Black Laws of Virginia: A Summary of the Legislative Acts of Virginia Concerning Negroes From Earliest Times to the Present | June Purcell Guild | New York: Negro Universities Press, 1936
1723. Chapter IV. Whereas the laws now in force for the better governing of slaves are found insufficient to restrain their unlawful and tumultuous meetings, it is enacted that if any number of Negroes exceeding five conspire to rebel, they shall suffer death, and be utterly excluded the benefit of clergy. (p. 52)
It is re-enacted that if slaves are found notoriously guilty of going abroad at night or running away and lying out and cannot be reclaimed from such disorderly courses, it shall be lawful to direct every such slave to be punished by dismembering, or any other way not touching life. (p. 53)
1726. Chapter IV. For the encouragement of constables to perform their duty in conducting runaway slaves, they are exempt from the payment of all public, county and parish levies.
Runaway slaves, whose masters are not known, may be hired out by the keeper of the public gaol, with a strong iron collar with the letters “P. G.” stamped thereupon.
Because a former law is not found effectual to prevent masters of vessels from clandestinely transporting persons in debt, servants or slaves out of this colony, they are now required to take oath not to do so. (p. 53)
1732. Chapter VI. Stealing a slave is a felony, and the punishment death without benefit of clergy. (p. 54)
1748. Chapter XIV. Children are to be bond or free, according to the condition of their mother. The master’s duty to servants is to provide for them and not whip any Christian white servant naked without an order. No contracts shall be made between masters and servants unless in court. Servants shall own their own property. Sick and lame servants shall not be discharged; every servant not having wages shall at the end of his service receive ten pounds ten shillings for freedom dues from the master. Negroes, mulattoes or Indians, although Christians, Jews, Moors, Mohemmedans, or other infidels, shall not purchase Christian servants except of their own complexion. If any person having such Christian servant shall marry with a Negro, mulatto, Indian, Jew, Moor, Mohammedan, or other infidel, such servant shall thereupon become free. There shall be penalties for dealing with servants or slaves without the consent of the master or overseer. Servants shall faithfully do their master’s just commands under penalty of extension of time of service. In cases of penal laws, where free persons are punishable by fines, servants shall be punished by whipping at the rate of twenty lashes for every five hundred pounds of tobacco. At the expiration of their term, servants shall have certificates of freedom; there shall be a penalty for harboring servants without certificates; runaways who use stolen or forged certificates shall stand in the pillory two hours; there shall be rewards for taking up runaway servants or slaves. Any Negro or other person not declaring the name of his owner shall be committed to jail and delivered to his owner on satisfying the sheriff’s fees; if no owner appear, the runaway shall be hired out, the runaway to wear a strong iron collar with letters “P. G.” stamped thereon; owners claiming runaway slaves shall make proof of ownership, but if no owner finally appear the sheriff shall sell the runaway at public auction after charges paid; every runaway servant upon whose account any reward shall be paid, after all other time of service shall be expired, shall repay all charges and loss of time. Servants imported as tradesmen or mechanics, who are ignorant to perform such trades or mysteries, shall repay wages or serve further time as just. Stealing any Negro, mulatto, or Indian slave is a felony and those offending shall suffer death without benefit of clergy. (pp. 56-57)
1748. Chapter XXXVIII. The conspiracy of slaves or their insurrection is a felony and the penalty death without benefit of clergy.
1752. Chapter XLII. Whereas the breed of sheep is greatly diminished in many parts of this dominion by reason that Negroes and other slaves are not restrained from carrying dogs about with them; for the prevention thereof, it is enacted that it shall not be lawful for any Negro or other slave in going from one plantation to another to carry any dog whatsoever, under penalty of having the dog killed and twenty lashes on the bare back. But nothing herein shall hinder any person from sending his slave from place to place with his hounds, spaniels, pointers, or setting dogs, for his diversion. (p. 57)
1757. Chapter VI. Whereas many frauds have been committed by secret gifts of slaves, whereby creditors have been deprived of their just debts, gifts of slaves hereafter must be by will, deed or testament, proved by two witnesses at least, in writing and recorded. (p. 58)
1769. Chapter XIX. The taker-up of a runaway at his option may convey him to his owner, or if the owner is not in the county, carry him to gaol, and the gaoler shall advertise a description of the runaway in the Virginia Gazette for three weeks. (pp. 58-59)
Whereas many owners of slaves in consideration of wages to be paid by such slaves license them to go at large, to trade as free men, which is a great encouragement to theft and other evil practices by the slaves, in order to enable them to fulfill their agreements with their owners; it is enacted that if any owner license a slave to trade as a free man, he shall forfeit the sum of ten pounds in current money for the use of the poor of the parish, to be recovered by the church wardens.
1772. Chapter XIX. Vessels importing convicts, indented servants, and slaves, infected with the gaol fever or small pox shall perform quarantine under penalties and forfeiture. (p. 59)
1776. On June 19, the Virginia Constitution was adopted and recites in its preamble as a grievance against George III that he prompted the Negroes to rise in arms, those very Negroes whom, by an inhuman use of his negative, he had refused permission to exclude by law. (pp. 59-60)
1778. Chapter I. In the third year of the Commonwealth, Patrick Henry, Esquire, being Governor, at the Capitol at Williamsburg, it is enacted, that hereafter no slave shall be imported into the Commonwealth by sea or land. Every slave imported contrary to the interest and meaning of this act shall become free.
Provided that persons may remove from any of the United States to Virginia if not with the intention of evading this act, and their slaves were not imported from Africa or any of the West Indies since November 1, 1778. (p. 60)
1782. Chapter XXI. It is lawful for any person by last will and testament or other instrument in writing sealed and witnessed to emancipate and set free his slave or slaves.
All slaves so set free, not being of sound mind and body, or being above forty-five years of age, or males under twentyone, and females under eighteen shall be supported by the persons liberating them. Provided, also, that a copy of the instrument of emancipation shall be delivered to the slave emancipated. Slaves travelling outside of the county without such an instrument may be confined to jail.
1782. Chapter. XXXII. Because great inconvenience has arisen from persons permitting their slaves to go at large and hire themselves out, under promise of paying their owners money in lieu of services, it is enacted that if slaves are permitted to go at large, they may be sold and disposed of by the sheriff. Twenty-five per cent of the amount of the sale shall go toward lessening the county levy, five per cent to the gaoler and the rest to the owner of the slave. (p. 61)
1785. Chapter LXXXIV. Runaway servants and slaves may be apprehended by any person, who shall be rewarded by the owner. If the owner is not found, the runaway shall be placed in jail, and may be hired out with an iron collar on his neck. A runaway being a slave, after one year from the last advertisement in the Virginia Gazette, shall be sold. (p. 63)
1792. Chapter 41. Whereas slaves run away and hide out and kill hogs, it is enacted that upon intelligence of two or more lying out, they may be committed to jail for trial.
Conspiracy to rebel, or make insurrection, is deemed a felony, with death the punishment without benefit of clergy. (p. 65)
1795. Chapter Il. Whereas great and alarming mischief has arisen in other states of this Union, and is likely to arise in this by voluntary association of individuals, who undercover of effecting that justice toward persons unwarrantably held in slavery, which the sovereignty and duty of society alone ought to afford; have in many instances been the means of depriving masters of their property in slaves: To the end that an easy mode may be pointed out by law for the recovery of freedom when it is illegally denied, it is enacted that a person conceiving himself to be detained as a slave illegally may make complaint in court; the petitioner shall be assigned counsel who without fee shall prosecute the suit. (pp. 67-68)
If any person aid or abet any person in such a claim for freedom and the claim is not established, he shall forfeit one hundred dollars to the owner of the slave.
A person forging or counterfeiting a paper giving a slave freedom shall pay two hundred dollars and suffer one year’s imprisonment without bail.
1798. Chapter 4. Free persons conspiring with slaves to rebel shall suffer death. Free persons harboring or entertaining any slave without the master’s consent shall pay ten dollars, free Negroes not able to pay shall receive not to exceed thirty-nine lashes.
It is further enacted that in cases wherein the property of a person held as a slave demanding freedom shall come for trial, no person shall serves as a juror who shall belong to a society for the emancipation of Negroes. (p. 68)
It is made a felony for a free Negro to give his certificate of freedom to a slave. The skipper of a vessel must not carry a slave out of the state until he has taken him before a magistrate, and made out a description of the slave and shall have produced the slave’s certificate of freedom. (p. 69)
1801. Chapter 70. If any person permits his slave, or any slave hired by him, to go at large or hire himself out, the slave may be sold. It is enacted that if any slave shall be brought or come into this state from any place without the limits of the state, it shall be the duty of any magistrate where such slave is found to commit the slave to jail, and the magistrate shall notify the governor and the slave shall be transported out of the Commonwealth and the expenses incurred shall be paid by the person importing or holding the slave, but the slave may be sold within the Commonwealth if the person holding him is unable to reimburse the Commonwealth. (pp. 70-71)
1804. Chapter 89. When slaves are held by widows or others for life they shall be registered, with the ages, sexes, and increase of such slaves.
1804. Chapter 97. It is lawful for any citizen of the Commonwealth or of the County of Alexandria in the District of Columbia, who has carried or may carry slaves into the county in the district aforesaid, owning lands within this state, to remove the slaves back to Virginia, without penalty, and the slaves shall not be entitled to freedom on that account.
1804. Chapter 119. All meetings of slaves at any meeting house or any other place in the night shall be considered an unlawful assembly, and any justice may issue his warrant to enter the place where the assembly may be for apprehending or dispersing the slaves, and to inflict corporal punishment on the offenders at the discretion of the justice, not exceeding twenty lashes. “Any person may be summoned to aid in the execution of this act and may be fined not exceeding $10.00 for refusing to serve; counties west of the Blue Ridge are excepted from this act. (p. 71)
1805. By resolution the General Assembly of Virginia, on January 31, votes not to endorse the amendment to the United States Constitution proposed by the state of North Carolina which would forbid the further importation of slaves. The reason assigned by Virginia is that such an amendment would violate the United States Constitution that no such amendment be adopted prior to 1808. (pp. 71-72)
1805. Chapter 11. Carrying away any slave is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of from $100.00 to $500.00 and imprisonment in the jail or penitentiary from two to four years, and payment to the owner of the slave of double the value of the slave.
Masters of vessels who permit slaves to come on board, or who buy any commodity from a slave without consent of the owner, shall forfeit $200.00 in addition to the penalties now imposed.
1805. Chapter 12. It is declared that it is not unlawful for masters to permit slaves to accompany them, or any part of the family to religious worship if it is conducted by a white minister.
1806. Chapter 63. Slaves brought into this state and kept one year shall be forfeited by the owner, and the right to the slaves shall rest in the overseers of the poor, who shall apprehend such slaves for the benefit of the poor.
If any slave hereafter emancipated shall remain within this Commonwealth more than twelve months after his freedom, he shall forfeit such right, and may be sold by the overseers for the benefit of the poor. (p. 72)
1808. Chapter 15. Any person who may hereafter apprehend a runaway slave shall be entitled to a reward of $2.00, and mileage as heretofore. If the owner does not claim a runaway within twelve months, the sheriff shall advertise for one month in any public newspaper the time and place of selling the runaway. (p. 73)
1812. Chapter XXVI. Persons residing in this state or removing here, owners of slaves born in United States, are permitted to bring them in, provided in thirty days a statement in writing giving a description of the slaves and a true account of the slaves brought is filed, and the slaves were not brought in for the purpose of sale or with intent to evade the laws preventing importation of slaves, and provided also if female slaves, ten to thirty years of age, are exported within three months, a report shall be made to the court. It is further enacted that persons who have brought slaves in contrary to the law of 1806 concerning slaves shall be permitted to retain such slaves. (pp. 74-75)
1817. Chapter XV. If any free person advise or conspire with any other free person or Negro to induce or excite any slave to rebel or make insurrection, every such free person shall be held a felon and suffer death by hanging. (p. 77)
1817. Chapter XXXVI. Because of serious inconvenience experienced by Virginians from the frequent elopement of slaves to states north of the Potomac it is enacted that hereafter $20.00 reward, and mileage, be allowed any person who may apprehend any runaway slave attempting to cross the Potomac if the plantation on which the slave is employed be not less than ten miles from the river. If the slave is apprehended in Maryland or Kentucky, the reward shall be $25.00; in Delaware., New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, or Ohio, $50.00, plus twenty-five cents a mile.
Keepers of bridges and ferries must not permit slaves to cross the river without special permits. Runaway slaves committed to jail shall be advertised in a Richmond newspaper. (pp. 77-78)
1819. Chapter XXVI. This is an act concerning slaves and free Negroes and states that no persons shall be slaves within this Commonwealth, except such as were so on October 17, 1785, and the descendants of the females, and such slaves as since have been, or may be brought in pursuant to law. It shall be lawful to bring into this state and hold therein any slave born within the United States, except such as at the time of their removal were resident out of the United States, and such as shall have been convicted of any offense and transported therefor, under the laws of this state, or of any other state. A penalty for the use of the Literary Fund, for bringing in slaves not permitted by law is set at $1,000.00 for each slave, with an exception for those passing through the state, or abiding in the state for a short time, if the slaves are not kept here for a whole year. Penalties heretofore incurred are remitted. (p. 79)
1822. Chapter 22. Runaway slaves confined in jail hereafter are not to be sold by the sheriff, except on court order.
1823. Chapter 30. Whenever a runaway slave is confined in jail and is not provided with adequate clothing, it shall be the duty of the jailor to furnish him with proper Negro clothing or other necessaries. (p. 81)
1823. Chapter 35. The reward for apprehending runaway slaves in Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Indiana, shall be $50.00 and 20 cents per mile for traveling to the residence of the owner or the jail at which the runaway is delivered. The reward shall be $120.00 for apprehending slaves in New York, New England, and the British Provinces. The rewards allowed shall operate as a lien on the slave. If the slave is taken up not more than twenty miles distant from his plantation, the reward shall be $25.00 and mileage.
1823. Chapter 102. A slave of William Tompkins was committed as a free man of color to the penitentiary for fifteen years. It is now enacted that he be sold and the sum paid his owner and he be transported.
1824. Chapter 34. Sam, a Negro man, slave of Robt. Ricks, condemned to death and his valuation paid his owner, escaped and has been retaken; it is here ordered he be sold and transported beyond the limits of the Commonwealth. It is further enacted that the owners of old slaves, or slaves of unsound mind who permit them to go at large without support, so that they are dependent on charity, trespass, or theft shall pay a fine of not exceeding $50.00 for every offense, and it moreover shall be the duty of the overseers of the poor to provide for such slaves and charge the master. (p. 82)
1824. Chapter 35. For enticing or advising any servant or slave away from home, or knowingly employing or harboring a runaway servant or slave, the penalty is $10.00 to $20.00, one-half to the informer and the other half to the Literary Fund, or ten to twenty lashes on the bare back if not paid.” Search warrants are to be allowed to search for runaway slaves. Whenever the master or owner of any slave shall desire to confine him in jail, it shall be lawful for the jailer to receive him, provided the justice be of the opinion he may be confined without public inconvenience, and he shall not be confined in the same apartment with any free white person. (pp. 82-83)
1824. Chapter 36. The jailer of Prince William County is allowed certain sums for keping runaway slaves and it is further enacted that hereafter jailers are to report to courts confined runaway slaves within two months. Three disinterested persons shall then value the slave, and if the court be of the opinion that the runaway will not sell at auction for sufficient to pay the prison fees after being confined twelve months, they shall fix the time of imprisonment for a shorter period and order the slave sold.
1829. Chapter 21. Persons assisting slaves to escape are guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by confinement in jail three to twelve months, be fined at the discretion of the jury, and liable also to action by the party aggrieved. (p. 83)
Jailors shall try to ascertain the owners of runaway slaves and notify them by mail.
1835. Chapter 62. If the owner of a runaway slave does not claim him within four months after the keeper of the jail has advertised, the runaway shall be sold.
1835. Chapter 149. This act incorporates the Virginia Slave Insurance Company, with power and authority to make insurance upon slaves absconding from their owners. (p. 84)
1836. Chapter 73. The head man of each boat navigating rivers and branches shall keep a list of the crew, and if any slave not belonging to the boat, nor in the list of the crew, be found on board without the leave of his master, he shall be deemed a runaway. The head man of the boat, if white, shall be liable to a penalty of $20.00, to be paid the owner of the runaway; if the head man be a slave or free Negro, he shall be whipped not exceeding thirty-nine lashes on his bare back, but in the case of a free Negro he may discharge himself by paying a in the case of a white man. Free Negroes employed on boats shall carry their freedom papers and be committed to jail if found without them and dealt with as runaways. (pp. 84-85)
1836. Chapter 90. If any pilot aprehends and confines in jail any runaway slave found on board a departing vessel, he shall be entitled to a reward of $20.00, to be recovered from the owner. And, moreover, the master, skipper or owner of the vessel in which the slave may be found shall forfeit the sum of $500.00 in addition to the penalties now prescribed by law.
1837. Chapter 117. Railroads are forbidden to receive any slave or slaves on cars, without first obtaining permission in writing from the owner under penalty of $100.00, one-half to the use of the Literary Fund and one-half to the use of the party aggrieved, and shall be moreover liable to the party aggrieved, for damages. (p. 85)
1839. Chapter 76. It is declared a felony to permit slaves to cross ferries or bridges without their owners’ consent in writing, punishment two to five years and liability also to private action.
It shall be lawful to commute the punishment of transportation and sale to imprisonment of five to ten years as if the person were free. Persons whose sentences have been commuted shall within thirty days after the expiration of their terms depart from the state, or be dealt with as free persons migrating into the Commonwealth contrary to law.
1841. Chapter 73. Any person apprehending a runaway slave above sixteen years of age more than twenty miles from his place of abode and within ten miles of dividing lines between Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland shall be entitled to recover $30.00 and ten cents for every mile he shall necessarily convey the runaway. (p. 86)
1845. Chapter 73. By this act jailors are required to report to court Negroes committed for want of freedom papers; the court shall not permit such Negroes to be hired out longer than two years. The hirer must give bond double the value of the Negro not to remove him from the Commonwealth. (p. 87)
1848. Criminal Code. Chapter 120. Section 31. The unlawful importation of a slave born without the United States shall be punishable by a fine of $1,000.00.
1848. Chapter 308. Polly Littlepage Smith is authorized, in her own name, as if she were a feme sole, to file a bill praying the court to-permit her to remove certain slaves to Alabama, bond to be given to cause the slaves and their increase to be divided among Polly’s children at her death, according to the will bequeathing them.
1848. Chapter 329. Sarah C. Byars is allowed $600.00 for a slave, Jim, condemned by the Smyth County court and reprieved by the executive for sale and transportation.
1849. Chapter 311. The committee having the custody and control of the person and property of Martha Watts, of Campbell County, who is possessed of a large number of slaves but no land on which to maintain them, is authorized on a proper application to the court to sell the said slaves.
1850. Chapter 316. A slave of Mary B. Nelson, condemned to death, was assessed at $425.00 by the court; the governor has commuted the punishment of death to sale and transportation, and it is shown that the court erred in fixing a price for the slave far below his market value. It is therefore enacted that the governor cause to be paid to Mary B. Nelson, the owner of the slave, such sum of money as he may receive upon the sale.
1851. Chapter 51. This act to facilitate the recovery of fugitive slaves requires courts to convene and enter on the records proof of an escape, and a general description of the slave, pursuant to the act of Congress of September 18, 1850, concerning persons escaping. (pp. 88-89)
1856. Chapter 47. An act intended to provide additional protection for the slave property of citizens of the Commonwealth is passed whereby all vessels owned in whole or in part by any citizen or resident of another state, and about to sail or steam to any port north of and beyond the capes of Virginia (except those bound direct to any foreign counties), shall be inspected. The vessel shall be attached and all persons on board arrested if any slave or person held to service is found on board. Persons apprehending slaves escaping on a vessel trading to or belonging to a non-slaveholding state shall be entitled to a reward of $100.00. (p. 89)
1856. Chapter 48. Any free person, who shall cause to be carried away, or be concerned in the escape of any slave, shall be confined in the penitentiary five to ten years; and, moreover, in lieu of damages forfeit to the owner double the value of the slave, pay reasonable expenses incurred in the attempt to regain the slave, and in the discretion of the jury be publicly whipped to such an extent and at such times as it may deem fit. No whipping shall exceed thirty-nine lashes for anybody in any one day. If the offender be in command or attached to a vessel, it shall be forfeited to the state. The section includes any master of a vessel, and any free person traveling by land. (pp. 89-90)
Any master of a vessel who knowingly receives on board a runaway slave shall be confined in the penitentiary five to ten years, and forfeit the full value of the slave, be whipped, etc. If the slave is found on board after leaving port, or in the night time the person in charge shall be presumed to have knowingly received him, and if any free white person advise any slave to abscond, or furnish him money, clothes, provisions, or other facility, he shall be confined five to ten years in the penitentiary, and be whipped as the jury sees fit. A slave so persuading or conniving shall be punished with stripes and sold out of the state. Any free white person who gives information leading to the conviction of a free white person engaged in carrying off a slave, or in any manner concerned in helping an escape, shall be entitled to a reward of $500.00, to be paid by the state.
1856. Chapter 49. This act amends previous legislation by increasing the reward for the arrest of runaway slaves. In the case of slaves arrested in a non-slaveholding state and delivered to the owner or a jailer in this Commonwealth, a reward of 25 per cent of the value of the fugitive shall be paid. If the arrest be in a non-slaveholding state and the person is entitled to $100.00 or more from the owner it shall be the duty of the auditor of public accounts to issue his warrant on the treasury for $50.00. Rewards and mileage are also allowed for arrests of runaways in this state. (p. 90)
1860. Chapter 42. More effectively to prevent the escape of slaves, the penalty for carrying away a slave is increased to twenty years in the penitentiary. (p. 91)
1864. Chapter 65. Any person harboring or employing a slave without the master’s consent shall forfeit to the master $10.00 to $50.00 for every day of harboring; but this section shall not apply to any person within the lines of the public enemy, unless it shall appear that the same was done with the intent to defraud the owner of the services of the slave, or to deprive the owner of his right of property in such slave. (p. 92)