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As one letter to a South Carolinian periodical geared toward young women put it, If a female possesses beauty, wealth, and, in short, all the accomplishments which wealth can purchase…without VIRTUE, she is “nothing worth.” Her accomplishments may be admired by some for a little while, it is true; but she will never be truly esteemed… William Hooper in his 1947 address to the graduating class of the Sedgwick Female Seminary in Raleigh, North Carolina: Leave men to themselves without the intermixture of female society and the softening influence of female modesty, gentleness and affection, and they would infallibly become rude, harsh, coarse, quarrelsome, and in their quarrels cruel and unrelenting.Although it is impossible to know exactly how many black women were sexually assaulted under slavery, such abuse was widespread.Not all sexual encounters between masters and female slaves would be considered rape according to most definitions of the term.But what of sexual relations between planter-class white women and slave men? How should they be described in terms of power, agency, and consent?Answering these questions involves analyzing historical records through the lens of power relations, parsing through the complexities of racial, class, and gender hierarchies.These so-called consensual sexual partnerships can be seen, like rape, as an exercise in white patriarchal authority.Why these women chose to sexually abuse slaves probably varied by situation.

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But perhaps, at least on a subconscious level, sexually exploiting slaves was a means of compensating for their lack of power in other aspects of their lives.

Using an intersectional socio-historical analysis, this paper explores the factors that contributed or may have contributed to the incidence of sexual encounters between elite white women and slave men, the power dynamics embedded in them, and their implications in terms of sexual consent.

The paper demonstrates how upper-class white women who engaged in these relationships used sex as an instrument of power, simultaneously perpetuating both white supremacy and patriarchy.

(1861), “The slave girl is raised in an atmosphere of licentiousness and fear.

The lash and the foul talk of her master and his sons are her teachers.

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