History 246 Reading Guide


The Chesapeake Bay:  White and Black women in a predominantly male society

  • Mary Beth Norton, “Gender and Defamation in Seventeenth-Century Maryland,” William and Mary Quarterly 44 (1987), 3-39.  JSTOR
  • Joan Rezner Gundersen, “The Double Bonds of Race and Sex:  Black and White Women in a Colonial Virginia Parish,” Journal of Southern History 52 (1986), 351-372.  JSTOR

Further reading:

  • Mary Beth Norton, “The Evolution of White Women’s Experience in Early America,” American Historical Review 89.3 (1984), 593-619.  JSTOR
  • Lois Carr and Lorena Walsh, “The Planter’s Wife:  The Experience of White Women in 17th century Maryland,” William and Mary Quarterly 34 (1977), 542-71.  JSTOR

Questions:

  • What kind of “power” did white women have in early Chesapeake society? For what purposes did they use it? How long did it last?
  • What were the unintended consequences of the use of their power?
  • What does women’s and men’s use of slander tell us about social (and sexual) norms and hierarchies in that society?
  • What is the significance of the evolution of slander law in English common law and its Maryland variant?
  • What methods does Norton use to examine and analyze the evidence from the courts? What questions does she ask? Why?
  • To what extent were the lives of black women and white women similar in early Chesapeake society? Where did the similarities break down?
  • What were the particular burdens of being African-American, female, and enslaved in a Euro-American, patriarchal society?
  • What is the difference between a “community of women” and a “sisterhood of women”?
  • How does Gunderson uncover the lives of black and white women in King William Parish? What kind of evidence does she have?