Slaveowners accused of buggery or incest with slaves?

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,051
#11
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.
There is no evidence that Jefferson used force on Sally Henning, although it was still wrong because she was a servant under Jefferson's control. It would have been wrong with an ordinary servant too, not just a slave.

Buggery no doubt would have been regarded as wrong, not because of it being a slave, but because buggery itself was wrong, just as bestiality was wrong. I doubt it was for just concern for the animal that was the reason for banning it.

Proving it would have been difficult, thoufh, Andrew I doubt many Master's guilty of it were ever cost or punished.


and while in Europe with Jefferson, Sally could have escaped, but probably did
 
Jan 2019
19
US
#12
@Bart Dale

Yeah, the Sally Hemings affair was way more complicated than most give it credit for. Most Blessed of Patriarchs states that while in France Jefferson acknowledged the change in the position of the slaves he brought with him by paying them wages. Maybe this was merely to make them less likely to remain in France when Jefferson left. Or perhaps he really was acknowledging the fact that their service as free men and women changed the nature of their servitude. This latter supposition is supported by the fact that when they all returned to America, Jefferson continued to pay them wages. The Hemings siblings themselves could easily have stayed behind in France, a possibility which they definitely considered. In fact, Sally Hemings was proven to be fully aware of the liberties she was capable of exercising in her new position when she negotiated the terms on which she would return to America with Jefferson. One of those terms was that the children that Jefferson fathered would be freed once they reached adulthood.
 
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betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
5,678
#13
Interesting Jefferson brought slaves to France. He could have hired servants and could have had affairs and mistresses. I wonder how the French reacted to that. I guess slavery was sort of accepted then, and it wouldn't offend the aristocracy. It might even reassure them that this was not some dangerous radical government. He left just before the beginning of the French Revolution.
 
Oct 2018
1,209
Adelaide south Australia
#14
Interesting Jefferson brought slaves to France. He could have hired servants and could have had affairs and mistresses. I wonder how the French reacted to that. I guess slavery was sort of accepted then, and it wouldn't offend the aristocracy. It might even reassure them that this was not some dangerous radical government. He left just before the beginning of the French Revolution.

I would have thought the French would have felt threatened by the newly minted USA .After all, they had rebelled agains their king, and won. I think you may be right, that Jefferson having slaves, may have reassured them that he was 'sound'

Didn't the US support the French Revolution? Wouldn't that mindset have been known by the French government well before the Revolution?
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
5,678
#15
I would have thought the French would have felt threatened by the newly minted USA .After all, they had rebelled agains their king, and won. I think you may be right, that Jefferson having slaves, may have reassured them that he was 'sound'

Didn't the US support the French Revolution? Wouldn't that mindset have been known by the French government well before the Revolution?
The US did not support the French Revolution. The Democratic Republicans tended to be sympathetic to France and the Federalists to Britain. The US was engaged in naval war with France 1798-1800 and war with Britain 1812-1815. However, the French Revolution was over by then and the US was not involved during the revolutionary period 1789-1794.
 
Oct 2018
1,209
Adelaide south Australia
#16
The US did not support the French Revolution. The Democratic Republicans tended to be sympathetic to France and the Federalists to Britain. The US was engaged in naval war with France 1798-1800 and war with Britain 1812-1815. However, the French Revolution was over by then and the US was not involved during the revolutionary period 1789-1794.

Ah. thanks for clearing that up.
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
5,678
#17
As to OP, slaves did not have the status of servants. Servants in Europe generally had better jobs than peasants or laborers. Slaves were given an absolute minimum of food and shelter. They were often badly whipped. They could not leave the farm without a pass. They could not learn to read or write and could not possess any weapon. If a master of overseer killed a slave, it was extremely rare that he was convicted of anything. Indentured servants were generally treated worse than slaves because the master had no insentive that they survive.

For a sodomy case, you would need witnesses. Then the states attorney would need to prosecute. He probably owned slaves and fooled around with some of them. Plus the planters controlled the local government in most of the south, and wouldn't want that sort of potential trouble.

The Bishop of Waterford mentioned in OP was executed for sodomy with his steward. A steward was a property or business manager, a step up from an overseer. A steward was usually educated and a member of the gentry. Obviously, this was sex with an employee. However, a steward was at least in the top 5% of status, and was nothing like a servant or a slave.
 
Last edited:
Mar 2015
781
Europe
#18
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.
If it was the guest who bore the mulatto bastard, the slave involved would have had little reason to bring the accusation, and the master could hardly claim serious direct damage to his manservant.
Indirectly, though...
Were masters in general financially liable for tortious damage done by their slaves to other people?
In common law, a jealous husband had (and in some States still has) causes of action for criminal conversation and for alienation of affection.
Birth of a mulatto would be a clear evidence that adultery and criminal conversation must have occurred. But what about the lover?
If a white man brought a divorce action against his wife for adultery with a Negro and named a suspected Negro, but could not personally punish the Negro because he was another man´s slave (whether another man´s slave at the time of adultery, or sold before suspicions got confirmed by birth of a mulatto), could the husband name the suspect´s master as the co-respondent in the divorce suit and demand damages for criminal conversation?
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?)
Easily? The accuser affirms that he and his friends are red-blooded straight heterosexuals (the little matter of not marrying the negresses is not relevant), not sodomites.
 
Jan 2019
19
US
#19
If it was the guest who bore the mulatto bastard, the slave involved would have had little reason to bring the accusation, and the master could hardly claim serious direct damage to his manservant.
Indirectly, though...
Were masters in general financially liable for tortious damage done by their slaves to other people?
In common law, a jealous husband had (and in some States still has) causes of action for criminal conversation and for alienation of affection.
Birth of a mulatto would be a clear evidence that adultery and criminal conversation must have occurred. But what about the lover?
If a white man brought a divorce action against his wife for adultery with a Negro and named a suspected Negro, but could not personally punish the Negro because he was another man´s slave (whether another man´s slave at the time of adultery, or sold before suspicions got confirmed by birth of a mulatto), could the husband name the suspect´s master as the co-respondent in the divorce suit and demand damages for criminal conversation?

Easily? The accuser affirms that he and his friends are red-blooded straight heterosexuals (the little matter of not marrying the negresses is not relevant), not sodomites.
In the incidents that I read about, the guest was always a male who impregnated a slave. Specifically in one case, a mulatto child was born, supporting the slave's accusations against the guest. The slave's master noted the "resemblance" between the baby and the guest, and fully accepted his slave's story. No legal action was taken against the guest, but it was considered a serious offense by the master. I don't know enough about how the law was applied to slaves to answer your other questions, but my instinct is that the master would not be prosecuted or fined for his slave's actions, although he would be expected to dole out the proper punishment. I suspect this because if slaves could inflict legal harm on their masters through their actions, that might appear to place too much power in their hands.

Regarding the latter quote, the hypothetical accuser would be in almost as legally incriminating a situation as the people he was accusing, depending on the setting. (In some areas of the US black/white relationships were more acceptable than in others.) The point of the example of slave/master relationships, though, is to demonstrate that taboo and private crimes - especially if they're widespread - are often overlooked. Some actions are very difficult to regulate, and that usually means that they go unregulated, even if laws do exist to suppress them. Another example of this kind of "moot" law is the ban on abortion (although this came a little later in American history). It was widespread among certain classes, but very few cases actually resulted in a prosecution because of the difficulty of procuring evidence and the fact that so many people did it anyway. Even if a strong case could be built up against someone, the precedent of inconclusiveness in similar cases would weaken the power of the law to punish the offenders. I think that the same principles can be applied to slave/master sodomy. To get back to the point, the weakness of the law in this area benefited the accuser (who was guilty of a similar crime), so I doubt he would be eager to strengthen it by supporting prosecutions.