Laws of Virginia creating African Slavery


September 17th, 1630.

Hugh Davis to be soundly whipped, before an assembly of Negroes and others for abusing himself to the dishonor of God and shame of Christians, by defiling his body in lying with a negro; which fault he is to acknowledge next Sabbath day.

Source: Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 1, p. 146.


January 1639/40-ACT X.

[This statute created a legal distinction between white and black men.]

ALL persons except negroes to be provided with arms and ammunition or be fined at pleasure of the Governor and Council.

Source: Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 1, p. 226.


March 1655/6-ACT I. An Induction to the Acts concerning Indians

[Colonial legislators created a distinction between Native Americans and Africans in this statute.]

If the Indians shall bring in any children as gages of their good and quiet intentions to us and amity with us, then the parents of such children shall choose the persons to whom the care of such children shall be intrusted and the countrey by us their representatives do engage that wee will not use them as slaves, but do their best to bring them up in Christianity, civillity and the knowledge of necessary trades; And on the report of the commissioners of each respective country that those under whose tuition they are, do really intend the bettering of the children in these particulars then a salary shall be allowed to such men as shall deserve and require it.

Source: Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 1, p. 396 (Commonwealth).

March 1660/1-ACT XXII. English running away with negroes.

[This law indicates that some Africans and their descendants were not servants for life. However, if an indentured servant ran away with a black person who was considered a servant for life, the white servant had to serve additional time to compensate a master (or masters) for his/her absence and for the absence of the black individual.]

BEE itt enacted That in case any English servant shall run away in company with any negroes who are incapable of makeing satisfaction by addition of time, Bee it enacted that the English so running away in company with them shall serve for the time of the said negroes absence as they are to do for their owne by a former act.

Source: Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 2, p. 26.


March 1661/2-ACT CII. Run-aways

[This statute indicates that there were Africans who were not slaves in March 1661/2. The legislators continued to try to discourage white indentured servants from running away with enslaved blacks by increasing the punishment that a white man or woman would receive after their capture. After March 1661/2 a white servant who ran away with a black servant for life was responsible for additional service or a fine if a black person became lost or died while they were away from their master(s).]

WHEREAS there are diverse loytering runaways in this country who very often absent themselves from their masters service and sometimes in a long time cannot be found, that losse of the time and the charge in the seeking them often exceeding the value of their labor: Bee it therefore enacted that all runaways that shall absent themselves from their said masters service shalbe lyable to make satisfaction by service after the times by custome or indenture is expired (vizt.) double their times of service soe neglected, and if the time of their running away was in the crop or the charge of recovering them extraordinary the court shall lymitt a longer time of service proportionable to the damage the master shall make appeare he hath susteyned, and because the adjudging the time they should serve is often referred untill the time by indenture is expired, when the proofe of what is due is very uncertaine, it is enacted that the master of any runaway that intends to take the benefitt of this act, shall as soone as he hath recovered him carry him to the next commissioner and there declare and prove the time of his absence, and the charge he hath bin at in his recovery, which commissioner thereupon shall grant his certificate, and the court on that certificate passe judgment for the time he shall serve for his absence; and in case any English servant shall run away in company of any negroes who are incapable of making satisfaction by addition of a time, it is enacted that the English soe running away in the company with them shall at the time of service to their owne masters expired, serve the masters of the said negroes for their absence soe long as they should have done by this act if they had not beene slaves, every christian in company serving his proportion; and if the negroes be lost or dye in such time of their being run away, the christian servants in company with them shall by proportion among them, either pay fower thousand five hundred pounds of tobacco and caske or fower yeares service for every negroe soe lost or dead.

Source: Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 2, pp. 116-117.


March 1661/2-ACT CV. Against trading with servants.

[The following statute suggests that white and black servants and apprentices traded with those who lived near their masters.]

WHEREAS diverse ill disposed persons doe secretly and covertly track and trade with other mens servants and apprentices who to the greate injury of their masters are thereby induced and encouraged to steale perloyne and imbezell their masters goods, Bee it therefore enacted that what person or persons soever shall buy, sell, trade or truck with any servant for any comodity whatsoever without lycense or consent of the said servants master, he or they soe offending against the premisses, shall suffer one months imprisonment without baile or mainprise, give bond with security for his good behaviour, and also forfeite to the master of the said servant fower times the value of the things soe bought, sold, trucked or traded for.

Source: Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 2, pp. 118-119.


March 1661/2

[Members of the Assembly ruled that Metappin should be free. They noted that he spoke perfect English and wanted to be baptized.]

METAPPIN a Powhatan Indian being sold for life time to one Elizabeth Short by the king of Wainoake Indians who had no power to sell him being of another nation, it is ordered that the said Indian be free, he speaking perfectly the English tongue and desiring baptism.

Source: Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 2, p. 155.


December 1662-ACT XII. Negro womens children to serve according to the condition of the mother.

[As of December 1662, the child of an enslaved mother was also a slave for life. The statute was a dramatic departure from the English tradition in which a child received his or her status from his or her father. Members of the General Assembly also hoped that an increased fine would discourage white men and women from having sexual partners who were African or of African descent.]

WHEREAS some doubts have arrisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a negro woman should be slave or ffree, Be it therefore enacted and declared by this present grand assembly, that all children borne in this country shalbe held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother, And that if any christian shall committ ffornication with a negro man or woman, hee or shee soe offending shall pay double the ffines imposed by the former act.

Source: Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 2, p. 170.


September 1663-ACT XVIII. An act prohibiting servants to go abroad without a lycence.

[The colonial legislators hoped to control the movement of all laborers-white servants, black servants, and enslaved blacks-in this statute.]

FOR better suppressing the unlawful meetings of servants, it is thought fitt and enacted by this present grand assembly and the authority thereof that all masters of ffamilies be enjoyned and take especiall care that their servants doe not depart from their houses on Sundayes or any other dayes without perticuler lycence from them, and that the severall respective counties (as they find cause) to take espetiall care to make such by laws within themselves, as by the act dated the thrid of December 1662, they are impowred as may cause a further restraint of all unlawfull meetings of servants and punish the offenders.

Source: Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 2, p. 195.


September 1667-ACT III. An act declaring that baptisme of slaves doth not exempt them from bondage.

[The passage of this statute indicates that Christianity was important to the concept of English identity. Legislators decided that slaves born in Virginia could not become free if they were baptized, but masters were encouraged to Christianize their enslaved laborers.]

WHEREAS some doubts have risen whether children that are slaves by birth, and by the charity and piety of their owners made pertakers of the blessed sacrament of baptisme, should by vertue of their baptisme be made ffree; It is enacted and declared by this grand assembly, and the authority thereof, that the conferring of baptisme doth not alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or ffreedome; that diverse masters, ffreed from this doubt, may more carefully endeavour the propagation of christianity by permitting children, though slaves, or those of greater growth if capable to be admitted to that sacrament.

Source: Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 2, p. 260.


October 1669-ACT I. An act about the casuall killing of slaves.

[Colonial leaders decided that corporal punishment was the only way in which a master could correct a slave since his or her time of service could not be extended. This law represents the loss of legal protection for a slave's life in Virginia. It also was the first of several laws passed during the last thirty years of the seventeenth century that reduced the personal rights of black men and women.]

WHEREAS the only law in force for the punishment of refractory servants resisting their master, mistris or overseer cannot be inflicted upon negroes, nor the obstinacy of many of them by other then violent meanes supprest, Be it enacted and declared by this grand assembly, if any slave resist his master (or other by his masters order correcting him) and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be accompted ffelony, but the master (or that other person appointed by the master to punish him) be acquit from molestation, since it cannot be presumed that prepensed malice (which alone makes murther ffelony) should induce any man to destroy his owne estate.

Source: Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 2, p. 270.


October 1670-ACT IV. Noe Negroes nor Indians to buy christian servants.

[The number of blacks and Native Americans in Tidewater Virginia was small when this act was passed. The legislators knew that access to labor was necessary to succeed.]

WHEREAS it hath beene questioned whither Indians or negroes manumited, or otherwise free, could be capable of purchasing christian servants, It is enacted that noe negroe or Indian though baptised and enjoyned their owne ffreedome shall be capable of any such purchase of christians, but yet not debarred from buying any of their owne nation.

Source: Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 2, pp. 280-281.