September 17th, 1630

Colonial Virginia: White Man Sentenced to be Whipped for Interracial Relationship

On September 17, 1630, the Virginia Assembly sentenced Hugh Davis, a white man, to be punished by whipping for having a relationship with a black woman. In its records, the assembly asserted that Mr. Davis “abus[ed] himself to the dishonor of God and shame of Christians, by defiling his body in lying with a Negress.” Mr. Davis was sentenced to public whipping in front of an audience of blacks, which some historians argue was intended to convey the strength of the religious and social prohibition of interracial relationships to the newly arrived black population.

The Hugh Davis case marks the first known instance in which an individual was punished for participating in an interracial relationship in Virginia. A number of other individuals – black and white, slave and free – were punished by the Virginia Assembly for participating in interracial relationships during the seventeenth century. This phenomenon was not limited to Virginia; Massachusetts and Pennsylvania were among the other colonies that prohibited interracial relationships during this era.

In 1691, the Virginia Assembly officially codified the prohibition on marriage between free whites and free blacks in statute. This prohibition remained in effect for nearly 300 years and was enforced well into the twentieth century. In 1967, the United States Supreme Court held that laws prohibiting interracial marriage were unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia, bringing to an end more than three centuries of anti-miscegenation laws that began with the case of Hugh Davis.