Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina

Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina

Cornell University Press
288 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4, 2 maps, 13 halftones, 1 line drawing
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8014-8679-1
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8014-3822-6

Kirsten Fischer, Associate Professor of History
University of Minnesota

Over the course of the eighteenth century, race came to seem as corporeal as sex. Kirsten Fischer has mined unpublished court records and travel literature from colonial North Carolina to reveal how early notions of racial difference were shaped by illicit sexual relationships and the sanctions imposed on those who conducted them. Fischer shows how the personal–and yet often very public–sexual lives of Native American, African American, and European American women and men contributed to the new racial order in this developing slave society.

Liaisons between European men and native women, among white and black servants, and between servants and masters, as well as sexual slander among whites and acts of sexualized violence against slaves, were debated, denied, and recorded in the courtrooms of colonial North Carolina. Indentured servants, slaves, Cherokee and Catawba women, and other members of less privileged groups sometimes resisted colonial norms, making sexual choices that irritated neighbors, juries, and magistrates and resulted in legal penalties and other acts of retribution. The sexual practices of ordinary people vividly bring to light the little-known but significant ways in which notions of racial difference were alternately contested and affirmed before the American Revolution.

Fischer makes an innovative contribution to the history of race, class, and gender in early America by uncovering a detailed record of illicit sexual exchanges in colonial North Carolina and showing how acts of resistance to sexual rules complicated ideas about inherent racial difference.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Changing Conceptions of Race
1. Disorderly Women and the Struggle for Authority
2. Cross-Cultural Sex in Native North Carolina
3. The Sexual Regulation of Servant Women and Subcultures of Resistance
4. White Reputations “Blacken’d & Made Loose”
5. Sexualized Violence and the Embodiment of Race
Epilogue: Dangerous Liaisons

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