic investments. Anyone it's over not only devastated because of the waters of the men and boys and alive who went off to war, never came back, but they are morning a financial and economic law. One woman described it described emancipation as an unprecedented waddled. Woman saw that all this wealth of value in free people with being stolen from them by the federal government. So they try to recreate circumstances that look very much like smacked of slavery and began to those bravery circumstances after the war was over in hopes that they could hold I'm just forever for a little while longer hold on to the kind of the value of a free labour and leading the way
were there, people offered to them are provided in walked course to offered to them the owners are thereby or owners. So it's really interesting back. You know when you think about women, a wave on earth, what individuals who could in fact have been the only say hold it in the household, the civil war, and why women's responded to the war? Look quite different right, you know, and for that what the book shows as well. While you were doing your research, which is so extensive- and I feel like so meticulous, did you come across any pieces? information that surprised you. So there are two things I thought were and there I was just yet sought by even I shouldn't have done because of all the other thing that for a moment, but people had to say about me, I should have been shocked to find and what I get built. One of the things that really try to focus on in a book is busy noticed these economic relations, if an indefinite that white woman had an institution and why
it will not become a kind of no less than the actor wild creatures. The women we engage in a free market, and when you get a good and by framework when there was really go bricks and mortar structures where individual could go and essentially shop for people and because I think people don't realize that not a metaphor. You know you know it's like they were real market himself. You know I didn't expect to find out that white. Some white women were involved in the business side of buying and selling the three people. So there is a woman that attack by the book was part of a sound. deadness where she would find the money for she would invest the money stolen. her her nephew goodbye to flee and fell the slave, and one who told us she and her nephew would oppose each of those sailed down the middle I'm. So I didn't expect to find women who were involved in the business side of the slave. Another
trade and business. I also didn't expect poor form on its way people to talk about white women who own phrase and who created circumstances in which they cover them. True unhappy and sex against their well, though there were in fact sleeve only women who I am committed acts of sexual violence or created circumstances in which access actual sexual violence could be perpetrated against simply people I'm in this period. For that with another thing that was surprising to me, although quite now I think you're thinking back I'd. Lookin for preparing a dollar two things that will really surprising that I covered as I researched this book in the next segment. Holly ass Stephanie, out the way women you owned. Enslaved people saw themselves, but before we get into that, we will pause for a quick sponsor break. Miles and Jack framework. We recorded a pike has together in the master
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information on Malta and the first ever six thirty head over to Maza, USA, dot com, such Iheart or better, yet go check it out in person at a local area. Masilo today you also includes of discussion towards the end of the book about that. Parity and you talked about it already in this interview. Some between the way white women of the time wrote about the institution of slavery. and their role in it versus the much uglier reality- and I wonder, do you think that was something a pr move on their part in characterizing themselves, as generally kind had benevolent mistresses or even innocent bystanders in some ways, or do you think they act believe they were those things. I think that there were some individuals who really do believe that they were being maternal benevolence
there is any institution, bravery, but the other. I think There are also many women who knew was a lie to call it what it is that they knew it was a lie, and so some of the women there are discussed in that part of the poor. The book a church, your mentioning here they will widen me the book than a gale knowledge mentor, I'm in your dedication, where they make it clear. They are worthy book. These accounts for their decision. For their grandchildren and their great grandchildren, though they are very clear in a very cold way in a varied, purposeful way, constructive in whitewashed and fan attired narrative that get position then, as even the Tao, benevolent and position for you as a benevolent institution. That was good for black people. So they are very consciously reconstruction now that you know it alive himself or thank you, said forming a thank you boy,
That's a lie. The lie and I'll tell you why at the Y know you don't you do he let women no were in fact they did. In fact, filed and build a new kind of maternal list and benevolent figures Last year there were others that knew it was a lie and constructed. You know narrative that a waste, the kind of darker dimension, the more violent dimensions and the economic dimension of their didn't mean that nothing institution, R, J purposefully. What's nice for you, I know I read somewhere that your collecting additional data about this topic. Yes, so There are in Canada, a couple, a hat, but one of the quantitative project without them working on ten March, two thousand and fourteen which eventually twice he is trying to put the number in the story, but the book doesn't really offer
that was intentional on what are in large part, because I'm continuing to work on the quantitative data trying to determine you know give a sense just how many women were involved in the institution slavery who own face. So I'm using census data and other smaller than that dropped his bow to construct a database which will provide those numbers and just from the preliminary research I've. I've learned that, in some cases the women constitute forty percent of the holders in certain regions of the south and I'm imagining that those members will also be replicated in the larger datasets and because you know, there's work done on in Britain, an enclave owners who your file her compensation want. Britain abolish slavery and women come to the point was then at the applicants for compensation in Britain go there
well, you ve been, which I think they're. These number is. This forty percent figure seems pretty consistent across a costly boning. During this period. To imagine that additional and data on that. I look at the quantitative data that are compiled war there? That is well thought out. That's that's the meat. None one of the immediate projects and we're gonna come off the working lunch. What I call the level sequel of this project, because this one was primarily focused on the economic dimension, that women in institution the law, need their ability the kind of manipulate the law and to work around March me those economic investment possible. So I see this will get a kind of necessary. I'm kind of second file a power until the two, the first bookstore more and on a pattern of illegal and history of a white women's relationships, the institution of bravery deserve
idea when you started down this path that we consume so many years of your life solutely, Abu Renard my deepest thanks to seventy four talking with me. She is an absolute the way long after the interview ended. I actor Europe about all manner of things, if you would like the catch up with her online, you can do so at Stephanie, Jones, Rogers, dot com, that's all run together or on Twitter, where she, as a J r underscore historian. So the book once again is they were her property white women as slave owners and the American South and its available wherever books are sold. It is a really dance like I and in the interview meticulously researched reed. There is a lot of information in that book and, as we discuss not always easy to read some of those accounts of really the horrible things humans can do to one another, but this it's so so good. I really really left its. I thought. Those since this was kind of a heavy topic,
You do some mostly light listener mail, as are doing a little bit a postcard round up again, the first one from I'm not sure if the name is Jana or Jonah is a lovely postcard from Scotland and generates dear Holly and Tracy. I am about to finish my semester abroad and Edinburgh, Scotland. I wanted to write in and say thank you for giving me company over the last couple of months. I am studying, history and you're always help to remind me you I got into this business Yaller amazing. Thank you. So much hope you're. Your time abroad has been spectacular cause that sounds lovely. It's a beautiful picture of Scotland. So thank you very much for that. Our next, when I won't read the whole thing, but I will mention it is from our listener Alison who sense where's my knee with a couple of exclamation points, a beautiful picture of a silk dress that was from a seventeenth century shipwreck, found in two thousand for off the coast of the dutch barrier. Island of Ireland,
it is pronounced tussle. She mentioned some other things that were also found in the shipwreck, but it's a really cool photograph of this dress that I bet in its Haiti was utterly spectacular to behold. It looks a little you know like it has been in a shipwreck, but you can still see these vibrant pinks in yellows and and really pretty weaving and the silk. So it's absolutely lovely my lesson: I'm not gonna free because it includes some fairly personal information, but I wanted to just say: hi to this listener how much we appreciate this letter, it's for my listen to Jennifer, who wrote us about being on medical leave for some stuff and listening to our podcast to kind of help. Her feel Ma am to me that is a great honour that we get to in any way help someone gets through a rough time. So thank you so much for your letter, Jennifer. We are thinking of you and we're so thankful to have used a listener. If you would like to write to us, you can do so in history. Pod cast a house to work start com, can also find us pretty much anywhere on social media. As Mr History, it also visit our way
site which is missed in history, dot com and, if you would like subscribed to the show that something we highly encourage. You can do that on the whole radio. App apple pie or wherever you listen to podcast study must in history glasses of production radios. How stuff works, for my part, have for my help, YO visit thy heart radio amplified apple guests or wherever you listen to your favorite, shows everybody. So this episode of swift, blue, Mind sponsored by the all New Mazda, see Ex thirty, which actually just got to test. Dr recently in the beautiful mountains of southern California, and I will say So we ve told you on the show before were not really car guys. We don't know a lot about cars, I'm sort of an automobile philistine, but from this auto Philistines hard I will say this was a really wonderful card to drive. I truly enjoyed cruising around the mountains thing. He was very smooth,
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