Chapter Five surveys the varied intimate and nonmarital relationships formed between free and freed people. A comprehensive survey of more than two thousand baptism records demonstrates that Jamaica had the highest illegitimacy rate in the British Empire. One in four of the children baptized on the island was born out of wedlock. This chapter explores the confluence of factors that led to the development of a sexual culture in Jamaica that afforded unmarried women more autonomy in their intimate lives. In contrast with other colonies in British North America, Jamaica adopted a remarkably lenient approach toward female sexuality. Women also commanded more authority and wealth, largely owing to their participation in slavery. In the absence of social censure and legal repercussions, a large number of free couples established families outside of marriage. Doing so protected women’s material assets and legal autonomy, which would otherwise be comprised by coverture—a set of laws that ceded a wife’s property to her husband. Instead, colonists used baptism rather than marriage to recognize, legitimize, and even legalize intimate relationships with free and enslaved partners.
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