The sections we read of White Women, Black Men describe the marriage of a women known as “Irish Nell” and a man named Charles in 1681 and the poisoning of Ida Abercrombie, allegedly by Peter Stamps in 1885. These cases serve to exemplify the way that interracial couples had been treated, and are an interesting case in how things changed in those 200 years – nothing was done about Nell and Charles until their descendants attempted to be freed many generations later, whereas with Ida and Peter consequences were within a year of the initial liaison, whether it was consensual on both sides or not. These couples cross a lot of racial boundaries for the time, and that’s exemplified in not only the legal case surrounding the descendants of Nell and Charles, but also the death of Ida and lynching of Peter. What interests me is the different ways that these cases are treated by the community members – Nell and Charles may have been judged by the white community, they weren’t harassed (at least not that’s spoken of), and they certainly weren’t killed by the community in the way that Peter was.
The vague legal statues surrounding couples like Nell and Charles and their descendants is what interests me the most, as it’s an interesting example of something not being illegal until it happens enough in communities that do not want to tolerate it. The relationship between Nell and Charles also serves as excellent set-up for the Supreme Court decision Loving v Virginia in 1967, nearly 300 years later. I wonder what Nell and Charles would have thought of that.