There may be my sphere of usefulness . . .’
The making of a North Carolinian plantation mistress
in Engendering whiteness
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Sarah Hicks Williams, the newly married bride of Benjamin Franklin Williams, left her family home in New York to begin a new life thousands of miles away in the Southern slave-holding state of North Carolina. As Benjamin's wife, Sarah was poised to become mistress of her husband's Clifton Grove plantation in Greene County, North Carolina. Raised within a strong anti-slavery culture, the new mistress of Clifton Grove plantation determined to observe for herself the truth of abolitionist claims of Southern brutality towards their enslaved population. Once at Clifton Grove, though, Sarah accepted that the only household domestics she could call upon were enslaved women, for in North Carolina white women were generally excluded from domestic service. In Sarah's imagination, the enslaved women and men in her midst rapidly came to represent a naturally dirty and lazy people, a view commonly shared by Southern whites.

Engendering whiteness

White women and colonialism in Barbados and North Carolina, 1627–1865


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