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We Have Raised All of You

Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835

Katy Simpson Smith

Publication Year: 2013

White, black, and Native American women in the early South often viewed motherhood as a composite of roles, ranging from teacher and nurse to farmer and politician. Within a multicultural landscape, mothers drew advice and consolation from female networks, broader intellectual currents, and an understanding of their own multifaceted identities to devise their own standards for child rearing. In this way, by constructing, interpreting, and defending their roles as parents, women in the South maintained a certain degree of control over their own and their children's lives. Focusing on Virginia and the Carolinas from 1750 to 1835, Katy Simpson Smith's study examines these maternal practices to reveal the ways in which diverse groups of women struggled to create empowered identities in the early South.

We Have Raised All of You contributes to a wide variety of historical conversations by affirming the necessity of multicultural -- not simply biracial -- studies of the American South. Its equally weighted analysis of white, black, and Native American women sets it distinctly apart from other work. Smith shows that while women from different backgrounds shared similar experiences within the trajectory of motherhood, no universal model holds up under scrutiny. Most importantly, this book suggests that parenthood provided women with some power within their often-circumscribed lives. Alternately restricted, oppressed, belittled, and enslaved, women sought to embrace an identity that would give them some sense of self-respect and self-worth. The rich and varied roles that mothers inherited, Smith shows, afforded women this empowering identity.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

There is something about the study of long-dead individuals that makes one all the more grateful for the aid of living women and men. My dissertation committee deserves special praise for helping midwife this often unwieldy project: Kathleen DuVal, who was a friend as much as a mentor and who caught every mixed metaphor I threw at her; Jacquelyn Hall, whose...

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pp. 1-10

In the 1820s, Charleston resident Catherine Read wrote her niece, “I am often tempted to exclaim how much Judgement & good Sense is necessary in the education of Children! How much more than I am Mistress of!”1 In the same decade, Sojourner Truth fought for her enslaved son in the courts of New York, and the verdict she received, which would have been a...

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Part I. They Sprung from a Woman: Indian Mothers

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pp. 11-15

How did Indian women define motherhood? For Cherokee and Catawba women, motherhood was not a single thread connecting woman and child, but a multidirectional web that spread out across a town and community. Women were connected to family through elaborate kinship networks that defined the outlines of virtually every individual relationship. As for...

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1. Indian Farmers

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pp. 16-26

In the Cherokee origin story, Selu—the mythological mother of all Cherokees—physically produced both corn and children as synonymous symbols of her fertility. At the beginning of time, she provided food for her husband and sons by slipping away to a secret cabin and performing a ritual that linked her body to the earth: when she rubbed her belly and her armpits, corn and beans...

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2. Indian Providers

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pp. 27-39

Extending from their role as farmers, Cherokee and Catawba mothers were responsible for ensuring their children’s and their communities’ material well-being, from the security offered by clan membership to the practical benefits of food and clothing. The eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries issued a series of challenges to maternal providers; Cherokee mothers...

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3. Indian Spiritual Guides

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pp. 40-49

For all southern women, the root of motherhood was the blood that spilled monthly; Cherokee and Catawba mothers simply amplified menstruation from a biological to a spiritual force. From a woman’s first menstruation, she developed an awareness of the power in her body, her blood, and her womb. Southeastern Indian women viewed their motherhood as spiritually potent, a...

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4. Indian Teachers

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pp. 50-61

Southeastern Indian women in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries faced a barrage of change, from warfare and epidemics to new trading networks and growing white settlement, but through it all, they sought to teach their children how to be Cherokee, Catawba, Pamunkey, or Nottoway. Sometimes this meant emphasizing a few basic truths—that men hunted and...

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5. Indian Politicians

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pp. 62-73

Southeastern Indian women lived in communities in which their association with motherhood afforded them a political voice. Unlike other women in the South, who could access local or national politics only through husbands and sons (or, for enslaved women, not at all), Native women in matrilineal societies enjoyed the happy correlation of believing in their own...

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6. Indian Sufferers

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pp. 74-82

Like all women in the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century South, Native American mothers suffered from forces beyond their control, especially the loss of their children. Before (and after) the adoption of more precise medicine, children of all races and classes fell victim to illnesses, infections, and accidents. But while Indian children were being claimed by common...

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Part II. Sowing Good Seeds: White Mothers

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pp. 83-88

How did white women define motherhood? For most white women in early America, becoming a mother meant inheriting a host of anxieties, delights, and motivations, absorbed partially from social trends and prescriptions but primarily from a network of other women who shared their own experiences of childrearing. Motherhood, then, was communal. Elite...

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7. White Nurses

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pp. 89-102

When twenty-year-old Eliza Haywood visited the bedroom of eighteen- year-old Sarah Polk two mornings after that neighbor had given birth, she was surprised to find her sitting up in a hard wooden chair, her door and windows open, enjoying an early spring breeze. It was March 1802 in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Sarah, wearing a thin bed...

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8. White Readers

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pp. 103-116

In 1807, Alice Delancey Izard learned of her grandson’s death and promptly wrote her son in Charleston, South Carolina, to console the bereaved man. “In order to wean my mind from afflictive subjects,” she advised, “I have recurred to books.” She mentioned the salutary effects of Paradise Lost, which she read aloud with her husband in the early days of their marriage, and she...

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9. White Teachers

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pp. 117-135

When Caroline Ball Laurens traveled to Europe in the 1820s, she directed a letter to her sister that “contained directions respecting the manner in which she wished her children to be educated, should she die before her return to Charleston.”1 In case of her death, Caroline asked another female relative, rather than her husband, to carry on her educational...

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10. White Sages

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pp. 136-148

In addition to the practical skills attendant on nursing, reading, and teaching, mothers maintained a more nebulous claim on their children’s futures. Mothers were repositories of advice, dispensers of generations of wisdom that ranged from career recommendations to religious injunctions. Far from being powerless captives in patriarchal southern households, women maintained...

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11. White Judges

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pp. 149-161

Southern mothers defined their realms by defining their children. Sons and daughters became markers of a mother’s skill, morality, even race and class. Women were quick to praise their children for their health, intellect, and virtue, but they were also careful to acknowledge moral lapses. Only by judging their own children’s actions could women teach them right behavior. But part...

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12. White Sufferers

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pp. 162-176

Caroline Clitherall proudly recorded in her journal, “Few Mothers can boast as I can, that I have never had one pang, caus’d by the intentional ill conduct of my children.” Though Caroline’s children may have behaved as perfect angels, few mothers in the early American South escaped the pangs of motherhood. Caroline herself lost several young children, including...

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Part III. She Was with Me in the Night: Black Mothers

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pp. 177-181

How did black women define motherhood? Like their white and Indian counterparts, black mothers relied on a broad community of support to raise their children, but unlike other women, who could carefully select their allies, enslaved mothers forged communities out of necessity. The older black women on a plantation who watched over infants and toddlers...

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13. Black Providers

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pp. 182-195

Enslaved and free black mothers in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century South had their hands tied by various strings: their sex, their race, their status as bound or beholden laborers. Seemingly, they could offer their children little. Like other women, though, black mothers found ways to provide food, clothing, education, and employment for their sons and daughters; they...

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14. Black Teachers

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pp. 196-204

"What I shall now relate is, what was told me by my mother and grandmother.” So Moses Roper began his account of a life in slavery, the early years of which he could recall only because his mother insisted that her son understand what a life—his life—as a slave entailed.1 In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, enslaved and free black mothers...

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15. Black Spiritual Guides

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pp. 205-217

For decades, scholars have debated the relationship between slavery and religion, approaching this conversation from a number of angles.1 Why, on the one hand, did enslaved Africans and African Americans in the nineteenth century convert in such large numbers to the faith of their owners, a religion that was used to justify their very enslavement?2 Why did so many...

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16. Black Protectors

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pp. 218-230

Survival under the conditions of slavery often required a fierce maternal protection. As masters and mistresses threatened enslaved children both physically and psychologically, black mothers marshaled their limited resources to defend them. Protecting children from illness, the whip, and separation afforded mothers some control over their lives, and even when their protection...

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17. Black Aunts

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pp. 231-241

Black mothers, enslaved and free, did not exist in isolation from their surrounding communities. They could not simply construct separate, “nuclear” families, even if they wanted to, for if it took a village to raise a child, it took an entire plantation population to raise a child in slavery.1 Most also had no desire to cut themselves off from other women and other family...

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18. Black Sufferers

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pp. 242-258

The challenge in dividing black women’s maternal identities into separate and distinct roles for the purposes of illustration and investigation is that the role of sufferer tinged nearly every action in which they engaged. To define a separate category of “sufferer,” then, seems arbitrary. But it is imperative to disengage this role from the others; too often, black women in...

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pp. 259-270

In this book, I have focused on women in the South who used their identities as mothers to claim a powerful role for themselves within the existing limitations of their societies. Most of these women saw motherhood not merely as a burden, an additional duty, an expected set of behaviors, but as an opportunity to exert power through their choices and actions, to influence the...


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pp. 271-324

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 325-338


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pp. 339-346

E-ISBN-13: 9780807152249
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807152232

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2013