Black Laws of Virginia

Source: June Purcell Guild, ed. Black Laws of Virginia: A Summary of the Legislative Acts of Virginia Concerning Negroes from Earliest Times to the Present (Afro-American Historical Society of Fauquier County, Virginia: 1996)

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1638. Act X.
All persons except Negroes are to be provided with arms and ammunition or be fined at the pleasure of the governor and council.

1680. Act V.
Whereas the frequent meetings of considerable numbers of Negro slaves under pretense of feasts and burials is judged of dangerous consequence, it is enacted that no Negro or slave may carry arms, such as any club, staff, gun, sword, or other weapon, nor go from his owner’s plantation without a certificate and then only on necessary occasions; the punishment twenty lashes on the bare back, well laid on. And, further, if any Negro lift up his hand again any Christian he shall receive thirty lashes, and if he absent himself or lie out from his master’s service and resist lawful apprehension, he may be killed and this law shall be published every six months.

1682. Act III.
Whereas the act of 1680 on Negro insurrections has not had the intended effect, it is enacted that church wardens read this and the other act, twice every year, in the time of divine service, or forfeit each of them six hundred pounds of tobacco, and further to prevent insurrections no master or overseer shall allow a Negro slave of another to remain on his plantation above four hours without leave of the slave’s own master.

1691. Act XVI.
An act for suppressing outlying slaves covering divers subjects, states whereas many times Negroes, mulattoes and other slaves lie hid and lurk in obscure places killing hogs and committing other injuries, it is enacted, that the sheriff may raise so many forces from time to time as he shall think convenient for the effectual apprehending of such Negroes. If they resist or runaway they may be killed of destroyed by gun or otherwise whatsoever, provided that the owner of any slave killed shall be paid four thousand pounds of tobacco by the public.

1710. Chapter XVI.
Whereas a Negro slave named Will, belonging to Robt. Ruffin, of the County of Surry, was signally serviceable in discovering a conspiracy of Negroes for levying war in this colony; for reward of his fidelity, it is enacted that the said Will is and forever hereafter shall be free and shall continue to be within this colony, if he think fit to continue. The sum of forty pounds sterling shall be paid the said Robt. Ruffin for the price of Will.

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 but utterly excluded the benefit of clergy.
It is reenacted 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 discourses, it shall be lawful to direct every such slave to be punished by dismemberment, or any other way not touching life.

1726. Chapter IV.
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.

 

1748. Ch. XXXVIII.
The conspiracy of slaves or their insurrection is a felony and the penalty death without benefit of clergy. I t is repeated that incorrigible slaves going abroad at night may be dismembered by court order and if they die no forfeiture nor punishment shall be incurred.

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1785. Chapter LXXVIII. Every person of whose grandfathers or grandmothers anyone is or shall have been a Negro, although all his other progenitors, except that descending from the Negro shall have been white persons, shall be deemed a mulatto, and so every person who shall have one-fourth or more Negro blood shall in like manner be deemed a mulatto. This act is to be in force from January 1, 1787.

1866. Chapter 17. Every person having one-fourth or more Negro blood shall be deemed a colored person, and every person not a colored person having one-fourth or more Indian blood shall be deemed an Indian.

1878. Chapter 311. Under the subject of offences against morality and decency, it is said: If any white or Negro resident of the state shall go out of the state for the purpose of being married, and with the intention of returning, be married out of it, and return, he shall be as guilty as if the marriage had been in the state.

Any white person who shall intermarry with a Negro, or any Negro who shall intermarry with a white person, shall be confined in the penitentiary from two to five years.

Chapter II: Servants and Slaves in the Sixteen Hundreds

1642. Act XXII. A punishment is provided for loitering runaways in the colony; for a second offense a runaway is to be branded in the cheek with the letter “R.”

It is a felony for a runaway to carry powder and shot, punishable by death.

If there is a complaint of the master for harsh or un-Christian usage or for want of diet, the commissioner may warn the master or mistress.

1655. Act I. Indian children brought in as hostages are not to be treated as slaves.

1661. CIII. Whereas the barbarous usage of some servants by cruel masters brings so much scandal and infamy to the country that people who would adventure hither are through fear diverted, it is enacted that every master shall provide servants with a competent diet, clothing, lodging, and shall not exceed the bounds of moderation in correcting them and a servant may make complaint to the commissioner and have remedy for his grievances.

1669. Act I. If a slave resist his master and by the extremity of the correction, chance to die, his death shall not be a felony, since it cannot be presumed that malice (which alone makes murder a felony) would induce a man to destroy his own estate.

1680. Act X. Whereas the frequent meetings of considerable numbers of Negro slaves under pretense of feasts and burials is judged of dangerous consequence, it is enacted that no Negro or slave may carry arms, such as any club, staff, gun, sword, or other weapon, nor go from his owner’s plantation without a certificate and then only on necessary occasions; the punishment twenty lashes on the bare back, well laid on. And, further, if any Negro lift up his hand against any Christian he shall receive thirty lashes, and if he absent himself or lie out from his master’s service and resist lawful apprehension, he may be killed and this law shall be published every six months.

Chapter III: Servants and Slaves in the Seventeen Hundreds

1705. Chapter XLIX. This is a general act concerning servants and slaves and covers a great many subjects. A number of the sections are given here, and some are summarized elsewhere in this book. Some of the paragraphs cover Negroes only, some refer to runaways and servants generally, some apparently to indentured servants only.

All servants (not being slaves) shall have their complaints received by a justice of the peace, and an order at the discretion of the court may be made as to diet, lodging, clothing and correction. On a second complaint the servant may be sold at an outcry by the sheriff, and after charges deducted the remainder shall be paid to the owner.

Contracts of masters with servants are void unless approved by court; sick or lame servants are not to be discharged, upon pretence of freedom, under penalty.

In case any slave who has run away does not immediately return home after a proclamation at the door of every church in the county, it shall be lawful for any person whatsoever to kill and destroy such slave by such means as may be thought fit without accusation of any crime. If any runaway slave shall be apprehended it shall be lawful to order such punishment, either by dismembering or any other way not touching his life, as may be thought fit, for reclaiming such incorrigible slave, and terrifying others from like practices.

Slaves shall not go armed under penalty of twenty lashes on the bare back, well laid on.

For every slave killed, under this act, the owner shall be paid by the public.

1710. Chapter XVI. Whereas, a Negro slave named Will, belonging to Robt. Ruffin, of the County of Surry, was signally serviceable in discovering a conspiracy of Negroes for levying war in this colony; for a reward of his fidelity hereafter shall be free and shall continue to be within this colony, if he think fit to continue. The sum of forty pounds sterling shall be paid the said Robt. Ruffin for the price of Will.

1732. Chapter VI. Stealing a slave is a felony, and the punishment death without benefit of clergy.

1782. Chapter XXXII. Because greatinconvenience 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.

1785. Chapter LXXVII. No person shall henceforth be a slave in Virginia, except such as were so on the first day of this Assembly and the descendants of the females of them. Slaves hereafter brought in and kept one year shall be free.

A slave shall not go from where he lives without a license of letter showing he has authority from his master.

Slaves shall not keep arms; riots and unlawful assemblies by slaves shall be punished by stripes.

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.

 

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