"Notorious in the Neighborhood": Interracial Sex and Interracial Families in Early National and Antebellum Virginia

Rothman, Joshua D., Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Ayers, Edward, Department of History, University of Virginia
Onuf, Peter, Department of History, University of Virginia

Laws and social disapprobation in Virginia before the Civil War militated against sex across the color line, yet interracial sex abounded in plantation, town. and urban communities throughout the state. This dissertation studies that interracial sex. in early national and antebellum Virginia. It examines diverse kinds of interracial sexual relationships by reconstructing some of the social and economic networks of local communities. It explores how legal and judicial authorities in the state capital resolved cases involving illicit sex that required their intervention. Finally, it looks at how persons of ambiguous racial appearance produced by interracial sex exposed the complexities and contradictions of racial hierarchy in the state. Under most circumstances, even if they never approved of it, local white communities routinely accommodated all sorts of interracial sexual behavior in their midst. White Virginians gossiped behind closed doors about the sex lives of their neighbors far more than they ever complained about them to public officials. Moreover, when public grievances did emerge, expressed outrage at the crossing of racial boundaries often only thinly veiled the personal or economic discord between two or more individuals that really lay at the heart of the matter. Similarly, state authorities in Richmond demonstrated that maintaining strict boundaries between blacks and whites was just one priority among many when determining their courses of action toward sexual criminals. Depending on the nature of the case. a state official might have to evaluate the ramifications of his decision not only upon the racial order but also on slavery, gender roles, class hierarchies, property rights, criminal justice and the white family. Interracial sex provoked issues that touched on nearly every significant component of Virginia society. Keeping society in balance rather than enforcing draconian implementation of the law, dictated the strategy of governing officials when they confronted such potentially explosive matters. Investigating the gamut of interracial sexual connections and holding them together with and against one another demonstrates how these connections both supported and undermined racism and slavery in the early national and antebellum South.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Miscegenation -- Virginia -- History, Racially mixed people -- Virginia, Virginia -- Race relations

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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