This Day (Spurious Issue Edition)

Published:April 4, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1691, the General Assembly passed “An act for suppressing outlying slaves,” which granted county sheriffs, their deputies, and any other “lawfull authority” the ability to kill any slave resisting, running away, or refusing to surrender himself when so ordered. For each slave killed in this manner, owners would collect 4,000 pounds of tobacco from the colonial government.

The legislation was in response to an alleged conspiracy of slaves on the Northern Neck, but it’s most famous not for its effort to prevent insurrection but for its effort to prevent something else, namely the “abominable mixture and spurious issue” of mixed-race unions by prohibiting English men or women from marrying any “negroe, mulatto, or Indian man or woman bond or free.”

This was not the first time the assembly had concerned itself with “ffornication” and “secret Marriages,” but now the issue (no pun intended, really) had turned explicitly racial and would remain so right up until the Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia (1967).

NOTE: This blog post originally appeared yesterday, April 3, 2012, but due to a server error was lost. This is a republication.

IMAGE: Emancipated Slaves, White and Colored (Harper’s Weekly, January 30, 1864)