" . . . I further give unto my said sonne . . . one Indyan boy called by ye name of Ben . . . . " (Last will & testament of William Calvert, probated in York County, VA on July 20, 1666 in Walter L. Howard, Ph.D., Ten Generations of Virginia Howards [Davis, California: Self Published, 1949], 76.)
Ben was my Howard-family's 6th great grandfather. Though he was initially designated "Indyan," as opposed to slave, later mention described him as a "negro," implying that his legal status had changed by the late 1600s.
Until then, Virginia did not know what to call mixed-race Africans like Ben whose ancestry included cristàos novos (new Christian) Spanish/Portuguese/Jews, in addition to baptized African Mbundu – but not Native American.
Virginia did not know what to call mixed-race Africans like Ben whose ancestry included cristàos novos (new Christian) Spanish/Portuguese/Jews, in addition to baptized African Mbundu – but not Native American
In contrast to my maternal Hightower and Richburg ancestors, all of whom arrived from West Africa as Plantation Slaves in the 19th century, colored Ben was of the Charter Generation (the Atlantic Colonies' first Africans), who in the first half of the 1600s were in most cases legally free "servants."
Now one can be forgiven for assuming that the family life of free persons of color was more facile compared to that of their enslaved counterparts like my Richburg and Hightower ancestors. But mixed-race marriages were not just illegal then. They were sinful in the colonial South.
But mixed-race marriages were not just illegal then. They were sinful in the colonial South
To illustrate, in 1692, white 27-year-old Frances Haward (born in Dunstable, England) was compelled to appear in a Richmond, Virginia court to confess to the crime and sin of having had intimate relations with a "Negro," her husband Ben. Ben was crypto-Catholic as would have been indentured servant Frances. While Virginia's Anglican Church did not permit interracial or slave marriages, the Catholic Church did.
Town House and office of Thomas Burgess, prominent Halifax, North Carolina Attorney and one-time-owner of Miles Howard
Ben and Frances Haward went on to parent daughter Ann (born a "free mulatto") who was an ancestor of Miles, my Howard family 3rd great grandfather. Born approximately 1799 in North Carolina, by 1811, Miles was enslaved to prominent Halifax, North Carolina attorney Thomas Burgess.
There were several reasons why Burgess thought highly of his investment in mulatto Miles. Charter Generation persons of color were more Europeanized than their Plantation counterparts. Charter Generation servants could be useful to white ambitious professionals like Burgess who employed Miles, at first, as his houseboy and then went on to establish him as a professional barber who provided grooming services to Burgess's growing roster of white clients.
Charter Generation servants could be useful to white ambitious professionals like Burgess who employed Miles, at first, as his houseboy and then went on to establish him as a professional barber
In 1818, Miles married the skilled mulatto slave Matilda, marrying her " . . . in the manner usual among slaves [for husband] and wife cannot exist among slaves," who are "property." ( Howard v Howard, 6 Jones Law [N.C.] 235 .). As his wedding gift, Burgess emancipated Miles, but Matilda's master would not free her. Eager to begin his own family, Miles, therefore, purchased his new bride as his slave.
The couple had several children before they accumulated enough money to buy her freedom, and after her emancipation, they went on to have more children as Miles and Burgess became business partners.
In 1838, a prosperous Miles Howard managed to emancipate everyone in his large family, including all children born to him and seamstress Matilda before her emancipation. Immediately thereafter, Miles did something unusual for those times: he himself, together with his family, were all baptized Catholic, as his African ancestors had been. On May 6, 1846, Miles remarried – to free mulatto Caroline Valentine – after the death of Matilda. Once again, all were baptized into the Catholic Church.
As his wedding gift, Burgess emancipated Miles, but Matilda's master would not free her. Eager to begin his own family, Miles, therefore, purchased his new bride as his slave
By 1857, Miles and Caroline were dead. Since he did not leave a will, the court of equity declared that Miles's entire estate be awarded to the children of Caroline. The first set of children became plaintiffs in Howard v Howard in which they petitioned the North Carolina Superior Court to allow them to share in their father's estate.
But it was the High Court's decision to leave the award as it had been decided in the lower courts. Miles and Matilda, the NC Supreme Court declared, should have married again after Matilda's emancipation. Because Miles had "refused to do so" – instead, seeking the blessed seal of the "popish" Church upon emancipation – the children of Miles and Matilda were "bastards," declared the High Court.
Howard v Howard was precedent setting. Right up to the end of the 1861-65 American Civil War, the decision was included in the case law which defined for North Carolina just what constituted a family, ignoring how nonwhite parents and their children – Christian and otherwise – defined themselves.++