This week, fan-favorite actor Evan Peters finally made his Season 6 debut on American Horror Story in a way that no one could have predicted. No, Evan was neither the gross Piggy Man, nor one of the producers working behind the scenes on the documentary. Instead, Peters appeared as Edward Philippe Mott, an 18th century slave owner who built the house where Shelby and Matt were terrorised by the Roanoke Colony.
Despite the brevity of his appearance, Mott's outlandish nature marked him out as one of the most memorable characters to appear on My Roanoke Nightmare yet. Between Edward's eccentric obsession with art to his unconventional love for a male slave, it's easy to see how the aristocrat's lineage ultimately led to the birth of Freak Show's unbalanced serial killer, Dandy Mott.
Check out just how crazy Dandy was in this clip below:
Evans's character has proved to be more benevolent than his psychotic descendant though, as he's the one who ultimately helped Shelby and Matt escape their haunted house through the use of hidden tunnels. However, that doesn't mean Edward was a good person. He might be no Madame LaLaurie, but he did lock his slaves in a cellar, leaving them to starve to death (and, y'know, he had slaves in the first place).
The most horrifying thing about Edward's character, though, is that many of his actions not only occurred in real life, but were in fact commonplace back in 18th century America.
Slave Owners Abused Their Slaves In Horrific Ways
While little time was spent exploring Edward Mott's relationship with the slaves on the show, starvation and shackles weren't the only ways that slave owners would abuse their laborers in real life. The horrifying ordeals slaves had to endure included:
- Salt poured into wounds
It's no wonder then that slaves like American Horror Story's Guinness would engage in quasi-consensual relationships with their masters to try and avoid such tortures.
Sexual Exploitation Occurred On Many Levels
White male plantation owners often raped the black women that they held power over (considering the women to be 'their property'), sometimes with other family members too. Men were also abused on occasion by white women in the antebellum south; although this was far less common, as "a mixed child in a white household violated threatened the whole slave system". Without fear of punishment, sexual assault of slaves occurred for a number of reasons, including lust, to establish dominance and sometimes as a form of punishment too.
Evan's character isn't shown to rape any of his slaves in an overt way, but the relationship that develops between Mott and Guinness is a more complicated form of assault that's arguably far more disturbing, as it makes the slave implicit in the act. As mentioned above, it isn't unheard of for slaves to actively court these relationships, to lessen the burdens placed upon them by the 'masters'. As Floyd James Davis describes in his book Who Is Black?:
Slave girls often courted a sexual relationship between with the master, or another male in the family, as a way of gaining distinction among slaves, avoiding field work, obtaining special jobs and other favored treatment for their mixed children.
More than that these sexual contracts came in many different forms, including:
Prostitution, adventure, concubinage, and sometimes love. In rare instances [...] there was even marriage. Yet there is little doubt that at the height of the plantation era much of the miscegenation was marked by [...] exploitation.
In reality, many slaves like Guinness would make the best of these awful situations by engaging in quasi-consensual relationships to resist and subvert their exploiters' power, all while actively seeking ways to survive.
Did These Quasi-Consensual Relationships Ever Form Between Same-Sex Masters And Slaves?
Edward Philippe Mott is surprisingly open about his relationship with Guinness on American Horror Story, passionately kissing his slave in public while others look on in shock. However, in reality, it was far more common for these relationships to form openly between masters and slaves of the opposite sex. That's not to say that same-sex connections didn't occur though.
The very fact that historical records confirm this is astonishing considering how hostile people were about the idea of same-sex activity back in the 1700s and 1800s. A number of slave narratives, including Harriet Jacobs' 'Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl', refer to exploitative same-sex activity. The infamous plantation owner Thomas Thistlewood even discussed the sodomy committed against male slaves by another owner explicitly in his writings.
Check out more of the real-life serial killers who inspired American Horror Story in this video below:
Sexual abuse was a common occurrence within the institution of slavery, and while most assaults were committed by men against women, this disturbing dynamic of power still took place within both same-sex contexts and even with women against men.
- American Horror Story Season 6: The True Story Behind Those Evil Nurses
- Why We Could See Lady Gaga's Countess Reappear In 'American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare'
- 'American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare' — What Will The Season 6 Twist Be?
Whether you try and argue that Mott was simply a product of the time and whether he really did have feelings for Guinness, the manipulative nature of their relationship holds far more disturbing implications which were unfortunately all too common in the 1700s and 1800s. Even if Guinness does appear to be enjoying the relationship within the limited view we're given, such an arrangement is inherently exploitative by its very nature, regardless of the slaves' limited agency in the matter.
Edward Philippe Mott's story was certainly based in real-life events surrounding 18th century slave owners, but in reality, the horrors that slaves suffered in real life are arguably far more terrifying than anything depicted in American Horror Story.