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This module uses an anonymous commentary (ca. 1827) to discuss the Atlantic anti-slavery movement as well as political debates over the punishment of slave women.

Gender and anti-slavery in the atlantic world

Although the British slave trade officially ended in 1807, the institution of slavery continued for decades afterwards and reformers across the Atlantic world focused on putting an end to slavery or, at the very least, improving conditions for the enslaved. An anonymous commentary, "On the flogging of women," captures the frustration felt by British anti-slavery activists as they struggled with a colonial system reliant upon slave labor. This four-page document, physically housed in the Woodson Research Center at Rice University, is also made available in a digital format as part of the ‘Our Americas’ Archive Partnership , a collection of rare documents focused on a hemispheric approach to the study of the history and literature of the Americas. This module is designed to suggest a few avenues through which teachers of history and literature courses at both the advanced high school and undergraduate levels can use "On the flogging of women," as an entry point into a discussion of gender, slavery, and anti-slavery within their courses.

The commentary, dated roughly 1827, opens with an account of the defeat of a proposition presented to the Jamaican House of Assembly. This bill would have regulated the flogging, or whipping, of enslaved women. A poem by Charlotte Elizabeth entitled, "On the Flogging of Women," or "Flogging Females," comprises the second half of the document. This poem also calls attention to the plight of female slaves, not just in Jamaica but across the Americas. Therefore, in terms of course design, the commentary would fit well within a thematic section such as 'Slavery and the Atlantic World' or a chronological section such as 'The Age of Reform, 1820-1860.' It can be noted that both of these suggestions do not include geographic limitations, therefore even in a course devoted to the first half of U.S. history it is not only possible, but highly useful, to incorporate a hemispheric approach.

Educators can link the story of Jamaican reform movements and emancipation to U.S. history by exploring the different paths through which emancipation was achieved in the two areas. While emancipation in the U.S. occurred as a result of a militaristic conflict, Jamaican emancipation followed a gradual route beginning with reformist movements during the early 1800s. By the 1820s Jamaica was one of Britain's most valuable colonial holdings. However, Britain struggled to retain control over the island's inhabitants and suggestions from Westminster were often met with coldness, if not outright hostility, from Jamaican planters. The 1820s debates over the treatment of female slaves proved no different as both sides refused to accept defeat. In 1823, the Colonial Secretary Lord Bathurst (the same Bathurst mentioned in the document) first approached the West Indian colonies with a British House of Commons resolution by humanitarian Thomas Buxton that argued for a ban on the flogging of female slaves. Bathurst defended the bill in gendered terms and stated, "[B]eing single in its nature [it]may be at once adopted, viz., an absolute prohibition to inflict the punishment of flogging under any circumstances on female slaves . . . to restore to the female slave that sense of shame which is at once the ornament of and the protection of their sex. . . ." (Harlow and Madden, 560). However, the planters countered with their own gender-based arguments that enslaved women were particularly hard to control and benefited more from whipping than their male counterparts. Educators could very successfully pair a discussion of the anonymous commentary alongside an investigation of the Journals of the Assembly of Jamaica (1822-26), in which the debates are recorded. In the end, the Jamaican House of Assembly refused to pass a measure regulating female flogging and even the Slave Act of 1826 did not include any such limitation. The author of "On the flogging of women," is referring to the 1826 debates when he/she states, "However painful to the feelings the knowledge of these proceedings may be, it is better they should be known" (see Figure 1).

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Source:  OpenStax, The atlantic ocean and hemispheric histories. OpenStax CNX. Oct 11, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11310/1.6
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