How did the Barbados slave code impact the Americas?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The Barbados slave code, which was instituted in 1661, was the first officially codified slave code in either the British American colonies or the West Indies. It essentially legally defined slaves as chattels for legal purposes. The implications of this were severe, as it allowed white masters to whip, mutilate, and even, under certain circumstances, kill their slaves without fear of punishment. The significance of the code was that many of the American colonies adopted similar slave codes within a few years. The best example of this was the new colony of Carolina, described by historian Peter Wood as a "colony of a colony" because its initial settlers were largely from Barbados, which was experiencing a major land shortage. While the sugar-based Barbadian plantation system was not capable of being replicated in the Carolina low country, slaves were put to other uses, including ranching, timber production, and eventually rice cultivation. In any case, the slave codes that were adopted in what would eventually become South Carolina were very similar to those in Barbados. In short, Barbados set a precedent for legal chattel slavery, many aspects of which were, at least in theory, antithetical to English common law. Virginia followed the Barbados law with a law attaching children born to a slave mother to slavery in 1662.



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