The most striking characteristic of the free Negro communities was the prominence of the mulatto element.

The most striking characteristic of the free Negro communities was the prominence of the mulatto element.  About thirty-seven per cent of the free Negroes in the United States in 1850 were classed as mulattoes, while only about a twelfth of the slave population was regarded as of mixed blood. Although no definite information exists concerning the number of mulattoes during the colonial period, we find that in 1752 in Baltimore County, Maryland, 196 of the 312 mulattoes were free, while all of the 4,035 Negroes except eight were slaves. Early in the settlement of Virginia doubt concerning the status of mulatto children was the occasion for special legislation which determined that mulatto children should have the status of their mother. In Maryland, by an act in 1681, children born of white servant women and Negroes were free. By another act in 1692 mulatto children through such unions lost their free status and became servants for a long term.  In Pennsylvania the mulattoes followed the status of their mothers, and when the offspring of a free mother became a servant for a term of years.

The conspicuousness of the mulatto element in the free Negro population was not due, therefore, to any legal presumption in its favor. The accessions to the free Negro class through unions of free white women and Negro men, and free colored women and white men was kept at a minimum by the drastic laws against such unions. Nor can the enormous increase in the free mulattoes be accounted for by natural increase from their own numbers. The increase in the number of free mulattoes came chiefly from the offspring of slave women and white masters, who manumitted their mulatto children. Russell says concerning the free mulattoes of Virginia: “The free mulatto class, which numbered 23,500 by 1860, was of course the result of illegal relations of white persons with Negroes; but, excepting those born of mulatto parents, most persons of the free class were not born of free Negro or free white mothers, but of slave mothers, and were set free because of their kinship to their master and owner.” Snydor in showing how the sex relations existing between masters and slaves were responsible for the free class in Mississippi, cites the fact that “Of the 773 free persons of color in Mississippi in the year 1860, 601 were of mixed blood, and only 172 were black. Among the slaves this condition was entirely reversed. In this same year there were 400,013 slaves who were classed as blacks and only 36,618 who were mulattoes.” In regard to the mulatto character of the free Negro population, it should be noted that the association between the Indians and the Negro was responsible for mulatto communities of free Negroes in Virginia and elsewhere. In Florida the Seminoles were mixed with the Negroes to such an extent that the conflict with the United States was due in part to the attempt of Indian fathers to prevent their Indian-Negro children from being enslaved. There was also considerable interbreeding between the Indians and Negroes in Massachusetts. Many of the offsprings of these relations passed into the colored community as mulattoes. The predominance of the mulattoes among free Negroes was most marked in Louisiana, where 15,158 of the 18,647 free Negroes were mulattoes.

E. Franklin Frazier, The Free Negro Family: A Study of Family Origins Before the Civil War, (Nashville: Fisk University Press, 1932): 12-13.

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