Rape, Race, and Castration in Slave Law in the Colonial and Early South

Diane Miller Somerville

in The Devil's Lane

Published in print June 1997 | ISBN: 9780195112436
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199854271 | DOI:
Rape, Race, and Castration in Slave Law in the Colonial and Early South

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This chapter examines several cases of slaves who were charged of attempted rape of white women. The rape of a white female by a slave was indeed a capital crime in Virginia as well as the rest of the slave-holding South during the 19th century. Attempted rape by a slave, however, was not yet punishable by death in Virginia. Instead, slaves convicted of the attempted rape of a white female were castrated. The treatment of black males in southern rape statues reflected not white anxiety about black rape but rather the codified belief that blacks, specifically slaves, had to abide by a different, stricter set of legal standards to ensure greater control of the region's bonded labor force. The life of a slave was also balanced against not merely the race of the accuser, but by her behavior and demeanor as well.

Keywords: rape; race; castration; slave law; early colonial south; Virginia

Chapter.  8511 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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