Partus sequitur ventrem: Law, race, and reproduction in colonial slavery

Jennifer L. Morgan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    From the moment of its introduction into the Atlantic world, hereditary racial slavery depended on an understanding that enslaved women’s reproductive lives would be tethered to the institution of slavery. At the same time, few colonial slave codes explicitly defined the status of these children. This essay explores English slave codes regarding reproduction under slavery alongside the experience of reproduction to suggest that legislative silences are not the final word on race and reproduction. The presumption that their children would also be enslaved produced a visceral understanding of early modern racial formations for enslaved women. Using a seventeenth-century Virginia slave code as its anchor, this essay explores the explicit and implicit consequences of slaveowners’ efforts to control enslaved women’s reproductive lives.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1-17
    Number of pages17
    JournalSmall Axe
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


    • Heredity
    • Race and reproduction
    • Slave law
    • Slave women
    • Slavery

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Cultural Studies
    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Literature and Literary Theory


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