| Questions to Consider
Early Evidence of Sexual Tensions Within Slavery
Instructors should begin the exercise by going through each of the witness's testimony and drawing up an annotated cast of characters or dramatis personae in which they briefly summarize each witness's testimony. Although the spatial relationships among the orchard and the buildings are unclear, students will benefit from making a map of the area. Once this is complete, the students can tackle the basics of who, what, where, how, and when. Instructors will want to assist students by explaining unfamiliar terms: cider, codpiece, and so forth.
Simply put, Katherine Watkins complained to Henrico County magistrates that John Long aka Jack had committed the crime of rape on her person on Friday, August 18, 1681. Those who testified, however, testified about events preceding the crime. They were:
Thomas Cocke's Slaves
John Long (mulatto)
Jack White (Negro)
The substance of their testimony involved a late afternoon of cider drinking. Several witnesses described Katherine Watkins making frank sexual advances to several of Cocke's slaves, in particular, a mulatto named Jack. The most interesting witness is John Aust who describes Jack's apparent attempts to avoid an intimate entanglement with Katherine Watkins. Later, Humphrey Smith seems to refer to Aust's testimony. His words, in effect, suggest that Aust may have had some misgivings about Jack's guilt.
Katherine Watkins' Quakerism is also an important element in the testimony, probably more for what is not said than what is said. Quakers were persecuted by both the Puritans and the Church of England, the dominant church in Virginia. Katherine and Henry Watkins would have been outsiders, and their neighbors would have been slightly suspicious of them. (William Harding's quip about a "Quaker trick" alludes to this common prejudice against Quakers.) As early as 1688, some Quakers made a public protest against slavery, so Quaker anti-slavery sentiment was likely already identified with Quakerism in 1681. In this context, Katherine Watkins' frolic with Thomas Cocke's bondsmen could be interpreted as something other than wanton behavior, and Henry Watkins' refusal to prosecute is understandable.
Despite what those around her might have thought of her religious beliefs, it is clear that the men and women around Katherine Watkins did not hold a high opinion of her on other grounds. She was probably a bit too interested in cider and slave codpieces for their comfort. In the same vein, the magistrates did not hear the slaves' testimony because a slave could not testify against a white person by Virginia law. Finally, how a woman fared with a rape charge depended a good deal on a woman's character and her behavior. The "was-she-asking-for-it" test was an operative legal concept at the time.
Blaming Katherine Watkins served another purpose, however, by providing extenuating circumstances that may have mitigated Jack's actions. Reasonable extenuating circumstances may have allowed the magistrates to lighten his punishment. After all, they were in a difficult situation; they know that labor was short and expensive. To execute Jack would cost his master dearly. As slave holders themselves, the Henrico County magistrates were of the same class and situation as Thomas Cocke. Depriving him of his property, no matter how just, may not have been in the interests of community harmony. In the absence of a judgment, however, the document leaves the magistrates on the horns of a dilemma.
Although Virginia law had defined the terms of slavery by the 1660s, it proved difficult to maintain the social separation of African Americans from whites. Free servants, indentured servants, slaves, male and female, black and white worked side by side, and fornication and miscegenation were distinct possibilities in such circumstances. Taken from the court records of Virginia, the testimony offers conflicting statements about the behavior of a white woman and slave men one August afternoon in 1681.
Questions to Consider
- To obtain a better idea of what happened, it is often useful to systematize the basic information and to identify the historical actors by organizing them. Begin by answering the following:
- What was the crime?
- Identify the victim.
- When did the crime occur?
- Who was the perpetrator?
- Who were the slaves who were working around the orchard?
- Who were the others working around the orchard?
- Characterize Katherine Watkins's behavior.
- Describe Jack's behavior.
- Draw a diagram or map of the places mentioned in the testimony and their relationships to one another.
- When you have finished answering the questions and drawing the diagram, write a summary of the events.
- There are several significant details that can add to your narrative. Answer the following questions:
- Why was the fact that Katherine Watkins was a Quaker significant?
- Why didn't the magistrates hear the slave's testimony?
- What did the others in and around the orchard think of Katherine Watkins? What evidence can you list for their opinions?
- Why is Humphrey Smith's remark about John Aust's testimony significant?
- Why were the magistrates interested in events leading up to the crime?
- Using the answers you formulated in the preceding questions, revise your summary to include the new information.
- What does the document suggest about the social order, the development of slavery, and sexuality in colonial Virginia?
- What would you predict would be the magistrate's findings? Explain.
The examination of Katherine Watkins, the wife of Henry Watkins Henrico County in Virginia had and taken this 13 of September 1681 before us William Byrd and John Farrar two of his Majesties justices of County aforesaid as followeth. . . .
The said Katherine aforesaid on her Oath and examination deposeth, That on fryday being in the Month of August aboute five weeks since, the said Katherine mett with John Long (a Mulatto belonging to Capt. Thomas Cocke) at or neare the pyney slash betweene the aforesaid Cockes and Henry Watkins house, and at the same tyme and place, the said John threw the said Katherine downe (He starting from behinde a tree) and stopped her Mouth with a handkerchief, and tooke up the said Katherines Coates [petticoats], and putt his yard into her and ravished her; Upon which she the said Katherine Cryed out (as she deposeth) and afterwards (being rescued by another Negroe of the said Cockes named jack White) she departed home, and the said John departed to his Masters likewise, or that way; after which abuse she the said Katherine declares that her husband inclinable to the quakers, and therefore would not prosecute, and she being sicke and her Children likewise, she therefore did not make her complaint before she went to Lt. Col. Farrars (which was yesterday, Morning) and this day in the Morning she went to William Randolphs' and found him not at home, But at night met with the gentlemen justices aforesaid at the house of the aforesaid Cocke in Henrico County in Virginia aforesaid before whom she hath made this complaint upon oath. . . .
The deposition of John Aust aged 32 yeares or thereabouts Deposeth, That on fryday being the twelvth of August or thereabouts he came to the house of Mr. Thomas Cocke, and soe went into his Orchard where his servants were a cutting downe weeds, whoe asked the deponent to stay and drinke, soe the deponent stayed and dranke syder with them, and jacke a Mulatto of the said Thomas Cocke went in to draw syder, and he stay'd something long whereupon the deponent followed him, and coming to the doore where the syder was, heard Katherine the wife of Henry Wakins say (Lord) jacke what makes thee refraine our house that you come not oftner, for come when thou wilt thou shalt be as well come as any of My owne Children, and soe she tooke him about the necke and Kissed him, and jacke went out and drawed Syder, and she said jack wilt thou not drinke to me, who sayd yes if you will goe out where our Cupp is, and a little after she came out, where the said Thomas Cockes Negroes were a drinking and there dranke cupp for cupp with them (as others there did) and as she sett Negroe dirke passing by her she tooke up the taile of his shirt (saying) Dirke thou wilt have a good long thing, and soe did several tymes as he past by her; after this she went into the roome where the syder was and then came out againe, and between the two houses she mett Mulatto jacke a going to draw more syder and putt her hand on his codpiece, at which he smil'd, and went on his way and drew syder and she came againe into the company but stay'd not long but went out to drinking with two of the said Thomas Cockes Negroes by the garden pale, And a while after she tooke Mingoe one of the said Cocke's Negroes about the Necke and fling on the bedd and Kissed him and putt her hand into his Codpeice, Awhile after Mulatto jacke went into the Fish roome and she followed him, but what they did there this deponent knoweth not for it being near night this deponent left her and the Negroes together, (He thinking her to be much in drinke) and soe this deponent went home about one houre by sunn. . . .
The Deposition of William Harding aged about 35 yeares, Deposeth, That he came to the house of Mr. Thomas Cocke to speake with his brother, where he see Katherine the wife of Henry Watkins, and soe spoke to one there and sayd, that the said Henry Watkins wife had been a drinking; And that this deponent see the said Katherine Watkins turne up the taile of Negroe Dirks shirt, and said that he would have a good prick whereupon this deponent sayd is that the trick of a quaker, who made him answer, that what hast thou to say to quakers, It being acted on fryday the 12 of August or thereabouts and further saith not. . . .
The Deposition of Mary Winter aged about 22 years. Deposeth, That Mr. Thomas Cocks Negroes and others being in company with them drinking of syder, Then came in Katherine Watkins the wife of Henry Watkins and went to drinking with them, and tooke Mulatto jack by the hand in the outward roome and ledd him into the inward roome doore and then thrust him in before her and told him she loved him for his Fathers sake for his Father was a very hansome young Man, and afterwards the said Mulattoe went out from her, and then she fetched him into the roome againe and hugged and kist him. And further saith not. . . .
The Deposition of Lambert Tye aged about 26 yeares. Deposeth That being at Worke at Mr. Thomas Cocks on fryday being the twelvth of August or thereabouts, and coming into the house with William Hobson and the rest of Mr. Thomas Cocks servants and others in Company with them to drinke syder, and being a drinking then comes in Katherine Watkins the wife of Henry Watkins having a very high Colour in her face whereupon this deponent asked Humphrey then servant to the said Thomas Cocke; what made his Countrywoman have such a high Colour; whereupon he made this answear; That the [said] Katherine was at Old Humphrey's drinking and he gave her a Cupp or two that had turned her braines, and soe being a drinking with their company she went into the Chimney (as this deponent thinketh) to light her pipe, and soe made a posture with her body as if she would have gone to danceing, and then afterwards coming into their company againe, she told Mulatto jack, that she loved him for his father's sake, And then having left the Company and she together a drinking, This deponent went home to his owne house, and afterwards coming from home towards the house of the said Thomas Cocke, he mett with the said Katherine Watkins about halfe an houre by sun in the pathway homewards neare to this deponents house. And further saith not. . . .
Humphrey Smith aged 26 yeares, deposeth, That he heard John Aust say (about September last past) what Matter is it what I swore to and likewise the deponent saw Katherine's Mouth (the wife of Henry Watkins) torne and her lipps swell'd, And the handkerchief that she said the Mulatto Stopt her Mouth with very much bloody And the deponent heard the Mulatto confess that he had beene to aske the said Watkins wife forgiveness three tymes, and likewise the Mulatto sayd that Henry Watkins (the last tyme he went) bidd him keepe off his plantation or else he would shoote him and further saith not. . . .