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2 Sexual Stories Narratives of Consent and Coercion She in open court before the jury att the bar didpossatively owne and declare[that] the plaintiff . . . offered much rudenes to her with divers perswasions to lett him lye with her, and that shee called out but yett nevertheless the plaintiff bystriving and com­ pultion had the use of her body as she stood upright with her child in her arms. ELI ZABETH BURT, wife and mother ( r 692) C O N STRUCTING A NARRATIVE, regardless of the context in which it is offered, imposes meaning on experience. Every story is potentially an allegory, a way to infuse happenings with a moral meaning or, more generally, with a significance that they do not possess simply as events. 1 Accounts of Lady Frances Berkeley, for instance, by isolating the facts of, first, her youth, relative to that of her husband, second, their marriage, and, third, civil uprising, moralized reality in such a way as to blame her for Bacon's Rebellion. Similarly, the stories of the white aprons also moralized reality and cast doubt on the character of a man who would stoop to the ungentlemanly gesture of endangering women in the midst of armed rebellion. Shifting the focus of our inquiry from the politics of Virginia to the colony's courtrooms, however, opens a window on the experiences of more ordinary women in early Virginia, the wives of small planters, indentured servants, slaves, and widows. If theywere ordinary by virtue of rank and class, however, these women were atypical because in mo­ ments of personal crisis they turned to the legal system and, specifi­ cally, the venue of the York County court for aid. Examining their stories provides a more nuanced exploration of women's experience as well as their encounters with the law and local legal actors. This chap­ ter investigates women's stories of sexual consent and sexual coer­ cion, analyzing their narrative strategies, the imagery and stereotypes prevalent in the stories they told before legal officials, and the legal 45 Brabbling Women strategies they employed in seeking redress for their complaints. It will also analyze the effect or success of women's narratives on legal charges brought against them by local legal actors such as neighbors, grand jurymen, churchwardens, and justices where sexual matters were directly at issue. This chapter is based upon two court cases from seventeenth-cen­ tury York County in which sexual coercion was a central issue. In 1 662, Ann Collins, an indentured servant, gave a lengthy deposition to the York justices concerning how she came to be single, unfree, and pregnant. Collins's case is worth examining for several reasons, not the least of which is that it is one of the few extended narratives of sexual coercion that exists from an indentured servant. While other, similarly situated women in Virginia may have given similar ac­ counts before justices, for the most part these confessions did not sur­ vive, either because they were not recorded or because some clerk ascertained that the details did not warrant recording. The second case, from 1692, centers on the married Elizabeth Hansford Burt and her claim that she had been raped. Legal cases about sexual assault, like Burt's, are similar to the record of Collins's confession in that they are rarely found in seventeenth-century court order books for Virginia's counties. I do not understand this to mean that sexual coercion in colonial Virginia was rare but that legal records of sexual assault, then as to­ day, widely underreport its occurrence. To the extent that this was true of white women, it was doubly the case for slave women, who had no legal standing under the law. Raping a slave was legally un­ derstood to be a trespass against the master rather than a crime against the woman.2 Yet if women of color, as marginalized legal subjects, could not resort to the law, the diaries of colonialplanters, unwittingly perhaps, clearly suggest the range of sexual assault directed toward slaves and other women of color. Although those women lacked the protections of the law, extralegal evidence reveals the ways in which they shrewdly maneuvered to avoid the unwanted advances of men. Unlike the protests of white women, who had the opportunity to be heard in court, the protests of unfree women largely do not directly survive in court records. Still, even from the pens of slaveholders, their various attempts to resist are clear and exist...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780801469930
Related ISBN
9780801440526
MARC Record
OCLC
857065590
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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