Roger writing the LAWmag
16
Nov 2012

A Mestizo Among Us

It started with my grand-father's grand-mother Zoë Caza-Lebeau, aka Zoe Duheme. Take a look at that picture ... very funny - she's the one on the right.

I'm a descendant of an Indian, now called a Native American or an aboriginal or an indigenous person. I'm not even sure what's politically correct right now.

Mixed blood? Métis maybe?

Anyway, the point is that according to ancient law, I am less than human. This will come a no surprise to my Court house buddies but to me, frankly, I'm devastated.

There it is, right there in the 1740 South Carolina Slave Code, signed by the Speaker and the Governor. And before anyone throws at me that this is some kind of remote American law hold on here. I said 1740.

Yes, folks, some 30 years before George Washington left his slave plantations of Virginia to lead the American troops to glorious victory over the British.

My Indian great-grand-motherIn 1740, South Carolina was a colony, a "province" of England. In fact, the code of law refers to "his Majesty" repeatedly. That would be George II. Rule Britannia!

If the slave was at the bottom of the English class system, the King was at the top.

So by all accounts, because of an English law applicable in North America, were I ever to have happenstance upon that great colony of South Carolina .... and I've been to Florida and felt the chilly breeze from the North.

At least, in Florida, there was a Spanish government circa 1740 that encouraged mestizoes like me and my ilk, such as Negroes and mulattoes, to make my way to St. Augustine in Florida and I'd be rewarded with freedom and land!

But that 1740 Code was something else. To be honest, I don't really feel different, as in stupider than really, really white people. In fact, the thought that intelligence and wisdom is proportionate to the whiteness of one's skin smacks of Nazi eugenics ... some kooky skinhead in army boot nonsense, and again, deferring to the most politically-correct words I can think of right now.

That's how they truly felt back in 1740, along the eastern coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Unless freed by some official authority, such as a master, a mestizo (that would be me) was presumed to be a slave - as were our cousin mulattoes and Negroes.

It got worse.

If any of us were caught about without a ticket signed by our master, we could be whipped 20 times on the back.back of whipped slave

Ouch!

Dudes! Are you f---ing nuts!

And don't even think of self-defense. They thought of that too:

"... if any ... slave shall assault and strike such white person, such slave may be lawfully killed."

But I'm, like, a lawyer!

Wait! The first African American lawyer was Macon Allen who was admitted in ... 1844 (in Maine) so that wouldn't carry much weight in 1740.

If I committed a felony, I suffered death.

Making popcorn? Too risky. If I burned any:

"... rice, corn or other grain, of the product, growth or manufacture of this Province ... (the) mustizoe, shall suffer death...."

In case there was any doubt about where the local population was coming from, there was an article in the Code that said that a slave:

"...who shall be guilty of homicide of any sort, upon any whiter person ... shall suffer death."

"Upon any whiter person"? Is there an app to gage that?

Were I, mestizo, wishing to go hunting with a gun, I could not go alone without that ticket and:

"... some white person of the age of sixteen years or upwards."

Ok. That one hurts. Not that I care much for hunting but having to go with and presumably be subject to the whims of a 16-year old pure white kid is just too much.

Heck, we weren't even allowed to be kids, like walk around in a group of seven or more without a pure white guy. If we did, they knew how to take care of us. If found, any white guy:

"... shall and may whip them, not exceeding twenty lashes on the bare back."

And we were all branded too, with a red hot iron. But it was all for our own good. Elsewise, how could they tell who we belonged too in case we got lost (preferably with a ticket and God forbid we lose it).

We were not allowed to buy or sell things for ourselves, only for our master.

That, I could have lived with as I'm not much of a shopper but the next article of the law is just plain cruel. Mestizoes were not allowed to consume:

"... any beer, ale, cider, wine, run, brandy, or other spirituous liquors."

Well, if you're going to be miserable, maybe go all the way.

Governor William Bull, when he wrote a statute, he was - if nothing else - thorough. We weren't even allowed to own cattle, sheep or hogs or a horse ... or a canoe.

We weren't allowed weapons of course and maybe it was for our own good because if we were found with weapons, even if we had a ticket, we could be taken by any white person and whipped.

A canoe? An Indian without a canoe is like a Vancouver lawyer without an Armani.

Like biting into a small stone in the middle of a baloney sandwich (I warned you I was mestizo), the 1740 law has this right in the middle. Careful: it'll make you nauseous:

"Cruelty is not only highly unbecoming those who profess themselves Christians, but is odious in the eyes of all men who have any sense of virtue of humanity; therefore, to restrain and prevent barbarity being exercised towards slaves...."

So they were nice to us after all. Still not convinced? Consider this:

"In case any person or persons shall willfully cut out the tongue, put out the eye, castrate, or cruelly scald, burn, or deprive any slave of any limb or member, or shall inflict any other cruel punishment, other than by whipping or beating with a horse-whip, cow-skin, switch or small stick, or by putting irons on, or confining or imprisoning such slave, every such person shall, for every such offence, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds...."

Hmm. Can I have a free sampler of the horse whip first?

Like I said, they knew how to take care of us back then and they knew us through and through too. Couldn't fool them:

"... many of the slaves in this Province wear clothes much above the condition of slaves, for the procuring whereof they use sinister and evil methods. For the prevention, therefore, of such practices for the future, be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, that no owner or proprietor of any Negro slave, or other slave, (except livery men and boys,) shall permit or suffer such Negro or other slave, to have or wear any sort of apparel whatsoever, finer, other, or greater value than Negro cloth, duffels, kerseys, osnabrigs, blue linen, check linen or coarse garlic, or calicoes, checked cottons, or Scotch plaids."

So that's why my buddy Ed Macdonald wears Scotch plaids on Robbie Burns Day. It's sinister and evil.

Them nice pure white English folk of South Carolina? Why they sure knew an evil when they saw one. It was illegal to teach us how to read or write because:

"... the having of slaves taught to write, or suffering them to be employed in writing, may be attended with great inconveniences."

Back to the Future

Ahh .. such a disadvantage being mestizo -  descendant from European and aboriginal parents, in 1740.

The British and South Carolina law-makers thought that all mestizo's were naturally fit to be someone else's chattel, a slave.

And we were small potatoes - the white folk of the British colony of South Carolina back in 1740 really had the hates on for the African American, who they called derisively Negroes. And anyone who was issue of Negro mother of father - the issue of an inter-racial marriage - that was even a crime with its own name; miscegenation.

It would seem that miscegenation would be the most wonderful thing that could happen on this planet and yet, the oldtimers back in South Carolina thought it was bad.

Since it seems like it's finally safe to do so, I'm coming out with my heritage although throughout areas of North and South America that experienced slavery, the soil remains stained with the bones of people like me who were taken to be mindless chattel.

African-Americans mostly, because of their numbers, but also Indians and their descendants, forgive but forgetting comes harder.

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