Colonial Williamsburg®

History.org: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

CW Foundation navigation

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

Slavery and the Law in Virginia

The Growth of the Black Population:
1625 23
1648 300
1671 2,000
1680 3,000
1700 16,390
1720 26,559
1730 30,000
1740 60,000
1775 210,000

 

SLAVE LAWS PASSED IN VIRGINIA:

1640 — 1660: The Critical Period: Custom to Law when Status Changed to "Servant for Life"

  • 1639/40 - The General Assembly of Virginia specifically excludes blacks from the requirement of possessing arms
  • 1642 - Black women are deemed tithables (taxable), creating a distinction between African and English women.
  • 1662 - Blacks face the possibility of life servitude. The General Assembly of Virginia decides that any child born to an enslaved woman will also be a slave.

1660 — 1680: Slave Laws Further Restrict Freedom of Blacks and Legalize Different Treatment for Blacks and Whites

  • 1667 - Virginia lawmakers say baptism does not bring freedom to blacks. The statute is passed because some slaves used their status as a Christian in the 1640s and 1650s to argue for their freedom or for freedom for a child. Legislators also encourage slave owners to Christianize their enslaved men, women and children.
  • 1668 - Free black women, like enslaved females over the age of 16, are deemed tithable. The Virginia General Assembly says freedom does not exempt black women from taxation.
  • 1669 - An act about the "casual killing of slaves" says that if a slave dies while resisting his master, the act will not be presumed to have occurred with “prepensed malice.”
  • 1670 - Free blacks and Native Americans who had been baptized are forbidden to buy Christian servants.
  • 1672 - It becomes legal to wound or kill an enslaved person who resists arrest. Legislators also deem that the owner of any slave killed as he resisted arrest will receive financial compensation for the loss of an enslaved laborer. Legislators also offer a reward to Indians who capture escaped slaves and return them to a justice of the peace.

1680 — 1705: Slave Laws Reflect Racism and the Deliberate Separation of Blacks and Whites. Color becomes the Determining Factor. Conscious Efforts to Rigidly Police Slave Conduct.

  • 1680 - Virginia’s General Assembly restricts the ability of slaves to meet at gatherings, including funerals. It becomes legal for a white person or person to kill an escaped slave who resists capture. Slaves also are forbidden to:
      • arm themselves for either offensive or defensive purposes. Punishment: 20 lashes on one’s bare back.
      • leave the plantation without the written permission of one’s master, mistress or overseer. Punishment: 20 lashes on one’s bare back.
      • “…lift up his hand against any Christian." Punishment: 30 lashes on one’s bare back.
  • 1691 - Any white person married to a black or mulatto is banished and a systematic plan is established to capture "outlying slaves."
      • If an outlying slave is killed while resisting capture, the owner receives financial compensation for the laborer.
      • Partners in an interracial marriage cannot stay in the colony for more than three months after they married.
      • A fine of 15 pounds sterling is levied on an English woman who gives birth to a mulatto child. The fine is to be paid within a month of the child’s birth. If a woman cannot pay the fine, she is to serve five years as an indentured servant. If the mother is an indentured servant, she faces an additional five years of servitude after the completion of her indenture.
      • A mulatto child born to a white indentured servant will serve a 30-year indenture.
      • A master must transport an emancipated slave out of Virginia within six months of receiving his or her freedom.
  • 1692 - Slaves are denied the right to a jury trial for capital offenses. A minimum of four justices of the peace hear evidence and determine the fate of the accused. Legislators also decide that enslaved individuals are not permitted to own horses, cattle and hogs after December 31 of that year.
  • 1705 - Free men of color lose the right to hold public office.
  • 1705 - Blacks — free and enslaved — are denied the right to testify as witnesses in court cases.
  • 1705 - All black, mulatto, and Indian slaves are considered real property.
  • 1705 - Enslaved men are not allowed to serve in the militia.
  • 1705 - In An act concerning Servants and Slaves, Virginia’s lawmakers:
      • Increase the indenture of a mulatto child born to a white woman to 31 years.
      • Determine that if a white man or white woman marries a black partner, the white individual will be sent to jail for six months and fined 10 pounds current money of Virginia.
      • Determine that any minister who marries an interracial couple will be assessed a fine of 10,000 pounds of tobacco.
      • Determine that any escaped slave who is unwilling or unable to name his or her owner will be sent to the public jail.


Footer