People & Events
Virginia's slave codes
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The status of blacks in Virginia slowly changed over the last half of the 17th century. The black indentured servant, with his hope of freedom, was increasingly being replaced by the black slave.
In 1705, the Virginia General Assembly removed any lingering uncertainty about this terrible transformation; it made a declaration that would seal the fate of African Americans for generations to come...
"All servants imported and brought into the Country...who were not Christians in their native Country...shall be accounted and be slaves. All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion...shall be held to be real estate. If any slave resist his master...correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction...the master shall be free of all punishment...as if such accident never happened."
The code, which would also serve as a model for other colonies, went even further. The law imposed harsh physical punishments, since enslaved persons who did not own property could not be required to pay fines. It stated that slaves needed written permission to leave their plantation, that slaves found guilty of murder or rape would be hanged, that for robbing or any other major offence, the slave would receive sixty lashes and be placed in stocks, where his or her ears would be cut off, and that for minor offences, such as associating with whites, slaves would be whipped, branded, or maimed.
For the 17th century slave in Virginia, disputes with a master could be brought before a court for judgement. With the slave codes of 1705, this no longer was the case. A slave owner who sought to break the most rebellious of slaves could now do so, knowing any punishment he inflicted, including death, would not result in even the slightest reprimand.
Virgina recognizes slavery
Africans in court
Samuel Sewall speaks out
Peter Wood on the shift from indentured servitude to lifelong slavery
Peter Wood on inheriting the mother's slave status
Peter Wood on the difference between being a slave and a servant
Timothy Breen on the relationship between black slaves and white indentured servants
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