Complexion, however, seemed unstable. Crowds came out to view the corpses of two men convicted of conspiring to burn New York City in when word spread that the black man was turning white and the white man black. Among colonists curious about a spectacle and increasingly interested in questions of color and character, albino children born of black parents caused a sensation, as did those whose blackness seemed to disappear.
While George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon argued that the case of the Cartagena slave Marie Sabine indicated the degenerative effects of an unhealthy American climate, Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, suggested that if such a man and woman had children, they might produce a new race. Early dissections had found a lower layer of white skin and an outer layer of black skin, which were interpreted as confirmation of the ancient association of blackness with tropical heat. In , however, Marcello Malpighi identified a distinct anatomical feature found only among those with dark skin.
Blistering black skin with chemicals and examining specimens beneath a microscope, Malpighi identified an intermediate third layer of skin containing pigment, the rete muscosum. Other anatomists focused their attention on even more interior portions of black bodies. While anatomists formulated these theories as alternatives to humoral or environmentalist explanations, many simply drew upon a range of views syncretically to understand African difference.
Such theories were crucial as Europeans debated African capabilities. Colonials also played prominent roles in these debates, not only as scholars but also as examples of the abilities of people of African descent. The poetry, letters, and antislavery tracts of Phyllis Wheatley, Ignatius Sancho, and Olaudah Equiano carried this significance. Francis Williams, the youngest son of free black Jamaicans, was made the subject of a social experiment to determine whether a black man might be cultivated as a gentleman.
The title of a book by the antislavery race theorist Charles White expressed similar views far more succinctly: An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man Ideas of cultural and physical difference frequently intertwined with ideas of descent and heredity in the 17th and 18th centuries. Theories were innumerable: the Indians were the inhabitants of Atlantis, or Phoenicians, or Welsh. These two theories were not incompatible since the Lost Tribes might have followed just such a path over many generations.
By the 17th century, other writers theorized that diverse old world nations had populated the supposedly new world, a theory especially congenial as the tremendous ethnic diversity of the Americas became increasingly apparent. The Bible provided a framework for understanding other questions as well. Such ideas had been crucial in the Iberian Reconquista , when subjects with Muslim or Jewish forbears were considered to possess irrevocably tainted ancestries, and Spaniards embraced their ancestry in opposition to charges of degeneration in the American environment.
Although the Spanish Crown initially considered Indian converts to possess potential purity of blood, a legal system of classification according to Spanish, Indian, or African descent, or degree of mixed descent, arose as intermarriage increased. Spanish policies encouraged the production of genealogies among those of European and Indian descent as a means to prove the possession of legal privileges.
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The Spanish imposed a similar system on New Orleans after , though substantial numbers of blancos continued to form families with free women of color. In the second half of the 18th century, a new genre of painting emerged that divided the population into categories usually sixteen by depicting a mother of one race or racial intermixture, a father of another race or racial intermixture, and the child they would produce. At a time when colonial mestizaje came under increasing fire from Spain and from creoles as a mark of social degeneration and political disorder, these casta paintings provided positive and negative representations of intermixture.
Racial categories, however, despite attempts to fix them in nomenclature, remained porous. In New France, as in New Spain, notions of purity of blood intertwined with religion and social rank.
By the late 17th century, imperial officials were divided over the propriety of intermarriage, and by the 18th century the failures of francisation gave rise to speculations about the inherent difference of Indians. Yet the lives of individuals such as Jean Saguingouara, son of a French officer and a Catholic Illinois woman, demonstrate a continued porousness of boundaries.
His contract as a fur trader included a provision for the laundering of his shirts, which suggests his acceptance of European rather than Native notions of cleanliness fresh linen as opposed to washing , and the degree to which racial conceptions rested in part upon uses of material culture. Interestingly, even as laws throughout the French Atlantic prohibited interracial marriage, examples from Haiti demonstrate a stunning attempt not to catalog intermixture, but to manufacture it.
Although English colonial laws did not prohibit Anglo-Indian intermarriage, unlike the earlier prohibition of intermarriage in Ireland, legitimate marriages were rare, mainly confined to those few instances in which Native women had converted to Christianity such as the celebrated marriage between John Rolfe and Rebecca, the baptismal name of Pocahontas or Metoaka. Sexual relationships continued, of course, but these were illicit. This was especially true for Native—black unions, the progeny of which were often categorized as black or as people of color.
English colonies and later U. Racial categories in the English colonies and early United States were bounded more sharply, with fewer intermediate gradations, than in the French and Spanish colonies.
Carolus Linneaus provided more influential classifications that grouped human beings with other primates and divided them from one another in successive editions of Systema naturae , beginning in Linnaeus established six distinct varieties of homo sapiens , grouped according to characteristics, complexion, and continent, adding unspeaking wild men and monstrous peoples including pygmies in Africa, supposed giants in Patagonia, and Indians who flattened the heads of infants to sanguine and inventive white Europeans; lazy, careless, and cunning black Africans; melancholy, haughty, and tradition-bound yellow Asians; and red warlike Indians who lived by habit.
Other scholars practiced natural history while insisting on the gulf that separated humanity from beasts. Buffon counted six races discarding monsters and wild men , while acknowledging individual diversity within races and stressing that environmental influences associated with human migration would produce degeneration over time and place. Other scholars worked to refine racial classifications. The earliest categorizations of diverse nations into single races can be seen with respect to Africans and those descended from Africans; but similar taxonomic practices were applied to Indians, whose diversity colonizers had long emphasized, in the 18th century.
Most of these were not essentialist. Buffon, for instance, believed that all American Indians were underdeveloped in body and mind, as were other species of American flora and fauna, because the American land was unhealthy. Some writers fused theories of stages and theories of genealogy.
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De Pauw and William Robertson, for instance, applied savagery to the presumed shared ancestry of all the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Although the view was heretical, some early-modern theorists insisted that the seeming cultural, linguistic, and physical difference of Africans and American Indians to other peoples indicated that they shared no common descent.
By the middle of the 18th century, towering intellectual figures such as Hume and Voltaire spoke unambiguously of races being different species of humanity that possessed inferior characters and capacities. Among the most inflammatory, because the orthodox considered it so insidious, was that of Henry Home, Lord Kames. Sketches of the History of Man suggested that the story of the Tower of Babel, in which God confused human tongues and dispersed nations, should be interpreted as casting humanity into a savagery from which different peoples emerged at differing rates, just as they would have if different nations had descended from different original pairs.
By the final quarter of the 18th century, views of separate creations and of distinct species of a human genus, had achieved unprecedented respectability, with some colonials, such as Edward Long and the surveyor Bernard Romans, offering more straightforward views of polygenesis. Even for ordinary Americans who knew little of philosophical debates, notions that large swaths of population were separated from one another by traits, perhaps inherent, that included way of life and moral character as much as appearance grew increasingly common by the midth century.
In the ethnically diverse mid-Atlantic, especially outside of the city of New York where slaves were nearly a fifth of the population , immigrants and their descendants recognized little common ground with other Europeans before the midth century. Hector St. A white racial identity also emerged from the narrowing of diverse early-modern forms of bonded labor to the stark binary of enslaved and free, and the gradual emancipation of slaves in states north of Maryland in the early years of the U.
Racial lines defined citizenship in the early republic. Mexicans, Catholic like the Irish and guaranteed citizenship under the Treaty of Guadelupe-Hidalgo , were disfranchised on racial grounds. Sanford , the U. Racial categories also gained significance among people of Native and African descent. This new diasporic identity, rooted in a sense of pride, suffering, and racial difference from Europeans, was not limited to black intellectuals alone. In the wave of post-revolutionary emancipation, free blacks established churches e. Each rested upon and deepened the shared history and identity among people of African descent.
Diasporic ties and a national identity, however, remained at odds. Colonists did not identify with pagans, and the black public in the United States rejected colonization as demeaning of itself and as a slaveholder strategy to strengthen the institution by removing free blacks. These tensions were especially charged in the wake of the Haitian Revolution, which heightened race-based hopes and fears. In advocating a black uprising, Walker offered a jarring, and for many a terrifying, alternative to complacent calls for colonization or the gradual amelioration of slavery and prejudice.
A racial identity also emerged among some Natives in the 18th century. Indians had long noticed physical distinctions, but did not consider them immutable. While initially this likely referred to the traditional moiety division among Creeks with red denoting war and white peace , in the succeeding decades the designation clearly came to refer to skin color. This message was most fully amplified at mid-century by Neolin Delaware , whose message inspired Pontiac Ottawa , and many others.
In the first two decades of the 19th century, Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh Shawnee , as well as Hillis Hadjo Creek , offered similar messages to similar effect, inspiring numerous warriors to attempt to drive back whites. These radical racial messages sought to create a unified pan-Indian identity, but they also divided Indians precisely because they cut against older, more familiar identifications with village, clan, language, and tribe.
Racial ideas also flourished among those who very deliberately adapted Euro-American religion and political economy. Drawing, in part, on indigenous views of separate creations, many Catawbas, Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws adapted traditional notions of captivity to plantation slavery.
Diverse southern New England and upper Hudson Valley Algonquians came together to form the communities of Stockbridge and Brothertown, but frustrated by white prejudice and pressure, they relocated to live among the Oneidas, ethnically distinct traditional rivals but fellow Christians. Racial ideas also provided a means of social criticism. Apess and others drew upon tribal and Indian identities in an era when whites not only forced Indian removal to the West but also denied the existence of Native people who remained in the East.
These racial identities played a crucial role in the U. The question of whether races could change received sustained attention in the context of revolutionary natural rights ideology and gradual emancipation in the North. Figures whose race seemed to be in some way unstable, such as the black Virginian Henry Moss, sparked the curiosity of popular crowds and debates among the learned.
Benjamin Rush thought Moss confirmed his theory that blackness was a form of leprosy, demanding strict prohibitions on interracial sex, while Samuel Stanhope Smith accepted Moss as proof that a free American environment was gradually eliminating blackness, a process that intermixture with whites would accelerate.
Moss himself believed his transformation to be the work of Providence, perhaps because exhibiting himself provided the means to purchase his freedom. Medical discourses remained crucial to racial notions.
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In slave markets, blackness was a sign of health and strength for field hands, though lighter skin was preferred for domestics, despite its association with intelligence and the risk of slaves running away and passing as free. The Mobile physician Josiah Nott predicted the extermination of whites and blacks if intermixture proceeded, which the craniologist Samuel G. Morton refined into an elaborate polygenetic theory of hybridization that postulated the possibility, contra Buffon, of distinct species producing fertile offspring, but with fertility diminishing with biological distance.
Such theories shaped the defense of slavery as a positive good as well as state laws, plantation management, and even international diplomacy. Calhoun drew upon the results of the deeply flawed census, which recorded implausible levels of insanity and suicide among northern free blacks, in a proslavery defense of Texas annexation.
The malleability of physical differences was a hotly contested issue in these years, though theories of fixity steadily gained in prominence throughout the first half of the 19th century. Samuel Stanhope Smith argued that skin color resulted from the reciprocal effects of climate and social state.
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While some authorities, such as the eminent British ethnologist James Cowles Prichard, cited him in defense of their own environmentalist theories, American opponents such as Charles Caldwell and John Augustine Smith, ridiculed such explanations of difference. Work by John C. Warren and Samuel G.
In subsequent publications he explicitly argued for polygenesis.