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Slavery and the Making of AmericaPhoto of a group slaves on a Beaufort, South Carolina plantation
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

The Slave Experience: Responses to Enslavement
Intro Historical Overview Character Spotlight Slave Decisions Personal Narratives Original Docs
Character Spotlight Responses to Enslavement

Photo of actor portraying John Punch
Photo of actor portraying John Punch
John Punch

John Punch, James Gregory, and a man named Victor were all indentured servants contracted to Virginia planter Hugh Gwyn. These three men each performed similar tasks as slaves and each also felt so exploited he was willing to take unimaginable risks to pursue freedom. John, James, and Victor ran away and were captured within days.

Though fleeing similar circumstances, the fates of the runaways differed under the court's aegis. A judge sentenced all three to whippings. He then added four years to the indenture terms of James and Victor, both white Europeans. John, a black man, alone he condemned to lifelong servitude.

Photo of dramatic re-enactment of John Punch and other slaves escaping
Still of John Punch and other slaves escaping
John Punch is one of the first servants on record to be sentenced to slavery on the grounds of race. However, he was neither the first nor the last black man to flee from oppressive bondage. Despite the development of harsh fugitive slave laws in the next century, running away remained one of the most common strategies for escaping slavery.
Photo of dramatic re-enactment of John Punch and other slaves escaping
Societies of Slaves

Photo of the book cover of 'Maroon Societies'
To read a transcript of the original court decision on Gywn's case against Punch and his companions, go to the library and check out H.R. McILwaine's MINUTES OF THE COUNCIL AND GENERAL COURT OF COLONIAL VIRGINIA, 1622-1632, 1670-1676 (Library of VA, 2nd ed. 1979)

Societies of Slaves
Sometimes, runaway slaves like John Punch joined other escaped slaves to form colonies of their own, banding together to defend themselves and their freedom. Slaves who were members of these communities are known as maroons. To learn more about this form of slave resistance, read MAROON SOCIETIES: REBEL SLAVE COMMUNITIES IN THE AMERICAS by Richard Price (Johns Hopkins UP, 1996)

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