Activity 11 Creating Data Maps

For this week’s exercise in creating data maps, I ultimately chose to narrow in on using the census data to map white and enslaved populations by gender in Alabama in 1850. Admittedly, I came to this after experimenting with a few different scales and questions. I first thought to map how the locations of the free Black populations changed over time, but scrapped that after realizing the previous map by Lincoln Mullen we examined last week had already done that. I then attempted to see if I could notice any patterns in how the older (over 45) and younger (under 14) enslaved populations were distributed, but quickly realized the sheer difference in population sizes spread over the US and between these two age demographics made creating “bins” from which anything meaningful could be discerned difficult. Thus, this led me to narrow my scope down to the single state of Alabama in examining demographics of sufficiently comparable scale: male and female white and enslaved populations.

Considering the prevalence of rape and sexual exploitation in the history of American slavery, I wanted to know if there was a tendency for areas that had higher populations of white men and lower populations of white women to also have disproportionately high populations of Black enslaved women. In other words, I wanted to know if the census figures would suggest evidence of male enslavers actively seeking out black women as sexual property on a large scale. The map I created, with the population categorized into 24 evenly-sized bins, does not appear to confirm this hypothesis. Counties that had high populations of Black enslaved women also tended to have comparable populations of Black enslaved men. Quite the opposite of my original thoughts, some counties that had more enslaved women than men appeared to have similar white male and female populations. In hindsight, this should have been an expected result: if enslaved women were preferred as domestic servants, they would be in greater demand in counties that had more white married families. Additionally, as we know from reading both Miles’s and Schermerhorn’s books, accounts of married men sexually abusing their slaves were far from uncommon. That said, something that did jump out at me in this map is how, regardless of the numbers of white women or enslaved men, counties having higher numbers of enslaved women than white men were not uncommon, and were rather prevalent towards the middle of Alabama. If nothing else, a map such as this is an example of the dangers that can come with data mapping without sufficient care: while the map does not provide direct evidence for white men explicitly purchasing Black women as sexual objects, there is still plenty of room for such circumstances to have taken place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *