The Making of American Whiteness: The Formation of Race in Seventeenth-Century Virginia changes the narrative about the origins of race and Whiteness in America. With an exhaustive array of archival documents, Carmen P. Thompson demonstrates not only that Whiteness predates European expansion to the Americas as evidenced in their participation in the transatlantic slave trade since the fifteenth century, but more importantly that it was the principal dynamic in the settlement of Virginia, the first colony in what would become the United States of America. And just as the system of White supremacy was the principal framework that fueled the transatlantic slave trade, it likewise was the framework that drove the organization of civil society in Virginia, including the organization and structure of the colony’s laws, social, political, and economic policies as well as its system of governance. The book shows what Whiteness looked like in everyday life in the early seventeenth century, in a way eerily prescient to Whiteness today.
Carmen P. Thompson is a historian and independent scholar.
Chapter One: The International System of Slavery and the Formation of American Whiteness
Chapter Two: Duty Boys, Company Tenants, Slaveholding Ladies and Wealthy Planters: How the International System of Slavery Made European Emigrants White, 1619–1650
Chapter Three: From Slave Pen to Plantation: The Making of American Whiteness in the Built Environment, 1618–1634
Chapter Four: From Freedom Suits to Fictive Kin: African Resistance to White Supremacy in Colonial Virginia, 1619–1660
Conclusion: The International System of Slavery and the Making of American Whiteness
The Making of American Whiteness provides compelling correctives to received notions regarding the origins of institutionalized white supremacy. By shedding new light on a wide array of period documents within the context of transatlantic slavery, Thompson shows that conceptions in early Virginia of West African peoples as inherently worthy of enslavement already went hand in hand with a collective European self-conception as not only superior, but also implicitly white. With its deep dives into such disparate realms as gender relations, built environments, and the maintenance of West African modes of resistance, this book will instruct and fascinate students and scholars working on not only the origins of American racial formations, but also their obstinately enduring manifestations.
A highly original challenge to the traditional historiographical wisdom on the North American origins of racial slavery and whiteness in colonial Virginia. Thompson has put together an unequalled archive on the subject of how "race" operated in the period before Bacon’s Rebellion and policy changes made racial distinctions emerge with much greater clarity and elaboration. Subtle and deeply gendered, the project also draws insight and energy from Thompson’s study of very different forms of slavery in Africa. She places Virginia in a network of slave-trading transnationally in a way that brings into useful question the idea of an "invention" of race there.