Since 1987 the United States has observed Women’s History Month officially as a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture, and society. I have been working with the collection of Sarah Harriet Apphia Hunter (1822-1874) of Essex County, Virginia. She was the youngest of four sisters who lived at the Fonthill plantation. Her three-part diary, correspondence, account books, receipts, slave inventories, hiring records and lists illuminate areas of history that provide a glimpse into plantation society where a female presided.
She recorded the births and deaths of slaves as well as mother-children groupings. In particular, I became fascinated with the detailed lists of gift and supplies she distributed among her enslaved workforce. What must it have been like to receive calicos, flannels, petticoats, old dresses, bonnets, and aprons? What prompted her to give such an array when most slave owners provided so little? Even after slavery ended Sarah kept records…
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