Virtual Jamestown

The Practise of Slavery

Selected Virginia Records relating to Slavery


November 30, 1624-The Testimony of John Phillip.

[John Phillip's status as a Christian may have allowed him the right to testify in the General Court on November 30, 1624. It is likely that several of the Africans who arrived in Virginia in the late 1610s and the early 1620s were baptized. As Thad W. Tate notes, Christian names such as Anthony, Isabella, and John Pedro suggest that the Portuguese baptized the Africans before they were transported to the colony. Anthony and Isabella's son, William, received his baptism in Jamestown soon after his birth in late 1624 or early 1625. The couple gave him their master's surname, Tucker.]

John Phillip A negro Christened in England 12 yeers since, sworne and exam sayeth, yt beinge in a shipp wth SrHenry Maneringe, they tooke A spanish shipp aboute Cape Sct Mary, and Caryed her to mamora in wch shipp was A spanish ladye and divers other, And beinge in mamra Mr Symon Tuchinge Cam into Mamora in a smale shipp, and after some Conference had by ye said Tuchinge wth the Spaniards taken as aforesaid, he was by them ymployed in ye said smale shipp to Lisbone to feach money for the Ransominge of the said lady, wch Accordinglie he pformed.

Source: McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, p. 33; Tate, The Negro in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg, pp. 65-66.

1635-Headright System Expanded to Include Africans.

[In 1635, Virginians began to claim a headright of fifty acres for each African imported into the colony.]

JOHN UPTON, 1650 acs., Warresquioake Co., 7 July 1635, p. 210. About 3 mi. up Pagan point Cr., bounding almost W. from the Cr. into the woods a little Cr. running in by the sd. Land out of the Pagan Pt. Cr. to a great poplar tree. Trans. of 33 pers: Rich. Young, Antho. a Negroe, Mary a Negroe, Florence Richards, Roger Bagnol, Ralph Harwood, Thomas Reevs, Rich. Spackman, Edward Burr, Savage Merrie, Wm. Scott, Rich. Jones, Fr. Savage, Owen Howell, Nich. Bushell, James Parsons, Jon. Parker, Lewis Phillipps, Morgan Roberts, Wm. Davis, John Fitchett, Morgan Roberts, Wm. Davis, John Fitchett, Morgan Evans, Christopher Lewis, Phillipp Jennersly, Eliz. King, Martha Swann, Mary Johnson, Jonas Sadlington, Anth. Tyler, Peter Heyes, Rich. Jackson, Wm. Pincher, Eliz. Larkin.

Nugent, et al., comps., Cavaliers and Pioneers, I:25.

June 30, 1640-Commission to Organize a Group to Pursue Runaway Blacks

[On June 30, 1640 the General Court commissioned John Mattrom and Edward Fleet to organize a group of men to pursue runaway blacks. This group was similar to the patrols authorized by the Assembly in the eighteenth century.]

The court hath granted that a commission shall be drawn for John Mattrom and Edward ffleet authorizing them to levy a party of men, or more if need require, out of the trained band for Charles river [York] county with arms and ammunition to go in psuit of certain runaway negroes and to bring them to the governor. And it is further ordered that such men as shall be pressed for this expedition shall receive their pay and satisfaction for their pains at the public charge of the counties from whence such negroes are runaway and likewise for any boat or boats that shall be taken for the said service.

Source: McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, p. 468.

July 9, 1640-Punishment for Runaway Servants

[On July 9, 1640, members of the General Court decided the punishment for three servants-a Dutchman, a Scotsman, and an African-who ran away from their master as a group. The proceedings reveal an example of interracial cooperation among servants at a time when the colony's leaders were starting to create legal differences between Europeans and Africans. John Punch became the first African to be a slave for life by law in Virginia.]

Whereas Hugh Gwyn hath by order from this Board Brought back from Maryland three servants formerly run away from the said Gwyn, the court doth therefore order that the said three servants shall receive the punishment of whipping and to have thirty stripes apiece one called Victor, a dutchman, the other a Scotchman called James Gregory, shall first serve out their times with their master according to their Indentures, and one whole year apiece after the time of their service is Expired. By their said Indentures in recompense of his Loss sustained by their absence and after that service to their said master is Expired to serve the colony for three whole years apiece, and that the third being a negro named John Punch shall serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere.

Source: McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, p. 466.

October 17, 1640-Punishment for a White Man and a Black Woman Who Commited Fornication

[The General Court handed out different punishments to a white man and to a black woman who bore a mulatto child.]

Whereas Robert Sweat hath begotten with child a negro woman servant belonging unto Lieutenant Sheppard, the court hath therefore ordered that the said negro woman shall be whipt at the whipping post and the said Sweat shall tomorrow in the forenoon do public penance for his offence at James city church in the time of devine service according to the laws of England in that case pvided.

Source: McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, p. 477; see also Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, 1:552.

March 31, 1641-Suit of John Graweere

[The suit of John Graweere reveals that there were greater restrictions on the ownership of personal property by black servants. In addition, Graweere's successful petition to purchase his child indicates another difference between white and black men. Graweere's decision to use the court to secure his son's freedom indicates that he was one of the many blacks in Virginia who knew how to use the colony's institutions.]

Whereas it appeareth to the court that John Graweere being a negro servant unto William Evans was pmitted by his said master to keep hogs and make the best benefit thereof to himself pvided that the said Evans might have half the increase which was accordingly rendered unto him by the said negro and the other half reserved for his own benefit: And whereas the said negro having a young child of a negro woman belonging to Lieut. Robert Sheppard which he desired should be made a christian and be taught and exercised in the church of England, by reason whereof he the said negro did for his said child purchase its freedom of Lieut. Sheppard with the good liking and consent of Tho: Gooman's overseer as by the deposition of the said Sheppard and Evans appeareth, the court hath therefore ordered that the child shall be free from the said Evans or his assigns and to be and remain at the disposing and education of the said Graweere and the child's godfather who undertaketh to see it brought up in the christian religion as aforesaid.

Source: McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, p. 477.

Fall 1644-The "rioutous & rebellious" Activities of Mrs. Wormeley's Slaves.

[The September and October 1644 minutes of the General Court noted that Mrs. Wormeley's slaves were involved in "rioutous & rebellious" activities. Perhaps these words reflected a fear that the Africans in the colony would join forces with the Native Americans in another attack against the colonists.]

Septr 3. 1644: Concerning the rioutous & rebellious conduct of Mrs Wormleys negroes, p 301, 2. also Octo 10. 1644 p. 319 Sept 10. 1644: Psons apprehended for rebellion (Phaps Mrs Wormleys Servants Sept 3d) 332

Source: McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, p. 502.

February 27, 1645/6-Deed from Henry Brooks Junior to Nicholas Brooks Senior

[A deed between Henry Brooks Junior and Nicholas Brooks Senior on [February] 27, 1645/6 indicates that some residents of York County viewed Africans as slaves for life.]

Henry Brooks Junior sold "3 Negroes Viz: two Negroe woem[en] and one childe" to Nicholas Brooks Senior "& his heirs execrs etc for ever."

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (2) 63, 27 [February] 1645/6.

Last day of February 1645/6-Inventory of the Estate of Lieutenant Thomas Smallcomb.

[Thomas Smallcomb was one York County resident who had Native American servants. The executors of Smallcomb's estate sold two Indians to Sir William Berkeley for 600 pounds of tobacco, an equal number to John Hammon for 500 pounds of tobacco, and one Native American to Captain Thomas Pettus for 600 pounds of tobacco.]

one Indian Gerle three yeares of age or thereabouts praysed at 300 [pounds of tobacco]

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (2) 99, dated "last of February" and 130-131, dated 10 March 1645[/6].

December 1647-Mortgage of Thomas Wallace to George Ludlow.

[Thomas Wallace had an African, an English, and a Native American servant in his household in December 1647. The English boy was the only servant whose surname was noted.]

Thomas Wallis of County of Warwick River in Va Doctor of Physick in consideration of 6000 lbs tobo &ca. Due from me sd Thomas to George Ludloe Esqr have by these presents for consideration aforesd Bargained & sold unto sd George and in open market delivered to sd George one Negro by name Sebastiane one English boy named Nathaniell Chambers one Indian woman named Martian one great feather bedd boulster & two pillows marked with L one Redd Rugg & a pair of blankets one lesser fether bed bolster & pillow marked with L one white rugg & one black, To have and to hold the sd Negro English boy and Indian Woman bedds pillows etc unto sd Ludlowe & his execrs etc freely peacably etc forever yet nevertheless that the sd Thomas shall pay or cause to be pd to sd George the sd sum of tob in manner & form as followeth that is to say 3000 lbs on the 20th of Nov next & 3000 lbs on 20th of Nov wch shalbe in the yr 1649 then this bill to be void or else to remain in effect. 16 Dec 1647.

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (2) 308, 1 December 1647.

Early 1647/8-Term of Servitude for Captain William Taylor's Indian Girl.

[In early 1647/8 the York County Court decided that Captain William Taylor's Indian girl would be his servant until she reached her eighteenth birthday.]

The Ct doth order that Formue a girl brought from the Indians and kept by Capt Willm Taylor shall serve the sd Capt Willm Taylor till she comes to the age of 18 yrs.

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (2) 329, 25 January 1647/8.

Early 1647/8-Estate of William Pryor to Captain John Chisman.

[Captain John Chisman bought eight blacks from the estate of William Pryor in early 1647/8. The description of the persons whom Chisman bought-"6 old Negores and 2 Negro Children"-indicates that six of the group had been in Virginia for several years. Chisman and other residents of York County also purchased Africans who were transported to Virginia in the 1640s, 1650s, and 1660s.]

Capt Thomas Harrison of Ratliffe in County of Midd gent. and Capt Thomas Harrwood of Va Gent. overseers and feofes in trust of estate of Mr Willm Pryor late of Va Gent. for the use of the sd testators daughters Margerrett and Mary Pryor the will dated 21 Jan 1646 & probate granted to sd Harrison & Harrwood by Gov Berkeley 4th Feb 1646 and by like power & virtue of probate taken in England in name of Mr Jasper Clayton Gent. one of the overseers & feofes in trust of sd estate & Capt Harrison under the seale of the sprerogative Ct bearing date 15 April 1647 sold to Capt John Chisman of Va Gent. & his heirs etc 6 old Negores and 2 Negro Children about the age of 2 yrs old apeece Vizt 4 Negro men called by names Anthony, Francis, Peeter and Domingoe and the 2 Negro women called Kate and Grace the sd Chisman & his heirs etc forever in consideration whereof Chisman in hand pd to sd Harrison & Harrwood for the use of Margerret and Mary the sum of 150 Sterl of Lawful money of England. 31 Jan 1647/8.

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (2) 338, 25 January 1647/8.

1648-Estimated Population of Virginia.

15,000 English; 300 Negro servants.

Source: Greene and Harrington, American Population Before the Federal Census of 1790, p. 136.

October 25, 1657-The Manumission of Mihill Gowen.

[Christopher Stafford decided to free his black servant, Mihill Gowen, in his will. Stafford's sister, Amy Barnhouse, carried out his wishes in 1657. The widow Barnhouse also freed Mihill Gowen's son, William. She did not free her enslaved woman, who was William's mother.]

Bee itt known unto all Christian people that whereas Mihill Gowen Negro of late servant to my Brother Xopher Stafford deced by his last will & Testament bearing Date the 18 of Jan 1654 had his freedom given unto him after the expiration of 4 yeares service unto my uncle Robert Stafford Therefore know all whom itt may concern that I Anne Barnehouse for divers good couses mee hereunto moving doe absolutely quitt & discharge the sd Mihill Gowen from any service & for ever sett him free from any claim of service either by mee or any one my behalf as any part or parcell of my Estate that my be claimed by mee the said Amy Barnhouse my heyres Exers Admrs or Assignes as witness my hand this 25 Oct 1657 Amy (AB) Barnhouse Bee itt knowne unto all Xcian people that I Ame Barnehouse of Martins hundred widdow for divers good causes & consideracons mee hereunto moving hath given unto Mihill Gowen Negro hee being att this time servant unto Robert Stafford a Male child borne the 25 Aug 1655 of the body of my Negro Prosta being baptised by Mr. Edward Johnson 2 Sept 1655 & named William & I the said Amy Barnhouse doth bind my selfe my heyres Exer Admr & Ass never to trouble or molest the said Mihill Gowin or his sone William or demand any service of the said Mihill or his said sone William In wittnes whereof I have caused this to be made & done I hereunto sett my hand & Seale this present 16 Sept 1655 Amy (AB) Barnhouse.

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (3) 16, 26 January 1657/8.

August 1661-Proclamation of Governor Berkeley.

[Governor Berkeley was concerned about the threat that Quakers presented to political and religious authority in the colony. Berkeley also focused on women whose behavior did not fit their proper social role. In the following proclamation the governor ordered Edmund Chisman, a York County justice of the peace to stop his wife, Mary, and several of his slaves from attending Quaker meetings.]

Whereas notwithstanding the Kings most Excellent Majesties gratious pardon of all Quakers for the time before his said proclamacon and the Right Honble Governrs explanacon thereof by both which it appeares that all Quakers are to be conformable to the Law as from publicacon thereof severall mettings have been of the said Quakers in this Countrey especially by women whereuppon his Matjes [Majesty's] said Governr ord that all women who should after publicacon of the said proclamacon and explanacon continue their said unlawfull meetings & breach their schismaticall and hereticall doctrines & opinions should by their adjoyning magestrate be tendred the oathes of Supremacy & allegeance & the refusees to be Imprisoned according to Law. And it appearing by 2 oathes taken this day in Court that severall Quakers mett the 25th instant in the woods amongst which were Mrs Mary Chisman and 2 or 3 Negroes belonging to hir husband. It is ord that the said Edmond Chisman & his wife have notice of the Governrs said order & that shee shall hereafter offend in the like kind that the said order be put in Effectuall execution against hir, and also that Mr Chisman restreyne his said Negroes & whole family from repairing to the said unlawfull Assemblyes at his perill.

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (3) 125, 26 August 1661.

1672-Attempts to Restrict the Movement of Slaves.

[In September 1672, the justices of the peace in Surry County decided that residents needed to enforce the legislation that restricted the movement of slaves. They also wanted masters to dress their enslaved laborers in blue shirts and shifts as a way to identify slaves and to reduce what the magistrates called "theire foolish pride."]

Whereas information hath been given to this Court that the too Careles and inconsiderable Liberty given to Negroes, not only in being p'mitted to mete together upon Satterdayes & Sundayes, whereby they wine opportunity to consult of unlawfull p'jects & combinations to the danger & damage of the neighbours, as well as to theire Masters, and Also that the apparrell comonly worne by negroes doth as well Highten theire foolish pride as induse them to steale fine Linninge & other ornaments, for the p'vention whereof itt is hereby ord'd & published to the Inhabitants of this county that the Act of Assembly for p'vention of serv'ts goeing abroard be put in due execution & from hence forth Noe negro shall be allowed to weare any white Linninge, but shall weare blew shirts and shifts that they may be herby discovered if they steale or weare other Linninge, & if the Master of any Negro shall p'tend that blew is not to be had for men & women Negros for their shifts & shirts, caps or neckclothes, then he shall supply that want in course Lockerham or Canvis, & this to be duly observed untill a by law be made to confirme the same.

Source: "Management of Slaves, 1672," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 7 (1899-1900): 314.

June 1673-Punishment for Will.

[The Governor and the Council decided to imprison Will, a runaway slave who belonged to Robert Bryan of Gloucester County. Will confessed that he helped two slaves to escape from jail. The following month the legislators ordered Will to be whipped and returned to his master.]

Whereas Will a Runaway Negroe Suspected to have Lett out of Prison a Negroe Condemned the last Court and Confesseth that he did See the Negroe breake Loose out of irons and did Attempt to breake out of the fore Doore of the Prison and that he see a Negroe Breake Open the back doore and Lett the said Negroe out of Prison and further that he hath beene Twice in the Condemned Negroes Company. It is therefore orderd by this Court that the said Negroe be Comitted to the Comon Prison of James Citty till further order & if the sherriffe thinke fitt to take the said Negroe Will along wth him for the better Discovery for finding the said Condemned Negroe, but the sherriffe to keepe him in prison till further order It is orderd that Will a Negroe Slave to Mr Robt Bryan of Gloster County who the 9th of June Last was Comitted to the sherriffs Custody as A Runaway Rogue and one that Confessed to have Seene the Late Condemned Negroe breake his Irons and Prison and that after he See breaking Prison to have bene Severall times in the said Condemned Negroes Company it is therefore ordrd he Discharge his prison and have to morrow morning A Good and well laid on whipping, and putt into the Constables hands of James Citty who is to Convey him to the Next Constable and Soe from Constable to Constable till he be Delivred to his said master Mr Bryan, And it is further orderd that the said Bryan pay unto ffra: Kirkman high Sherriff of this County One Thousand pound of tobacco and Caske for Charges & fees als ex.

Source: McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, pp. 346-347.

June 16, 1675-The Petition of Philip Gowen for his Freedom.

[Philip Gowen sued for his freedom from his master, John Lucas, in June 1675. Perhaps he was a second son born to Mihill Gowen and Amy Barnhouse's enslaved woman Prosta.]

Phillip Gowen negro Suing Mr Jno Lucas to this Court for his freedome It is Orderd that the said Phill Gowen be free from ye Said Mr Lucas his Service and that the Indenture Acknowledg'd in Warwick County County [sic] be Invallid and that ye Said Mr Lucas pay unto ye Gowen three Barrels of Corne att the Cropp According to ye Will of Mrs Amye Boazlye decd wth Costs...

Source: McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, p. 441.

1678-Andrew James Secures his Freedom.

[William Hay, a prominent resident of Charles Parish, married Margery Jolly Griggs in 1655. The bride-to-be entered into a marriage agreement with her third husband in order to protect the estate that her second husband, John Griggs, bequeathed to their son, John, and their daughter, Margery. In addition to outlining the terms under which Hay would protect the inheritance of the two orphans, Hay gave a slave boy named Andrew to his step-son. Andrew and John Griggs grew up together and possibly had a close relationship. In October 1677, Andrew secured a promise from his master that enabled him "to worke for himselfe paying his sd master at the expiracon of sd tyme 2000 lbs sweet sented tobo & caske." In addition, Griggs was not "to hinder sd Andrew from working at his trade of Carpenter" except to plant and tend 3000 corn hills. Andrew James apparently made the most of his opportunity to do work for others who lived nearby. However, Andrew might not have been prompt in doing his work or paying his bills because four planters-Thomas Nutting, Samuel Snignall, John Travillion, and William Wise-received an attachment against the estate of Andrew James to cover the debts he had accumulated and apparently did not pay before he left the Charles Parish and York County area in 1679. In 1678, Andrew James petitioned the administrator of his former master's estate in order to secure the freedom he had been promised. Members of the court made their decision in February 1678/9.]

Whereas Mr John Griggs did by his deed under his hand & seale dated 23 Dec 1673 covenant with Andrew James his Negro that when Griggs death should come sd Negro shoud be a freeman (at his owne dispose & not subject to claime by Griggs heirs) & sd Griggs being deceased & sd Negro by vertue of sd deed peticoning for his freedome it is courts opinion that hee is thereby free & therefore ord that hee be & is hereby dischardged from all manner & service any waies due to the decedts estate de futuro.

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (6) 67, 24 February 1678/9; ibid., p. 117, 25 August 1679.

1681-Lord Culpepper's Estimation of Virginia's Population

70,000 or 80,000 population, of which 15,000 servants, 3,000 blacks.

Source: Greene and Harrington, American Population Before the Federal Census of 1790, p. 137.

March 23, 1684/5-Deed of Gift from William Booth to William.

[William was one of three children born to a white woman named Katherine Jewell and an unknown black father before her marriage to Stephen Pond, a white planter. Jewell bound out her son to William Booth, one of the leading planters in Charles Parish. In this deed of gift Booth conveyed a heifer to William.]

Mr Jenings I would desyer you to Record It as followeth

Whereas William a Mulatto boy sonn of Katharine Jewell is bound to me by a certaine Indenture beareing date the 6th of March 1670[/1] for the tearme & time of thirty yeares In Consideration whereof I am to give him his bringing up and Corne & Cloathes at the Expiration of his time and a heifer of a yeare old when he attaines to the Age of fowerteen about which age he is now I doe therefore acknowledge to have marked a pied yeareling with a figure of three under the right Eare having browne Eares & a browne Mussell her & her Increase to run and be for the use and behoofe of the sd Malattoe boy & him onely serveing out his full time accoarding to the sd Indenture otherwise to returne to me & this I doe acknowledge to the Records of York County Given under my hand this 23d March 1684/5 Wm Booth.

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (7) 61, 24 March 1684/5.

October 24, 1687-Governor Effingham Reveals a Planned Insurrection by Slaves.

[The discovery of an insurrection plot on the Northern Neck induced members of the Governor's Council to urge slaveowners to restrict their slaves' mobility on weekends and to ban funerals among their bondspeople. Black Virginians took advantage of funerals to share information and to demonstrate racial solidarity. These large gatherings would continue to provoke suspicion among white leaders throughout the colonial and antebellum periods and even after the end of the Civil War.]

His Excellency was pleased this day in Councell to acquaint the Councell that he had even then reced from Mr Secretary Spencer Intelligence of the Discovery of a Negro Plott, formed in the Northern Neck for the Distroying and killing his Majties Subjects the Inhabitants thereof, with a designe of Carrying it through the whole Collony of Virga which being by Gods Providence timely discovered before any part of the designes were put in Execution, and thereby their whole Evill purposes for the present defeated, and Mr Secretary Spencer haveing by his Care Secured some of the Principall Actors & Contrivers, and the Evill & fatall Consequences that might have hapned, being by this Board Seriously considered, Have found fit to Order that the Negro Conspirators now in Custody be either safely Secured untill the next Genll Court, to the Intent they may then be proceeded against according to Law, or if it be found more Necessary for the present Safety of the Country that they be brought to a Speedy Tryall, that then his Excellcy will be pleased to direct a Commission to Mr Secretary Spencer, Col Rich: Lee, and Coll: Isaac Allerton three of this Majties Councell Inhabitants in the Northern Neck to Sitt heare and try according to Law the Negro Conspirators, and to proceed to Sentence of Condemnacon & Execucon, or to Such other punishmts as according to Law they shall be found Guilty off, by such examples of Justice to deterr other Negroes from plotting or Contriveing either the Death wrongs or Injuries of any of this Majties Subjects. And this Board having Considered that the great freedome and Liberty that has beene by many masters given to their Negro Slaves for Walking on Broad on Saterdays and Sundays and permitting them to meete in great Numbers in Making and holding Funeralls for Dead Negroes gives them the Opportunityes under pretention of such publique meetings to Consult and advise for the Carrying on of their Evill & wicked purposes & Contrivances, for prevention whereof for the future, It is by this Board thought fitt that a Proclamacon doe forthwith Issue, requiring a Strickt observance of Severall Laws of this Collony relateing to Negroes, and to require and Comand all Masters of families having any Negro Slaves, not to permitt them to hold or make any Solemnity or Funeralls for any deced Negros.

Source: McIlwaine, ed., Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia, 1:86-87.

November 1687-Proclamation from Governor Effingham.

[Effingham issued this proclamation in response to "a Negro Plott" that was discovered on the Northern Neck. The governor reminded residents of Virginia about the restrictions placed on the movement of slaves in the June 1680 law entitled An act for preventing Negroes Insurrections.]

By His Excellency a Proclamacon-

Whereas by the prudent care of the Genll. Assembly a most necessary and good law was thereby made, to deter and prevent the insurrection of Negroe slaves for want of due observance whereof, and by the too frequent remissnesse of Masters of families in not restraining their Negroes from walking and rambling on broad on Satterdayes and Sundayes, by such liberty given them the opportunities of meetings in great tumults, to consentt and advise by all maner of wicked meanes and contrivances to hope by such plottings to putt themselves into a capacity to exende their bloody purposes on their Masters and Mistrisses and by the execution of their sins, blood, plotts and designes to exempt and free themselves from their present slavery which of late yeares has beene too frequently notoriously made manifest threatning the total ruine and subversion of the inhabitants of this his Majties. governmt. if by Gods providence a timely discovery had not beene made of such plotts and designes and to the intent for the future that better care and diver observance may bee had and paid unto that wholesome and necessary law entituled an act preventing Negroes insurrections, I Francis Lord Howard Baron of Effingham his Majties. Leiut. and Governor Genll. of Virginia by and with the consent and advice of the councell of state have thought fitt that for the future noe Negroes slaves bee suffered to carry or arme himselfe with any staffe, clubb, gunn, sword, or other weapon, offensive or defensive, nor presume to depart from off his Master or Mistress grownd without the permission of his Master, Mistress or overseer and that to bee made manifest by certificate under the Master, Mistress or overseer hand, and any Negroe prosumeing otherwise to doe to bee taken and securyed and severly punished according as the before recited law hath directed and appointed and to the intent a strict enquiry bee made unto this good law the Grand Jury men of every respective county are hereby in his Majties. name strictly charged and comanded to make enquiry whether any Master or Mistresses of Negroes slaves bee neglectfull of their parts of the afoemenconed act, as alsoe whether Constables and other officers doe well and truely give correction unto such offending Negroes as shall be brought before them, and alsoe to enquire whether or noe that according to the direction of the said act the same bee published every six monethes att the respective county courts and parish churches within this collony, and if upon the Grand Juries enquiry of the due performance of the aforesaid act that they shall finde whether Master, Mistress or overseer wanting in their parts in the performance of the said act that then they present the same to the intent the offenders may bee prceeded against according to law. Given under my hand and the seale of the colony att Rosegill this fifth day of Nov Anno Dom. 1687. God Save the King Effingham.

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (8) 99-100, 24 January 1687/8.

April 26, 1688-Punishment for Sam.

[At a meeting held on April 26, 1688, the General Court punished Sam, a slave who belonged to Richard Metcalf, for his role in a planned insurrection.]

Whereas at a Genll Court held att James Citty Aprill the 26th 1688 Present the honourable his Majties Councill of State It apeard that Sam a Negro Servt to Richard Metcalfe hath several times endeavoured to promote a Negro Insurreccon in this Colony, It is therefore ordered to deter him & others from the like evil practice for time to come, that he be by the Sheriff of James Citty County or his deputy severely whipt att a cart tayle from the prison round about the town & then to the Gallows, and from thence to the prison againe and that hee be conveyed by the sheriff of Westmoreland County to that county & hee is ordered to whip him severely at the next Court to be held for that County, & that hee have a halter about his necke during that time, & afterwards that hee have a strong Iron collar affixed about his neck with four spriggs wch collar he is never to take or gett off nor to goe off his master or masters plantacon during all the time he shall live, and if he shall goe off his said master or masters plantacon or get off his collar then to be hanged. Vera Copia test, W Edward Cl Gen Cur. In Obedience to wch Order we command the sheriff of this county or his deputy sedente curia to give him twenty-nine lashes on the bare back well laid on wch was performed accordingly with a halter about his neck, and the collar put on.

Source: "Punishment For a Negro Rebel," William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., X (1901-1902):177-178.

July 26, 1690-Proclamation Issued by Governor Nicholson.

[Francis Nicholson's proclamation of July 26, 1690 indicates that masters and mistresses did not always follow the directions in Effingham's 1687 decree. Nicholson reminded Virginians that the 1680 statute entitled An act for preventing Negroes Insurrections was to be read in the county courts and the parish churches.]

By the Right Honorable their Majties Leiut Governor

Whereas there are divers good lawes made in England & Va restraining the profaining the Sabbath day & agt the wicked sins of cursing, swearing, drunkenesse & debauchery & for the good govermt of this country & amonge the rest of the good & wholesome lawes there are severall acts made for the well ordering of Negroes particularly 1 made at a genll assembly begun June 8, 1680 to prevent the rambling about of Negroes (which must frequently happen on the Sabbath day) & agt Masters of families & overseers that shall entertaine or suffer them to be in their plantacons. And whereas there is an act made that enjoynes the haveing grand juries in every county that all offenders may be presented & a due course taken for their punishmts to deter the like offences for the future. Now to the end that the Sabbath day may be kept holey, & that all prophainenesse & debaucheryes of what sort soever may be discouraged & deterred that the judgmts of God Almighty bee not drawne down upon all heads & that the good & wholesome lawes concerning the same be put in execution & all other lawes for the good governmt of this country, I Francis Nicholson Esq their Majties Leiut Gov. of Va by the advise & consent of the councill doe by this proclamacon in their Majties names will & require all & every the justices of the peace in their severall county cts & stations to take care to present & punish such as are Sabbath breakers & all other prophaine & scandalous livers to put the lawes agt prophainouss in execution, & all other the good lawes for the well ordering this their Majties country. And take escpeciall care that Grandjuries of the best & most substantiall men in their counties bee duly sworne & a strict charge given them to inquire agt all offences & offenders & to present them to the county cts whoe are to cause all due prosecutions to be had agt offenders & such punishmts & penalties to be inflicted on them as the serverall lawes injoynes & to take care that the act about Negroes be read in all county cts & churches as the lawes injoynes. Hereof noe person is to faile as they will answer the contrary att their attmost perills. Given under my hand & the seale of the collony July 26, 1690. Fr. Nicholson

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (8) 498-499, 24 September 1690.

June 1692 to February 1694/5-Status of Mary Walter

[In June 1692 Joseph Walter, a free black man, entered a complaint against Mary Bennett "for the unjust detention & withholding a child of the complnt wife from her in slavery." Walter claimed that Bennett's previous husband, Isaac Collier, freed his wife, Mary, before she gave birth to their child. The county clerk did not note the fate of the child born to Joseph and Mary Walter. It appears that the question of Mary Walter's status-enslaved or free-worked against her in subsequent appearances before the local justices of the peace on November 24, 1693 and February 26, 1693/4. In November 1693 John and Elizabeth Sampson accused Mary Walter of verbal and physical abuse of Elizabeth Sampson. Three months later, unnamed persons told the justices of the peace that Mary Walter was a dangerous person. York County's magistrates decided that Mary Walter was an enslaved woman and that she was to be sold to someone who would transport her out of the colony. It is possible that Joseph Walter remained in York County after his wife was deported. Walter might have been the man named Joseph Waters who was presented by the grand jury in February 1694/5 for "keeping company with an English woman & constantly lying with her."]

In the diff depending at this ct btwn John Sampson & Eliz his wife plts agt Joseph Walters & Mary his wife defts Negroes in an action of trespass assault & battery wherein it evidently appearing that she sd Mary hath most notoriously & wickedly abused Eliz not only by words but alsoe by blows & offered great violence upon her w/unlawfull wepons continuing her threats of a further revenge upon Eliz whereupon it is ord that the sherr take Mary into his custody & give her 29 lashes on her bare back & from thence to comitt her to close prison until she give sec for her future good behavior during the cts pleasure & have satisfyed & pd all costs of suite due to the plt.

There haveing been brought to this ct diverse actions of trespass assault & battery agt Mary Walters a Negroe wife of Joseph Walters in YC whoe pretends herself a free woman & likewise a gennll complaint agt her to be of that wicked & dangerous life & conversation both by her actions & expressions & threats in soe much it is believed & adjudged the issue of her ungovernd life will prove of dangerous consequence if some cause be not speedily taken to prevent her wherefore it is ord that she be well secured in ord to her transportation out of this collony if she cannot prove her freedom & that the sherr present the humble addresses of this ct to his Excell. the Gov for his pleasure to be known therein.

In persuance of an ord of Nov ct last Mary Walters being now brought upon her tryall at this ct to prove her former assertions & pretence of being a free Negro whoe not being in the least capable of maintaining the same but that she formerly was a slave & never otherwise knowne amongst her neighbors she having now neither grounds nor placesable circumstances to prove her imediate condicon to be otherwise then a slave It is therefore ord that the sherr take her into safe custody & secure her in close prisson until an opportunity presents to expose her to saile to such person as will give bond for her exportation out of Va during which time the sherr is ord to take care that she want not suff for her natureall support & that the county charge & other fees & dues which have & hereafter shall arise by her be reimburst & pd out of the produce of such consideration when sold etc.

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (9) 155, 24 August 1692; ibid., p. 173, 26 September 1692; ibid., p. 270, 24 November 1693; ibid., p. 297, 26 February 1693/4; York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (10) 106-107, 25 February 1694/5.

April 14, 1694-Proclamation of Governor Andros.

[The fact that Andros issued this proclamation indicates that several masters continued to allow their slaves to travel from their plantations and to gather with family members and friends in spite of the restrictions placed on enslaved persons in the June 1680 statute entitled An act for preventing Negroes Insurrections.]

Whereas the lawes concerning Negros & other slaves have not had the good effort by them intended for want of being duly executed & particularly one Act of Assembly made at James City the 8th day of June 1680 Entituled an Act for preventing Negros Insurrections in which it is provided that it shall not be lawful for any Negro or any other slave to carry or arme himselfe with any club, staffe, gun, sword or any other wepon of defense or offense nor to go nor part from his masters ground without certificate from his master mistresse or overseer, & such permission not to be granted but upon particuler & necessary occasions & by one other Act of Assembly made at James City the 10th day of November 1682 Entituled an Additionall Act for the better preventing the insurrection by Negroes It is further provided that both the sd Acts shall be by the minister or reader of each parish read & published twice every year vizt some one Sunday or Lords day in each of the monthes of September & March in each parish church or chappell of ease in each parish in this collony in the time of Devine Service after the reading of the second lesson under the paine & penalty thereon exprest & also that no master or overseer shall at any time Knowingly permitt or suffer without the leave or lysence of his or their master or overseer any Negro or slave not properly belonging to him or them to remaine or be upon his or their plantations above the space of 4 hours contrary to the intent of the before verited Act upon paine or forfeiting as in the sd law mentioned but notwithstanding which through the remissness & lysentiousness of the severall masters mistresses overseers & other persons enjoyned by the sd lawes to performe their serverall dutyes therein diverse Negroes & slaves in sundry parts & countyes in this collony have met congregated & got together which meetings & gatherings together of such Negroes or slaves as aforesd being of a dangerous consequence I Sr Edmund Andross knt: their Maties Lt: & Governor Genll: of Virginia by advice in Councell do by this proclamation in their Maties names will & require that accord. to law, no master mistress or overseer do grant certificate or permitt any Negro or other slave to depart from of their masters ground but upon particular & necessary occasions & such certificate so granted to expresse the place where & limit the time for their goeing & returneing upon such occasions as aforesd & I do further will & require that all & every sherr justice of the peace constables & other officers & all & every other person or persons within this Dominion of Virginia to take spetial care that the lawes concerning Negroes be fully & duly executed as they & every of them shall answere the contrary at their utmost perillls Given under my hand & the seale of the collony this 14th day of April 1694 & in the 6th year of their Maties Raigne

E Andros

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (10) 20, 25 June 1694.

May 24, 1694-Presentment of Mary Jewell for Bearing an Illegitimate Child.

[Mary Jewell was the daughter of Katherine (Jewell) Pond and the sister of William Cattilla. She and a white man named John Berry were the parents of a son named James. Mary Jewell's step-father, Stephen Pond, paid her fine for bearing an illegitimate child. Pond also promised to help support her and her son. James Berry was the first member of the free black family with the surname Berry in Charles Parish, Elizabeth City County, and Warwick County.]

John Toomer churchwarden of the lower presincts of Poquoson parish having exhibited his informacon agt Mary Jewell a mollotto for her late comitting the sinn of fornication w/an Englishman named John Berry having a bastard child borne of her body & she ack the same in ct & made oath sd Berry is the father thereof whereupon Stiphen Pond in ct became her sec to the parish for paymt of her fyne of 500 lbs tob accord to law to remit her from her punishmt of whipping & alsoe to save the parish harmless from the charge of keeping sd child which he is ord duly to perform as alsoe to pay sd fyne w/costs als exe.

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (9) 341, 24 May 1694.

April 1695-William Cattilla's Petition.

[William Cattilla, mulatto son of Katherine (Jewell) Pond, successfully petitioned for his freedom from his mistress, Margaret Booth, the widow of William Booth. Cattilla's success indicates that his identity as a free black man was based on social relationships in addition to the colony's laws.]

Willm Catillah servant to Mrs Margrett Booth haveing sumonsed his sd mistres to this Court to answer his complainant who saith that whereas he was the son of a free woman & was baptized into the Christian faith haveing honestly & truly served his mistres aforesd to his full age of 24 years praying order for his freedom together with his corne & cloathes accord. to law with costs the same is accordingly granted & the next Court to be confirmed if the dft his sd mistress then faile personally to appear & shew just cause to the contrary.

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (10) 137, 6 April 1695.

1697-The Need for a Christian Overseer on Plantations.

[Thomas Nutting informed the York County Court that William Wise Senior failed to have a Christian overseer on his plantation and that Wise's slave Robin killed one of his hogs.]

Mr Thomas Nutting complainant haveing presented his complaint to this Court agt Mr Willm Wise sen dft setting forth that the dft hath placed A Negro man named Robin upon a plantation adjacent to the complainant plantation where hee liveth in Charles Parrish in this County & the year past did keep noe Christian overseer to looke after him by which means he comitted injurys to severall of the neighbors but espetially to him the complainant &c Wherefore it is ordered that the sherr sumons the dft Willm Wise for his personall appearance at the next Court then & these to answer the same

Thomas Nutting hath Judgmt: granted per nihil dicit agt Willm Wise in an Accon of Dt: for 2000 lbs. of tob. fine for his the sd Wises negro illegall killing & stealing of A hogg of the plts at a quarter of the sd dfts who kept then & there noe Christian overseer to looke after him which Judmt: is the next Court to be confirmed if he the sd dft then faile to appear & answer the same

Mr Thomas Nutting plt hath Judgmt: granted agt Mr Willm Wise dft in an Accon of Dt for the sume of 300 lbs. of tob. for 1 of the dfts negroes named Robin illegall killing & stealing 1 of the plts hoggs At a quarter of the dfts adjoyning to the plts plantation whoe kept there noe Christian overseer to looke after him which sd sume of 300 lbs. of tob. the deft is ordered to pay to the plt with costs als exec.

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (10) 377, 24 March 1696/7; ibid., p. 452, 24 August 1697; ibid., p. 464, 24 September 1697.

1699 and 1702-Advice on the Management of Servants and Slaves.

[Daniel Parke gave his daughter Frances advice about the management of servants and slaves in two letters, the first written in October 1699 and the second in 1702.]

Be Calm and Obligeing to all the servants, and when you speak doe it mildly, Even to the poorest slave; if any of the Servants committ small faults that are of no consequence, doe you hide them. If you understand of any great faults they commit, acquaint y'r mother, but do not aggravate the fault.

Be kind and good-natured to all of your servants. It is much better to have them love you than fear you.

Source: Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 20 (1912): 375, 377.

June 1699-A Difference Between Slaves Imported From Africa and Those Born in Virginia.

[In June 1699 a colonial legislator noted that he saw a difference between slaves imported from Africa slaves who had been born in Virginia. It is possible that Virginians also saw free persons of color who had been born in the colony in a more favorable light than the slaves who had been transported across the Atlantic or from the Caribbean Islands.]

The negroes born in this country are generally baptized and brought up in the Christian religion, but for negroes imported hither, the gross bestiality and rudeness of their manners, the variety and strangeness of their languages, and the weakness and shallowness of their minds, render it in a manner impossible to make any progress in their conversion.

Source: Minutes of the Council, 2 June 1699, Board of Trade of Virginia, vol. liii, quoted in Bruce, Institutional History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century, 1:9.

December 14, 1699-The Will of Jane Merry.

[In December 1699, Mary (Jewell) Cattilla, and her mother Katherine Pond, gave depositions in the York County Court in support of the oral will that they persuaded their neighbor, Jane Merry, to make. The depositions reveal that Mary (Jewell) Cattilla was a part of the social world of white women in Charles Parish.]

The Deposicons of Katherine P[o]nd & Mary her daughter Katherine being near six[ ] years of Age or thereabouts and Mary being therty years of [ ] age or thereabout this Deposeth That Your Depon[en]ts being att the house of Jane Merry about two days before her death being the 16th October 1699 was pswadeing the said Jane Merry to settle her busines & to dispose of what Shee had telling her itt would be a great Satisfaccon to her selfe & ease her friends of a great deal of trouble.

Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (11) 269-270, 14 December 1699.

September 1705-The Need for a Definition of Who was a Mulatto.

[On August 16, 1705 the Council heard the petition of John Bunch and Sarah Slaydon who wanted to marry. The minister of Blissland Parish in New Kent County refused to marry them because Bunch was a mulatto. The Councillors decided to refer the petition to Stevens Thompson, the Attorney General of Virginia, "to report his opinion whether the Petitioners case be within the intent of the Law to prevent Negroes & White Persons intermarrying." Thompson noted that there was some confusion as to whether or not a mulatto was to be treated the same as a negro in regard to the 1691 law prohibiting the marriage of a white person and a black person.

In October 1705 the statute entitled An act declaring who shall not bear office in this country included a definition of who was considered a mulatto in Virginia. ]

I am of opinion & do conceive that ye sd Act being Penal is Coercive or restrictive no further then the very letter thereof, and being wholly unacquainted with the Appellations given to ye issue of such mixtures, cannot resolve whether the issue begotton on a White woman by a Mulatto man can properly be called a Mulatto, that name as I conceive being only appropriated to the Child of a Negro man begotten upon a white woman, or by a white man upon a negro woman, and as I am told the issue of a Mulatto by or upon a white Person has another name viz that of, Mustee; wch if so, I conceive it wholly out of the the Letter (tho it may be conjectured to be within ye intent) of the sd act, The which (as abovesd being Penal) is, as I conceive not to be contrued beyond ye letter thereof.

S. Thomson, A G

Upon consideration of which Report, and that the Petitionrs Case is matter of Law, It is therefore ordered that the Petition of the said Bunch and Slayden be referred till next General Court for Mr Attorney to argue the reasons of his opinion before his Excellcy and ye Council.

Source: McIlwaine, et al., eds., Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia, 3:28, 31.


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