newspaper notice advertising slaves for sale.
"Unearthing Secret America," FRONTIERS witnesses the evolution
of slavery in North America. Slavery did not exist as an institution
when the first Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in
1619. The "20 and odd" Africans who worked in the colony's
tobacco fields were indentured servants. It was not until
1640 that John Punch, a runaway indentured servant, became
the first documented "servant for life" upon his
illustration from a London paper depicts a slave auction.
Over the next two hundred years, slave law would reflect changing
attitudes towards the institution as it became increasingly
race-based. Laws defining who could own slaves and who could
be enslaved evolved over time. While early colonists considered
it immoral to enslave Christians of any race, Baptism as a means
to freedom for black slaves was outlawed in 1667. By 1670, Africans
and Native Americans were barred from owning white indentured
a sampling of the laws governing the institution of slavery
1662-ACT XII. Negro womens children to serve according
to the condition of the mother.
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.
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.]
Source: Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 2, p. 170.
1667-ACT III. An act declaring that baptisme of slaves doth
not exempt them from bondage.
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.
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
Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 2, p. 260.
Virtual Jamestown: Laws on Slavery
African Americans at Jamestown
Library of Congress