Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

What's love got to do with it? The dynamics of desire, race and murder in the slave South

Carolyn Jean Powell, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines the sexual dimensions of miscegenation and the effect that it had on the lives of three slave women, their children, and their white slave masters. Chapter 1 explores the historical dynamic concerning the issue of cross-racial relationships in the slave South. Chapter 2 will examine the black female experience under slavery and the dynamics that helped to shape their lives including the issues of race, class and gender. Although we are well aware of the exploitation of slave women, we will also examine how these women used “agency” to resist and to control their day-to-day lives. Chapter 3 revisits the lives of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, which continue to ignite questions concerning their relationship, despite the revelation of the DNA study published in 1998. We will explore Jefferson's behavior, not as a politician, but as a man confronted with issues and choices, as most men are, particularly when the choices concern affairs of the heart. Chapter 4 concerns the dynamics of love, miscegenation, and murder in the lives of George Wythe, Lydia Broadnax, his freed slave woman, and Michael Brown, Lydia's mulatto son. Equally as important is the relationship between Wythe and his closest friend and confidant, Thomas Jefferson, which causes us to question how much Wythe really knew about Jefferson's personal life, particularly with Sally Hemings. Chapter 5 explores the lives of Richard Mentor Johnson, Vice President under Martin Van Buren, his slave Julia Chinn and their two daughters, Imogene and Adalaine. By all standards, their relationship was unusual. Richard lived openly with Julia, his slave, and their children in defiance of the South's social customs and laws. Chapter 6 will conclude with a look back at the significance of resistance in the lives of slave women and how the issue of public vs. private helped to shape relationships that crossed the color line in the slave South. It will show how America historically looked at race and sexuality, and why the color line and cross-racial relationships continue to be a problem in the twenty-first century.

Subject Area

Black history|American history|African Americans|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Powell, Carolyn Jean, "What's love got to do with it? The dynamics of desire, race and murder in the slave South" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3039386.