I have a history assignment and it's asking me to provide context of the table already provided that contains "background characteristics of New England Runaways."

To be specific, it states the following categories: African, Country born, Mulatto, Negro, and West Indies, along with percentages of runaways every ten years.

I'm a bit confused as to what the difference is between country born and mulatto people. Professor didn't include any information regarding the differences and I can't find much information about it online.

1 Answer 1


I assume the table you have been given is taken from A Prince among Pretending Free Men: Runaway Slaves in Colonial New England Revisited. If so, that table appears as Table 3 on page 98:

Table - background characteristics of fugitives in Massachusetts

  • African slaves were slaves born in Africa.

  • Country born slaves were born in the United States.

  • Mulatto meant mixed race. Mulatto slaves were generally also Country born. As Antonio T. Bly, the author of that paper, put it:

"... mulatto fugitives proved the most peculiar of the countryborn lot. As social and racial outcasts they were a different kind of fugitive. Through no fault of their own, they embodied the taboo of interracial sex.

  • Negro is fairly self-explanatory.

  • West Indies indicated a slave from the West Indies.

To clarify some of the apparent confusion in the comments.

The categories are not exclusive. This is made clear in that passage quoted from the paper above, where is states explicitly that "mulatto" fugitives were also "countryborn".

So, for example, in the 1730, 86% of the notices described the fugitive as "Negro", 4% described the fugitive as "Mulatto", etc. But note that only 3% described the fugitive as "Country born" (although we should understand that the fugitives described as "Mulatto" were also "Country born", even though that wasn't explicitly stated on the notices).

The issue is how they were described in the fugitive notices (and so recorded in the database). I note that the numbers are all rounded to the nearest integer, so there were also, presumably, other descriptive terms that were used so infrequently that they were not allocated a category by modern scholars.

The point being that the 17th-century slave-owners weren't picking a label from a prescriptive list, and the labels that were used weren't necessarily used with the precision that modern scholars would like.

  • 1
    That's the one! Thank you so much for clarifying this! I appreciate it! Aug 12, 2020 at 1:44
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    More specifically, Mulatto means "half White, half black", at least in some instances. If a Mulatto had a child by a White person, the resulting child would have been a Quadroon.
    – nick012000
    Aug 12, 2020 at 11:45
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    Hm. Actually, I find "Negro" not self-explanatory at all. If two "Africans" have a child born in the colonies, then it sounds like they would be "Country born". What is a "Negro"? (Incidentally, what's "Creole" about any of the categories, except for "Mulatto"?) Aug 12, 2020 at 13:23
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    I don't find this explanation very satisfying, inasmuch as it seems to indicate that the various categories are not all mutually exclusive. Is it really a coincidence that the entries in each and every row add up to exactly 100% ? Aug 12, 2020 at 14:42
  • 2
    @JohnBollinger They are not mutually exclusive. The table simply records the descriptive terms used by people when they advertised runaway slaves in Massachusetts in those decades. Why would you expect different people to be consistent in their use of those terms? Aug 12, 2020 at 15:20

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