‘They were laid down and flogged, their coats are stained with blood’: Making Enslaved Womanhood Through Punishment and Deprivation in the British Caribbean


  • Toyin Akinkunmi University of Cambridge




Reproduction, embodied violence, and a raced experience of gender: these are cornerstone themes in the study of women under slavery. However, this emphasis has resulted in the body playing similar parts in studies of enslaved black womanhood. This article seeks to historicise the conditions by which the body could gain its importance. To this end, this article relies on a close reading of eleven complaint cases, recorded by the Fiscals and Protectors of Slaves between 1819 and 1830, in the British colonies of Berbice and Demerara-Essequibo. Through limited third-person testimony, I seek to explore the ways in which enslaved women perceived what was owed to them by their masters and the Protector. I argue that enslaved womanhood could operate as a process: one borne out of contradictions, where universal issues of overwork, material deprivation, and physical punishment were increasingly treated as having distinctly gendered causes. Moreover, I argue that the era of amelioration within the British Caribbean modified this gendering process. Finally, I evaluate the impact the workarounds that masters were repeatedly allowed when it came to the bodily vulnerability of enslaved women, and the resulting new definition of womanhood that was shared by slavers and colonial authorities alike.