Slave codes

Slave codes

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Slave codes were laws each US
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 state, which defined the status of slaves
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...

 and the rights of masters. These codes gave slave-owners absolute power over the African slaves.

Definition of "slaves"

The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

, 1650:“Act XI. All persons except Negroes are to be provided with arms and ammunitions or be fined at the pleasure of the governor and council.”
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

, 1662:“Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children got by any Englishmen upon a Negro shall be slave or Free, Be it therefore enacted and declared by this present Grand assembly, that all children born in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother."
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

, 1664:“That whatsoever free-born [English] woman shall intermarry with any slave [...] shall serve the master of such slave during the life of her husband; and that all the issue of such free-born women, so married shall be slaves as their fathers were.”
Virginia, 1667:“Act III. Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children that are slaves by birth [...] should by virtue
Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality subjectively deemed to be morally excellent and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being....

 of their baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

 be made free, it is enacted that baptism does not alter the condition to the person as to his bondage or freedom; masters freed from this doubt may more carefully propagate Christianity by permitting slaves to be admitted to that sacrament.”
Virginia, 1682:“Act I. It is enacted that all servants [...] which shall be imported into this country either by sea or by land, whether Negroes, Moors [Muslim North Africans], mulattoes or Indians who and whose parentage and native countries are not Christian at the time of their first purchase by some Christian [...] and all Indians, which shall be sold by our neighboring Indians, or any other trafficking with us for slaves, are hereby adjudged, deemed and taken to be slaves to all intents and purposes any law, usage, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding.”
Virginia, 1705:"All servants imported and brought into the Country...who were not Christians in their native Country...shall be accounted and be slaves. All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion...shall be held to be real estate."
South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

, 1712:"Be it therefore enacted, by his Excellency, William, Lord Craven, Palatine.... and the rest of the members of the General Assembly, now met at Charles Town, for the South-west part of this Province, and by the authority of the same, That all negroes, mulatoes, mestizoes or Indians, which at any time heretofore have been sold, or now are held or taken to be, or hereafter shall be bought and sold for slaves, are hereby declared slaves; and they, and their children, are hereby made and declared slaves...."

Violence and other injustices against slaves

  • Virginia, 1705 – "If any slave resists his master...correcting such a slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction...the master shall be free of all if such accident never happened."

  • South Carolina, 1712 - "Be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That no master, mistress, overseer, or other person whatsoever, that hath the care and charge of any negro or slave, shall give their negroes and other slaves go out of their plantations.... Every slave hereafter out of his master's plantation, without a ticket, or leave in writing, from his master...shall be whipped...."

  • Louisiana, 1724 - "The slave who, having struck his master, his mistress, or the husband of his mistress, or their children, shall have produced a bruise, or the shedding of blood in the face, shall suffer capital punishment."

Reading by slaves illegal

Some Slavery Codes made teaching, Mulatto, Indian and indentured slaves illegal.
  • Alabama, 1833, section 31 - "Any person or persons who attempt to teach any free person of color, or slave, to spell, read, or write, shall, upon conviction thereof by indictment, be fined in a sum not less than two hundred and fifty dollars, nor more than five hundred dollars."
  • Alabama, 1833, section 32 - "Any free person of color who shall write for any slave a pass or free paper, on conviction thereof, shall receive for every such offense, thirty-nine lashes on the bare back, and leave the state of Alabama within thirty days thereafter..."
  • Alabama, 1833, section 33 - "Any slave who shall write for any other slave, any pass or free-paper, upon conviction, shall receive, on his or her back, one hundred lashes for the first offence, and seven hundred lashes for every offence thereafter..."

Deep south

South Carolina established its slave code in 1712, based on the 1688 English slave code employed in Barbados
Barbados is an island country in the Lesser Antilles. It is in length and as much as in width, amounting to . It is situated in the western area of the North Atlantic and 100 kilometres east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea; therein, it is about east of the islands of Saint...

. The South Carolina slave code served as the model for other colonies in North America. In 1770, Georgia adopted the South Carolina slave code, and then Florida adopted the Georgia code. The 1712 South Carolina slave code included provisions such as:
  • Slaves were forbidden to leave the owner's property, unless accompanied by a white person, or obtaining permission. If a slave leaves the owner's property with out permission, "every white person" is required to chastise such slaves
  • Any slave attempting to run away and leave the colony (later, state) receives the death penalty
  • Any slave who evades capture for 20 days or more is to be publicly whipped for the first offense; branded with the letter R on the right cheek for the second offense; and lose one ear if absent for thirty days for the third offense; and castrated for the fourth offense.
  • Owners refusing to abide by the slave code are fined and forfeit ownership of their slaves
  • Slave homes are to be searched every two weeks for weapons or stolen goods. Punishment for violations escalate to include loss of ear, branding, and nose-slitting, and for the fourth offense, death.
  • No slave shall be allowed to work for pay, or to plant corn, peas or rice; or to keep hogs, cattle, or horses; or to own or operate a boat; to buy or sell; or to wear clothes finer than 'Negro cloth'

The South Carolina slave code was revised in 1739 with the following amendments:
  • No slave shall be taught to write, work on Sunday, or work more than 15 hours per day in Summer, and 14 hours in Winter.
  • Willful killing of a slave exacts a fine of 700 pounds, and "passion" killing 350 pounds
  • The fine for concealing runaway slaves is one thousand dollars and a prison sentence of up to one year
  • A fine of one hundred dollars and six months in prison are imposed for employing any Black or slave as a clerk
  • A fine of one hundred dollars and six months in prison are imposed on anyone selling or giving alcoholic beverages to slaves
  • A fine of one hundred dollars and six months in prison are imposed for teaching a slave to read and write, and death is the penalty for circulating incendiary literature
  • Freeing a slave is forbidden, except by deed, and after 1820, only by permission of the legislature [Georgia required legislative approval after 1801]

Tobacco states

The slave codes of the tobacco colonies (Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia) were modelled on the Virginia code, which was initially established in 1667. The 1682 Virginia code included the following provisions:
  • Slaves were prohibited from possessing weapons
  • Slaves were prohibited from leaving their owner's plantations without permission
  • Slaves were prohibited from lifting a hand against a white person, even in self defense
  • A runaway slave refusing to surrender could be killed without penalty

The District of Columbia Slave Codes

Slaves were a common sight in the nation's capital. Harsh regulation of these urban slaves, most of whom were servants for the government elite, was in effect until the 1850s. Compared to some southern codes, the District of Columbia was relatively moderate. Slaves were allowed to hire their services, live apart from their masters, and free blacks were even allowed to live in the city and operate schools. The code could be used by attorneys and clerks who referred to it when drafting contracts or briefs. By 1860, there were over 11,000 free blacks and over 3,000 slaves in the District of Columbia. Following the Compromise of 1850, the sale of slaves was outlawed within Washington D.C. Slavery in the District of Columbia ended in 1862 and nearly 3,000 slaves were offered a compensation. The official printed slave code was issued only a month before slavery ended there.

Northern colonies

Slave codes in the Northern colonies, before slavery was abolished, were less harsh than slave codes in the Southern colonies, but contained many similar provisions, such as forbidding slaves from leaving the owner's land, forbidding whites from selling alcohol to slaves, and specifying punishment for attempting to escape.

See also

  • African slave trade
    African slave trade
    Systems of servitude and slavery were common in many parts of Africa, as they were in much of the ancient world. In some African societies, the enslaved people were also indentured servants and fully integrated; in others, they were treated much worse...

  • Barbados Slave Code
    Barbados Slave Code
    The Barbados Slave Code of 1661 was a law passed by the colonial legislature to provide a legal base for slavery in the Caribbean island of Barbados. The code's preamble, which stated that the law's purpose was to "protect them [slaves] as we do men's other goods and Chattels," established that...

  • French Code Noir
    Code Noir
    The Code noir was a decree originally passed by France's King Louis XIV in 1685. The Code Noir defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire, restricted the activities of free Negroes, forbade the exercise of any religion other than Roman Catholicism , and ordered...

  • Conscription
    Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names...

  • Coolie
    Historically, a coolie was a manual labourer or slave from Asia, particularly China, India, and the Phillipines during the 19th century and early 20th century...

  • Debt bondage
    Debt bondage
    Debt bondage is when a person pledges him or herself against a loan. In debt bondage, the services required to repay the debt may be undefined, and the services' duration may be undefined...

  • Forced labor
  • History of slavery in the United States
    History of slavery in the United States
    Slavery in the United States was a form of slave labor which existed as a legal institution in North America for more than a century before the founding of the United States in 1776, and continued mostly in the South until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in...

    • Origins of the American Civil War
      Origins of the American Civil War
      The main explanation for the origins of the American Civil War is slavery, especially Southern anger at the attempts by Northern antislavery political forces to block the expansion of slavery into the western territories...

    • North Carolina v. Mann
      North Carolina v. Mann
      North Carolina v. Mann, 13 N.C. 263 , is a decision in which the Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled that slaveowners had absolute authority over their slaves and could not be found guilty of committing violence against them.-Background:In 1829, Elizabeth Jones, who owned a slave named...

  • Indentured servant
    Indentured servant
    Indentured servitude refers to the historical practice of contracting to work for a fixed period of time, typically three to seven years, in exchange for transportation, food, clothing, lodging and other necessities during the term of indenture. Usually the father made the arrangements and signed...

  • International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition
    International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition
    The United Nations General Assembly declared 2004 as the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition ....

  • Sexual slavery
    Sexual slavery
    Sexual slavery is when unwilling people are coerced into slavery for sexual exploitation. The incidence of sexual slavery by country has been studied and tabulated by UNESCO, with the cooperation of various international agencies...

  • Slave narrative
    Slave narrative
    The slave narrative is a literary form which grew out of the written accounts of enslaved Africans in Britain and its colonies, including the later United States, Canada and Caribbean nations...

  • Slave rebellion
    Slave rebellion
    A slave rebellion is an armed uprising by slaves. Slave rebellions have occurred in nearly all societies that practice slavery, and are amongst the most feared events for slaveholders...

  • Slave trade
    • janissaries
      The Janissaries were infantry units that formed the Ottoman sultan's household troops and bodyguards...

    • Mamluk
      A Mamluk was a soldier of slave origin, who were predominantly Cumans/Kipchaks The "mamluk phenomenon", as David Ayalon dubbed the creation of the specific warrior...

    • Saqaliba
      Saqaliba refers to the Slavs, particularly Slavic slaves and mercenaries in the medieval Arab world, in the Middle East, North Africa, Sicily and Al-Andalus. It is generally thought that the Arabic term is a Byzantine loanword: saqlab, siklab, saqlabi etc. is a corruption of Greek Sklavinoi for...

  • Trafficking in human beings
  • Unfree labour
    Unfree labour
    Unfree labour includes all forms of slavery as well as all other related institutions .-Payment for unfree labour:If payment occurs, it may be in one or more of the following forms:...

  • Wage slavery
    Wage slavery
    Wage slavery refers to a situation where a person's livelihood depends on wages, especially when the dependence is total and immediate. It is a negatively connoted term used to draw an analogy between slavery and wage labor, and to highlight similarities between owning and employing a person...

Further reading

  • Goodell, William (1853). The American Slave Code in Theory and Practice: Its Distinctive Features Shown by Its Statutes, Judicial Decisions, and Illustrative Face

External links