June 9th, 2012


Illegitimacy in Colonial America?

Hey, all,

I'm working on crafting backstory for a vampire character right now who lived (when she was human) in New England in the early 17th century, and I've gotten completely stumped on one aspect of it, namely: what happened, anyway, with children born illegitimately in the colonies? (The vampire would've been the mother, not the child, if that makes a difference.)

What kind of legal problems befell women who became pregnant outside of marriage? Were they obliged to keep the children, or encouraged to give them away? Something else? If the father wasn't known, did the child inherit the mother's surname, or was it assigned one by the community?

I've tried reading the Wikipedia article on Colonial American Bastardy Laws, this article (which would've been more helpful if it had bothered to specify which country it was talking about), skimmed a bunch of records at the Old Bailey just for ideas about English common law that might've applied (using "bastard" as the search string, all of the results were about infanticide), the Wikipedia summary of "The Scarlet letter," and Google search strings "illegitimate children in colonial america," "children of prostitutes in colonial america," and "adoption in colonial america," which mostly pulled up a lot of very fascinating articles that don't mention any of the specifics I'm looking for.

Can anyone shed some light on this?