EIHS Lecture: "Partus Sequitur Ventrem: Slave Law and the History of Women in Slavery"
New York University
Abstract: In 1662, legislators in the Virginia Colony passed a law that determined that, in the matter of sex between free English men and “negro women,” the legal condition of the child should follow that of the mother. Long understood as the law that codified hereditary racial slavery, this code reassured slaveowning settlers that, in the matter of enslaved people, enslaveability devolved through the mother: Partus Sequitur Ventrem or, literally, “offspring follows belly.” In this paper I ask how this legislative intervention might have been perceived by enslaved women and men in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English Atlantic.
Jennifer L. Morgan is the author of Laboring Women: Gender and Reproduction in the Making of New World Slavery (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004). Her research examines the intersections of gender and race in colonial America. She is currently a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton where she is at work on a project that considers colonial numeracy, racism, and the rise of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the seventeenth-century English Atlantic, tentatively titled Accounting for the Women in Slavery. She is Professor of History in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and the Department of History at New York University and lives in New York City.
Free and open to the public.
This lecture is part of the Thursday Series of the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies. It is made possible by a generous contribution from Kenneth and Frances Aftel Eisenberg.