Women In Colonial Virginia

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Living in colonial Virginia ascribed itself to be like living in a lawless land. Far from England and its traditions, a vacuum existed in Virginia that left gender, race, and power undefined. Many scrambled to fill its void, but it would take time before societal norms would be laid down. The women of the colony were most necessary in establishing the patriarchal society that would transform again into one of paternalism. A woman’s power in colonial Virginia depended entirely upon her race. White women in the colony were the most influential women in Virginia playing key roles in defining gender roles, tying wealth and society together, as well as contributing to the behaviors of elites. Free and enslaved Black women held the least power, they…show more content…
Kathy Browns writes, “It was this subordination of African women to the needs of English labor and family systems that ultimately provided the legal foundation for slavery and for future definitions of racial difference.” It also, “created a legal distinction between English women and African women,” Brown notes. In 1655, Indentured servant Elizabeth Key sued for her freedom in the Northumberland County Court, on the grounds that she was a Christian and her father was a white man, and the contract he had negotiated for her was violated as she had served two terms of servitude. Though her master tried to have the verdict overruled to keep her and her two children as slaves, the General Assembly agreed to her freedom. However Hening points out that this forced colonial leaders “to think about the proper status for children born to white fathers and enslaved mothers.” And in 1662 Act XII was passed that would tie slavery to the mother, forcing her children to exist in the condition that she had. This law served the purpose of defining the status of children of interracial relations, and Hening notes that no statues or laws were created to protect enslaved women from rape after Act XII. Black women were necessary in the legal drafting of enslavement and also in the creation of the conditioned behavior of white
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