Rethinking Rufus
download cover image ►

Rethinking Rufus

Sexual Violations of Enslaved Men

Title Details

Pages: 192

Illustrations: 13 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 05/01/2019

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5522-1

List Price: $23.95


Pub Date: 05/01/2019

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5520-7

List Price: $104.95


Pub Date: 05/01/2019

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5521-4

List Price: $104.95

Rethinking Rufus

Sexual Violations of Enslaved Men

A history of the sexual assault and exploitation of enslaved men in America

Skip to

  • Description
  • Reviews

Rethinking Rufus is the first book-length study of sexual violence against enslaved men. Scholars have extensively documented the widespread sexual exploitation and abuse suffered by enslaved women, with comparatively little attention paid to the stories of men. However, a careful reading of extant sources reveals that sexual assault of enslaved men also occurred systematically and in a wide variety of forms, including physical assault, sexual coercion, and other intimate violations.

To tell the story of men such as Rufus—who was coerced into a sexual union with an enslaved woman, Rose, whose resistance of this union is widely celebrated—historian Thomas A. Foster interrogates a range of sources on slavery: early American newspapers, court records, enslavers’ journals, abolitionist literature, the testimony of formerly enslaved people collected in autobiographies and in interviews, and various forms of artistic representation. Foster’s sustained examination of how black men were sexually violated by both white men and white women makes an important contribution to our understanding of masculinity, sexuality, the lived experience of enslaved men, and the general power dynamics fostered by the institution of slavery. Rethinking Rufus illuminates how the conditions of slavery gave rise to a variety of forms of sexual assault and exploitation that affected all members of the community.

Foster’s work is a monumental contribution to history, Africana studies, gender studies, and black male studies that forces us to ask not how but why generations of scholars did not account for, or theorize, the evidence of black male sexual victimization across the centuries despite many being well known.

—Tommy J. Curry, author of The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood

Rethinking Rufus is a game-changer. Thomas A. Foster takes an oft-cited historical source and helps us see it, and the history of gender and sexuality in slavery, with new eyes. Foster's sensitive and inventive interpretations of the history of the sexual abuse of enslaved men provides new ways to investigate and understand these difficult and important histories.

—Leslie M. Harris, coeditor of Sexuality and Slavery: Reclaiming Intimate Histories in the Americas

Rethinking Rufus illuminates new dimensions of how sexual violence operated during slavery by incorporating the perspectives of Black men. . . . Foster’s gendered analysis of sexual violence opens up new avenues for further research on the interrelatedness between masculinity, reproduction, and slave labor. Rethinking Rufus is a great contribution to the fields of Early American History, Gender Studies, and African American Studies.

—Kevin C. Quinn, Black Perspectives

Foster offers a compelling contextualization of the myriad ways enslaved men also experienced sexualized violation.... [His] exploration offers new avenues of further gendered study and augments the history of US slavery as an inherently and completely abusive enterprise rooted in white self-interest and inhumanity.

—E. R. Crowther, CHOICE

Rethinking Rufus is the first book-length study to focus on enslaved men’s experiences of sexual violence and violation. As such it is a major contribution to the literature on both American slavery and the history of sexuality and will be essential reading for students and scholars alike.


Rethinking Rufus is a well-written, meticulously researched, paradigm-shifting book. It is essential reading for anyone in search of a more complete understanding of how people of African descent, particularly men, experienced enslavement in the Americas.

—Journal of the Civil War Era

From the outset of this provocative book, Thomas A. Foster forces a historical reckoning. . . . Rethinking Rufus deserves a wide readership. Readers will appreciate Foster's reframing of historical narratives, his use of multiple kinds of evidence, and his concise prose style. Its findings broaden understandings of sexual abuse among the enslaved and will undoubtedly stir future research in the history of sexuality in America.

—Thomas Balcerski, Journal of American History

Foster deftly handles the complexity of sexual violence. . . . [Rethinking Rufus] expands our understanding of the brutalities of slavery and opens up new avenues for further study.

—Libra Hilde, Journal of Southern History

Anyone who has read Saidiya Hartman, Sasha Turner, Ramey Berry, Martha Hodes, Tera Hunter, Jennifer Morgan, and Stephanie Camp would find the book to be useful. Some non-academics would also find Rethinking Rufus to be accessible and interesting. It covers challenging subject matter, but Foster handles it well as he pushes his readers to rethink much of what they know about sex and slavery. Rethinking Rufus is one of the more engaging books that I have recently read, and I highly recommend it.

—Antwain K. Hunter, Journal of the Early Republic

The publication of Rethinking Rufus is a watershed moment in the study of Black masculinity as well as an important addition to the scholarship on race, gender, and slavery.

—Thomas Blakeslee, The Journal of African American History

About the Author/Editor

THOMAS A. FOSTER is an associate dean for faculty affairs and a history professor at Howard University. He is the author of Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in America and Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past.