|Title:||Rape and Race in Colonial Newspapers, 1728-1776.|
|Abstract:||Examines the creation and perpetuation of racial ideologies in the U.S. press during the 1700s and the effect on social attitudes toward rape incidents. Use of newspaper reports of rapes or attempted rape prosecutions between 1728 and 1776; Differences in the presentation of reports between black-on-white and white-on-white rapes; Impact on racialized views of sexual violence during the period.|
|Full Text Word Count:||10065|
|Database:||Academic Search Premier|
This article uses scores of colonial newspaper report of rape to examine the creation and perpetuation of racial ideologies in the early American press. Contrary to the historiographic emphasis on the nineteen-century "myth of the black rapist," this research shows that colonial newspapers reflected racial differences in the ways that they reported rapes. Reports of black-on-white rapes presented the attack as a racial crime, while white-on-white rapes rates of the individual attacker. Further, reports might identify victims of black simply as white women or girls, while reports identified victims of white rapists as young and vulnerable or as the victims of particularly heinous attacks. Together, these patterns of reporting reified the connection between race and rape
In 1736 a Pennsylvania newspaper reported, "Saturday last was tried here a Negro Man for Ravishing a White Woman near Derby, and is condemn'd to be hang'd. Tis said that Saturday next is apointed for his Execution." Eighteen years later, the same newspaper noted, "Last Thursday Night, one James Gale, a Taylor, was sent to our Goal, for committing a rape on the Body of a Child about six Years old."(n1) These brief notices were typical reports on rape in colonial American newspapers. Since a colonial newspaper was usually only a few pages long, most rapes were reported in one or two sentences that confirmed the occurrence of the rape or the outcome of the prosecution. Given the brief nature of such entries (and the difficulties in locating them), few historians have devoted significant attention to the general portrayal of rape in colonial newspapers. However, much can be learned about colonial attitudes toward rape, especially the intersection of race and rape, from these brief reports.
Even in one-sentence statements, these newspaper reports shed light on the colonial construction of racial identifies in relation to sex. Newspapers reported rapes by white and black men differently. When a white man was the defendant, papers focused on the atrocity of the specific act. When blacks were accused of rape, newspapers emphasized the crime as a wrong committed by a member of a racial group. Moreover, newspaper reports on rape prosecutions made the victim's identity integral to the report of the rape. Such reporting highlighted rape as a black-on-white crime, while white-on-white rapes were treated as attacks by single misguided individuals. In so doing, colonial newspapers used race as an ideological construction that imputed causation to supposed racial differences: blackness indicated uncontrolled sexual behavior.(n2) While newspapers did not create racial ideologies apart from legal and other social influences, they could be an influential means to distribute and sustain racial beliefs. As James N. Green has written, "Since taverns and coffeehouses subscribed to them, and since they were often read aloud, their impact on daily life must have been considerable."(n3) Thus, a careful examination of colonial newspapers shows how the colonial press helped to create or perpetuate racially-based understandings of sexual assaults.
This article examines reports of rape between 1728 and 1776. In this period, nearly 100 newspaper reports of rapes or attempted rape prosecutions were located in twenty-one newspapers published in nine colonies.(n4) A two-pronged approach was used to gather sources. First, a comprehensive study of two major colonial newspapers, the Pennsylvania Gazette of Philadelphia and the Virginia Gazette of Williamsburg, was made. The Pennsylvania Gazette is available in fully searchable text, and the Virginia Gazette has a print index.(n5) Second, because this article is a small part of a larger project on the social, legal, and cultural histories of sexual assault in early America, there also was a search for other newspaper reports of rape prosecutions.(n6)
The study begins in 1728 with the birth of the Pennsylvania Gazette. The second quarter of the eighteenth century marked the rise of multiple colonial American newspapers, and the increasing focus on American, rather than English, reporting.(n7) The nine existing colonial newspapers in 1735 nearly tripled to twenty-six papers by the eve of the American Revolutionary era, when the study ends.(n8) Beyond the general social and political consequences of revolution and independence, the tone and genre of criminal narratives began to shift in the last decades of the eighteenth century. As Karen Haltunnen has argued, published narratives on capital crimes had shifted from their earlier emphasis on sinful humanity to identifying the criminal as a "moral alien."(n9) By the end of the eighteenth century, the publication of criminal trial transcripts (in newspapers and as pamphlets) provided far more salacious details than the earlier genre of last words and execution sermons.(n10) At the same time, Northern emancipation of slaves shifted both racial ideologies and practices.(n11) Anxiety over the bounds of whiteness and freedom led to an intensification of racist ideologies. Yet an intensification of racism should not lead one to ignore the colonial influence on black-on-white rape myths. This analysis of colonial newspapers suggests that the emphasis on nineteenth-century black men as rapists may reflect historiographic interest and source availability more than historical reality. Ultimately, colonial newspaper reports of rape showed that eighteenth-century Americans had already developed subtle notions of racism, which would become the "myth of the black rapist."
Comparatively little is known about the presentation of rape in colonial American newspapers. While many studies of rape have focused on the seventeenth century, when few newspapers existed,(n12) scholars who have studied rape in the eighteenth century have generally focused on court records of sexual assaults, using newspaper reports primarily as supplemental documentation of these crimes.(n13) Journalism historians have included reports of rape in their general histories of colonial American newspapers, but they have rarely analyzed them in detail.(n14) Those who have focused specifically on race and rape have come to conflicting, if not contradictory, conclusions.
Scholars who have analyzed print sources on rape have primarily relied on the published trials and last words of executed rapists, rather than the more scattered discussions of rape in dozens of early American newspapers. Both Daniel Williams and Daniel Cohen have written about published criminal narratives on rape. Examining stories about both white and black convicted rapists, Williams found that New England rape narratives reinforced and popularized racist stereotypes. His conclusions concurred with literary scholar Richard Slotkin's earlier analysis of narratives of black crime publications in New England. Cohen modified these arguments, finding that religious and literary motifs eclipsed an emphasis on racial identification of black rapists. Although his revisionist claims contradicted Slotkin and Williams, the differences in interpretation may be one of degree, rather than opposition. Cohen acknowledged that even "if Slotkin and Williams overstated the protoracist content" of such crime publications, "the cumulative impact [of criminal narratives of rape] was to popularize and reinforce hostile stereotypes of African-American men as sexual predators."(n15)
Beyond their debate over the degree of rape's racial presentation, the scholarship has been limited in several ways. First, analyses of the print culture of rape have focused on the few crimes that resulted in stand-alone pamphlets and broadsides. One scholar has estimated that only a handful of the more than 200 criminal narratives published in the eighteenth century focused. on the crime of rape.(n16) Second, the earliest stand-alone publication on rape appeared in 1768, so such narratives do not reveal much about print culture before the Revolutionary era.(n17) These pamphlets were also a New England (largely Massachusetts) phenomenon in the eighteenth century. Newspapers, on the other hand, provide a more extensive chronological, geographical, and numerical body of sources. They allow one to move beyond the exceptional representations of rape in one region of colonial America and focus on the more typical image of rape in the early American press. Furthermore, by fully comparing representations of black and white men accused of rape, this research locates differences that might escape scholars who focus solely on black-on-white rape. Thus, this article explores the ways in which the popular press created and perpetuated stereotypes of the black rapist.
Aside from the few articles on the racialization of rape in early print culture, most of the historiographic focus on rape and race has centered on the nineteenth-century south and the "myth of the black rapist."(n18) In recent years, scholars have begun to historicize this myth. Martha Hodes has suggested that the fear of a hypersexual black man was largely a post-Civil War development.(n19) Diane Miller Sommerville concurred with Hodes' conclusions. Using Virginia and North Carolina prosecutions, she argued that "antebellum white southerners were not nearly as consumed by fears of black men raping white women as their postbellum descendants were."(n20) Unlike studies by these authors, Peter Bardaglio's study of the published legal records on black and white defendants in antebellum rape cases led him to conclude that white southerners "widely shared the belief that black men were obsessed with the desire to rape white women."(n21) Again, the difference here may be of degree: because Bardaglio examined rape prosecutions against white as well as black men, he saw a substantial racial difference in the treatment of each group, while Sommerville's chronological comparison with the future intensification of racial ideologies obscured the racialization of the earlier period. Regardless of the degree of racism found by these scholars, their conclusions were again bounded by the focus of their studies. Scholars of race and rape have concentrated on the (upper) south and largely on the nineteenth century.(n22)
By moving beyond individual studies of New England print genres and southern racialized exceptionalism, one can avoid pre-conceptions of regional differences and better understand the public presentation of rape. While much of colonial history has discussed the eighteenth-century development of distinctive regional cultures, newspapers indicate a shared public print culture.(n23) Colonial newspapers were derivative in context, often republishing stories from their American competitors as well as from London newspapers.(n24) Rape reports were no exception. For example, Pennsylvania newspapers published identical stories on the conviction and sentencing of two rapists in 1730, and in 1774, the story of an infamous rape was published verbatim in at least four New England newspapers.(n25) The racialization of rape was a national phenomenon, not a regional one, and colonial newspapers can provide the outlines of these racial beliefs.
The most striking pattern in rape reports was the valuation of race in reporting black-on-white versus white-on-white attacks. To explore these differences, this study first compares the amount of attention given to white and black rapists in colonial American newspapers, and this is followed by an examination of the different ways that papers presented the black and white men who were accused of rape. Finally, a close reading of several reports shows how the focus of the reports of rape differed according to the race of the defendant.
All newspapers reported a comparatively high number of incidents involving African American defendants in rape cases.(n26) For instance, of thirty-nine reports of rape in the Pennsylvania Gazette between 1728 and 1776, fourteen (35.9 percent) involved black rapists even though blacks accounted for far less than 10 percent of the colony's population. Besides reports of rapes by blacks in their own colony, newspapers reported on black-on-white rapes in other regions. The Gazette repeatedly reported on rape trials of black men in New England, the South, and even the West Indies. It told readers about a black man who had attempted to rape a white woman in Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1764; about slaves raping white women in Maryland in 1751 and 1754; and about a slave who had been executed for attempting to rape a white girl in Jamaica in 1767.(n27) Similar patterns occurred in other newspapers as well. The Boston Post- Boy reported the conviction of a black man who had attempted to rape a white girl in Philadelphia in 1735.(n28) Rhode Island's Newport Mercury reported the execution of a black man for rape in New York in 1763.(n29)
Thus, black-on-white rape was reported far more than the black population might indicate. Whether this was due to an excess of black-on-white rape prosecutions or the press' tendency to reprint black-on-white rape reports is impossible to determine with any certainty because incomplete court records make any comparison inexact. However, a comparison of Pennsylvania prosecutions with reports in the Pennsylvania Gazette suggests that the newspaper emphasized stories about black rapists beyond levels of local prosecution. A search of available court records in this period has led to thirty-eight known prosecutions for sexual assaults in Pennsylvania, only four of which were charges against black rapists for raping white women.(n30) Thus, regardless of the degree of discrimination in court prosecutions, newspaper-reported rapes more frequently emphasized an image of the black rapist.
Beyond possible overemphasis on black rapists, newspapers used different ways to identify the white and black men who had committed rapes. While a black man was always identified as a "negro" or a "mulatto," reports of white-on-white rapes never stated the race of the attacker. Instead, reports of white-on-white sexual attacks often focused on the ethnicity or class status of the accused. For example, newspapers might use the Anglo-American belief in Irish inferiority, as well as the expectation that Irishmen would behave in an uncivilized and savage manner, when describing a white Irish attacker.(n31) The Pennsylvania Gazette invoked ethnic and class distinctions in 1736 by reporting a rape by an "Irish servant man."(n32) In 1729, several newspapers reported that "James Burnside, an Irishman," was tried for rape in Pennsylvania,(n33) and Brian Sheehan, an Irish man executed for rape in Massachusetts in 1771, received attention in multiple newspapers.(n34) Other reports might not explicitly identify defendants, such as James McKinzy, who Pennsylvania Gazatte readers in 1766 were likely to recognize as Irish from their surnames.(n35)
Other white men likely to appear in newspaper notices for rape prosecutions included community outsiders. A Connecticut newspaper reported that a transient had dragged a twenty-year-old woman into the woods and had raped her in 1770.(n36) Four New England newspapers reported an ex-soldier raped a woman in Falmouth, New Hampshire, in 1777.(n37) Such newspaper reports cast these rapes as attacks committed by specific categories of (white) men, who were marked by class, status, or culture, rather than by race. Thus, the role of race varied according to the race of the defendant. Unlike black attackers, the invisibility of whiteness allowed white sexual attackers to be seen in categories beyond race.
Sexual attacks by white men also might be reported when they were particularly shocking. The four-man gang rape of a young woman in 1772 received newspaper coverage in Philadelphia.(n38) A Boston paper reported a 1750 Pennsylvania rape in which a white man assaulted a four-year-old girl, "torn open the poor Creature with his Fingers, and most vilely used her."(n39) Multiple newspapers in 1770 reported a Dutch man's rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl.(n40) And the 1753 story of white soldiers raping a woman might have been aiming to shock readers by reporting that the "two unnatural villains had carnal knowledge of her after she was dead."(n41) All of these white-on-white rapes were reported as extreme and extraordinarily horrific attacks, showing that details were integral to the reports of white-on-white rape.
Other extraordinary details might make a white man's sexual attack newsworthy as well. A particularly vulnerable victim heightened the perceived magnitude of the assault. The Pennsylvania Gazette published multiple reports related to a white man's rape of a "poor old Woman upwards of Eighty" in 1743 while another reported an attack on a "poor dumb [i.e. mentally handicapped] Woman."(n42) A schoolteacher's rape of his young female students in 1774 highlighted the abuse of his position of power.(n43) The 1760s prosecution of Dennis Kilsoye may have been notable purely for his relation to prominent figures: the reports on his rape identified him as "the Coachman of His Excellency Governor Franklin."(n44) Thus, whether it had to do with the physical viciousness of the rape, the defenselessness of the victim, or other remarkable factors, reports of rapes by white men seemed to include reasons for their publication beyond the occurrence of a rape. Rape by white men was notable for its exceptional nature, and readers were asked to share in the outrage at such an uncivilized act by an individual, not in the condemnation of white men's general depravity.
Newspapers also reported when blacks committed particularly gruesome sexual crimes. For instance, a 1730 report on a rape in New Jersey stated that the black man had cut a white girl's throat as he tried to rape her.(n45) But the majority of reports of black-on-white rapes provided little detail about the attack. When a Maryland court convicted a black man for rape, the Pennsylvania Gazette reported in 1750 without any supple mental information, "We hear that a dead warrant is issued for the execution of a Negroe fellow, condemned at last Calvert county court for a rape."(n46) A Maryland newspaper reported the 1751 conviction and pending execution of a black man named Sharper for the rape of a white woman without providing any details about the attack.(n47) The Rhode Island Gazette wrote in 1732 that "a Negro Man belonging to Mr. Elsworth of Windsor was convicted for a Rape, committed on the Body of a white Woman about 18 Years old" without further specifications.(n48)
Instead of the horrors of the attack, reports of black-on-white rapes focused on the horrific punishment that would be meted out to the black attacker. A conviction of a black man for the attempted rape of a white girl in New York in 1763 resulted in multiple newspaper reports of the scene of his execution: "The Mob were so incensed" that they pelted the dead man with stones and snowballs and then "dragged his Body through some of the streets."(n49) A Virginia newspaper reported in 1737 that a slave convicted of attempted rape was "much pelted by the Populace."(n50) In 1744, the Pennsylvania Gazette reported that a Maryland slave convicted of raping a white girl "will be burnt alive," and in 1761, it reported on a South Carolina rape prosecution in which "a Negroe fellow, about 17 years old, was burnt alive, at a stake on the green."(n51) And in 1754, the Pennsylvania Gazette reported that an enslaved man had been found guilty of the rape and murder of a twelve-year-old girl, but it apologetically told readers that "what Death he is to suffer we have not yet heard."(n52) Therefore, by focusing on the punishment meted out to black men, rather than the shocking nature of their crimes, newspapers emphasized not only the absolute guilt of blacks but the importance of colonial racial hierarchies. The stark image of burning black bodies segregated them from individual white offenders, emphatically marking blacks as a danger to colonial society.
Some reports of rape in early American newspapers were explicitly constructed as warnings to and about dangerous African Americans. In 1718, even before regular newspaper reporting of rapes began, the Boston News-Letter published a story about a "Negro Man" who had attempted to rape "an English Woman," when a man (the lack of a racial qualifier implying his whiteness) "observing [the black man's] Design, took out his Knife, before the Negro was aware, and cut off his unruly pasts smack and smooth."(n53) The story, described "as a caveat for Negroes meddling for the future with any white Women," focused specifically on the re-enforcement of the social order through physical emasculation of the black man. While this may have been an apocryphal story, it is similar to later reports in its focus on a black-on-white rape and on the punishment meted out to black criminals. When a slave named Cato was tried for raping a young white woman in New York in 1734, the New York Gazette ended its report by noting the many members "of the Black Tribe" witnessed his execution and hoped that "it may be a Means to deter others from attempting such wicked Crimes for the future."(n54) Thus, newspapers could use the report of a black-on-white rape to warn blacks and to reassure whites of proper racial order.
The report on Cato's trial for rape was one of the most detailed in colonial news papers. By comparing it to a comparably detailed report of a white-on-white rape, one can further explore the subtle differences in the portrayal of black and white rapists. The story of Cato's rape of a white woman began with a description of the attack. The New York Gazette reported that "in dusk of evening" a "negro man" grabbed a young woman who was walking home, threw her down, stopped her from screaming, and tried to rape her. The Gazette stated the woman told the black man "she knew him and who was his master," at which point he ran away. The report continued with a description of the trial, including the information that Cato had allegedly "endeavoured to make like Attempt on another woman some time before." The court sentenced Cato to be burnt alive for this attempted rape, and the story concluded with the warning noted above to others in the "Black Tribe."(n55) In 1769, several newspapers reported on the prosecution of a white man, Elisha Bliss, for raping Mary Turner. As in many rapes, the report of Elisha's attack detailed how he had followed her as she walked home alone, "violently seized" her, shoved a handkerchief in her mouth, dragged her into the woods, and raped her. Unlike most rapes, however, Elisha then kept her captive for several hours and repeatedly raped her. Rather than report the victim's specific statement, newspaper reports referred to Mary's resistance through "strength, prayers, and tears." Finally, she tricked Elisha and escaped, and the report concluded that he now awaited trial in the Taunton jail.(n56)
The differences between these two reports are not absolute. Both contained the formulaic recounting of a rape as a sudden attack, the prevention of a woman's screams, and her resistance. Yet the reported reactions of the women also suggest a racialized presentation of the crime. While the content of Mary's pleas and screams were not detailed, the racially-specific accusations of the victim of a black racist were: Cato's white victim escaped the sexual assault by invoking his master's name, reminding him of his racial and slave status. While Elisha's rape on Mary contained the exceptional elements of kidnapping and multiple rapes, Cato's attack seemed to be a more typical attack. The exceptional detail in Cato's case involved the previous commission of sexual assaults, a fact that again emphasized the dangers of black male sexuality. Finally, Cato's report focused extensively on his conviction and punishment, complete with an explicit warning to other blacks. In contrast, there is no evidence of a follow-up story on Elisha's conviction.(n57) Such subtle differences in presentation, content, and emphasis led to different depictions of black and white rapists.
There were other ways in which newspaper reports of rape constructed white defendants as individual offenders and black defendants as representative of the failings of their racial group. Reports of white-on-white rape regularly listed the name of the defendant, yet reports of black-on-white rape often referred to the defendant simply as a "Negro." The Pennsylvania Gazette referred to an accused rapist as a "Negro Man" but noted that a white rapist, "a likely young Fellow," was named William Coulter.(n58) New England newspapers reported that a Quaker, Daniel King, attacked a young girl, and that a mariner, James Corbit, was accused of attacking a seventeen year old, but it reported just that a "negro fellow" had been sentenced to death for rape.(n59) And, of course, on the few occasions that black men were identified, they were identified only by the single name that they were allotted under slavery.(n60)
Newspaper reports of sexual assaults also might focus on the guilt of black men alongside the innocence of white men. There is no known record of a newspaper report of a black man who was found innocent of rape or attempted rape. Conversely, almost one-third of the white men mentioned as sexual assaulters in newspapers were acquitted or found innocent of at least some of the charges against them. The Virginia Gazette reported Owen Flooker's acquittal in 1752.(n61) In 1773, it reported that Thomas Shaw had been charged with rape and announced his acquittal six months later.(n62) In contrast, several reports of black-on-white rapes specified the defendant's admission of guilt. In 1731, the Pennsylvania Gazette reported that a black man accused of raping a white woman in Delaware "confesses the Fact" of the rape.(n63) A report by the same newspaper on a black man's execution for rape in Massachusetts likewise told readers that "at the Place of Execution, he freely confess'd" his guilt.(n64)
The supplemental justifications for publication, which were regularly included in reports of white-on-white rape, created an image of exceptionalism, while the focus on blacks' guilt and punishments emphasized an image of black criminality. At every stage, newspapers treated white-on-white sexual assaults as individual attacks, while black-on-white crimes were racial crimes. Whites were more often identified as individuals, with specific names or ethnic and class identities. White-on-white rapes were more notable for the particular heinousness of the attack, while black-on-white rapes were reported with no supplemental details. White men might be exonerated of rape in colonial newspapers, while blacks never were. Finally, newspapers emphasized the punishment meted out to black offenders, sometimes with explicit warnings about the dangers of blacks.
Yet a focus (embraced by virtually all of the historiography) on black-on-white rape elides the complexity of race relations in early America, particularly the fact that Native Americans did not fit easily into any racial category. While the different treatment of white and black defendants is fairly clear, the limited number of newspaper reports involving Native Americans makes it exceptionally difficult to draw definitive conclusions about how racial ties to rape related to Native American men accused of sexual attacks. Scholarship on Native Americans and rape has largely focused on their sexual attitudes toward the rape of white captives rather than colonial rape prosecutions.(n65) Yet the newspaper treatment of Indian-on-white rape is suggestive.
This researcher identified four prosecuted Indian-on-white sexual assaults between 1728 and 1776. All but one were reported in colonial newspapers, perhaps suggesting above-average public attention to such assaults.(n66) The American Weekly Mercury reported that an Indian named Glascow had attempted a rape in 1730.(n67) The Virginia Gazette wrote in 1738 that an "Indian man servant" in Massachusetts had sexually assaulted a young girl.(n68) The Pennsylvania Gazette reported another rape by an Indian known as "Robin Hood" in 1745.(n69) These stories, like reports of black-on-white rape, were brief, carrying no supplemental details about the commission of the crime. Also like black defendants, none of the reported Indian-on-white attacks resulted in a not guilty verdict, and one of the reports specified that the "Indian upon examination confessd [sic]."(n70) Newspapers tended to include the names of Indian attackers more than black attackers, perhaps indicating a gradated racialized system that ranked Indians as more individually notable than blacks.(n71) Thus, although the number of Indian-on-white rape reports are too small for definitive conclusions, they do suggest that newspapers saw Indian-on-white rapes as more reportable than white-on-white rapes. In fact, some defendants identified as mulatto also may have been of Native American descent. For instance, in 1769, all court documents charging Benjamin Smith with an attempted rape of a white woman labeled him as a mulatto, but the Providence Gazette report of the prosecution called him "half breed Indian."(n72) Despite colonists' attempts to create exclusive racial categories, lines of race were constantly blurred, making Native Americans one of a group of people of color and perhaps making any non-white racial status indicative of a propensity to rape. By the nineteenth century, like the expanding "black rape myth," the image of the savage Indian rapist would replace notions of restrained noble savages who did not sexually assault white captives.(n73)
It is a chicken-and-egg exercise to determine whether the ties binding men of color to rape resulted from a comparative lack of concern over "average" white-on-white rapes or to a heightened concern over black-on-white (or Indian-on-white) rapes. Even in the first half of the eighteenth century, Americans singled out non-white men for special warnings about rape. One need not argue over whether to classify this as a full-blown "black rape myth" to agree that foundational connections between race and rape were well underway throughout colonial America. But attention to defendants in rape cases only tells half of the story of the racialization of rape. Scholars who have studied this have often focused more on black rapists than on white victims.(n74) Because so few prosecutions for rape involved non-white women, the victim's identity has become a given both in legal records and in print culture.(n75) But by ignoring the importance of the (white) victim's racial identity, this distorts the image of rape in early America.(n76)
Colonial newspapers almost exclusively reported only on the rapes of white women--all but one of the known reports focused on attacks on white women and girls (the one exception involved an exceptionally gruesome attempted rape and murder of two Native American women, which is discussed below). Despite the overwhelming consistency of the victim's racial status, the newspapers' identification of that status varied according to the race of the defendant. When a white man was accused, general identifying features such as "young woman" sufficed, such as when a Rhode Island newspaper reported that a white man named Bucklin had assaulted an unnamed young woman from Rehoboth in 1772.(n77) Whiteness was both an assumed attribute and an unnecessary detail when both attacker and victim shared the same racial identity. However, when an African-American man was accused, newspapers specified that the victim was a "white woman" or a "white child." By calling attention to black men's rape as a black-on-white assault, newspapers highlighted the racial atrocity of the rape.
A close examination of the one incident involving white men's sexual assault on non-white women shows how the heinousness of the crime took priority over the defendants' racial identity when white men were the attackers. In 1766, the Pennsylvania Gazatte reported that two Indian women had been murdered during a rape attempt by two white men. This was an extraordinary sexual assault. Aside from the atypical involvement of two men, the attempted sexual assault resulted in murder, and the women's bodies lay at the side of the road for several days (the Gazette reported that residents had "supposed them to be asleep") before the smell of rotting flesh resulted in the discovery of the crime. Finally, one of the women was pregnant and "near the Time of Delivery." The newspaper concluded that this attack was one "which the most savage Nations on Earth could not have surpassed."(n78) It was an aberration, typical of less civilized cultures. By explicitly comparing the white men's behavior to that of the most "savage Nations," the newspaper categorized such attacks as atypical of white men.
This report is the exception that proves the rule: rapes of nonwhite women, whether Indian or black, were not generally considered newsworthy. Prosecutions for sexual assaults on black victims occurred in colonial America, so there were incidents that newspapers might have reported, if only for their exceptional nature. A Massachusetts court prosecuted a man for attempting to rape a mulatto woman in 1758.(n79) Virginia courts prosecuted several black-on-black rapes,(n80) and several courts prosecuted Indian-on-Indian or black-on-Indian attacks as well, none of which seemed to have resulted in newspaper coverage.(n81) Thus, the racial status of the victim was crucial in determining the press' acknowledgement of the rape.
The second most significant pattern in the presentation of sexual assault victims might be called the age of innocence. Child victims of sexual assault seemed to receive particular attention in colonial newspapers. Besides the obvious immorality of the rape of children, indicating a young age let readers know that the victim was unmarried and presumably virginal, therefore heightening the offense of the rape.(n82) Thus, newspaper reports paid particular attention to white-on-white sexual assaults that involved young girls or incest. The Providence Gazette reported James Benton's Connecticut conviction for lascivious conduct to his daughter in 1769.(n83) Charles Callaghan's sexual assault on a "Girl under 10 Years of Age" occasioned multiple newspaper reports, as did John Ward's rape of a nine year old.(n84) John Domaine's sexual assault on an eight-year-old girl in New York was reported in several New England newspapers.(n85)
Newspapers also published multiple reports of black men's rape of white children. The New York Gazette and the Newport Mercury reported a black man's execution for the rape of a white child in 1763;(n86) the Virginia Gazette reported a slave's attempted rape of a seven-year-old white girl in 1737;(n87) and the Pennsylvania Gazette reported rapes by black men of a nine-year-old girl in 1744 and an eight-year-old girl in 1761.(n88) A sexual attack on a young white girl was a reportable crime, regardless of the defendant's race. Yet her age did not negate the importance of the rape as an interracial crime; all of these reports specified that the victim was white.
While newspapers generally only reported a rape, even at tempted rape might be worth reporting if the victim were a child. A white man's attempted rape of a child was reported in the Boston Evening Post in 1750, the Connecticut Gazette in 1755, and the Connecticut Courant in 1766.(n89) In 1770, multiple newspapers wrote about a white man's attempted rape of a ten-year-old girl.(n90) The surfeit of white-on-white-child sexual attacks was echoed, to some degree, with black defendants.(n91) Yet newspapers also printed reports of black men who had attempted to rape adult women, not just the girls who were the victims in reports of white men's attempted rapes. In 1764, the Pennsylvania Gazette reported that a "Negro Man" had been sentenced for attempting to rape a woman in Braintree, Massachusetts,(n92) and a "half-breed" mulatto man was accused of attempting to rape a woman in 1769 in the Providence Gazette.(n93) Thus, a black-on-white attempted rape was enough of a crime to merit publication, while a white-on-white attempted rape required a victimized child to place the crime in the public eye.
While race was not the sole determinant of the publicity value of a sexual assault, it played a crucial role in press reports of such attacks. Just as white defendants were identified through class or ethnic status, white victims were identified by their age. The importance of girlhood suggests that race, while crucial to the colonial construction of rape, was not an immutable characteristic that negated all other dynamics. Racial ideologies colored but did not totally reshape the public image of a sexual attack. While racial beliefs meant that black men were more easily seen as rapists, particularly vile sexual attacks by both blacks and whites received attention in early American newspapers.
The public portrayal of black-on-white and white-on-white sexual assaults suggests the differences in colonial attitudes toward black and white men. Black men were believable rapists while white men were rapists only in exceptional circumstances. If racism is defined as an association of certain characteristics with a particular skin color and bodily characteristics, perhaps colonial crime narratives did not need, as Cohen has claimed, "expressions of racial animus or contempt" to promote racial stereotypes.(n94) An emphasis on the race of the victim and the attacker in black-on-white rapes could signify rape as primarily an interracial crime, and the absence of racial markers in white-on-white rapes were equally crucial to the reflection of racial hierarchies. White men were rarely presented as rapists without supplemental criteria, and newspapers did not explicitly identify rapists as white. While virtually all victims were white, they were only racially identified in relation to black or Indian attackers. By identifying victims as white only in contrast to non-white defendants, newspapers emphasized the importance of racial difference in rape. The "myth of the black rapist" that scholars have sought to establish, qualify, or discredit might more accurately (though perhaps less gracefully) be called the myth of the black-on-white rapist." Racial ideologies developed as much in relation to whiteness as to blackness.
But can the "myth of the black rapist" be applied to the colonial period? Perhaps this is asking the wrong question and setting up a straw horse of racism, as if an absolute dividing line between racial ideologies and racist ideologies could be drawn. Scholars have often focused on the degree of racism in portrayals of rape, rather than fully examining how racial ideologies were cultivated through public images. Instead of asking "what did people fear," it might be more productive to ask how colonial Americans created race in public forums. The development of racial myths relied on a reification of these ideologies as a part of daily life. If colonial Americans regularly saw black men as typical rapists of white women, then they would have more easily identified black men as sexually dangerous.
To return to this article's opening anecdotes, the two brief sentences may have initially seemed quite similar in their portrayal of rape. But now one can see the racialized differences. Rather than identifying a rapist as a "white man," one can learn that James Gale, a tailor, committed the crime. Rather than an explicit statement of the victim's race, the report made her age (six years old) the distinguishing characteristic of the white man's victim. Further, the report detailed only his arrest, not his conviction or punishment. In contrast, the unnamed "Negro man," was convicted of raping a "White Woman," and half of the story focused on his upcoming execution. Such differences were repeated in scores of rape reports in colonial American newspapers. Rather than overt statements of racial discrimination, the papers reflected racial differences in the ways that they reported rapes, and such reports extended racial views of rape throughout the colonies. Even regions that did not prosecute many blacks for rape could read about black rapists in their local papers. While abolition, new print genres, and the expansion of the plantation system may have led to a nineteenth-century expansion of racialized rape, colonial Americans had already planted the seeds that would eventually grow into expanding fears of black male sexuality. Colonial American newspapers both produced and reflected racialized views of early American sexual violence.
(n1) See Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), July 22-August 2,1736, and December 5, 1754.
(n2) On the ideological construction of race, see Barbara Fields, "Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the United States of America," New Left Review 181 (May-June 1990): 95-118; and Shelley Fisher Fishkin, "Interrogating 'Whiteness,' Complicating 'Blackness:' Remapping American Culture," American Quarterly 47 (September 1995): 428-66.
(n3) James N. Green, "English Books and Printing in the Age of Franklin," in Hugh Amory and David D. Hall, eds., A History of the Book in America: The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 221.
(n4) This article uses the colonial definition of rape which is man having "carnal knowledge lie: sexual intercourse] of a woman by force and against her will." Lesser sexual assaults, including unconsummated rapes, were prosecuted as assaults with intent to rape, lascivious behavior, or assault. The term sexual assault is used in this article to refer to both rapes and attempted rapes. For the classic legal definition of rape, see William Hawkins, A Treatise of the Pleas of the Crown (1724-6; reprint, New York, Arno Press, 1972), 108. For colonial examples of this definition, see James Parker, Conductor Generalis: or the Office, Duty and Authority of Justices of the Peace .... (Woodbridge, N.J.: 1764), 360; and William Simpson, The Practical Justice of the Peace... of South Carolina (1761; reprint, Arno Press, 1972), 207.
(n5) Accessible Archives has published the Pennsylvania Gazette searchable newspaper database at http://srch.accessible.com. The index to the Virginia Gazette is in Lester J. Cappon and Stella F. Duff, Virginia Gazette Index, 1736-1780 (Williamsburg, Va.: Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1950).
(n6) This study of the criminal treatment of rape included research in more than twenty-five archives and historical societies. All known printed and manuscript superior court records (where most rapes were tried) were examined as well as all known records of slave trials along with many lower court records and judges' and lawyers' private papers. For an overview of these sources, see Sharon Block, "Coerced Sex in British North America, 17001820," (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1995), 257-78.
(n7) See Charles E. Clark, "Early American Journalism: News and Opinion in the Popular Press," especially 358-359, and Green, "English Books and Printing in the Age of Franklin," especially 248, 255-257, in Amory and Hall, eds., A History of the Book in America. For an overview of the expansion of presses (including newspapers), see also 158-59.
(n8) David W. Sloan and Julie Hedgepeth Williams, The Early American Press, 1690-1783 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994), 101-103. For useful visual representations of colonial newspaper development, see Wm. David Sloan and James G. Stovall, eds., The Media in America: A History (Worthington, Ohio: Publishing Horizons, 1989), 30, 35.
(n9) Karen Halttunen, Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), 2, 35. See also Halttunen's article on changes in the early Republic, "Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain in Anglo-American Culture," American Historical Review 100 (April 1995): 303-34.
(n10) On the degree of detail, compare, for instance, the two sets of publications on rape prosecutions in the Revolutionary era vs. the early Republic. See The Life of Bryan Sheehen, this day executed in Salem, for committing a rape on the body of Abial Hollowell, wife .... (Boston, 1772), and The Last Words and Dying Speech of Robert Young who was Executed at Worcester... (New London, Conn, 1779), compared to Report of the Trial of Henry Bedlow for Committing a Rape on Lanah Sawyer (New York, 1793), and Report of the Trial of Richard D. Croucher on an indictment for a Rape on Margaret Miller (New York, 1800). For a compelling analysis of developing nineteenth-century sensationalism, see Patricia Cline Cohen, The Murder of Helen Jewett (New York: Vintage, 1998), especially 412, note.2, for a discussion of newspapers' reprinting of trial transcripts. Richard D. Brown and Irene Q. Brown are completing a microhistorical study of the highly publicized Ephraim Wheeler rape prosecution in 1805, which is tentatively titled Deliver Us From Evil: Rape, Incest, and the Gallows in the Early Republic (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, forthcoming).
(n11) For the best analysis of northern abolition in this period, see Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and "Race" in New England, 1780-1860 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998). For a legalistic account, see the classic, Arthur Zilversmit, The First Emancipation: The Abolition of Slavery in the North (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967). Gary Nash addresses the effects of abolition in the middle colonies in Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia's Black Community, 1720-1840 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991).
(n12) See, for example, Lyle Koehler, A Search for Power: The "Weaker" Sex in Seventeenth-Century New England (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980), especially 90-99; Else L. Hambleton, "'Playing the Rogue:' Rape and Issues of Consent in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts;" and Terri L. Snyder, "Sexual Consent and Sexual Coercion in Seventeenth-Century Virginia," in Merril D. Smith, ed., Sex Without Consent: Rape and Sexual Coercion in America (New York: New York University Press, forthcoming), 51-87, 88-116.
(n13) For an excellent study of early American rape that uses newspapers as general sources, see Cornelia Hughes Dayton, "Rape: The Problematics of Woman's Word," in Women Before the Bar: Gender, Law, and Society in Connecticut, 1639-1789 (Chapel Hill: Institute of Early American History and Culture at University of North Carolina Press, 1995). Also see Barbara Lindemann, "'To Ravish and Carnally Know:' Rape in Eighteenth-Century Massachusetts," Signs 10:1 (1984): 63-82.
(n14) For a brief discussion of rape in early American newspapers, see David A. Copeland, Colonial American Newspapers: Character and Content (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997), 103-104. For a quantitative study that includes mentions of violent crime (which presumably would include rape) in early American newspapers, see Kenneth D. Nordin, "The Entertaining Press: Sensationalism in Eighteenth-Century Boston Newspapers," Communication Research 6:3 (July 1979): 295-320.
(n15) Daniel Williams, "The Gratification of That Corrupt and Lawless Passion: Character Types and Themes in Early New England Rape Narratives," in Frank Shuffleton, ed., A Mixed Race: Ethnicity in Early America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 194-221; Richard Slotkin, "Narratives of Negro Crime in New England, 1675-1800," American Quarterly 25 (1973): 1-31; and Daniel Cohen, "Social Injustice, Sexual Violence, Spiritual Transcendence: Constructions of Interracial Rape in Early American Crime Literature, 1767-1817," William and Mary Quarterly 3rd ser., 56:3 (1999): 481-526 (quote on 485). For the standard discussion of the transformation of religious sermons to secular crime publications, see Daniel Cohen, Pillars of Salt, Monuments of Grace: New England Crime Literature and the Origins of America Popular Culture, 1674-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). For a representative anthology of such pamphlets, see Daniel Williams, comp., Pillars of Salt: An Anthology of Early American Criminal Narratives (Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1993).
(n16) Williams, "The Gratification of That Corrupt and Lawless Passion," 195.
(n17) Criminal narratives on rape prosecutions before 1776 were those against Arthur (1768), a slave or ex-slave who had only one name, Brian Sheehan (1771), and Daniel Wilson (1774). Accordingly, Daniel Cohen's research on early American rape narratives begins with Arthur's attack, committed in 1767. For another study of early Republic rape that relies on such sources, see Marybeth Hamilton Arnold, "'The Life of a Citizen in the Hands of a Woman:' Sexual Assault in New York City, 1790-1820," in Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons, eds., Passion and Power: Sexuality in History (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989), 35-56.
(n18) On the myth of the black rapist, see George Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914 (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), especially chapter 9; Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, "'The Mind that Burns in Each Body:' Women, Rape, and Racial Violence," in Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson, eds., Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983), 32849; and Thomas D. Morris, Southern Slavery and the Law, 1619-1860 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), chapter 14.
(n19) Martha Hodes, White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997).
(n20) Diane Miller Sommerville, "The Rape Myth in the Old South Reconsidered," Journal of Southern History 61 (August 1995): 485.
(n21) Peter Bardaglio, "Rape and the Law in the Old South: 'Calculated to Excite Indignation in Every Heart,'" Journal of Southern History 60 (November 1994): 752.
(n22) Martha Hodes has an excellent preliminary chapter on black-white sexual relationships in the seventeenth century, where she found more fluid racial crossings in intimate relationships. However, she quickly moves to the post-Revolutionary period, skipping virtually all of the eighteenth century in her developmental model. See Hodes, White Women, Black Men, chapter 2.
(n23) For the most influential reformulation of colonial American regionalism, see Jack P. Greene, Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988). See also Robert J. Gough, "The Myth of the Middle Colonies: An Analysis of Regionalization in Early America," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 107 (1983): 393-419.
(n24) See Hennig Cohen, The South Carolina Gazette, 1732-1775 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1953), 10. On the reprinting of sensational stories in early American newspapers, see Copeland, Colonial American Newspapers, 87-88.
(n25) See Boston Evening Post, September 26,1774; Massachusetts Spy (Boston), September 8, 1774; Essex Journal (Newburyport, Mass.), September 14, 1774; Essex Gazette (Salem, Mass.), Sept 20, 1774; Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), October 29-Nov 5, 1730; and American Weekly Mercury (Philadelphia), October 29-November 5, 1730. For examples of rape reports reprinted from London newspapers, see Connecticut Courant (Hartford), November 16,1767; New York Evening-Post, September 3,1750; and Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), January 7, 1773.
(n26) Estimates of the overall African-American population ranged from 10 percent to 18 percent of the American population between 1700 and 1800. See U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1957: A Statistical Abstract Supplement (Washington, D.C.: 1960), 756-59. In northern colonies, the African-American population was lower. Blacks never averaged more than 2-3 percent of the New England population and 7-8 percent of the Mid-Atlantic population through the eighteenth century. See Jim Potter, "Demographic Development and Family Structure," in Jack P. Greene and J.R. Pole, eds., Colonial British America: Essays in the New History of the Early Modern Era (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1984), table 5.2.
(n27) See Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), December 13, 1764, April 11, 1751, May 16,1754, January 1, 1767, and June 29, 1769.
(n28) Boston Post-Boy, August 4, 1735.
(n29) Newport Mercury (Newport, R.I.), December 5, 1763.
(n30) Sources searched for Pennsylvania rape prosecutions include: Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, Pa.: Theo Fenn & Co, 1853); Pennsylvania Oyer and Terminer File Papers, RG-33, Pennsylvania Oyer and Terminer Docket at Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pa.; Chester County Quarter Sessions records at Chester County Archives, West Chester, Pa.; and Berks County Papers, Conrad Weiser Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. On violent crime in Pennsylvania generally, see G.S. Rowe and Jack Marietta, "Personal Violence in a 'Peacable Kingdom:' Pennsylvania, 1682-1801," in Christine Daniels and Michael V. Kennedy, eds., Over the Threshold: Intimate Violence in Early America (New York: Routledge, 1999), 2244.
(n31) For the English view of the Irish, see Patrick O'Farrell, Ireland's English Question: Anglo-Irish Relations, 1534-1970 (New York: Schocken Books, 1971), 15-16, 36.
(n32) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), October 7-14,1736.
(n33) See Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), November 13, 1729, and December 30-January 6, 1730; and American Weekly Mercury (Philadelphia), December 23, 1729.
(n34) See Essex Gazette (Salem, Mass.), Nov 12, 1771; and Newport Mercury (Newport, R.I.), December 2, 1771.
(n35) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), August 7, 1766.
(n36) Connecticut Journal (New Haven), July 6, 1770. Cornelia Dayton also has found this pattern in her examination of rape in Connecticut. See Dayton, "Rape," 249.
(n37) See Massachusetts Spy (Boston), September 8, 1774; Essex Journal (Newburyport, Mass.), September 14, 1774; Essex Gazette (Salem, Mass.), September 20,1774; and Boston Evening Post, September 26,1774.
(n38) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), May 7, 1772.
(n39) Boston Evening-Post, November 12, 1750.
(n40) See Connecticut Journal (New Haven), September 14, 1770; Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), September 6, 1770; and Boston Evening Post, September 17,1770.
(n41) Boston Evening Post, April 5,1753.
(n42) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), September 29,1743, and August 25, 1743.
(n43) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), November 23, 1774.
(n44) See Newport Mercury (Newport, R.I.), January 2, 1764; and Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), December 15, 1763.
(n45) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), May 28-June 4, 1730.
(n46) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), January 9, 1750. For an exception to this pattern, see the Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), July 7, 1743.
(n47) Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), April 17, 1751.
(n48) Rhode Island Gazette (Newport), October 11, 1732. See also South Carolina Gazette (Charleston), March 17, 1746.
(n49) See Newport Mercury (Newport, R.I.), December 5, 1763; and New York Gazette, November 28, 1763.
(n50) Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg),August 19-26, 1737.
(n51) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), December 14, 1744, September 17, 1761, and January 9, 1750.
(n52) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), May 16, 1754. Had the publishers waited for more information, they might have told the public that the slave was eventually executed and hung in chains on a public road. See Archives of Maryland Vol. 31 (April 24, 1754): 31-2.
(n53) The Boston News-Letter, February 24-March 3, 1718.
(n54) New York Gazette, January 28, 1734.
(n55) For supplemental details on Cato, see King v Cato, Rough Minutes of the General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the City and County of New York, January 21, 1733/4, 329-334, New York City Hall of Records, New York.
(n56) See Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), June 29, 1769; and Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), July 13, 1769. For supplemental information on this case, see Rex v. Bliss, Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature Records 1769, 1770, Suffolk Files, #90508, 145469, 145554, Massachusetts Archives, Boston.
(n57) There may have been no follow-up story on Elisha Bliss because he was convicted only of attempted rape, rather than rape, and charges of attempted rape were generally only publicized when children were the victims, as discussed below.
(n58) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), July 24, 1735, and September 29, 1743. For a similar lack of black defendants' names, see Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), December 9, 1747; Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), July 7, 1743, November 28-December 5, 1734, and May 16, 1754; Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), August 19-26, 1737; New- York Gazette, July 28-August 4, 1735; Boston Post. Boy, August 4, 1735; and South Carolina Gazette (Charleston), March 17, 1746. For one of the few reports without the name of a white defendant, see the story on a "transient" accused of rape in the Connecticut Journal (New Haven), July 6, 1770.
(n59) See Boston Evening Post, November 12, 1750, and March 15, 1756; Boston Chronicle, October 3, 1768; and Connecticut Journal (New Haven), October 7, 1768. The 1768 incident involved Arthur, one of the notorious rapists discussed by Daniels and Cohen, so it is unlikely that the newspapers were unaware of his name. See Cohen, "Social Injustice," 493-4; and Williams, "The Gratification of that Corrupt and Lawless Passion." 197-200.
(n60) For example, See the Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), September 17, 1767.
(n61) Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), June 12, 1752. See also the Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), August 2-September 5, 1734.
(n62) Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), October 21, 1773, and April 21, 1774.
(n63) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), June 24-July 1, 1731.
(n64) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), November 28-December 5, 1734.
(n65) For example, see James Axtell, The European and the Indian: Essays in the Ethnohistory of Colonial North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 181-82. The author of this article agrees with Alice Nash's conclusions that "there is not enough information to determine how early contact period Wabanaki [early Northeastern Indian] people defined rape or even consensual sex." See Alice Nash, "'None of the Women were Abused:' Indigenous Contexts for the Treatment of Women Captives in the Northeast," in Smith, ed., Sex Without Consent, 31.
(n66) For the unreported case, one that did not appear to lead to a full trial, see Conrad Weiser Papers (call Number 700), box 1, folder page 25, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Yasuhide Kawashima has similarly found a low number of Indians prosecuted for rape in Massachusetts. See his Puritan Justice and the Indian: White Man's Law in Massachusetts, 1630-1763 (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1986), especially 163-65.
(n67) American Weekly Mercury (Philadelphia),October 29-November 5, 1730.
(n68) Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), October 27, 1738.
(n69) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), January 8, 1745.
(n70) Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), October 27, 1738.
(n71) On the development of racial ideologies in relation to Native Americans, see Alden T. Vaughan, "From White Man to Redskin: Changing Anglo-American Perceptions of the American Indian," American Historical Review 87 (1982): 917-953; and Nancy Shoemaker, "How Indians Got to Be Red," American Historical Review 102 (1997): 625-45.
(n72) Providence Gazette (Providence, R.I.), August 12-19, 1769. For court documents on this case, see Rex v Benjamin Smith, September 1769, Providence Superior Court File Papers, Rhode Island Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, R.I.
(n73) On the developing myth of Indian rapists in the nineteenth century, see June Namias, White Captives: Gender and Ethnicity on the American Frontier (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993), especially 47, 139-40, 225. On similar connections between other indigenous peoples and rape fears, see Ann Stoler, "Making Empires Respectable: The Politics of Race and Sexuality in 20th-Century Colonial Cultures," American Ethnologist 16:4 (November 1989): 634-60; Jenny Sharpe, "The Unspeakable Limits of Rape: Colonial Violence and Counter-Insurgency," in Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman, eds., Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 221-243.
(n74) For a notable exception to this trend, see the distinctions drawn between low and high status white women in Kathleen Brown, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill: Institute of Early American History and Culture Imprint at University of North Carolina Press, 1996), especially 75-104.
(n75) Of the 200 known prosecuted incidents of sexual assault in this period where the victim's racial identity can be determined, 197 of them involved white victims. On the difficulties of reconstructing the rape of black women, see Nell Irvin Painter, "Soul Murder and Slavery: Toward a Fully-Loaded Cost Accounting," in Kathryn Sklar, Alice Kessler-Harris, and Linda Kerber, eds., American History as Women's History: Essays in Honor of Gerda Lerner (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995); and Sharon Block, "Lines of Color, Sex, and Service: Comparative Sexual Coercion in Early America," in Martha Hodes, ed., Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History (New York, New York University Press, 1999), 141-63.
(n76) On the significance of whiteness as an unmarked category, see the classic text, Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, eds., All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies (Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1982) as well as the insightful essay on the creation of racial categories in early American sexuality, Ann DuCille, "Othered' Matters: Reconceptualizing Dominance and Difference in the History of Sexuality in America," Journal of the History of Sexuality 1:1 (1990): 102-30.
(n77) Newport Mercury (Newport, R.I.), November 9, 1772. For newspaper reports that did not mention the race of the victim, racial status was identified through court papers and other documents.
(n78) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), August 7, 1766.
(n79) David T. Konig, ed., Plymouth Court Records (Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1978), 3:97.
(n80) For example, Trial of Sam, York, Jan 18, 1773, Virginia County Judgments and Orders, p. 210. Reel #210; Trial of Kitt, May 26, 1778, Westmoreland, Virginia County Order Book, p. 51. Reel #61, both at Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA.
(n81) For examples of Indian-on-Indian or black-on-Indian sexual attacks, see Rex v Lemon, May 1774, New Haven, Supreme Court Records, Bk 21:204, Connecticut State Library, Hartford; "Letter to Thomas Gage, May 27, 1766," Alexander Flick, ed., The Papers of Sir William Johnson (Albany: University of the State of New York, 1927), 5:224-5; and Konig, ed., Plymouth Court Records 1: 280.
(n82) On the importance of virginity in Western heterosexual relationships, see the classic essays, Keith Thomas, "The Double Standard," Journal of the History of Ideas 20 (1959): 195-216; and Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex," in Joan Wallach, ed., Feminism and History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 105-151.
(n83) Providence Gazette (Providence, R.I.), March 4, 1769.
(n84) See Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), December 16-23, 1729, and January 6-13, 1730; American Weekly Mercury (Philadelphia), December 23, 1729; Newport Mercury (Newport, R.I.), January 13, 1766; Connecticut Courant (Hartford), January 20, 1766, and May 19, 1766; Boston Gazette, Jan 15, 1770; and Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), February 1, 1770.
(n85) See Newport Mercury (Newport, R.I.), November 3, 1766; and Connecticut Courant (Hartford), November 10, 1766. For other examples of reports of rapes of young girls, see Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), December 5, 1754; Newport Mercury (Newport, R.I.), November 9, 1772; and Boston Evening Post, November 12, 1750.
(n86) See Newport Mercury (Newport, R.I.), Jan 3, 1774, and January 13, 1766; and New York Gazette, November 28, 1763
(n87) Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), August 19-26, 1737.
(n88) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), December 14, 1744, and September 17, 1761.
(n89) See Boston Evening Post, November 12, 1750; Connecticut Gazette (New London), September 6, 1755; Connecticut Courant (Hartford), November 10, 1766. and New London Summary (New London, Conn.), September 21, 1759.
(n90) See Boston Gazette, January 15, 1770; Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), February 1, 1770; Essex Gazette (Salem, Mass.), January 9-16, 1770; and Providence Gazette (Providence, R.I.), January 27, 1770.
(n91) See New York Gazette, July 28-August 4, 1735; Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), August 19-26, 1737; and Providence Gazette (Providence, R.I.), August 12-19, 1769.
(n92) Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), December 13, 1764.
(n93) Providence Gazette (Providence, R.I.), August 12-19, 1769.
(n94) Cohen, "Social Injustice," 524.
By Sharon Block
Sharon Block is an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of California-Irvine. This article is part of a larger project on sexual coercion in early America, titled He Said I Must: Sexual Coercion in Early America, which will be published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture Imprint at the University of North Carolina Press.