Slaveowners accused of buggery or incest with slaves?

Mar 2015
781
Europe
#1
While recognition of Negro slaves as permanent slaves, lifetime and hereditary, in contrast with the white indentured servants entitled to freedom at the end of indenture was a new invention of American and West Indian plantations, absent in Britain, the Negro slaves were basically servants.

English common law gave masters extensive powers over servants.

But this did NOT make it a private matter what services master got in bed!

In the first English overseas colony, namely Ireland, in a matter of ten years, two masters of highest class were executed for buggery with their servants. An earl - one of under 50 in whole Britain and none in America, namely that of Castlehaven in 1631 (he got the honour of beheading). And a bishop, one of about 70 in whole Britain and again none in America, namely that of Waterford in 1640 (he was hanged). In both cases, the servant also was hanged for obeying.

Was a Negro a man or not? But several people were hanged in New England in bestiality, and in those cases the beasts also were executed. So no precedent to spare a master - whether the Negro counted as a man or a beast, buggery was sodomy either way, and if an earl and a bishop were not too high to be condemned to die for buggery then a planter and a slaveowner were not as high.

Were there any precedents in American colonies, West Indies or United States of a slaveowner prosecuted on accusation of buggery with a slave, whether or not resulting in a conviction?

Also, were any slaveowners ever accused of incest?
Considering the number of obviously mulatto bastards borne by a number of slave women, a slaveowner might be plausibly suspected of incest with his bastard mulatto daughter, or even more often with his (alleged) mulatto bastard half-sister. Did such suspicions ever result in legal proceedings to answer? If a master was not legally allowed to mate with his beast, nor with his manservant, was mating with his alleged daughter or sister a grounds for action?
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
5,678
#2
There was a lot of involvement with daughters, half-sisters and so on, but it wasn't considered incest because white parenthood of slaves was not legally recognized. There was probably involvement of slaveowners, their families, and overseers with young men and boys, but it hasn't been much discussed. I don't know of any cases of sodomy that were brought. It would be hard to prove since slaves could not testify against whites. I don't know if there were many cases of sodomy prosecuted in the south before the Civil War.
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
5,678
#4
But animals could not testify against people either, yet several people did get convicted.
Bestiality generally occured out doors. Witnesses to anal intercourse were usually required to prove sodomy. Something might occur in a locked bedroom. The only people in the house would be family and slaves, and maybe relatives and employees or contractors. It might be hard to get the county prosecutor to file charges.

I don't know if there were any cases of this or any contemporary writings on it. "Diary of a Slave Girl" discusses her own experience and talks of how husbands and wives would argue over his involvement with slave women in front of their children, and gives other information on the prevalence of it, and the pressures on slave women to participate in it. She also discussed involvement of slave men with women who owned them or their husband or father did. However, she does not discuss homosexuality.

It is an interesting question whether their is any contempary discussion of homosexual involvement of slave owners with slaves much less any prosecution for it.
 
Oct 2018
1,209
Adelaide south Australia
#5
In the US census, slaves were counted as 4/5 of a person . The question of their basic humanity was an odd one. Although considered chattel just like say a cow or a pig, they were recognised as humans having a soul. Slaves were taught Christianity, a very good thing for slave owners. Those enlightened examples of humanity misused the Bible to justify slavery, by claiming black slaves were the children of Ham. There is also the apocryphal story of white pastors telling slaves that to escape was a sin, because they were committing 'theft of self". Sounds about right.

As to sexual behaviour; given the power of the slave owner, I'd be willing to bet that any sexual act conceivable would have occurred, to some degree, and at a possibly higher degree than in 'normal society'.But that's pure speculation.

What got me thinking about this question was the behaviour of the founding father , Thomas Jefferson. He had a long relationship with his slave Sally Hemmings, and had several children with her. sally and all of their children remained slaves for Jefferson's life time.I understand that the children were freed in Jefferson's will, at their mother's urging--And THIS was one of the founders of the USA, supposedly a paragon.I can't help but wonder about the behaviour of slave owners at their worst. Some human beings will commit evil acts just because they can. The slave owner could literally get away with murder.
 
Mar 2015
781
Europe
#6
She also discussed involvement of slave men with women who owned them or their husband or father did. However, she does not discuss homosexuality.
Buggery between free white people was expressly criminal and capital back in Britain. Lesbianism was not even expressly illegal. Presumably lesbianism between owners and slaves also happened, but was not particularly illegal.
 
Sep 2012
930
Spring, Texas
#7
There is an alternate side to the Sally Hemmings story. Thomas Jefferson had a brother that used to sow seed among Thomas's Slave women. These two Jefferson brothers would have the same "Y" Chromosome. Sally was also Jefferson's wife's half sister and resembled her a lot.

Pruitt
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
5,678
#8
Buggery between free white people was expressly criminal and capital back in Britain. Lesbianism was not even expressly illegal. Presumably lesbianism between owners and slaves also happened, but was not particularly illegal.
There were not many prosecutions for sodomy in Britain. The last executions for it were in the 1820s in a case where there were many witnesses to the act. Felonies were technically capital offenses in Britain until about that time. The usual punishment was working on plantations in what became the US south and later being sent to Australia. Sodomy when actually prosecuted may have been treated similarly to rape or child molestation and have been more likely to result in execution than ordinary property crimes. About the same time in the US, the death penalty was eliminated for most crimes.

The book I referenced mentioned the involvement of upper middle class white women with their male slaves. Probably lesbian relationships went on a lot, perhaps with the young attractive light house slaves favored by the masters. They would be more acceptable to the husband than relationships with men and young women from that background were supposed to remain virgins, and that wouldn't be noticed. However, I don't know if there is any record of that sort of thing.

Statutory rape (child molestation) was also a capital crime, but again I don't know if there is any record of any slave owner being prosecuted for doing that with slave girls. Not sure if that would even have been considered a crime.
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
5,678
#9
Also, to the OP from Europe, slaves were not viewed as servants. That totally overstates there position and rights. Actually, most slaves had the role of peasants, but some were used as house servants. A few elite were assistant overseers or skilled workers. However, slaves were property and did not have the rights of peasants or servants in Europe.

Indentured servants were called servants, but most did not work as servants. They were used for similar tasks as slaves, but they were less likely to be made farm workers. Most of them had been sentenced or had their sentences commuted to 7 or 14 years hard labor on plantations.

Slave were counted as 3/5 of a person, not 4/5 as stated above, according the Constitution. This was a compromise. The slave owning states wanted them counted as whole people, but of course they couldn't vote.
 
Jan 2019
19
US
#10
I've read accounts (which, for the life of me, I can't find in my library now) about slaves accusing visitors to their master's plantation of sexual misconduct. In cases where a mixed-race child was born as a result, their accusations were taken seriously, but I don't believe that any legal action was taken in the cases I read, although the plantation owner would consider it a serious infringement on his property and possibly a crime. As you note, slaves could not testify against whites, so unless there were white witnesses, chances were slim that a case would make it to court. But I imagine that whites would be hesitant to testify against one another on those counts, even if they had a solid basis for an accusation.

Illicit interracial relations of many different natures were more common among the Southern plantation class than most assume. The taboo nature of such relationships combined with widespread practice meant that sexual crimes often went unreported and were usually ignored if they were suspected (how can you accuse your neighbor of something like "buggery" or incest when you yourself or one of your friends likely has a black mistress?) Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemmings is the iconic example of a secret but whispered-about slave/master relationship, although her circumstances were very different from most.