Illicit Love


Illicit Love

Interracial Sex and Marriage in the United States and Australia

Ann McGrath

Borderlands and Transcultural Studies Series

538 pages
70 illustrations, 9 maps, index


December 2015


$45.00 Add to Cart

March 2018


$35.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

December 2015


$35.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

December 2015


$35.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Illicit Love is a history of love, sex, and marriage between Indigenous peoples and settler citizens at the heart of two settler colonial nations, the United States and Australia. Award-winning historian Ann McGrath illuminates interracial relationships from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century through stories of romance, courtship, and marriage between Indigenous peoples and colonizers in times of nation formation.

The romantic relationships of well-known and ordinary interracial couples provide the backdrop against which McGrath discloses the “marital middle ground” that emerged as a primary threat to European colonial and racial supremacy in the Atlantic and Pacific Worlds from the Age of Revolution to the Progressive Era. These relationships include the controversial courtship between white, Connecticut-born Harriett Gold and southern Cherokee Elias Boudinot; the Australian missionary Ernest Gribble and his efforts to socially segregate the settler and aboriginal population, only to be overcome by his romantic impulses for an aboriginal woman, Jeannie; the irony of Cherokee leader John Ross’s marriage to a white woman, Mary Brian Stapler, despite his opposition to interracial marriages in the Cherokee Nation; and the efforts among ordinary people in the imperial borderlands of both the United States and Australia to circumvent laws barring interracial love, sex, and marriage.

Illicit Love reveals how marriage itself was used by disparate parties for both empowerment and disempowerment and came to embody the contradictions of imperialism. A tour de force of settler colonial history, McGrath’s study demonstrates vividly how interracial relationships between Indigenous and colonizing peoples were more frequent and threatening to nation-states in the Atlantic and Pacific worlds than historians have previously acknowledged.

Author Bio

Ann McGrath is a professor of history and the director of the Australian Centre for Indigenous History at Australian National University. She is the author and editor of numerous books, including How to Write History That People Want to Read; Writing Histories: Imagination and Narration; and Contested Ground: A History of Australian Aborigines under the British Crown. McGrath won the 2016 John Douglas Kerr Medal of Distinction from the Royal Historical Society of Queensland for research and writing Australian history.


“The real drama in Illicit Love lies with the lovers, in relationships, not regulations. . . . McGrath’s ‘love’—both for and between her characters—gives a depth to this fresh and sometimes dazzling book that must resonate with us all.”—Lisa Ford, American Historical Review

"McGrath simultaneously provides a broad examination of intermarriage law on two continents and breathes life into the intimate relationships forged between men and women of many races and communities. . . . Illicit Love is a powerful testament to the power of personal stories to complicate our understanding of larger historical processes."—James Joseph Buss, Western Historical Quarterly

"Superbly written."—Liz Conor, Aboriginal History

"When historians tackle the transnational, they most often do so across nation-state borders, comparing India with Pakistan, or France with Germany, for example. Ann McGrath expands our sense of the transnational to look at the workings of nations contained within one country—here, the Cherokee and the United States, and Aboriginal people and Australia. McGrath's goal is not to create a direct comparison, as much divides these two locales: geography, place-making, time period, and culture, to name just a few. Instead, McGrath seeks to examine both colonization and resistance through the lens of marriage, and argues that it is in the micro, intimate history of a place that we can best see the fractures in colonialist policy."—Catherine J. Denial, Native American and Indigenous Studies

"A valuable and arresting work of scholarship."—Pacific Historical Review

“Read this book to explore both the direct and the twisted paths linking marriage and sovereignty, in richly detailed case studies spanning two disparate continents on both of which racial hierarchy characterized settler colonialism.”—Nancy F. Cott, Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History, Harvard University

“Superbly researched and imaginatively presented, McGrath’s reconstruction of stories of marriages and sexual intimacies across the lines of race and domination between settler-colonial and indigenous peoples in the U.S. and Australia, is a remarkable instance of interleaving of the two ‘national’ histories. . . . This doubly trans-national history has an unmistakable element of freshness about it that readers will no doubt welcome.”—Dipesh Chakrabarty, Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History at the University of Chicago and the author of The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth

“Ann McGrath’s brilliant history of intermarriage in the new nations of America and Australia reads like a novel. She uncovers hidden stories of forbidden love between settlers and Indigenous men and women that both shaped and confounded the colonial project. Writing in a style as tender as the very intimacies she describes, McGrath has created a model of how to wed private with political histories.”—Margaret Jacobs, author of White Mother to a Dark Race and A Generation Removed

“Ann McGrath reminds us that ‘weddings’ have long mixed politics and intimate passions in the interests of family, tribe, and nation. Heart-wrenching stories and subtle distinctions are laid bare in fine prose, and we find the kinship between Australia and the United States even closer than we might have thought.”—James F. Brooks, author of Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands

“This is a convincing and lively analysis of how marriage helped create the modern nation. Using case studies from the Cherokee Nation and northern Australia, McGrath deftly makes the case for the key role played by marriage in settler colony histories. McGrath’s moving account is transnational history at its best.”—Philippa Levine, author of The British Empire, Sunrise to Sunset and Gender and Empire

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface: Flowers for the Bride
Introduction: A Perfect Marriage?
Part 1. Secrets of New Nations
1. Harriett Gold and Elias Boudinot: Against History?
2. Ernest Gribble and Jeannie
Part 2. Marriage and Modernity among the Cherokees
3. Socrates, Cherokee Sovereignty, and the Regulation of White Men
4. John Ross and Mary Bryan Stapler
Part 3. Queensland’s Marital Middle Ground
5. Husbands under Surveillance
6. Consent and Aboriginal Wives
Part 4. Embodying New Worlds
7. Polygamy’s New Worlds
8. Entwined Sovereignties and the Great Unwedding
Epilogue: Transnational Families


2016 John Douglas Kerr Medal for Distinction in Research and Writing Australia History
2016 General History Prize, New South Wales Premier’s History Awards

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