Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Obama Grandson of First American Slave Sheds Light on Colonial American's Interracial Sexual & Marriage Practices

Some interesting news on the genealogy front and President Obama. See Genealogists Say Obama Likely A Descendant Of First American Slave.

The article goes on to say that the John Punch fathered a children with a white woman way that passed on her freedom to the kids. Thus from this we have Obama's maternal line.

People are shocked often but in this time period of indentured servitude this was not uncommon. Interracial sexual relations are not often what people think at this time and far more complicated than is assumed today

We see in this time period a time where we had quite transitioned from a society with slaves to a slave society. In fact contrary to what people assume when looking at the records it was not a white male and black female that came together but a white females and often a black male with also native American bloodlines thrown in. This again was not uncommon.

I starting observing this when trying to track down ancestors in North Carolina. I quickly observed that  a good many of the people with the last name I was trying to track down were of mixed racial backgrounds and were not slaves. From my research the overriding concern of the authorities in this region was not so much race but class.

Going from a society with slaves to a slave society changed all that of course. To maintain the economic power of slavery colonial governments started forbidding interracial marriage. Something foreign to the common law right of marriage.Dr Beckwith talked about this dynamic at  Interracial Marriage and Same-Sex Marriage.

There are two good resources on this that people might find interesting. I cannot recommend enough Heinegg's Free African American genealogy site that has done extensive research on this and traced a good many of the family lines.

As Berlin notes in the forward:
...Heinegg's studies of free black families bear with particular force on the period when the South was a society-with-slaves. During those years--prior to the advent of the staple producing plantation, tobacco in the Chesapeake and rice in the Carolinas-- the line between freedom and slavery was extraordinarily permeable. Various peoples of European, African, and Native American descent crossed it freely and often. In such socially ill-defined circumstances, white men and women held black and Indian slaves and white servants, and black men and women did like. Peoples of European, African and Native American descent--both free and unfree--worked, played, and even married openly in a manner that would later be condemned by custom and prohibited by law.

Such open relations have long been known to students of the colonial past, but Heinegg's genealogies--by the weight of their number and by their extraordinary detail--make evident their full complexity and expose their extraordinary intimacy. Everywhere whites, blacks, and Indians united in both long-term and casual sexual relations, some coerced and some freely entered. That mixing took place at the top of the social order, where white men of property and standing forced themselves on unwilling servant and slave women, often producing children of mixed racial origins. But Heinegg maintains such relationships produced a scant one percent of the free children of color. Inter-racial sex was far more prevalent at the base of colonial society, where poor and often unfree peoples--mostly slaves and servants of various derivations -lived and worked under common conditions. Indeed, as Heinegg demonstrates, most free people of color had their beginnings in relations between white women (servant and free) and black men (slave, servant, and free). These relations, moreover, often represented long-term and loving commitments. It was precisely the lowly origins of free people of color--outside the ranks of the propertied classes--that condemned free people of color to poverty and excluded them from "respectable" society in the colonial South. The poverty of their parents--particularly their black fathers--denied free children of color the patrimony and the allied connections necessary for social advancement.

Such egalitarian intermingling ended with the advent of the plantation. Legal proscriptions on sexual relations between white and black, particularly between white women and black men accompanied the transformation of the colonial South from a society-with-slaves into a slave society. As Heinegg observes, with the prohibition on inter-racial sexual unions, mixed race children became illegitimate by definition and could be bound out for upwards of thirty years. Their mothers, if servants, received additional terms of servitude. During their captivity, the term of service of both mother and child could be extended for any one of a number of offenses. As a result, free people of color spent a large portion of their lives in the service of others. "In some instances," as Heinegg concludes, "the indenture laws virtually enslaved a person for life."

I have never quite understood why so few couplings of white males and black females happened. Again it 's perhaps a class issue. It would seem that in a society with perhaps more men than women the oppiste would have happened. However his research indicates the polar opposite.

Another great resource is a publication that is put out by the National Parks Service. A Study of Africans and African Americans on Jamestown Island and at Green Spring, 1619 - 1803.  That gives a lot of background to this and again shows how an transition to a slave society changed everything.


The Underground Pewster said...

Grandma would never say where our brown eyes came from...

James H said...

Its alwasy fun to go back in the family tree!! One never knows the suprises