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Black Well-BeingHealth and Selfhood in Antebellum Black Literature$
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Andrea Stone

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780813062570

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813062570.001.0001

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The Protective Self

The Protective Self

Slave Sexual Health, Crime, and U.S. Legal Personhood

Celia’s Murder Trial and Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents

(p.121) 4 The Protective Self
Black Well-Being

Andrea Stone

University Press of Florida

The book proceeds from injury, illness, and disability to interrogate how the prevention of harm within the United States functions as a mode of conceptualizing selfhood in the context of slave sexual coercion and abuse. Two stories on the subject of slave sexuality—Celia’s (1855) and Harriet Jacobs’s (1861)—involved criminal responses to years of abuse. Central to this inquiry is the status of women slaves’ sexual and psychological health and legal personhood in the context of sexual abuse. Literary analysis of newspaper coverage and the trial summary of Celia’s case in comparison with Jacobs’s narrative demonstrates the lengths proslavery factions would go to protect their right to govern enslaved women’s sexual health and the dire extents to which enslaved women themselves would go to protect their sexual and psychological well-being. Protection from harm in these instances prompted, if not required, illegal acts that ironically for both and tragically for one confirmed her legal personhood—though by contrast they did very little to garner for them any rights as humans. Perhaps here more than anywhere else in this book, the limits of the category of person are obvious if bleak.

Keywords:   sexual abuse, sexual health, criminal act, illegal act, legal personhood, protection, slavery, health, enslaved women, United States

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