People & Events
Virgina recognizes slavery
1661 - 1663
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The transformation from indentured servitude (servants contracted to work for a set amount of time) to racial slavery didn't happen overnight. There are no laws regarding slavery early in Virginia's history. By 1640, the Virginia courts had sentenced at least one black servant to slavery . . .
Three servants working for a farmer named Hugh Gwyn ran away to Maryland. Two were white; one was black. They were captured in Maryland and returned to Jamestown, where the court sentenced all three to thirty lashes -- a severe punishment even by the standards of 17th-century Virginia. The two white men were sentenced toan additional four years of servitude -- one more year for Gwyn followed by three more for the colony. But, in addition to the whipping, the black man, a man named John Punch, was ordered to "serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere." John Punch no longer had hope for freedom.
It wasn't until 1661 that a reference to slavery entered into Virginia law, and this law was directed at white servants -- at those who ran away with a black servant. The following year, the colony went one step further by stating that children born would be bonded or free according to the status of the mother.
The transformation had begun, but it wouldn't be until the Slave Codes of 1705 that the status of African Americans would be sealed.
Virginia's slave codes
Peter Wood on inheriting the mother's slave status
Peter Wood on the shift from indentured servitude to lifelong slavery
Betty Wood on Christianity and slavery
Peter Wood on the difference between being a slave and a servant
Timothy Breen on the relationship between black slaves and white indentured servants
Margaret Washington on the change from indentured labor towards enslaved labor
Part 1: Narrative | Resource Bank Contents | Teacher's Guide
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