Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina

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Kirsten Fischer has mined unpublished court records and travel literature from colonial North Carolina to reveal how early notions of racial difference were shaped by illicit sexual relationships and the sanctions imposed on those who conducted them. Fischer shows how the personal -- and yet often very public -- sexual lives of Native American, African American, and European American women and men contributed to the new racial order in this developing slave society. The sexual practices of ordinary people vividly bring to light the little-known but significant ways in which notions of racial difference were alternately contested and affirmed before the American Revolution.
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Editorial Reviews

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"Scholars now understand that ideas about class, gender, and race are products of particular historical contexts. . . . Constructions of racial difference are most successful when they appear to be both natural and immutable. Fischer's Suspect Relations describes how law and social practice made them increasingly so in early North Carolina, providing a fascinating perspective on the colony's evolution from a disorderly society to a more ordered one, from one in which hierarchies of class, race,and gender were inchoate to one in which they were all increasingly entrenched."—Cynthia A. Kierner, University of North Carolina. North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. LXXIX, No. 3, July 2002

"With this book, Kirsten Fischer joins scholars who have demonstrated the interconnection of race and gender in the evolving social hierarchy of the early South. . . . Because she skillfully weaves together questions of class, race, gender, sexuality, and the social order, her book should be read by scholars of all related fields."—C. Dallett Hemphill, Ursinus College. The Journal of American History, March 2003

"Most impressive is Fischer's ability to shed light on a world in which all of our usual categories- race, status, politics, and power- were in flux. This historical creativity, as well as the book's contributions to the study of race and sexuality in a little-studied early American colony, will make it a good volume for graduate classes and advanced undergraduates."—Carolyn Eastman, Reviews in American History, Vol. 31, No. 3, Sept '03

"Beginning with a sketch of Anglican (English) ideas of race and sex in the seventeenth century and the ways that North Carolina women were perceived as disrupting society, Fischer subsequently discusses cross-cultural sex, regulation of sexuality (especially of servants), defamation suits, and violence (including rape)."—Joan R. Gundersen, Journal of Southern History 69:4, November 2003

"Lively as well as erudite, Suspect Relations provides a telling portrait which is both fully examined and sharply rendered. Fischer unerringly illuminates dark recesses of the colonial era, and suggests their relevance to some vexing social issues of today."—Virginia Quarterly Review 78:4

"Fischer's thoroughly researched, well-argued, and engaging book helps to nuance and expand our understanding of social relations and the construction of race ideology in the colonial South."—Sylvia D. Hoffert, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 45:1, January 2003

"Suspect Relations is an important contribution to contemporary discussion of the origins of race as a category, an assumed 'physical fact,'in the American colonies. Fischer places bodies at the center of this progression; ordinary men and women struggled to maintain control over their bodies as those in authority drew lines on and around them, and racialized demarcation was the result."—Karen Ordahl Kupperman

"This is a great book: deeply researched, clearly written, historiographically important. More than any previous historian, Kirsten Fischer has managed to chart the back-and-forth development of ideas of racial difference and sexual order. By treating questions of property rights and labor alongside those of gender and sexuality, she has deepened our understanding of the daily dimensions of each."—Walter Johnson, author of Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801486791
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2001
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 938,397
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Changing Conceptions of Race 1
1 Disorderly Women and the Struggle for Authority 13
2 Cross-Cultural Sex in Native North Carolina 55
3 The Sexual Regulation of Servant Women and Subcultures of Resistance 98
4 White Reputations "Blacken'd & Made Loose" 131
5 Sexualized Violence and the Embodiment of Race 159
Epilogue: Dangerous Liaisons 191
Notes 195
Index 253
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