Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Forbidden Marriages, and States' Rights: A Story from the Past

Here's a case drawn from my research into my family's roots, which illustrates the kinds of tangles that can develop when one state permits couples of a certain sort to marry, while another state refuses to recognize marriages legally enacted in states permitting couples of a certain sort to marry:

1. Robert Wickliffe Wooley, “The South’s Fight for Race Purity,” Pearson’s Magazine 23,1 (1910), p. 9:

Decidedly, the most perplexing case with which the District Attorney of New Orleans had to deal was that of Stanhope P. Turnbull and his wife, Charity Turnbull. The man is a grandson of a former United States District Judge and a nephew of a former administrator of accounts of the city of New Orleans. The woman claims to be the daughter of a German named Gottlieb Lindenmayer and to be white, although she has two colored children, one of whom is the wife of J. Madison Vance, the leading negro lawyer of New Orleans, and the other a son who bears the name of Turnbull and lives with her and her husband. She says that years ago she began associating with negroes, was promptly dropped by her white friends completely, and soon became known as a colored person. Her first husband was a negro, she rides in the negro section of street cars, and a negro preacher married her to Turnbull. Moreover, at the time of her marriage to Turnbull the Reconstruction law permitting white and colored persons to wed had not been repealed. No attempt has been made in Louisiana since the repeal of that law to interfere with such a union.  In Mississippi, however, the marriage has been declared void, and the husband and wife have been sent to prison.

2.  An account from a Boston newspaper, Feb. 1891, that I have yet to identify:*

Two weeks ago Stanhope Turnbull, who has influential connections in Louisiana and Mississippi, married a mulatto woman at New Orleans.  There is no law against miscegenation in Louisiana, but there is in Mississippi, so when Turnbull took his bride to his home in Woodville he was arrested for violation of the law, but was discharged on a technicality.  He had hardly left the Court House before he was seized by a mob, stripped of his clothes, soaked in tar and rolled in a bag of feathers.  He was then placed on a rail and ridden through the town, couriers preceding the mob to warn ladies to keep in their doors.  Turnbull was then taken to the State line and warned never to return to Woodville or he would be killed.  He promised to heed the warning.  The woman was unmolested.

3. An account from an unidentified newspaper--perhaps the Woodville [Mississippi] Republican:

"Woodville Remembers: When the Turnbulls Married, Having Celebrated Event" 
Woodville, Miss, Aug. 19—Stanhope and Charity Turnbull, who were arrested at their home in New Orleans, charged with violating concubinage laws, are well known here, both having been born and reared here. 
Stanhope Turnbull was a descendant from an old and respected family, while Charity was a woman around town.  She was the daughter of an octoroon slave.  In 1891 she and Turnbull were married in New Orleans, and returned here.  When it became known that Turnbull had married a negro excitement ran high and culminated in Turnbull being taken by the leading citizens of the county and tarred and feathered and marched around the Courthouse square at 12 o’clock noon, and then given five minutes to leave the State, since which time he has never been seen here.

Stanhope Posey Turnbull's obituary in the New Orleans Times-Picayune (18 March 1932) and his wife Charity's in the same newspaper on 2-3 Nov. 1938 show that the couple were members of St. Joan of Arc parish in New Orleans and that their funeral Masses were celebrated there.  St. Joan is one of the parishes historically regarded as a black Creole parish in New Orleans.

As well as I can determine from the preceding documents, Stanhope and Charity married legally in New Orleans in 1891, at a point at which Louisiana had not rescinded laws enacted during Reconstruction permitting interracial marriage.  After their marriage, Louisiana was to reinstitute laws prohibiting miscegenation.  Mississippi and most other Southern states had long since outlawed cross-racial marriage by the time of the couple's legal marriage in Louisiana, and so under Mississippi law, they were arrested when they set foot on the soil of Mississippi following their marriage.

And despite his illustrious family roots (his great-uncle Carnot Posey was a Confederate general who died after being wounded in battle at Charlottesville, Virginia, and his great-grandfather John Brooke Posey was a federal judge in Louisiana and Mississippi), when he brought his legally married bride back to Mississippi following their marriage, he was tarred, feathered, ridden out of town on a rail, and told he and his wife would be murdered if they ever returned to Mississippi.  It's possible his grandfather John Stanhope Posey, who was a lawyer in Woodville, Mississippi, and who was a district attorney and circuit judge in that area and a frequent state delegate to the national Democratic convention, was also, as one source above says, a federal judge, though I think John is being confused with his father John Brooke Posey here.

What is murky in the preceding accounts, but I'm working to determine, is whether Stanhope and Charity were then arrested again in Louisiana after the state reinstated anti-miscegenation laws.  Louisiana stood out among Southern states, of course, in that its law hewed to the course of the Napoleonic code and interracial marriage was never banned in French territories--except, at least per the books, in Louisiana by the code noir.   Even so, there was a large class of Louisianans of mixed race living in the southern (and Catholic) half of the state, who descended from arrangements French and Spanish gentlemen long made with women of color, who were set up as the placées of these gentlemen, kept as mistresses until the men married white women, and often maintained secretly as mistresses even after the men had married.

Interestingly enough (and probably not accidentally), this story ties into my family tree on the same branch of the tree on which I find James Russell Winn and his spouse Margaret Shackelford, a free woman of color with whom he spent his adult life and whose children he acknowledged as his own, in a period of Southern history in which white planters seldom treated their African-American co-vivants as wives or acknowledged the children they fathered with these women.  James was a brother of my three-times-great-grandfather John Alexander Winn; these men were children of Abner Winn and Lucretia Posey, who was John Brooke Posey's sister.

Nor are these the only two stories of racial line-crossing I've found in this Posey family . . . .  Generation after generation, it appears that some of the men in this family felt determined to test laws and conventions governing racial etiquette in the Southern states, though the story of Stanhope and Charity is one of the most dramatic I've yet found in my research into this family's history.

And it's a story that makes me think long and hard in a period in which a handful of American states allow same-sex couples to marry legally, while the majority of states do not permit or recognize such marriages, and the newly re-elected president has stated that he adheres to the philosophy of states' rights in these matters, and wants the states themselves to resolve the question of marriage equality.

*Much of this material is from a website of a family researcher who has transcribed the newspaper articles in question without identifying their specific source.  I am still trying to track this information down.

The graphic is a photo of Mildred Jeter Loving and Richard Loving, who married legally in June 1958 in Washington, D.C., and were then arrested in Virginia when they returned to their home state to live.  Police invaded their house at night, hoping to find them having intercourse (which would have added to their criminality under Virginia law).  The couple were sentenced to prison in Virginia.  Their case eventually reached the Supreme Court, which invalidated miscegenation laws throughout the U.S. in the landmark decision Loving v. Virginia in 1967.  In 1967, sixteen states still outlawed interracial marriage.  

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