Slave possession rules have been in force in Virginia since the first days of the colony. They define the legal standing of enslaved people and their experts and facilitate communication between the two. Legal institutions of colonial servitude are established and defined in this group of laws spanning 1629–1705. As opposed to legislation that promotes the perpetuation of such interracial encounters and legitimizes the subsequent negative attitudes toward those who have produced mixed-race offspring, such legislation should be repealed. Early on, the enslaved people’s status as property and the masters’ absolute jurisdiction over them were established (including the opportunity to kill runaway or resistance slaves without fear of discipline).
December 1662- ACT XII: An Act Applying the Status of the Mother on Children
All children born in this nation may be held bond or free as it agreed to the mother’s condition, which any Christian who commits sex with an African man or woman may pay twofold the fine forced by the previous runaway act. This meant that a child born to an enslaved mother would be born into slavery as well. The group hoped that steeper penalties would discourage Africans from having sexual relations with one another (Hening 2022). The direction was given to indentured hirelings and enslaved people’s sexual and reproductive lives, the emergence of a subjugating institution, and the rise of bigotry. As time passed, the approved punishments became more severe, and there were significant differences depending on a person’s sexual orientation.
October 1669-ACT I: An Act Legalizing the Punishment and Killing of Enslaved people
The colonial people believed that the only way an owner could make up for an enslaved person’s time of benefit could not be extended through discipline. This law addresses the unfortunate reality that there was no legal protection for an enslaved person’s life in Virginia. The statute reduced the individual rights of people of color, including women and men (Shifflett 1998). If any enslaved person defies their master and lives until the end of the adjustment period, then it is possible that their death will not be considered a felony, but the master is safe from any attacks.
October 1670-ACT IV: An Act Prohibiting Free Blacks and Native Americans from Owning White Servants
When this act was passed, not many black people or Native Americans lived in Tidewater, Virginia. The lawmakers knew that it was important to have access to workers. The act stated that there was a disagreement about whether Indians who were taken as prisoners of war by another country and then sold to the English were servants for life or a certain number of years. It was decided that all servants who were not Christians and came to this colony by ship would be enslaved. However, those who came by land would only have to work until they were 30 years old, and men and women would only have to work for 12 years.
September 1672-ACT VIII: An Act Suppress the Rebellious Activities of Enslaved People
The goal of the members of the General Assembly was to end the acts of resistance carried out by enslaved people throughout the colony. In addition, they desired to prevent Native Americans and servants from joining the enslaved people in participating in any illegal acts. They concluded that it was acceptable to injure or kill an enslaved person who resisted being taken into custody (“Virginia Slave Laws” 2022). This grand assembly reached this judgment after learning that numerous enslaved people had recently rebelled in various sections of the country and that no way had been devised to catch and stop them. To stop this, the government passed this law. The law allowed if a Negros, molatto, enslaved Indian, or servant for life died from a wound they received while resisting, the master or owner of such a person would receive compensation from the public for their death.
April 1691-ACT XVI: An Act Attempting to Suppress Runaway Slave Communities
The legislators devised a scheme to organize a band of men to hunt down runaway slaves in this statute. In addition, the first law stating that enslaved people are not entitled to freedom is found in this text. An ex-master enslaved persons had to leave the colony six months before their release. Those who wed a person of a different race were also barred from remaining in the state of Virginia for more than three months after the ceremony. In the eyes of the law, if white women had mulatto offspring, it would imply more black people would be granted their freedom. They came up with the idea to have mulatto children work until they were 30 years old as a form of punishment for white mothers who gave birth to them while allowing destitute orphans and illegitimate white boys and girls to go to school and work until they were 21 (Shifflett 1998). That is, (until you become eighteen). Lastly, the General Assembly first utilized the term white in this law, further distinguishing those of English and European descent from those of African and Native American descent.
Ultimately, I chose the acts that occurred in 1662, 1669, 1670, 1672, and 1691 respectively, to demonstrate the treatment conditions of Africans and their descendants in colonial Virginia. This indicated that racial factors shaped the dynamic between Anglo settlers and enslaved Africans in Virginia during the 1600s. The actions, in general, show how people of African descent and their descendants did not have rights.
Hening, William Waller. 2022. “Laws Pertaining To Slaves and Servants, Virginia 1629-1672”. College.Cengage.Com.
Shifflett, Crandall. 1998. “Virtual Jamestown”. Virtualjamestown.Org.
“Virginia Slave Laws”. 2022. Home.Csulb.Edu.