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)

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.
It 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.