Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Leisa Meyer

Committee Member

Hannah Rosen

Committee Member

Susan Kern


This dissertation foregrounds enslaved men who performed personal and domestic service for elite Virginia planters, beginning in the seventeenth century, and eventually for middling planters and urbanites. Because enslaved male domestics have been largely ignored by scholars of slavery in all European colonies, chapters 1 and 2 place their employment in context. Chapter 1 determines as nearly as possible when the practice began among elites in Virginia and became established among the middling. It argues that Virginians adapted the English servant hierarchy to a slave society. Chapter 2 argues that waiting men possessed knowledge and skills prized by their owners and beyond the reach of most poor and middling planters. The social hierarchy that placed all whites above all enslaved men, however, potentially created a disconnect in waiting men's identity formation, perhaps partly mitigated by West African values concerning work and identity. Competence in assimilating gentry culture created material and self-affirming rewards, including skills to resist and escape. Chapter 3 reconstructs the network of urban and rural spaces in which waiting men lived and moved. The social system created by owners and male domestics resulted in many shared intimate and public spaces largely undifferentiated by race, and the "legitimized geography" of male domestics was much larger than that of other enslaved Virginians. Chapter 4 explores the intimate, complicated, and often intense relationships waiting men had with their owners. These relationships, in which the waiting man's skills provided him leverage, involved both masculine contest and cooperation. The domestic's relationship with his master affected his equally complicated relationships within the enslaved community, treated in chapter 5. A waiting man could influence how other enslaved persons in the household or on the plantation, to whom he was often related, were treated, and he could provide his enslaved community with valued information and services. Family formation and maintenance were challenging because of the time the domestic spent with the owner. The waiting man's work allowed him to achieve some, but not all, of the quarter's markers of masculinity. By focusing on one colony/state, this dissertation makes possible an examination of how male domestics lived under and influenced slavery in one social and legal system over time. It is hoped that this study will encourage comparative studies.




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