Colonial Women Essay, Research Paper
In order to fully understand and analyze a period of time, a full examination of people’s everyday life is quite necessary. Although inferior to men, the roles and status of women in eighteenth century colonial America, contributed to the prospering society. The role of the family and extended kinship ties in the lives of African Americans is seen as a unifying and supporting force in times of suffering.
The role and status of an eighteenth century colonial woman was clearly an overlooked responsibility. She was required to be her husband’s assistant, “not his equal”, but an inferior. She was expected to show her husband “reverence” and be “Submissive to his demands”. If a woman did not live up to these duties, there were often severe consequences to follow. For example, 128 men were tried for abusing their wives between 1630 and 1699. As one might expect, countless other cases never made as far as court. Women “for the most part, keep at home and seldom appear in the streets, never in publick assemblies except at the churches or meetings.” Clearly, men were favored before the law, a woman’s property becoming her husband’s possession once she wed. According to the common law doctrine of coverture, she could not “sue or be sued, make contracts, buy or sell property, or draft a will”. Housewives were responsible for a number of duties; cooking, cleaning, sewing, spinning and gardening. In addition to trading surplus foods and goods with other women, they salted, pickled, and preserved fruits and vegetables. In the absence of ones husband, they assumed their obligations. A woman’s most important and most demanding responsibility was child rearing. “Most women could expect to bear at least six children and delivered children at fairly regular intervals averaging every twenty to thirty months, often having the last child after the age of forty.” This is a time when women were not given equal rights to the common white man, as was true for the African Americans who also faced many grueling hardships.
Since slaves spent their whole lives in complete bondage, they resorted and depended on their family as a source of comfort and control. Slavery was a painful reality, which the African American men and women wished to escape. “Planters’ records reveal how members of extended-kin groups provided support, assistance and comfort to each other.” In addition to the hard work in the fields, slaves were often beaten in front of the faces of their relatives, which added more to the excruciating pain. They often protested the harsh treatment of those people in their family. Families of slaves often live on plantations for generations, which leads to the development of the strongest extended kinship ties. “If a nuclear family is broken up by sale, other relatives could help with child rearing and similar tasks”. The significance of these kinship ties is best displayed during this sort of occurrence. The role of the family offered the little hope and unity that slaves had.
Although colonial women had a distinct role in society, it was clearly an overlooked responsibility, which they did not receive enough recognition for. In their hard work, they took on the responsibility of being wives, mothers, and housekeepers. The responsibilities that women took on were often larger then the duties of colonial men, yet they were considered inferiors. The role of family and extended kinship ties in the lives of African Americans, served as the emotional pillar and as the only sense of hope to these people. “Among colonial blacks, the extended family served a more important function than it did among whites.” Colonial life can be described as a harsh reality that African Americans had to live through, searching for any source of hope and comfort, while women also took on large responsibilities for nothing in return. It was clearly a time period that favored the common white man, seeking new opportunities in colonial America.