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

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2010-02-04 22:23Z by Steven

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

William and Mary Quarterly
Volume LX, Number 1 (January 2003)
Reviews of Books

Richard Godbeer, Professor of History
University of Miami

Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina. By Kirsten Fischer. (Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002. Pp. xiv, 265.)

Kirsten Fischer’s compelling new book explores the interplay between sexual relations and racial attitudes in colonial North Carolina. In common with other recent scholars, Fischer sees evolving conceptions of race, sex, gender, and social status as closely intertwined in the early South. Unlike those who argue for a shift in emphasis from gender or class to race, Fischer stresses instead “the continual contestation, reassertion, and reconfiguration” of these categories as “assumptions of gender, race, and class difference propped each other up in the developing social hierarchy” (p. 5). Fischer identifies a gradual movement away from somewhat fluid notions of race toward an ideology in which racial difference figured as permanent and inherent. Sexual regulation played a crucial role in official attempts to affirm and police racial boundaries in southern society. This in turn “made race seem as corporeal as sex” and so “bolstered the notion that race was a physical fact” (pp. 10-11).

In colonial society, the establishment of slavery and racial subordination required careful regulation of European as well as African residents and especially of white women. Legislation that prohibited marriage between servants, outlawed interracial sex, and prescribed lengthy apprenticeships for the mixed-race children of white women made marriage and sex integral to the imposition of racial as well as class and gender ideologies. Yet sexual unions in North Carolina embodied the contestedness of racial relations in the early South: as “men and women made personal choices based on many contingencies, of which racial or ethnic identity was only one” (p. 7), they often challenged emerging proscriptive codes. The widespread incidence of unauthorized unions bespoke the resilience of alternative popular codes and the willingness of ordinary colonists, women and men, to ignore or self-consciously resist official norms….

Read the entire review here.

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

Posted in Books, History, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2009-11-13 03:44Z by Steven

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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