Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic

By Heather Miyano Kopelson | Go to book overview

9
“Abominable mixture and spurious issue”

In 1691, Virginia passed a law that has become a benchmark in the history of race, sex, and law. Aimed at preventing the “abominable mixture and spurious issue which hereafter may encrease in this dominion, as well by negroes, mulattoes, and Indians intermarrying with English, or other white woman, as by their unlawfull accompanying with one another,” it decreed exile for “whatsoever English or other white man or woman being free shall intermarry with a negro, mulatto, or Indian man or woman bond or free.” Another act from the same session mandated a prohibitive £15 sterling fine for “any English woman being free” who had “a bastard child by any negro or mulatto”; if she were indentured, then her term would be extended by five years. By making interracial marriage extremely unattractive, the first law basically ensured that any children born to an interracial couple would be illegitimate, which was only a concern for legislators in the case of a white mother. They wanted to retain control over children of color whose mothers were white and therefore would not pass on an enslaved status, a lack of inheritance that would blur what legislators wanted to keep as a sharp color line between free and enslaved.1 However, while Virginia’s law was indeed significant and many English colonies borrowed or mirrored Virginia’s language, Bermuda’s situation cannot be extrapolated from the language in Virginia’s act.2 In addition, scholars have attributed a more immediately categorical racialist attitude to “abominable mixture” than is fully warranted.

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