Free “Mulattoes” without African ancestry

Delaware’s Invisible Indians
Part 2
Edward F. Heite

Although it today is taken to mean mixed black and white, the word “mulatto” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries generally applied to anyone with dark skin who was not a Negro. In the West Indies, the term was applied to mixed black-Indian individuals. Another meaning was a person who was “half-Christian,” born of a union between a Spaniard and a non-Christian. In one 1709 example, cited in the Oxford English Dictionary, a person was described as both a mulatto and an Indian. Definitions in Delaware official documents were no more precise.

The Pennsylvania Assembly set terms of service for [white] indentured servants whose indentures could not be found. Those who came into the colony without papers were presumed to serve five years if they were between seventeen and twenty-two years old [later changed to sixteen and twenty-one] , or until the age of twenty-two if they were under seventeen. The law, which was at first disallowed by the Crown, would not apply to Africans. A taint of African blood would therefore significantly alter a servant’s status. In this regard, “mulatto” status was legally independent of any African connection, as the case of Jacob Frederick illustrates.

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