Rape in Revolutionary America, 1760-1815




Snidal, Michelle

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Rape had an indelible effect on the American Revolutionary era. Using trial testimonies and depositions, newspapers, and literary sources, this thesis argues that there was a level of continuity between peacetime and wartime rape characterized by the assaulters’ modus operandi and rape’s ideological exploitation. Eighteenth-century Anglo-American society dictated that rape, or “carnal knowledge of a woman forcibly against her will,” was only a crime against virtuous white women. The gendered and racialized ways pre-revolutionary society identified and prosecuted rape influenced how rapists conducted their assaults. Women had to prove their sexual morality, that penile penetration and male ejaculation occurred, and that they sought help immediately after the assault to prosecute their attackers. During the war, rape became an important metaphor. Wartime publishers and propagandists used reports and victim testimonies as evidence of British immorality and to justify political independence. The rape of America subsumed individual atrocities. The nationalization of women’s sexual virtue continued into the new Republic. Artists and writers memorialized the Revolution through explicitly sexualized narratives and sentimental novels that emphasized female sexual morality. Women’s sexual virtue was linked with the stability of the Republic. This thesis utilizes a diverse historiography to highlight the intersectional correlations between rape and eighteenth-century patriarchal power in America.



rape, sexual violence, sexual assault, American Revolution, carnal, women, British, war, ravish, virtue, seduction, Early America, sentimental, morality, propaganda, nationalized, ideology, Republic, patriarchal power, class, slavery, independence, symbolism, intersectional, race, gender