The Drowning Patriarch

1028 Words5 Pages
When engineers are building a bridge, they have to meticulously look over every single detail, from the beams that will support the road to the pillars that will hold the structure up. They scrutinize and analyze every single aspect of the bridge repeatedly because if they make a single mistake, place a support pillar an inch from where it is supposed to be, the entire structure will fail. Likewise, in Kathleen M. Brown’s article “The Anxious World of the Slaveowning Patriarch,” the delicate relationships between Virginia’s elite planters and their dependents is closely examined and analyzed, showing the order in which the elite white planter was on top demanding subordination and obedience from all their dependents. Brown argues that due…show more content…
They believed that if they could not control themselves and their own emotions how would they be able to control anyone else? Brown vividly describes the elite planter William Byrd II and how he meticulously wrote down all the areas of self control in his life believing that doing so emulated the behavior of an Englishman. It was to the extent that he wrote down “his emotional fluctuations in the same detail he did his diet, his daily physical exercise, his bowel movements, and his sexual encounters” (Brown, 54). He perfected this art so much that even when his infant son died at nine months, he showed little emotional turmoil externally and simply accepted it as an act of God. He even went so far as to chastise his grief stricken wife for crying too much and not accepting it as he did. However, Brown then goes on to report that, in fact, no matter how hard Byrd tried he would never be able to fully succeed in maintaining domestic and political serenity. Byrd and other elite planters lost control when “wives refused to obey their husbands, children flouted their father’s will, and slaves ran away” (Brown, 57). As structured and detailed as they made their regime over their dependents, they could never fully be in control and this left them in a constant dissatisfaction over their…show more content…
For example, Byrd would punish any slave that did not stay loyal to a monogamous relationship or if two slaves wanted to engage in a physical dispute. Brown explains that this was because these discrepancies would disrupt the attempts made to achieve a peaceful household by the planter. Not only would the planter be losing control of his dependents, it would bring question to his masculinity as to how he could possibly allow someone to virtually step in and take his place. Therefore, to ensure that the elite men stayed in control, they would get to personally know their slaves and handle any disputes himself. This brought a paternalistic position and gave the slaves a few more privileges such as the occasional gift of alcohol or the freedom to walk around and socialize with other slaves at night sporadically. However, this also led to more female slaves being used by their masters for sexual power. Brown states that by having sex with their female slaves, these white planters were not identifying these women as human beings but instead used them in an act of domination that proved their power as a man. Due to this, Brown argues that the acts of kindness and reciprocity done by these planters was not because they wanted to make the slaves feel more appreciated, but simply because of the fact that they wanted to keep order in their slaves and
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