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While antebellum white southern society did not condone such liaisons, it did exhibit a limited degree of toleration--a toleration that vanished following the Civil War, as southern white men saw their monopoly of political power challenged and the cotton economy collapse.Although concentrating on the nineteenth century, Hodes wisely begins her book earlier in time by describing the marriage in 1681 between an Irish servant named Eleanor Butler and a black slave named Charles. Walsh have demonstrated that the "taboo" against interracial sex was not nearly as universal in early America as scholars like Winthrop Jordan assumed.[4] On seventeenth-century Virginia's Eastern Shore, two marriages took place between free black men and free white women in the 1650s and three more in the 1660s.

Early anti-miscegenation statutes--like the 1664 Maryland law enslaving the children of English women who "intermarry with Negro Slaves"--reflected the attitudes of the most politically active segment of the planter elite--attitudes which were only gradually absorbed by many other whites.[6] Similarly, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, lynching, supposedly to protect the purity of white womanhood, was in fact inextricably tied to efforts to suppress populism and interracial labor activities.

From the anti-abolitionist mobs of the 1830s that raised the specter of racial amalgamation to the Northern Democrats who coined the term "miscegenation" and accused Republicans of favoring racial intermarriage to the post-World War I nativists who enacted the anti-miscegenation statutes that the Supreme Court overturned in 1967, miscegenation was a highly emotional subject that could be exploited and manipulated for a variety of social and political objectives.

This ceremony--presided over by a Catholic priest and attended by a number of prominent planters--was conducted with an openness unimaginable in the eighteenth century, when the lines between white servants and black slaves had hardened. In addition, one slave married a white women, and at least half a dozen slaves fathered mulatto children by white maidservants during the 1680s and 1690s.

The marriage between Irish Nell and Charles was not a wholly isolated event. Walsh concludes that unions of black men and white servant women were usually consensual, unlike many of the women's relationships with white men.

Although Jim was quickly found guilty of the charge, the discovery that Polly was pregnant prior to the alleged rape led the court to reopen the case and ultimately acquit Jim.

A slave was simply too valuable a capital asset to execute under such circumstances.For all its breadth, does not claim to cover all aspects of the topic of miscegenation.For one thing, Hodes explicitly omits Louisiana and South Carolina on the grounds that these states recognized an intermediate class between blacks and whites.It is the solidification of chattel slavery in the late seventeenth-century that ends an earlier period of relative flexibility in sexual relations, by making racial lines more salient than class lines.Later, it is the collapse of slavery that creates a newfound urgency in the taboo of sex between black men and white women and brings about a shift from uneasy white toleration toward increasingly violent intolerance.Only when southern white patriarchs began to fear the potential political and economic power of newly autonomous black men after the Civil War did the issue of white women's sexual purity enter the realm of politics.