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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type

Masters Thesis

Department or Program Affiliation


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Hardesty, Jared

Second Advisor

Seltz, Jennifer, 1970-

Third Advisor

Cerretti, Josh


This project is an exploration into the important role enslaved midwives played as both facilitators of and participants in the creolization of enslaved plantation communities in the Chesapeake during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Importantly, this project is geographically and temporally unique and serves to bridge multiple historiographies, including gender and slavery, slavery and medicine, and creolization. Using mainly slaveholder financial records, I have traced the dissemination of reproductive knowledge from local white midwives to enslaved black women beginning as early as the 1720s, as well as black women’s appropriation of reproductive spaces on Chesapeake plantations, a process largely completed by the end of the eighteenth century. I also discuss the emergence of a uniquely Chesapeake pronatalism, under which enslaved midwives were highly valued, that developed in tandem with the domestic slave trade. This increased valuation of reproductive knowledge allowed these midwives a level of mobility relatively unheard of for bondwomen, and I argue that enslaved midwives likely used this mobility to create and maintain kin and community connections across farm, plantation, and even county lines. This project takes seriously the important positions enslaved midwives held both in their communities and in the eyes of their enslavers, as well as their role in the literal birth of creole African American communities. While this project fills a gap in the literature concerning the intersection of gender, slavery, and creolization, it also works to recognize and acknowledge the nuanced, emotionally taxing, and remarkable work of enslaved midwives during this period.




slavery, midwifery, midwife, creolization, childbirth, Chesapeake, pronatalism, reproduction, Virginia


Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Midwifery--Virginia--Chesapeake--History--18th century; African American midwives--Virginia--Chesapeake--History--18th century; Women slaves--Virginia--Chesapeake--History--Social conditions; Creoles--Virginia

Geographic Coverage

Virginia--Social life and customs; Chesapeake (Va.)




masters theses




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