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Open Access Husbands and Fathers

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The Family Experience of Enslaved Men in Berbice, 1819–1834

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Husbands and Fathers

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Affiliations: 1: Assistant Professor, Department of History, Xavier University, Cincinnati OH, U.S.A. ; 2: Professor and Head of School, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia


We know relatively little about enslaved men, especially African-born men in British West Indian slave societies, in their roles as fathers and husbands within slave households. A generation of scholarship on gender in slave societies has tended to neglect enslaved men, thus allowing old understandings of enslaved men as not very involved with families drawn from biased planter sources to continue to shape scholarship. This article instead draws on a rich set of records (both quantitative and qualitative) from Berbice in British Guiana between 1819 and 1834 to explore enslaved men’s roles within informal marriages and as husbands and parents. We show not only that enslaved men were active participants in shaping family life within British West Indian slave societies but that they were aided and abetted in achieving some of their familial objectives by a sympathetic plantation regime in which white men favored enslaved men within enslaved households.


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