Vanessa M. Holden, Michigan State University | Newberry

Vanessa M. Holden, Michigan State University

Friday, October 28, 2016

3 to 5pm

Center for American History and Culture Programs
Gender and Sexuality Seminar

Forming Intimacies: Queer Kinship and Resistance in the Antebellum American Atlantic

Vanessa M. Holden, Michigan State University

Minty Caden was like any number of enslaved people in the Chesapeake Bay region when she absconded from her home plantation with a group of other enslaved people in the summer of 1814. Caden lived in Calvert County, Maryland, when the British offensive roared up the Chesapeake to Baltimore and up the Patuxent to Washington. The British arrived with the same promise of freedom they had offered during the American Revolution and Caden and her neighbors took their chances and ran. Her former mistress would later make claims to compensation for the loss of her valuable human property during the war. The documents that present Caden’s former owner’s case reveal one key biographical characteristic that makes Caden stick out among the thousands of Chesapeake Bay enslaved people who ran for their freedom during the war ears: Minty Caden had a wife. Or, at least, that is how her white neighbors seem to have regarded her relationship with Phillis Caden calling it, “an intimacy.” But what, exactly, did it mean for two enslaved women to form an intimacy in the 1810s?

This paper expands on work on Minty Caden that will serve as the foundation for a larger study of queer sexualities and queer intimacy among enslaved people in the United States. To their own community in Calvert County what made Minty and Phillis remarkable was not their attachment to each other but, rather, their decision to flee and deprive their owners of their labor and value as property. This intersection of resistance and intimacy is at the heart of this study. The story of Minty and Phillis Caden serves as an entree into broader questions about queering antebellum American slavery, same-sex sexuality in early and antebellum America, and the relationship of intimate practices and attachments to resistive culture and praxis among the enslaved.

Respondent: Leslie M. Harris, Northwestern University

Cost and Registration Information 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically. For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center at scholl@newberry.org. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.