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Slavery and the Law in Virginia

The Growth of the Black Population:
1625 23
1648 300
1671 2,000
1680 3,000
1700 16,390
1720 26,559
1730 30,000
1740 60,000
1775 210,000



1640-1660: The Critical Period: Custom to Law when Status Changed to "Servant for Life"
  • 1639/40 -- Blacks excluded from the requirement of possessing arms.
  • 1642 -- Black women counted as tithables (taxable).
  • 1662 -- Possibility of life servitude for Blacks.
1660-1680: Slave Laws Further Restrict Freedom of Blacks and Legalize Different Treatment for Blacks and Whites
  • 1667 -- Baptism does not bring freedom to Blacks.
  • 1669 -- An act about the "casual killing of slaves" establishes that "if any slave resist his master and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death not be accompted Felony."
  • 1670 -- Servant for life: the "normal" condition judged for Blacks.
  • 1670 -- Forbade free Blacks and Native Americans, "though baptised," to own Christian servants.
1680-1705: Slave Laws Reflect Racism and the Deliberate Separation of Blacks and Whites. Color becomes the Determining Factor. Conscious Efforts to Rigidly Police Slave Conduct.
  • 1680 -- Prescription of thirty lashes on the bare back "if any negroe or other slave shall presume to lift up his hand against any Christian."
  • 1680s -- Development of a separate legal code providing distinct trial procedures and harsher punishments for negroes.
  • 1680s -- Status of the child is determined by the status or condition of the mother.
  • 1680s -- Severe punishment prescribed for slaves who leave their master's property or for hiding or resisting capture.
  • 1691 -- Banishment for any white person married to a negroe or mulatto and a systematic plan to capture "outlying slaves" is approved.
  • 1705 -- All negro, mulatto, and Indian slaves are considered real estate.
  • 1705 -- Dismemberment of unruly slaves is made legal.