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On the flogging of women (ca. 1827)

flogging.png
An excerpt from the second page of an anonymous commentary on the treatment of Jamaican slave women.

British anti-slavery activists were the individuals initially responsible for pressuring their colonial government to improve the conditions of slave life, so it only made sense that they took it upon themselves to spread word of the Jamaican debates. In the anonymous commentary the author learns of the Jamaican defeat of Bathurst via "No. 21 of the Anti-slavery Reporter" (1). The Monthly Anti-Slavery Reporter , established in 1825, was the paper of the British Anti-Slavery Society. The Reporter was distributed across the Atlantic world and provided a common source of information that travelled across traditional geographic borders. One historian estimates that, "Between 1823 and 1831 the Anti-Slavery Society published 2.3 million copies of tracts, speeches, and meetings" (Morgan, 182). These documents were designed to create an emotional reaction in the reader and educators could possibly design an exercise comparing "On the flogging of women" with other anti-slavery documents in the 'Our Americas' Archive, such as Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative . The commentary could also be paired with U.S. slave narratives such as Frederick Douglass' Narrative of the Life (1845) or Harriet Jacob's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). Students could be asked to dissect these historical texts with a particular focus on how the 'standard' format of the slave narrative crossed geographic boundaries and could be used effectively in documents such as anonymous commentaries or novels.

The commentary "On the flogging of women," also demonstrates that the anti-slavery dialogue was one that included both male and female reformers. Educators can use Charlotte Elizabeth Browne Phelan Tonna, pen name Charlotte Elizabeth, as an example of this gendered reformist movement (for a portrait of Tonna see Figure 2). Her poem "On the flogging of women" appears at the end of the anonymous commentary. The author of the commentary wishes that "the planters who thus voted" against flogging reform "could be induced to peruse" the poem for it would surely change their minds (2). However, it is certainly possible that a few Jamaican planters knew of Tonna because she was a very prolific and well-known British author. After a nasty divorce in the mid-1820s, Tonna lived off of the profits of her anti-Catholic, anti-slavery writings. Tonna focused many of her writings on the universal suffering of women as she believed that women were "specially suited for detecting injustice and comforting the unhappy" (Paz, 272). Therefore, it makes perfect sense that Tonna's poem "On the Flogging of Women," pushes for men baring "a Christian's name" to defend enslaved women against injury by the whip (3). In particular, Tonna expresses concern for the injury done to an enslaved "female's modest pride" (3). As historian Diana Paton argues, both Lord Bathurst and Tonna "invoke[s] the commonly held view that a society's level of "civilization" could be measured in its treatment of women" (7). Tonna's poem was undoubtedly partially motivated by her belief that enslaved women already possessed less shame than British middle-class women and therefore, could not afford to be degraded any further. It is critical to understand that for the proper Victorian lady shame was an asset, not a liability. Therefore, a possible classroom application for the anonymous commentary, including Tonna's poem, lies within an investigation of how depictions of violence against enslaved peoples across the globe share certain gendered descriptions. For example, how do the violent episodes found within Celia, A Slave (1991) compare with Douglass' experiences with punishment? Or, introductory history and literature courses could explore the methods, practices, and experiences of female Atlantic reformers. Tonna could be discussed alongside the Grimké sisters from South Carolina. This comparison makes sense not only because South Carolina was often considered the sister-site to Jamaica, but also because the Grimkés were prolific authors operating at the same time as Tonna. In a similar vein, students could explore how Harriet Tubman's anti-slavery speeches act as a companion to, and diverge from, the writings of Tonna and the Grimkés. For an excellent work on the Grimké sisters, see Gerda Lerner's The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women's Rights and Abolition (full biographical details follow the module). In general, Tonna's writings helped emphasize a bond between women that knew no geographic borders, but the written word was not the only tool used by anti-slavery activists.

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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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