Friday, August 23, 2013

A door to the past...

I was surprised to learn that one of my ancestors petitioned against the ban on interracial marriage before 1700.  It was known, but not spoken of, that many men had "kept" women of color for mistresses.  A person of color could mean of African descent or Indian.  One statistic said only 1% of white men and black women cohabitated, but others thought it more common.  Some were adulterous, while others were marriages just not recognized by law.  John Rolfe had successfully petitioned to be allowed to marry Pocahontas.  The colony and the representatives of the church agreed as long as she was baptized as a Christian.

It was fairly well known, thanks to the political press, that Thomas Jefferson had a marital relationship with his slave Sally Hemings.  When his first wife died, she had him promise to never marry again.  His wife's father had children from a white woman as well as children from a black woman. Mrs. Jefferson's slave Sally Heming was her half-sister.  When Mr. Jefferson went to France, Sally joined him there as a companion for his daughter.  There was no slavery in France; they were much more color-blind on the continent.  It was there that they began their relationship.  Recent DNA investigations have proved that the Heming's and Jefferson's descendants shared the same bloodline.  Having just visited Monticello, we were shown a strange room overhead above Jefferson's bedroom.  They were hesitant to give an explanation for its use.  It actually was Sally Heming's bedroom with access to his private quarters.  It was illegal for them to marry.  According to the book I read, if he freed her, she would have had to leave the state of Virginia because free blacks were no longer allowed there.  He kept her his slave, his "wife," and made his firstborn promise to free her upon his death.  The family petitioned the delicate situation to allow her to be able to stay adjoining the Monticello property.  Sally was never forced to move away.  She was the mistress of Monticello, as much a "wife" as the law would allow our President.

Thomas Jefferson had included a provision in the first Constitution to allow slaves freedom, but it would not pass with all thirteen colonies.  Benjamin Franklin and others urged him to remove it in order to keep the colonies united in their fight for independence.  However, that gives us a glimpse of Jefferson's thinking.  Sally could not accompany Jefferson to Washington, but waited for him at home raising their many offspring.

One of Jefferson's best friends, a man who passed on his library to Jefferson, was poisoned by his own next of kin who was jealous of the man's slave "wife" and son.  The man died slowly enough to write this nephew out of his will, but his much loved mulatto son died along with him. Only his "wife" survived the poisoning.  The murderer was acquitted as she, a slave,  was not allowed to testify against him that she saw him put something in the pot. It created quite a stir in the papers as her man was someone highly respected in the state affairs.

So it was with interest that I read of a relative, George Ivie of Norfolk County, a plantation owner, who petitioned the Assembly against the passage of the law against racial intermarriage in 1699.  It is thought he petitioned on behalf of another member of the Ivie (Ivy) family.  I always assumed that the dark skin of my great grandmother was due to some Hispanic blood down in Texas, but rather it is probably North Carolina Lumbee Indians, Tuscaroras Indian (a branch of the Iroquois) with a little mulatto mixed in.  Sometimes their descendants were listed as white and sometimes as mulatto. They fought in the Revolutionary War as well as in the Civil War.

All the pictures are from Monticello, Jefferson's home.
Sally and Thomas Jefferson had to buried apart, not even equal in death.
  "Dark I am, yet lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem,
dark like the tents of Kedar, like the tent curtains of Solomon. 
Do not stare at me because I am dark, because I am darkened by the sun..
.How beautiful you are, my darling!  Oh, how beautiful!"
Song of Solomon 1:5-6, 15

To be continued...


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