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That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia

That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia

by Arica L. Coleman

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That the Blood Stay Pure traces the history and legacy of the commonwealth of Virginia’s effort to maintain racial purity and its impact on the relations between African Americans and Native Americans. Arica L. Coleman tells the story of Virginia’s racial purity campaign from the perspective of those who were disavowed or expelled from tribal


That the Blood Stay Pure traces the history and legacy of the commonwealth of Virginia’s effort to maintain racial purity and its impact on the relations between African Americans and Native Americans. Arica L. Coleman tells the story of Virginia’s racial purity campaign from the perspective of those who were disavowed or expelled from tribal communities due to their affiliation with people of African descent or because their physical attributes linked them to those of African ancestry. Coleman also explores the social consequences of the racial purity ethos for tribal communities that have refused to define Indian identity based on a denial of blackness. This rich interdisciplinary history, which includes contemporary case studies, addresses a neglected aspect of America’s long struggle with race and identity.

Editorial Reviews

Peter Wallenstein

"Brave, brilliant, exciting. That the Blood Stay Pure looks to me like a prize-winner. The author attacks the broad history of race in US history—the ways it has worked, the ways in which it has been portrayed, including by historians and anthropologists—with an empirical focus on Virginia as a particularly illuminating case study. Every chapter takes a provocative, fresh look at its subject." —Peter Wallenstein, Virginia Tech

Frederic W. Gleach

"Coleman has produced a provocative book, dealing with situations that are, as she notes, 'filled with controversy and pain.' From the first arrival of African workers as servants and slaves in 1619, Indian-Black relations have been engaged in, denied, legislated, and above all complicated by sociohistorical constructions of race and the meanings and values of racially defined groups. Sifting through the histories and writing clearly and openly, Coleman seeks to untangle the webs of meaning and fairly represent the individuals and groups involved. This powerful volume is a significant contribution to the literatures on race and race-relations in Virginia." —Frederic W. Gleach, author of Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Culture

Ed Guerrero

"This is strong, innovative work that historicizes and challenges the legal construction and maintenance of ‘racially pure’ categories, as well as established hierarchies of race and privilege. Coleman’s project moves far beyond America’s fading, ‘black-white binary’ as a means of mapping the nation’s racial politics. In doing so, the book suggests a far more multicultural future on the horizon. Thoroughly researched and well written, That the Blood Stay Pure is necessary reading." —Ed Guerrero, New York University

Dorothy Roberts

"That the Blood Stay Pure provides a crucial missing chapter of America’s racial history—the toxic consequences of Virginia’s racial purity campaign on Black-Indian identities and relationships. Coleman boldly confronts the taboo topic of anti-Black racism that endures in some Indian tribes, while offering an alternative vision of recognition, reconciliation, and respect. This eye-opening book will expand and challenge your thinking about race." —Dorothy Roberts, University of Pennsylvania

From the Publisher
"Brave, brilliant, exciting. That the Blood Stay Pure looks to me like a prize-winner. The author attacks the broad history of race in US history—the ways it has worked, the ways in which it has been portrayed, including by historians and anthropologists—with an empirical focus on Virginia as a particularly illuminating case study. Every chapter takes a provocative, fresh look at its subject." —Peter Wallenstein, Virginia Tech

"[T]this tremendous book, wisely honing in on one state, one set of political agendas, and a chronological view of the phenomenon of negotiated ethnicity, is the most thorough treatment of the topic this reviewer has read. A pure joy!... Essential." —Choice

Product Details

Indiana University Press
Publication date:
Blacks in the Diaspora Series
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Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

That the Blood Stay Pure

African Americans, Native Americans, and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia

By Arica L. Coleman

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2013 Arica L. Coleman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01050-6


Notes on the State of Virginia: Jeffersonian Thought and the Rise of Racial Purity Ideology in the Eighteenth Century

This belief is founded on what I have seen of man white, red, and black ... they [American Indians] are formed in mind as well as in body on the same module with the "Homo sapiens Europaeus" ... I advance it therefore, as a suspicion only, that the blacks ... are inferior to the whites in endowments both of body and mind. —THOMAS JEFFERSON, NOTES ON THE STATE OF VIRGINIA

In 1780, while the United States remained at war for its independence from Britain, Joseph Jones, a member of the Virginia congressional delegation, received a questionnaire from then secretary of the French legation to the United States, François Marbois. Marbois had compiled and distributed the questionnaire to delegates in order to obtain information concerning each of the thirteen states. Comprised of twenty-two questions, Marbois's questionnaire inquired of such things as the state's history (pre- and post-colonization), climate, waterways, natural resources, boundaries, inhabitants (particularly aborigines and Africans), militia, education, religious worship, commercial production, and currency. Jones presented Marbois's inquiry to the one person he felt capable of handling such a myriad of questions concerning the Virginia colony: Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson enthusiastically worked on answering the questionnaire. He reorganized the questions and set out to answer them, in most cases, as "accurately" as possible.

That Jefferson took this project seriously was expressed in a letter he wrote to Charles-François d'Anmours, the French vice consul residing in Philadelphia. Jefferson disclosed to d'Anmours that he was diligently at work on Marbois's questionnaire and that this work was "making me much better acquainted with my own country [Virginia] than I ever was before." Certainly, Jefferson was already knowledgeable in many areas having been the privileged son of one of the largest planters (i.e. slave owners) in the colony. He received an impressive formal education in addition to being an independent learner. His thirst for knowledge seemed unquenchable and this was reflected in the meticulous way he went about answering the inquiry. Jefferson first began with the questions he could readily answer with little difficulty. Concerning the questions of which he knew the least, he spent hours researching the topics. Jefferson seemed quite proud of the work he had completed. This had been no simple question and answer exercise, but rather a scholarly endeavor replete with footnotes and appendices. Upon completion he not only sent a copy to Marbois, but to his closest friends as well. Initially, Jefferson opted for a limited readership. In a letter to Marquis de Chastellux in 1785, Jefferson stated, "The strictures on slavery and on the constitution of Virginia ... are the parts which I do not wish to have made public, at least, til I know whether their publication would do most harm or good." Yet, his strictures on slavery and the constitution proved of little consequence. It was his "strictures" on Black inferiority and repatriation that proved most detrimental to the African American population.

Jefferson's assertions concerning the so-called inherent inferiority of people of African descent "were more widely read, in all probability, than any others until the mid-nineteenth century." Indeed, it appears Jefferson's response to Query XIV remains the most famous, or rather infamous passage in the book that was to be his only published work. Most often this passage is highlighted to demonstrate the contradictions of Jefferson's attitudes toward Blacks. How could a man who declared all men created equal make such disparaging remarks about people of African descent? Scholars have spent decades trying to reconcile these contrasting views. The answer to this question becomes more complex when viewing Jefferson's favorable remarks in Query VI regarding the aboriginal population of North America. Jefferson's persistence concerning American Indian equality with Whites is often cited to highlight his contrasting attitude towards African Americans and to demonstrate his philanthropy towards American Indians. As Winthrop Jordan asserted, "Confronted with three races in America he determinedly turned three into two by transforming the Indian into a degraded white man yet basically noble brand of white man." Yet, this romantic view of American Indians was only reserved for frontier Indians as Jefferson viewed Indians living in his own state less favorably. In Query XI Virginia Indians were not transformed into noble Whites, but rather transformed into ignoble Blacks due to their intermixing with the African American population. Jefferson's assertion that Virginia Indians were "more Negro than Indian" informed the attitudes of twentieth-century Virginia eugenicists whose mission was to preserve White racial purity by any means necessary. This campaign to preserve White racial integrity threatened the existence of Indians within the Commonwealth by constructing an Indian identity bound for extinction due to Black "contamination" and presaged Virginia's twentieth-century eugenics campaign to redefine all Virginia Indians as Negro.

In Query VI of Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson refuted the assertion of leading French Naturalist George Buffon, who concluded that life forms in the "new world" were degenerate, as the climate was colder and wetter than that of Europe. According to Jefferson, not only did Buffon insinuate that the animals on the American continent were inferior, the Frenchman also believed humans native to the continent to be inferior as well.

Of course Jefferson took offense to this as he was a native born American. However, in defending the equality of Europeans born in North America to those born in Europe, Jefferson did not turn to American-born Europeans as proof that Americans were in equal standing with their counterparts across the ocean; instead he turned to the indigenous population. Jefferson's seizure upon North American aborigines to construct American identity was typical of eighteenth-century colonists who had to navigate through their "liminal" status of non-identity during the revolutionary period. Thus American Indians became central to the colonists' "rites of passage" from British subjects to American patriots.

Consequently, Jefferson refuted Buffon by constructing American identity based on the image of the noble savage. Jefferson described American Indians as "formed in mind as well as in body on the same module with the 'Homo sapiens Europaeus.'" He continued his discourse by commending the indigenous population for their bravery in battle, their innate affection displayed towards kinship, and their superior gift of oration. The latter he saw in some sense as superior to anything Europe had produced. Jefferson contended, "Of their eminence of oratory ... Some, however, we have of very superior lustre. I may challenge the whole orations of Demosthenes and Cicero, and of any more eminent orator, if Europe has furnished more eminent, to produce a single passage, superior to the speech of Logan, a Mingo chief." "Logan's Lament," a speech delivered to Lord Dunmore on behalf of Mingo Chief John Logan during the peace treaty proceedings with the Shawnee Indians in 1774, was viewed by Jefferson as the standard bearer of American Indian rhetoric and intellectual prowess. While Europeans used the development of a written language as a yardstick for civilization, Jefferson defended its absence among American Indians: "Before we condemn the Indians of this continent as wanting genius, we must consider that letters have not yet been introduced to them."

To further defend the equality of American Indians to Europeans, Jefferson contested the views of another European, Don Ulloa, for his unfair assessment regarding the so-called degeneracy of the aborigines. Ulloa based his assessment of the indigenous population on what he determined to be the inferiority of South American Indians to Europeans. Although Jefferson agreed with Ulloa's assessment, he opposed the European's conclusions because he believed the southern American Indian's degeneracy was not innate, but rather the result of slavery: Ulloa "saw the Indian of South America only and that after he had passed through ten generations of slavery," contended Jefferson. "It is very unfair, from this sample, to judge of the natural genius of this race of men." Jefferson insisted that the indigenous population of North America far better reflected the genius of American Indians as they had not been so altered by the consequence of enslavement as those in South America.

Throughout his life Jefferson remained convinced of the natural genius of American Indians, although he also invoked the image of the deficient Indian to justify an Anglo expansionist agenda. Hence, Jefferson's campaign for what Robert Berkhofer termed "expansion with honor," advocated for the amalgamation of the two peoples. Jefferson expressed this sentiment numerous times as in this statement from an 1803 letter to Benjamin Hawkins: "In truth the ultimate point of rest & happiness for them [American Indians] is to let our settlements and theirs meet and blend together, to intermix, and become one people. Incorporating themselves with us as citizens of the United States, this is what the natural progress of things will, of course, bring on, and it will be better to promote than to retard it."

Jefferson's advocacy for White–Indian amalgamation may seem contradictory given his own as well as Virginia's obsession with racial purity and proscriptions against interracial sex and marriage as reflected in its early statutes. The first known Virginia statute recorded in 1630 called for Hugh Davis "to be soundly whipped for ... defiling himself with a Negro." The year 1691 marked the first formal legal proscription against intermarriage between Whites and people of color which included Negroes, mulattoes, and Indians. The law was intended to control the increase of mixed race children whom legislators described as "that abominable mixture and spurious issue." This disparaging statement referred to the offspring of White and non-White couples. There were no such proscriptions against non-White interracial couples; therefore, African and American Indian liaisons went unmolested. During the formative years of the Virginia legislature, it was customary to amend a law by reenacting it and including the amendment within the body of the legislation. In addition, all laws were repealed during each session and either reenacted using the same language of the old law or with further amendments included as necessary. Such was the case regarding the regulation of race, sex, and marriage as the 1691 statute was reenacted and amended in 1705, 1723, 1765, and 1785. The amendments reflected a change in racial definition and/or an adjustment of the penalties for violators of the law. Penalties from the colonial era to the end of the Jim Crow era were severe for those who violated racial purity laws. Jefferson's altered position regarding amalgamation with Indians, however, was in keeping with earlier sentiments expressed by other prominent Virginia citizens who promoted an assimilationist agenda as a means to further colonize the indigenous population and to acquire their lands.

By the mid eighteenth century some White Virginians began to rethink proscriptions against intermarriage with Indians. There was little intermarriage between Whites and Indians after the John Rolfe and Pocahontas union. Unlike the Spanish and French, who freely intermarried with the Indians, such practice was forbidden by the English. As Peter Fountaine stated in 1757, "but this our wise politicians put an effectual stop at the beginning of our settlement here, for when they heard that John Rolfe had married Pocahontas, it was deliberated in Council whether he had not committed high treason by doing so ... and had not some trouble intervened which put a stop to the inquiry, the poor man might have been hanged." Fountaine contended that intermarriage with the Indians would have insured better White–Indian relations in the Virginia settlement as it "would have incorporated them with us effectively, and made of them staunch friends." Colonel William Byrd concurred asserting that the English's disdain towards intermarrying with the Indians, whom they viewed as reprobate heathens, cost them a lasting peace with their colonial subjects. While these gentlemen questioned the logic regarding proscriptions against White–Indian intermarriage, others attempted to repeal laws against such proscriptions. The first attempt to repeal proscriptions against White–Indian intermarriage was made in 1699 by Sir William Johnson who submitted a petition to the Virginia Burgesses. He had married an Indian woman and fathered children by her. It is said that through this marriage he gained influence over the Six Nations (Iroquois Confederacy), thus he believed other White men should follow his example. In 1784 Patrick Henry sponsored a bill in the Virginia Legislature proposing monetary incentives for Whites who married American Indians. Neither bill became law. Overwhelmingly, Anglos did not view Indians or rather, as will be discussed later, Virginia Indians as suitable marriage partners.

While Jefferson proposed that Anglos and American Indians become one people, he proposed the opposite for Anglos and Africans as his image of the latter was less sanguine. In assessing the genius, or supposed lack thereof in people of African descent, Jefferson came to a far different conclusion than that he had ascribed to American Indians. Jefferson asserted, "in reason they [African Americans] are inferior ... in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous ... never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration." While Jefferson thought it unfair of Ulloa to draw conclusions concerning American Indians based on people who had passed through ten generations of slavery, people of African descent, who were victims of European slave markets since the fifteenth century, were not given the same consideration. Jefferson felt there was no need to look to Africa to ascertain the original character of African Americans. He concluded, "It would be unfair to follow them to Africa for this investigation. We will consider them here, on the same stage with the whites and where the facts are not apocryphal on which a judgment is to be formed."

Why would Jefferson insist that American Indians be viewed in "their original character" prior to European contact, but insist that this would be unnecessary for people of African descent? First, Jefferson, like most Europeans, embraced the myth of Africa as "the dark continent," whose inhabitants were bestial in spite of their human form. Second, Jefferson believed that despite their supposed savage beginnings, enslaved Africans had been well-exposed to the high culture of Europeans in America and Europe, an advantage he claimed American Indians did not have.


Excerpted from That the Blood Stay Pure by Arica L. Coleman. Copyright © 2013 Arica L. Coleman. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Meet the Author

Arica L. Coleman is Assistant Professor of Black American Studies at the University of Delaware.

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