Mulattoes in Colonial America: It’s a Mixed-Race Thing

Dateline: Jamestowne, 1666, and Philadelphia, 1703-04: Manuel (last name unmentioned) and Antonio Garcia were mulattoes who made their appeals to two colonial government councils and won. Primary sources. Great for teachers and students of history.

They lived in different regions, but their trials were about the same: How did the dominant culture sort out the borderline cases of race and ownership? Lots of money were at stake. More importantly, freedom and justice were at stake.

The transcriptions have been modernized.

Case no. 1: Jamestowne, Virginia

William Whitacre petitions the council to get reimbursed because his slave Manuel was not judged to be a slave, but a regular Christian, so he had to do his indentured service in 1644. But he was freed in 1665 (21 years!), even though Whitacre claimed him as a permanent slave. He lost £25 sterling.

23 Oct 1666

To the Honourable Sir Wm. Berkeley, Knight, Governor, etc. and the honourable council of Virginia:

The humble petition of William Whitacre shows:

That he formerly bought of Mr. Thomas Bushrod a mulatto named Manuel, who bought of Col. William Smith’s assignee as a slave forever, but in September 1644 the said servant was by the Assembly adjudged no slave and but to serve as other [indentured] Christian servants do and was freed in September 1665.

Your petitioner most humbly prays he may have satisfaction from the levy being freed by the country and bought by your petitioner at £25 sterling.

The Assembly not knowing any reason why the public should be answerable for the inadvertency of the buyer or for a judgment given when justly grounded as that order was, [the Assembly] has ejected the petition.

So it looks like he did not get his money back because the older Assembly freed him in 1644. Why overturn that decision? Plus, Whitacre got labor from him, for 21 years! It seems Whitacre was a manipulator, then. The Council of 1666 made the right decision.

Case no. 2: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

20 Nov 1703

A certain mulatto, having been taken prisoner in a Spanish vessel by an English privateer and carried into Barbados, was afterwards brought to this port by one Husk, master of a sloop from Jamaica, in the quality [condition] of a slave by his capture, but a prisoner of war; therefore [he] made his application to this Board [Council] for relief. But his application and evidence, not being sufficiently plain, it is ordered that next 2nd day the 22nd, Instant [22 Nov 1703] he give it in writing, to which day the Board adjourns.

In simple English, he appealed to the Board or Council to be freed, but he needed more evidence in writing. Can he get it?

21 Feb 1703-04 (1704 by our dating)

Antonio Garcia, the mulatto who appeared before this Board the 20th Nov last, presenting before this Board the 20th Nov last, presenting himself again, humbly requested that the Governor and Council would be pleased to suffer [allow] him to depart or that they would dispose of him as a prisoner of war, seeing that ever since his last appearance here, now three months ago, there had no proof being made of his being a slave, and he had produced an affidavit made by one Emanuel de la Cosa, with many other arguments, for his being a freeman and a Christian.

And Dr. Charles Sober, appearing in behalf of one Alexander Forrester of Barbados, who claims the said mulatto for his slave, but being able to offer nothing to the Board as a cause for his detainer more than his employer’s order to take care of and sell him—

It is ordered that the said mulatto be dismissed from all further attention of this Board.

It seems he was dismissed from the Board, but does that mean he was freed? Yes, for Dr. Charles Sober offered nothing more than an order from Sober’s client to sell him, but that was insufficient proof. He needed a court document to prove he owned Garcia.

So let’s assume he was freed.

Fortunately, then, the two cases ended favorably for them.

RELATED

Quakers Tell Slaves Not to Disturb the Peace

Positive Lessons from Indentured Servants in Colonial America 

Owners and Slaves Attend Same Pre-Civil War Church

My Ancestors Owned Slaves

SOURCES

Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1659/60-1693, ed. H. R. McIlwaine (Richmond: 1914), pp. 34-35.

Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania from the Organization to the Termination of the Proprietary Government, containing the Proceedings of Council from December 18 1700 to May 16 1717, vol. II, (Harrisburg: Theophilus Fenn, 1838), pp. 113 and 121.

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