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Virginia Laws 

on Slavery and Servitude


In 1660 an act was passed aimed at inhibiting white servants and African slaves from running away together.
           An Act to to Discourage English Running Away with Negroes, 1660-1.
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     The following year, the House of Burgesses passed another act specifying punishments for persons who aided runaway slaves and servants.
           Act Concerning Runaways, 1661-2
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     In 1672, the law dealing with runaways was tightened.
          "An act for the apprehension and suppression of runawayes, negroes and slaves," 1672.
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     A major concern of the colony's rulers was the presence of "outlying" slaves: slaves who had escaped permanently and lived as outlaws on the fringes of settlement.
          An act for suppressing outlying slaves, 1691.
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     The following, passed in 1701, concerns a specific slave, Billy, who ran away and may have organized a group of accomplices to commit a number of crimes in James City and New Kent counties. The act promised one thousand pounds of tobacco to anyone who killed or captured Billy and made it a felony to aid him.
          An act for the more effectuall apprehending an outlying negro who hath commited divers robberyes and offences, 1701.
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          An act to prevent the clandestine transportation or carrying of persons in debt, servants, and slaves, out of this colony, 1705.
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        This act defined all slaves in Virginia as property.
           An act declaring the Negro, Mulatto, and Indian slaves within this dominion, to be real estate, 1705.
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        In 1705, a major act was passed incorporating most of the legal restrictions on slaves up to that point.
           An act concerning servants and slaves.
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      Part of the above law required that African-Virginians traveling away from the plantation were required to carry a pass: "be it enacted, by the authority aforesaid, and it is hereby enacted, That no slave go armed with gun, sword, club, staff, or other weapon, nor go from off the plantation and seat of land where such slave shall be appointed to live, without a certificate of leave in writing, for so doing, from his or her master, mistress, or overseer: And if any slave shall be found offending herein, it shall be lawful for any person or persons to apprehend and deliver such slave to the next constable or head-borough, who is hereby enjoined and required, without further order or warrant, to give such slave twenty lashes on his or her bare back well laid on, and so send him or her home. . ." A number of ads reveal that runaways attempting to gain their freedom might forge a pass in order to proceed without arrest. A typical pass might look like this.

      As the eighteenth century progressed, and the number of African-American slaves increased, the House of Burgesses enacted a number of laws specifically relating to runaway slaves. Rewards were set for capturing runaways; various officials, sheriffs, constables, justices, were empowered to deal with runaways or those suspected of running away; and procedures established for returning runaways.

       In 1732 the House passed a law declaring it a felony without benefit of clergy to help a slave run away.
           An Act to make the Stealing of Slaves, Felony, without benefit of Clergy.


|Runaways and the Law|