Slavery and the Rule of Law in Early Virginia
Boston University School of Law
APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper
Boston Univ. School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 13-15
Being reprinted in David Lyons, CONFRONTING INJUSTICE: Moral History and Political Theory, Oxford University Press, May, 2013.
Many of us learned that slavery began in the English North American colonies in 1619 when twenty Africans were purchased from the crew of a Dutch ship that had stopped at Jamestown for provisions. Colonial records do not tell us the fate of the Africans who arrived in Jamestown’s early years. This paper uses legislative and judicial records to reconstruct that history. The institution was not imported from England, under whose laws (which governed its colonies) one person could not own another. Chattel slavery was created by the colonial elite who decided to make their very profitable tobacco industry even more profitable by using slaves instead of contract labor. Colonial records reveal that unlawful enslavement was officially tolerated for decades; that it was incrementally regulated to meet slave owners’ felt needs; and that it was not legally authorized until late in the seventeenth or early in the eighteenth century.
Keywords: Slavery, slave law, Virginia colony, enslavement of Christians, inheritable slavery, slave homicides, race-based slaveryworking papers series
Date posted: July 13, 2012 ; Last revised: May 6, 2013
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