Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Families across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787-1861 by Joshua D. Rothman
Laws and cultural norms militated against interracial sex in Virginia before the Civil War, and yet it was ubiquitous in cities, towns, and plantation communities throughout the state. In Notorious in the Neighborhood, Joshua Rothman examines the full spectrum of interracial sexual relationships under slavery--from Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and the intertwined interracial families of Monticello and Charlottesville to commercial sex in Richmond, the routinized sexual exploitation of enslaved women, and adultery across the color line. He explores the complex considerations of legal and judicial authorities who handled cases involving illicit sex and describes how the customary toleration of sex across the color line both supported and undermined racism and slavery in the early national and antebellum South.
White Virginians allowed for an astonishing degree of flexibility and fluidity within a seemingly rigid system of race and interracial relations, Rothman argues, and the relationship between law and custom regarding racial intermixture was always shifting. As a consequence, even as whites never questioned their own racial supremacy, the meaning and significance of racial boundaries, racial hierarchy, and ultimately of race itself always stood on unstable ground--a reality that whites understood and about which they demonstrated increasing anxiety as the nation's sectional crisis intensified.
Joshua D. Rothman is assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
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From the Publisher
Convincing, presented well, and deeply researched.Southern Historian
Rothman's work shines with exacting research, nuanced readings of the evidence, wide-ranging arguments, and attention to multiple layers of meaning. The intriguing stories he has uncovered serve to illuminate the complexities of race and sexuality in the antebellum South.Martha Hodes, author of White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South
In this superb study brimming with fascinating primary material, Joshua Rothman illuminates the history of interracial relationships in the Old South. Beginning with Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, he provides a masterful analysis of the connections between interracial relations and family life, sexual commerce, crime and violence, marriage and divorce, and the shifting legal and social constructions of race.Victoria E. Bynum, Southwest Texas State University
Notorious in the Neighborhood makes an important contribution to the historical literature by uncovering so many instances of interracial congress and convincing us of both their variety and their ordinariness. With its focus more on behavior than on values, this book should serve as a corrective to works that treat race primarily as an intellectual development.Journal of Southern History
Rothman has succeeded in providing a richly nuanced picture of the dynamics of race and sex in antebellum Virginia.Journal of American History
[A] smart, well-researched, and readable book.William and Mary Quarterly
A fascinating and well-supported portrayal of Virginians' attitudes toward interracial sex in the antebellum period.Florida Historical Quarterly
Rothman's study illuminates Virginia's role as a model that perpetuated social practices and shaped legislative actions beyond its borders.Virginia Quarterly Review