Children of the plantation

In the context of slavery in the colonial United States, the expression "children of the plantation" was a euphemism used to identify the offspring of black female plantation slaves by white men, usually the owner or one of his sons or the plantation overseer.

Such children, who were born into slavery (a legal doctrine known as partus sequitur ventrem), were seldom acknowledged by their white fathers.[citation needed] These children were classified as mulatto, a historic term for a multiracial person. The one drop rule meant that they could never be part of white society.

One famous example is the decades-long relationship between President Thomas Jefferson and his slave and possible half-sister of his wife, the 3/4 white Sally Hemings. The Jefferson–Hemings controversy, now resolved by DNA testing, shows that all her children were his. In the antebellum period, theirs would have been called a "shadow family".[1]

Alex Haley's Queen: The Story of an American Family (1993) is a historical novel, later a movie, that brought knowledge of the "children of the plantation" to public attention.

Edward Ball's Slaves in the Family (1998), written by a white descendant of slave owners, describes this complex legacy.

After the Civil War and emancipation, similar relationships continued. For example, Strom Thurmond, who as a senator pursued segregationist policies, fathered a child when he was a young man, raping his family's 15-year-old maid. This child, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, did not reveal the story until he died, when she was 78. Her parentage had been an open secret in the black community, but came as a surprise to the late senator's colleagues.[2]

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  1. ^ Lewis, Jan. Sally Hemings & Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture. p. 14.
  2. ^ Gettleman, Jeffery (December 18, 2003). "Final Word: 'My Father's Name Was James Strom Thurmond'". New York Times.