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Bonds of Womanhood (Hardback)

The World of a White Anti-Slavery Slaveholder

Imprint: University Press of Kentucky
Pages: 214
ISBN: 9780813154831
Published: 15th March 2022
Casemate UK Academic

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Susanna (Susan) Preston Shelby Grigsby (1830-1891), a white plantation mistress and slaveholder, struggled to participate in the economic modernization of antebellum Kentucky, both morally and financially. She yearned to create a happy, solvent household for her family and domestic workers, both free and enslaved. As the nineteenth century progressed, so shifted labor patterns within the plantation household. Paid white lower-class women worked alongside black slaves. And as hard times fell on Grigsby, financial imperatives and custom prevailed over her moral qualms. Class, race, and gender collide in Susanna Delfino's Bonds of Womanhood: The World of a White Anti-Slavery Slaveholder.


Drawing on Grigsby's correspondences, Delfino seeks to understand how white women participated in the economic transformation of 1840s Kentucky. Rather than a simple account of white domestic labor, Grigsby's letters reveal a rich variety of interlocking gender, class, and race-related issues. While Grigsby held strong antislavery feelings, she was still in fact a large slaveholder by Kentucky standards. Even so, she also hired white houseworkers as a way to participate in a free labor economy. All this is further complicated by the power structures inherent in the patriarchal southern plantation house. This volume is a compelling addition to the continuing conversation on the complicity of white, southern women in the slave labor economy.

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