Many people with early Native heritage “lose” their ancestor in colonial Virginia, NC or one of the states east of the Blue Ridge. Maybe said another way, we have legends that they exist, but we can’t figure out who they were or sometimes, even which family exactly. So we don’t exactly lose them, we just can’t find them. Why is this so tough?
One of the issues facing our ancestors, especially those of who were admixed with African or Native and white blood was the effects of anti-miscegenation laws. Enacted quite early in both Virginia and North Carolina, they effectively criminalized marriage between any white person and any person of color. While the severity of the consequences varied, as did the timing of the earliest laws and the definition of who was “of color”, nearly all states enacted some sort of law prohibiting such marriages and sexual interactions outside of marriage. Women who bore mixed race children out of wedlock (because you couldn’t within wedlock) were publicly whipped. If one could claim any admixture other than African or Indian, it was far better socially and legally than the “colored” races. That’s one reason why we probably see so many people claiming to be Portuguese. It explained why one was “dark,” but Portuguese were legally “white,” European, and those of Portuguese ancestry did not suffer under the cruel fist of discriminatory laws.
Someone e-mailed me recently with a seemingly simple question. When could a Native American or other person with any admixture marry a white person in North Carolina or Virginia? I knew that they could not in the 1600s, the 1700s or the 1800s, but I didn’t really know when they could. I suspected in some states that it was probably connected to the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, but I surely didn’t know the answer.
And the answer is….an amazing 1967. I was surprised at this late date, but it certainly explains why we, as children, were utterly forbidden to discuss our Native ancestry, at all, ever. My Mom received a call from my school teacher when I was in first or second grade because I had proudly said something about my Indian heritage. From my mother’s perspective it would have been far better had my father never told me about that. She certainly never told me about hers until AFTER her DNA tests came back telling the story.
These discriminatory laws were ruled unconstitutional in 1967 by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Loving vs the State of Virginia.
The map below shows the states, in red, whose laws prohibiting intermarriage between nonwhites and whites were overturned by the 1967 ruling.
In the grey states, no laws were ever passed. In the green, the offending laws were repealed before 1887. The yellow states’ miscegenation laws were repealed between 1948 and 1967.
You can read more about the specifics at: