"The Prevention of That Abominable Mixture and Spurious Issue": Continuity in the Prosecution of Miscegenation in Virginian Laws and Court Decisions, 1630-1691

  • Steven Lilley

Abstract

In the historical debate over the legitimation of Virginian black slavery in the seventeenth century, some historians argue that the legal prosecution of interracial sexual relations was a calculated effort to institute slavery. Conversely, others assert that lawmakers and law enforcers did not actively discourage interracial sex until they enacted legislation that explicitly forbade miscegenation in the 1660s and again in the 1690s. However, an examination of Virginian laws and court decisions regarding fornication from 1630 to 1691 reveals a different story. Colonial authorities inherited a revulsion towards miscegenation from the English intellectual and religious tradition, and they used three different legal methods to prevent sex between blacks and whites. Before they introduced legislation that explicitly sought to punish whites for miscegenation in the 1660s and 1690s, the secular authorities of the 1630s and 1640s resorted to enforcing moral laws originally meant for the Church courts, and they then introduced general laws against fornication that were disproportionately applied to cases of pre-marital sexual intercourse involving blacks. While the methods of sexually segregating white and black colonists changed over the course of the seventeenth century, the desire to prevent miscegenation was always present in the minds of colonial officials in this era.