After looking at Thomas Thistlewood’s life, a female character which grabbed my attention was Phibbah. Thistle wood himself is an interesting character to look at, he was a plantation owner known for he’s brutal treatment to he’s slaves and writing about he’s very detailed sexual pleasures, mostly with slave women. There is still questions as to weather or not he is the only one who was so extreme or if it was the norm for plantation owners. Because he left behind a diary, we know more of him than other plantation owners.
He came from an educated household, but after not being able to find employment he was offered a position in Jamiaca as a small land owner.
Thistlewoods attitude towards other women is what makes Phibbah interesting, He was also known for having no sympathy towards he’s slave women, often punishing them; he viewed he’s slave as objects, they were checked regularly to make sure they were in good condition to work. On the other hand he would call some slave women he’s wife, and had relations with multiple slave women throughout he’s stay in Jamaica.
[Black women working on a plantation in the 1800’s: Image taken from Google Images]
Phibbah, a black slave woman became Thistlewood’s common law wife in 1754, the relationship lasted for more than 30 years and they had a child together, mulatto John. He always spoke well of Phibbah, going into detail when writing about her, and she seemed to have some kind of hold over him. She was someone he turned to for more than just sexual pleasures, and she got away with things which other slave women would have been punished for. They did each other favours, she borrowed him money and they often exchanged gifts. It was common for some slaves to own possessions, Phibbah is described as an industrious enterprising woman, who makes the most out of small opportunities; she had more materials than some poor white workmen; and had savings which came from her buying and selling foodstuff and animals.
He shows plenty of love to Phibbah, showed in many gestures such as begging Phibbahs owner to sell her to him, as he knew he would be leaving. Her owner refused. He’s departure in the summer of 1757 left both him and Phibbah distressed, she gave him a gold ring as a keeps-sake, they had regular weekend visits they both looked forward to. Sounds like a serious relationship. thistlewood even paid Phibbahs owner an annual fee of £18. Despite this thistelwood still would have slept with other women, and Phibbah was in a way entitled to sleep with other men, it was a common occurance for slave women to go from man to man. Plantation owners also had the power to destroy black families under their wing, often sleeping with slave women, with or without their permission, simply because they considered them their property.
When Thistlewood died he did not free Phibbah, plantation owners would have freed their partner and their children (if the children were not already free) . Thistlewood will did requested her manumission and set aside money to enable her to buy land to secure her independence. Phibbah was freed six years later by her owners in 1792. As Phibbah’s voice is not heard we do not find out if she had some kind of plan or if she was forced into anything. It seemed however that she had some kind of benefits in this relationship and attempted to create a comfortable life for herself despite the circumstances.
• The Trader, The Owner, The Slave: Parallel Lives in the Age of Slavery: By James Walvin