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Monday, November 18, 2019 @ 12:45 pm - 2:00 pm

The Center for the Study of Law and Society 
is pleased to announce the next speaker in the Fall 2019 CSLS Speaker Series




Associate Professor of History, U.C. Berkeley


Speaking on her research

“‘She had…a Womb Subjected to Bondage’:
The Afro-Atlantic Origins of British Colonial Descent Law”


In December of 1662, Virginia’s legislators decided to pass an act which made the free or enslaved status of a child born to an “Englishman” and a “negro” woman in the colony contingent upon the free or enslaved status of their mother. Such a choice was and remains remarkable to scholars because it stood in direct contrast with the paternal descent laws that prevailed in England (except in cases of bastardy). In trying to explain Virginia’s decision to implement a maternal rather than paternal descent law, legal historians and slavery scholars have offered several theories. While they do not form a consensus, they generally contend that legislators codified local custom and/or drew heavily upon Roman slave law, canon law, British laws related to bastardy and animal husbandry, the law of nations, or laws governing Iberian systems of slavery. This paper proposes another possibility.

Rather than approach the questionable origins of British colonial descent laws from a strictly Anglo- or Eurocentric perspective, this paper seeks to determine the role that West African customs and laws may have played in shaping them. I take the hybridized, Afro-Anglo system of laws and customs that emerged on the West Coast of Africa during the Atlantic slave trade as my point of departure, and in so doing, I approach the issue of British slave descent laws from an Afro-Atlantic vantage point. After elucidating the complex nature of Afro-Anglo interactions around and across the Atlantic I use a range of sources to show how much the English knew about West African descent laws and customs, to chart how this information circulated among and between individuals in West Africa, England, and the colonies, and ultimately, to assess the possible impact of this knowledge on colonial lawmaking and laws pertaining to slave descent.



Please join us on Monday, November 18 from 12:45-2:00p in the Philip Selznick Seminar Room, 2240 Piedmont Ave. 


Coffee and water are provided. We invite you to bring your own “bag lunch.”
We are looking forward to seeing you soon!


Catherine Albiston, Faculty Director


Monday, November 18, 2019
12:45 pm - 2:00 pm
Event Category:


Center for the Study of Law and Society


Philip Selznick Seminar Room
2240 Piedmont Ave
Berkeley, CA 94720-2150 United States
+ Google Map

Events are wheelchair accessible. For disability-related accommodations, contact the organizer of the event. Advance notice is kindly requested.

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