The Empire Comes Home: Thomas Law’s Mixed-Race Family in the Early American Republic

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, Chapter, History, Media Archive, United States on 2017-11-15 17:00Z by Steven

The Empire Comes Home: Thomas Law’s Mixed-Race Family in the Early American Republic

Chapter in: India in the American Imaginary, 1780s–1880s
Palgrave Macmillan
pages 75-108
Published online 2017-11-11
Online ISBN: 978-3-319-62334-4
Print ISBN: 978-3-319-62333-7
DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-62334-4_3

Rosemarie Zagarri, Professor of History
George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia

Thomas Law was a high-ranking administrator with the British East India Company. In 1791, he left India, bringing with him his three illegitimate sons, born of his native concubine, or bibi. After a brief stay in London, he sought a more congenial environment in which to raise his mixed-raise children, In 1794, he, along with his sons, moved to the young United States where he became a key figure in early Washington, DC society. This essay examines the fate of Law’s mixed race sons. Although their high social class tended to mitigate racial prejudice, racial animosity surfaced at key moments in their lives. Like British India, the early American republic was experiencing a hardening of racial boundaries during the early decades of the nineteenth century.

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Children of Empire: The Fate of Mixed-Race Individuals in British India, the Caribbean, and the Early American Republic

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Caribbean/Latin America, Forthcoming Media, History, Live Events, Native Americans/First Nation, Papers/Presentations, United States, Virginia on 2012-11-21 01:35Z by Steven

Children of Empire: The Fate of Mixed-Race Individuals in British India, the Caribbean, and the Early American Republic

127th Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association
New Orleans, Louisiana
2013-01-03 through 2013-01-06

AHA Session 105: North American Conference on British Studies
Friday, 2013-01-04, 10:30-12:00 CST (Local Time)
Chamber Ballroom III (Roosevelt New Orleans)

Chair: Kathleen Wilson, Stony Brook University


Comment: Kathleen Wilson, Stony Brook University

This session will examine the fate of mixed-race individuals in selected places in the English-speaking world from approximately 1775 through 1820. Royce Gildersleeve’s paper focuses on the Virginia government’s efforts to dispossess a group of Gingaskin Indians from their traditional lands on the Eastern Shore. Over time, intermarriage between free black people and the native population had altered the appearance of tribal members. By 1812, the Virginia government maintained that the community was no longer inhabited by Indians but by African Americans who did not deserve title to the land. Daniel Livesay investigates the stories of mixed-race individuals from Jamaica who moved first to Britain and then to British India in an effort to improve their social and economic status. Focusing on the story of three families of color, Livesay explores how British imperialism allowed mixed-race individuals to forge new identities in a new place, but also shows how the hardening of racial ideologies ultimately foreclosed some of the most promising avenues of advancement. Rosemarie Zagarri explores the effects of a migration that proceeded in the opposite direction. Thomas Law, a high-ranking British East India Company official, brought his three illegitimate children, born of an Indian concubine, first to England and then to the young United States. Law hoped that this move would allow his Eurasian children to escape India’s increasingly hostile environment for mixed-race children and secure his sons’ future in what he believed to be a land of unbounded opportunity. Kathleen Wilson, an eminent scholar of the “new” imperial history of Britain, is an ideal commentator for the session.

By focusing on a small group of individuals from a wide geographic expanse, scholars on this panel will directly address the 2013 convention theme, “Lives, Places, Stories.” By concentrating on mixed-race peoples, the panel will complicate our understanding of racial regimes that have been seen in terms of binary oppositions, such black and white, native American and white, Anglo and Indian. The panel will also provide an opportunity for the study of comparative imperialisms. Despite their common British origins, British India, the Caribbean, and the early American republic are seldom examined with reference to one another. Given the relatively flexible character of racial ideology in the mid-eighteenth century, mixed-race individuals from these places could often exploit the ambiguities of their descent to their own advantage. Yet in both British India and the early American republic, the rise of scientific forms of racial ideology in the early nineteenth century diminished their room to maneuver. White Europeans and Americans came to define “race” less in terms of a society’s degree of civilization and economic affluence and more in terms of its members’ skin color and physical characteristics. Nonetheless, the application of these ideas was highly contextual and differed from place to place. By juxtaposing the fate of individuals of mixed-race origins in a variety of English-speaking contexts, this panel will provide new insights into the development of racial identity and the ways in which different imperial regimes imposed shared racial ideologies.

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