Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Mulatto Definition:

A person one of whose parents is either wholly black or the other wholly white.

Related Terms: Negro, Miscegenation, Mestizo, Mixed Blood

A pejorative term related to the genetic makeup of a person and specifically to identify, usually for adverse treatment under the law (discrimination), persons of African-American (formerly negro) descent.

The third edition of John Bouvier's law dictionary:

"... properly a mulatto is a person one of whose parents is wholly black and the other wholly white; but the word does not always, though perhaps it does generally, require so exactly even a mixture of blood, nor is its significance alike in all the states.)"

"The definition of a mulatto has changed over time and across territory of jurisdiction with African-American slaves. Some American states, historically, defined a mulatto as a person having 1/3 Negro blood; others simply define mulattoes as "half-breeds". Still others define mulattoes as including Negro descendants to the third generation; all Negro descendants and even those with 1/4 or more Negro blood."1

In Medway v Natick:

"It is our unanimous opinion that a mulatto is a person begotten between a white and a black. This is the definition given by the best lexicographers, and we believe it also to agree with the popular use of the term.

"The pauper' s father in this case was a mulatto, and her mother was a white woman. The pauper is then not a mulatto."

The Court in Medway v Natick, 1810, and issue from Massachsetts,  held that since a mulatto is defined as mix of pure white and pure black, marriage of a white person to the progeny of white and mulato parents is not barred by a Massachusetts statute that prohibits marriage between whites and blacks or mulattoes.2

In her 2006 article, Bridget Smith writes of the almost unfathomable currents of thought rampant among the proponents of slavery in the United States and elsewhere, only a century or two ago:

"The mulatto is the victim of a divided inheritance; from his white blood come his intellectual strivings, his unwillingness to be a slave; from his Negro blood come his baser emotional urges, his indolence, his savagery. Beauty and sexuality are also characteristics attributed to mulattoes. As Brown points out, there is the common idea that 'the white blood means asceticism and Negro blood means unbridled lust.'

"It was a common theme for a female mulatto to be incapable of repressing 'the lust inherited from her people; the environment of debauchery, violence and rapine in exchange for concubinage with a white paragon, which ends, of course, in the inevitable tragedy.'

"According to historian Patricia Morton, in the turn of the century literature, the mulatto woman emerged as a figure as menacing as the stereotypical black male threat to white purity."


  • Duhaime, Lloyd, 1740 | Slave Code of South Carolina
  • Medway v Inhabitants of Natick, 7 Mass. 88 (1810)
  • NOTE 1: Weber, Theophile, Statutory Prohibited against Interracial Marriages, J. 3 Wyo. L.J. 159 (1948)
  • NOTE 2: Sealing, Keith, Blood Will Tell: Scientific Racism and the Legal Prohibitions against Miscegenation, 5 MJRL 559 (1999-2000) - at page 592.
  • Smith, Bridget, Race as Fiction: How Film and Literary Fictions of Mulatto Identity Have Both Fostered and Challenged Social and Legal Fictions regarding Race in America, 16 Seton Hall J. Sports & Ent. L. 65 (2006)

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