Is master-slave sex a myth?

In an earlier blog entry, Reginald R., identifying himself as a person of mixed race descended from slaveowners who raped his female slave ancestors, said the main flaw in my article on black-on-white rape was that I didn’t mention the white-on-black rape that occurred during slavery. I said this was irrelevant to the subject at hand. Now VFR reader Dunnyveg brings forth information on slavery that I find not only surprising but a bit hard to believe. According to Eugene Genovese’s respected book on slavery, Roll, Jordan, Roll, master-slave sexual relations were almost non-existent. How can this be, I ask. It’s not that the factors Genovese brings forth—such as the practical difficulties such relations would create for the slaveowner that would militate against his engaging in them—don’t make sense to me. It’s that I can’t see how the American Negro population got so light relative to African blacks in the absence of widespread interracial relations. Also, haven’t we always assumed that the very light type of Negro in the U.S. was descended from slave owners? And what about the descriptions of the slaves at Monticello, where some of the slaves were so light they looked almost Caucasian?

Since it’s really a new topic, I’ve moved Dunnyveg’s comment from the old entry to this one.

Dunnyveg writes:

About six months ago I finished what is considered to be the magnum opus on American slavery, Eugene Genovese’s “Roll, Jordan, Roll.” Genovese said that in America, white slave masters raping black slaves was very rare. Consensual relations weren’t common either. Slave masters had a mentality similar to modern prison staff. They run the place, but if they antagonize their charges too much, the results can be tragic. More particularly, slaves seriously resented whites cavorting with their women. Disgruntled slaves were unproductive slaves, and since planters tended to live deep in debt, they couldn’t afford to do anything that would impede productivity. What would the planter’s wife say about her husband cavorting with the slaves? And it was a given she would know. And since Southern slavery was justified on Christian and Jewish principles, it’s fair to note the Bible takes a dim view of practices such as adultery.

When miscegenation did occur, it was most commonly between slaves and the overseer, and this was a common reason for termination. When a slave master did miscegenate with a slave and have a child, this child was very likely to be manumitted, or at least taught a skill to keep them out of the fields. Slaves were almost completely black genetically whereas freedmen tended to have large amounts of white blood.

There were actually slave prostitutes, and the most attractive were the most expensive slaves on the market. I recall reading that at a time when the average slave cost less than a thousand dollars, these prostitutes could fetch as much as ten thousand dollars in places such as New Orleans. But this was also the exception rather than the rule.

Unlike Latin America and the Caribbean, where mulattoes formed a separate social class, sexual relations between whites and blacks weren’t common in America until after slavery times were over.

LA writes:

This is fascinating information from Genovese, but if miscegenation was so rare during slavery (and it certainly wasn’t common after slavery), how did the U.S. Negro population become so mixed? I think it’s estimated that American blacks on average have 25 percent white ancestry; and that would seem to match with what we see; obviously the U.S. black population is significantly lighter than most African blacks. How could that have happened without large scale miscegenation?

Conservative Swede writes:

When one is traveling in the United States what is striking is how little racial mix there is compared to Latin America or South Africa. No flora of mulattos, Mestizos, sambos; no special social class of mulattos/coloured. White people are largely white, and blacks largely black—in appearance—compared to the continuum of variations found in Latin America or South Africa.

So what needs to be explained in America is not the “large scale miscegenation,” but rather why there was such a small scale of miscegenation. And Dunnyveg/Genovese have given the best explanation I have heard so far.

But even a small scale miscegenation over a long period of time—hundreds of years—will lead to a mix. Possibly the 25 percent white ancestry figure is explained exactly by such a small scale miscegenation. I’m sure someone like Steve Sailer would be able to crunch the numbers.

James L. writes:

When African blacks were first brought to colonial Virginia, they were treated as indentured servants just like white indentured servants from England. When their period of indenture expired, they were free. Black and white former indentured servants often intermarried and these were the ancestors of many of the mixed race blacks. It wasn’t until some years passed that blacks became classified as chattel slaves and laws were passed banning interracial marriage.

LA replies:

That’s very interesting. I never heard this before. Have you get any sources you could refer to backing this up?

Ben W. writes:

An added note to the Genovese study. People love demonizing the slave owner. According to liberalism, he is the epitome of all evil—thus he must have forced black female slaves into sexual relationships.

Yet did the slave owner have that character and personality? Or were the plantation and estate owners gracious in their manners and religion? Would they have engaged in sexual unions with their slaves if they were Christians? (The liberal will now claim they were religious but hypocrites).

What are the facts about this? Are we dealing with images presented to us after the fact that do not represent the slave owning class? By people with their own presuppositions and assumptions.

The liberal myth is that the slave must be a victim and thus any action done by a slave is against his/her will. But the Bible says that every man has sinned and is capable of sinning. What if black slave females found the black male unattractive. And found the white male sexually attractive. Therefore willingly offering themselves for sexual union with white males. Even for purposes of extricating themselves from their situation (be it bound to an estate or a black male).

If any one is capable of sinning (master, slave, free man, whatever), then anyone is capable of a sexual, adulterous relationship (initiating one or participating in one).

Of course all this goes against the Oprah Winfrey notion of American history…

LA replies:
Of course there is truth in what Ben is saying, but I must say that he dispenses too easily with the fundamental fact that the whites owned the blacks as their property.
African Lady writes:

Actually you are wrong when you say that Blacks in America are lighter skinned than most Africans. There are a lot of light skinned Africans in West Africa. When I first met Black Americans I was actually surprised that the majority of them are as dark skinned as most West Africans I know. Also they live in the US where it is not as sunny. Many Africans who go back to Africa are always told how much lighter they are.

Most of the lighter skinned Black Americans I know always identify a grandparent who is white (not a slave owner). Also many of them have native Indian ancestry and also some Spanish.

I don’t like your website for many reasons, but I don’t like myths that justify criminal behavior either. Hence my email.

LA replies:

When the commenter says, “Many Africans who go back to Africa are always told how much lighter they are,” I assume she means that when black Americans go back to Africa they are told they are lighter, but that would contradict the rest of her comment.

I’m also not clear what myths the commenter is referring that justify criminal behavior, and how she is helping to clear them up, but I’ll let that pass as well.

Ben W. writes:

You write that, “Of course there is truth in what Ben is saying, but I must say that he dispenses too easily with the fundamental fact that the whites owned the blacks as their property.”

Owning people as slaves economically does not mean that one engages in sexual relations with them. That is the Marxist myth that people engaged for economic reasons by others are owned psychologically and sexually by them. Take the case of Philemon—the slave sent back by Paul to his master…

BTW Genovese abandoned Marxism (his wife was the first to do so and turn towards Catholicism) and started doing historical research apart from Marxist presuppositions of society and economics (which he had previously done). Thus one doesn’t see the Marxist assumptions (adopted by liberals) that economic slavery entails psychological and sexual slavery.

His fellow historians began ostracizing him for doing so.

LA replies:

I did not say or imply that owning people as slaves means that one engages in sexual relations with them. What I was suggesting was that Ben was constructing something of a fantasy in which slaves are socializing with their masters as their equals, equally free to determine the nature of the relationship. Racially conscious conservatives need to resist the temptation to deny that there was anything wrong with slavery. To live outside the law (of liberalism) we must be honest.

Conservative Swede writes:

I think African Lady’s point about myths was clear. When she says, “But I don’t like myths that justify criminal behavior either,” she seem to be referring to the myth presented by Reginald R. about the white slave owners’ rampant raping of black slaves, and how this myth is used to justify black criminal behaviour today.

James W. writes:

I know of nothing definitive to contribute to your very interesting question: exactly how the black American gene pool gained its Caucasian fractions, or what exactly they are.

It is my recollection, however, that the great number of pre-Civil War and Civil War photographs I have seen of black Americans, slaves or not, were of a very dark people, and of a decidedly greater West African appearance than presently. Perhaps the most representative samples would be the Civil War soldiers, as they were volunteers to the war and not so much selected to pose for photographs. They were in that mold also.

If that happens to be true, the change would have happened after slavery as mulattos and quadroons were quickly spread into the pool. An additional source of mixing would have been through the southern Indian tribes, who by the way owned slaves on occasion.

Conservative Swede notes that Latin countries have much greater mixing commonly than Americans do. It could not be otherwise. The slave trade was conducted through exclusive monopolies granted by nations that tolerated no privateers. Since they were publicly owned companies, as the East India Tea Company, the term bean counting originated from their fanatical record keeping. Because of this record keeping we know 12,500,000 slaves were actually shipped to the New World, and 11,000,000 lived to be sold at auction. Of these, 600,000 were sold in North America: five percent. The great number of slaves in Latin America could not be held successfully in bondage. The lands were too unsettled, the forests and jungle too numerous, so both escape and freedom was far less a challenge than in the American colonies, and so the slaves were eventually lost to their owners. In North America, their smaller numbers could be controlled, and were.

LA replies:
I know the kinds of photos James means, and I’ve had the same impression. You see slaves with distinctively “African” features in Civil War photos that you don’t see in contemporary American blacks.

The idea that the main part of the color mixing occurred after Emancipation rather than under slavery is a new idea to me.

African Lady writes:

“I assume she means that when black Americans go back to Africa they are told they are lighter, but that would contradict the rest of her comment.”

You assumed wrong. Conservative Swede understood me correctly. I am talking about African immigrants in the U.S. who travel back to Africa and are told by their relatives there how much lighter skinned they (the returning immigrant) have become during their stay in the States. Why I made this small point is to suggest that many black Americans are lighter compared to pictures Africans in the media because they are not as “tanned.” The is a very small point.

The bigger point I wanted to make is that most black Americans are not that much lighter than most WEST Africans. The few that are lighter skinned seem to have a parent or grandparent who was white during the post slavery period. You will really be surprised at the number of African Americans who have Indian ancestry.

This myth of master-slave sex/rape must be dispelled not only for the sake of whites but for blacks as well. This myth is a burden and hurt that many decent black Americans carry (yes it is a burden on them too), and it estranges them from whites unnecessarily.

I could go on about this topic, like how Anglo-Saxons have rarely mixed racially with the people they conquer compared to, say, Italians or Spanish or Portuguese.

LA replies:

I agree it’s a small point, but to clarify the reason for the confusion, African Lady’s statement, “Many Africans who go back to Africa are always told how much lighter they are,” does not immediately sound as though she’s speaking of Africans visiting America and returning to Africa. For one thing, she said, “go back to.” If she’s in Africa, she wouldn’t speak of her fellow Africans who have visited America as “going back to” Africa. If she had said, “Africans who live in America for a while and then come back to Africa,” that would have been clearer.

So, in trying to figure out what she meant, my guess that AL meant, “Africans who go back to Africa,” potentially made sense to me in the sense of an ancestral homecoming of African-Americans to Africa.

Karen writes from England:

African Lady is correct about many West Africans having fair skins. Many members of the Igbo tribe of Nigeria are fairer than the typical African. Many of them are more Asian in appearance with quite fair skin, high cheekbones, Asian type slanting eyes and straight black hair. The fair ones are called “red skins” locally in Africa and some have green eyes. Some of them look more like Thais or north Indians. The Igbo are one of the oldest African ethnic groups with strong traditions and culture. They are more ethnically homogenous than the other African tribes and due to their greater educational and commercial successes, they have often been persecuted and oppressed. Their ancestry is confirmed in SW Nigeria for over 1500 years and it is likely that many African Americans are ancestrally Igbos. Some of them claim to be Jewish and a documentary film is being made about this. They are one of the few African tribes with zero Moslems. They also place more value on education and family stability than the usual African.

Here is some more information about them.

Laurium writes:

I recommend reading Carter G. Woodson, the famous black historian (1875-1950), and particularly “The Negro in Our History,” a basic and esteemed black history book for over 30 years in black schools. Here is Harvard’s copy, scanned for Google. “The Negro in Our History” was a staple of Negro secondary education back in my 80 year old black mother-in-law’s day.

With desegregation, however, things have changed. I doubt that one in fifty Negroes could tell you who Carter Woodson is, and no more than one in a thousand have actually read his works. Sadly the Negro’s educational level has slipped considerably since the Jim Crow days of 1940, so Dr. Woodson’s books are ignored. Sadly, due to its scholarship and vocabulary it is unreadable and unreachable by the vast majority of today’s black men—unlike educated Negroes like my elderly mother-in-law and her many peers living under Jim Crow who valued education immensely. Negroes did not call getting a good education and learning one’s history “acting white” back then.

Chapter three, “Slavery in its Mild Form” (p. 34 at the link above) discusses how gentle life was back then for slaves in America, and how the races mingled and reproduced. You will not find the sex-obsessed massa rape fantasies of the modern black man anywhere in Dr. Woodson’s scholarly work.

I find it a good reference, particularly when faced with those who paint U.S. slavery as unmitigated poverty and oppression and in its fundamental characteristics so unlike all other slavery that ever existed.

My black wife’s family was descended from white men liberally sprinkled throughout their history. Black and white cohabitation was common after the Civil War. Her family’s continuing trauma from this periodic race mixing is negligible. The slavemaster who founded her clan did what many white slavemasters did and manumitted all his black family members (in his case, in his will). They have been educated though not wealthy black middle class (doctors, teachers) every since. They are remarkably indifferent to race huckstering and just don’t suckle a wounded grudge like Reginald. It still puzzles me how he could hold a grudge against his own unknown kin for so long just because of their skin color. Like he knows that every single one of the black males in his family never beat or raped their wives even once? And this, even though rape of one’s wife was legal in most states for blacks AND whites until very recently?

Dan H. writes:

I noticed the stream of comments on your site today regarding whether and how many slaves were treated as sex objects by their masters.

As I mentioned in an earlier email I am re-reading (for the seventh or eighth time, it is that good of a book) Paul Johnson’s History of the American People and just happen to be reading about the Civil War era and in this book Johnson mentions this as an issue, particularly in the Deep South. He says that Jefferson Davis, who was known to treat his slaves decently (though, of course, the stain of the unforgivable owning of another person and defending the right of other people to do so is still on him), commented in his memoirs and in personal correspondence on the disgusting problem of slave owners treating their slaves as “sexual chattel.”

I will look into this further, but on that evidence I suspect that it was an issue that society was aware of—meaning that it was a regular-enough occurrence.

What sort of bearing this has on the present day though…I would have to say that it has none. It is just idle chatter.

LA replies:

I agree that the topic in this thread is only of historical interest, but it is interesting. Whether sexual relations between male slave-owners and their female slaves were common, or very uncommon, is a historical question worth answering. If talking about this is idle chatter, then any discussion not related to some practical object is idle chatter, in which case all intellectual discussion comes to an end.

Nik S. writes:

If you have not checked it out, “Time on the Cross” by Robert William Fogel is a well-researched book written by a moderate intellectual about American slavery. One noteworthy piece of information he presents is that black/white inter-mating was not so much because of white masters/black victims as much as it was the result of voluntary relations between male black slaves and female white servants.

As well, there are also some fascinating other pieces of information (blacks’ child wedlock rates, family togetherness rates, employment rates, etc) that may persuade some to re-evaluate our present-day conception of American Slavery.

Pick up a copy of it yourself, it would be well worth your looking at.

LA replies:

So there’s another theory for us. In this discussion we now have at least three theories jostling together to explain the large white intermixture in the black American population: sexual relations between male masters and female slaves, whether voluntary or coerced; cohabitation between blacks and whites after the Civil War (which was news to me); and relations between white female servants and black male slaves (which is also news to me).

LA writes:

In listing the three major theories that have been advanced in this discussion, I left out James L’s theory that “black and white former indentured servants often intermarried and these were the ancestors of many of the mixed race blacks.”

In response to my request for some backup for James’s idea, Dunnyveg has sent me a link to a Wikipedia article on the first true chattel slave in Virginia, John Casor in 1654.

In fact, the Wikipedia article would tend to refute James’s idea. It says that in 1654 when black chattel slavery began, which was a full 35 years after the first black indentured servants were imported in 1619, there were only 300 black persons (meaning indentured servants plus free blacks) in Virginia, one percent out of a population of 30,000 whites. Even if all those 300 blacks intermarried with whites, they could not have been a major source of the race-mixed U.S. black population.

Dunnyveg writes:

I just went you one better than giving you page numbers: I not only read his chapter dealing with miscegenation last night, but I have the book in front of me. On the grounds that even the best replication is only a pale imitation of the original, I’ll let Genovese speak in his own words as follows. The following quotes are from pp 416-431 of the first edition:

Yet, only about 13 percent of the Afro-American population had white ancestry, according to the census reports, although some scholars have estimated 20 percent or more.

According to the official statistics, the percentage of “mulattoes” (as all with some white ancestry came to be called) in the slave population was about twice as high in the states of the Upper South as in the Lower. …was close to 20 percent in Missouri and Kentucky and about 15 percent in Virginia but only between 5 and 9 percent in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. These figures do not support the hypothesis about slave breeding…

In 1850 an estimated 37 percent of the free Negro population of the United States was part white, although the figure was much higher for the half of the free Negro population living in the South.

Probably, little more than 10 percent of the slave population had any white ancestry.

[Regarding the difficulty of identifying white blood in the absence of modern genetic techniques:]

Many apparent mulattoes must have fallen into the category provided by an advertisement for a runaway in North Carolina: ‘His color is tolerably bright, but he has no white blood in him.’

The plantations hardly emerge from the statistics looking like the harems of abolitionist fantasy….To risk some generalizations: (1)Enough violations of black women occurred on the plantations to constitute a scandal and make life hell for a discernible minority of black women and their men. (2) Much of the plantation miscegenation occurred with single girls under circumstances that varied from seduction to rape and typically fell between the two. (3) Married black women and their men did not take white sexual agression lightly and resisted effectively enough to hold it to a minimum (4) Most of the miscegenation in the South occurred in the towns and cities, not on the plantations or even farms.

[Here are some necessarily brief quotes on Genovese’s explanation regarding why white ancestry is so much more prevalent today than it was in antebellum times. You asked a good question here, and I believe a difficult one to answer with much precision. All of us who read your web page, or sites such as American Renaissance, don’t bow to society’s norms, but I’m sure we’re all aware of just how powerful social pressures are. After all, people tend to do that which society celebrates. But social pressures defy attempts at quantification.]

The white South’s sexual fantasies increased enormously after slavery ended—that is, after whites no longer exercised a seemingly total power over blacks—but they appeared with the earliest racial contacts, circumscribed as they were by a rigid system of class and racial subordination. The Old South’s relatively restrained response to rapes by black men of white women suggests that conditions deteriorated drastically after the war.

LA replies:

It will be a while before I can absorb all this, but this point strikes me. Genovese writes:

“In 1850 an estimated 37 percent of the free Negro population of the United States was part white…”

This means that 63 percent of free negroes in 1850 were all-black. That seems impossible, given the fact (or is it only a prejudice?) that the free, and therefore the more educated and more civilized, blacks had more white in them.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 16, 2007 05:34 PM | Send

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