Blood, Truth, and Consequences

Jeffory A. Clymer

in Family Money

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199897704
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980123 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in American Literary History

Blood, Truth, and Consequences

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Chapter 2 examines the relationship between the law of partus sequitur ventrem, which decreed that a child’s legal status derived from its mother, and the notion that racial identity was genealogically determined and expressed by “black” or “white” blood. This chapter argues that the legal two-step of partus and blood created as many problems of familial lines and property ownership as it purportedly solved. The chapter examines the dilemmas of race, family, and property in Gary v. Stevenson (Arkansas, 1858), a lawsuit in which a white-appearing young slave sued for freedom by claiming he had a white mother, as well as Mary Andrews Denison’s novel Old Hepsy (1858), and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables (1851). These novels and law case jointly illuminate shared problems: who counts as family; what justifies legal title; and how are family identity and legal title made knowable?

Keywords: Nathaniel Hawthorne; Mary Denison; property; slavery; white slave; legal title; family; inheritance; blood; race

Chapter.  14663 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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