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America's History in the Making

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Excerpted from the Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia

Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619

Article IV
And also be it enacted, by the authority aforesaid, and it is hereby enacted, That all servants imported and brought into this country, by sea or land, who were not christians in their native country . . . shall be accounted and be slaves, and as such be here bought and sold notwithstanding a conversion to christianity afterwards...

Article XIX
That whatsoever English, or other white man or woman, being free, shall intermarry with a negro or mulatto man or woman, bond or free, shall, by judgment of the county court, be committed to prison, and there remain, during the space of six months, without bail or mainprize; and shall forfeit and pay ten pounds current money of Virginia, to the use of the parish, as aforesaid.

Article XXXIV
And if any slave resist his master, or owner, or other person, by his or her order, correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction, it shall not be accounted felony; but the master, owner, and every such other person so giving correction, shall be free and acquit of all punishment and accusation for the same, as if such incident had never happened: And also, if any negro, mulatto, or Indian, bond or free, shall at any time, lift his or her hand, in opposition against any christian, not being negro, mulatto, or Indian, he or she so offending shall, for every such offence, proved by the oath of the party, receive on his or her bare back, thirty lashes, well laid on; cognizable by a justice of the peace for that county wherein such offence shall be committed.

William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619, (New York: R & W & G. Bartow, 1823), volumn 1, 447.

Creator The Virginia General Assembly
Context A system of race-based slavery was emerging in Virginia.
Audience Virginians
Purpose To establish new laws

Historical Significance

For much of the seventeenth century, Chesapeake tobacco planters relied on the labor of indentured servants—poor people who labored for several years to pay the cost of their passage across the Atlantic. Africans formed part of that labor force, but many of them became free, and some owned land and the labor of indentured servants.

By the 1660s, whites began to switch to a system of life-long slavery restricted to people of African descent. By the 1680s, they had created a separate legal code for African Americans and passed laws stipulating that blacks would ordinarily be enslaved for life and could not own Christian servants. Mixed-race children, whose fathers were usually white, inherited their mother's status. The Virginia Slave Code from 1705, a portion of which is reproduced here, elaborated on those earlier laws.


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