Wealthy free women of color in Charleston, South Carolina during slavery

2007 2007

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Abstract (summary)

This dissertation focuses on the lives and experiences of a small group of affluent free mulatto women in antebellum Charleston, South Carolina. Unlike their enslaved sisters we know very little about their community and the place they occupied in it. To comprehend the everyday world wealthy free women of color inhabited I begin by examining the origins of the wealthy free colored community in Charleston. I then investigate individual case studies of five wealthy free mulatto and black women and how their varying choices, made under differing degrees of societal duress, molded and formed their lives. Biographical sketches of Rachel and Martha Inglis, Nancy Randall, Hagar Richardson and Margaret Bettingall consider the different options each woman experienced under the same social, economic and racial framework. All five women (whose stories are told here for the first time) dealt with enslavement from either a personal perspective as slaves themselves, or as a recent memory in recalling a mother or grandmother’s bondage. Their stories relate how the lives of wealthy free women of color were paradoxical and how they often dealt with triumph and tragedy in the same instance.

Like the majority of wealthy southern white women who spent a portion of their time as sophisticated urbanites, wealthy free women of color also set out to participate as free people in a slave society. To fully share in the economic and social benefits of society these women made deliberate efforts to improve their station through education, religious participation, social institutions and caste and racial identification with their wealthy white neighbors. However, the oppressive nature of Southern slave society greatly thwarted their best efforts. As a result, free blacks basic rights were fundamentally denied. This examination of five wealthy free women of color will analyze the manner in which social, community and family relationships influenced the world these women occupied. Racial and class status were also defining creeds for free wealthy women of color. By probing into the importance of race and class affiliations in the free mulatto community a clearer portrait of racial hierarchy among the wealthy emerges.

Indexing (details)

American studies;
African Americans;
American history;
Womens studies
0323: American studies
0325: African Americans
0337: American history
0453: Womens studies
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Bettingall, Margaret; Charleston; Free women of color; Inglis, Martha; Inglis, Rachel; Randall, Nancy; Richardson, Hagar; Slavery; South Carolina; Wealthy; Women of color
Wealthy free women of color in Charleston, South Carolina during slavery
Reynolds, Rita
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 68/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Sinha, Manisha
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Afro-American Studies
University location
United States -- Massachusetts
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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