Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Philip Levy Ph.D.

Committee Member

John Belohlavek, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Gary Mormino, Ph.D.


bastardy, fornication, race, class, gender


This Master's thesis investigates one particular aspect of sexuality in colonial Anglo America--the products of non-marital intercourse. Earlier historical research emphasized the importance of economic considerations in the creation of bastardy laws and the prosecution and punishment for violators of these statutes. Undoubtedly, financial anxieties were a major concern in out-of-wedlock births, but they were only one concern of many. Class, race, and gender dynamics were prominent in colonists' conceptualization of illegitimacy and largely defined who was at risk for having an "insolent and contemptuous carriage" and the resulting punishment for the debauched act. Elite, white officials made women, servants, and Africans increasingly vulnerable to bastardy prosecution, thereby, marginalizing a large segment of the colonial populace.

Gendered relations, class biases, and racial inequities structured colonial society, and, therefore, merit consideration in a study of illegitimacy. This research aims to culturally describe and analyze bastardy within the context of the Chesapeake and New England regions. There is more to the study of colonial illegitimacy than economic concerns. Thus, applying cultural factors to a study on colonial bastardy further explores one of the many concerns that influenced colonists' understanding of illegitimacy.