The biracial couplings which took place during the age of imperialism were mostly between European men (who were politically powerful) and non-European women (who were often powerless). The Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors coupled with native women and created a new people—the mestizos. The word “mestizo” comes from the Spanish word “mestizaje,” which means miscegenation.
The most famous biracial coupling of the eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries was between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, a black slave girl. They began their relationship in 1787, not long after the American constitutional convention, when Jefferson was in France on some political business. There was a thirty-years age difference between them—Jefferson was 44 and Sally was 14. They had six children together. Their relationship was disputed by some scholars but a genetic study conducted in 1998 confirmed a Y-chromosome match between the male-line descendants of Eston Hemings Jefferson (Sally’s youngest son) and the male-line descendants of Jefferson’s paternal uncle.
Jefferson was a powerful and wealthy man—he was one of the founding fathers of America and later on he became the president. He owned a large plantation in Virginia, a state where 40 percent of the population was enslaved. Sally, being his slave, was dependent on him. In France, slavery was illegal. Sally could have continued to live in France as a free woman. According to their son, Madison Hemings, she agreed to return to America with Jefferson on the condition that their children would eventually be set free.
Sally was biracial, since she had three European grandparents. She continued to be a slave because, under Virginia law, the status of a slave was maternally inherited. There was a reason why Virginia had this law. Almost all the biracial couplings in America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were between European men and African women. There were hardly any African men uniting with European women. By linking the status of a slave to the maternal line, the state of Virginia was ensuring that power remained in the hands of European men.
The genetic pattern of the present day African Americans shows that the Jefferson-Sally kind of biracial couplings were common. The contribution of European men in the genetic makeup of the present day African American population is four times higher than the contribution of European women. In the time of slavery, the sex bias would be far greater than this. The civil rights movement, and the cultural transformation and sex revolution after 1960, resulted in an increase in the number of couplings between African men and European women.
Throughout the history of mankind, men in positions of power have spread their seed on women from weaker sections of society. A 2003 study on the places where the Mongols had ruled shows that a significant part of the population had descended from one ancestor: Genghis Khan. Between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Genghis Khan and his descendants had conquered the largest contiguous land empire in history. The powerful men of the past have left an extraordinary impact on the subsequent populations.