Over the course of the 17th century, slavery in American colonies gradually became more racial. In the first half of the 17th century, black slaves in Virginia could sometimes save enough tobacco to buy their freedom, purchase land and slaves, intermarry with whites, participate in law suits, and enlist in...
Over the course of the 17th century, slavery in American colonies gradually became more racial. In the first half of the 17th century, black slaves in Virginia could sometimes save enough tobacco to buy their freedom, purchase land and slaves, intermarry with whites, participate in law suits, and enlist in colonial militia.
A number of factors contributed to the emergence of racial slavery. During the second half of the 17th century, the Royal African Company and other slave merchants greatly increased the supply of African slaves to the Caribbean islands, where there was a sugar boom. In the 17th century, most black slaves came to the North American colonies from the Caribbean islands. Many small-scale white farmers left the Caribbean islands as large, slave-based plantations took over the sugar industry and local politics. The massive influx of African slaves to the Caribbean sugar islands, such as Barbados, prompted the English Parliament to introduce new legislation to provide legal cover for the ruthless suppression of black resistance. In 1667, the English Parliament adopted an Act to regulate the Negroes on the Plantations, demanding severe punishments for plantation slave workers. British courts during this time started to treat black people primarily as merchandise. These developments had an impact on the North American colonies as well.
In 1670, there were only about 2,000 black slaves in Virginia. By the end of the 17th century, Virginian planters had bought 4,000 more (see Blackburn 1997, 251). Nathaniel Bacon’s rebellion (1676) made the planters in Virginia recognize that black slaves could make common cause with poor white farmers; this prospect terrified them, and accordingly, they introduced racial legislation to sow a division between whites and blacks. In 1680, the Virginian House of Burgesses stipulated that if “any negro or other slave shall presume to lift up his hand in opposition to any christian” (as quoted in Blackburn 1997, 251), he would be punished by thirty lashes.
Virginia’s Act for Suppressing of Outlying Slaves (1691) authorized the killing of black and mixed race runway slaves, presumed that the great majority of the black and mixed race population was enslaved, and prohibited intermarriage between blacks, Native Americans, mixed race people; for whites, it was explicitly on racial grounds:
for the prevention of that abominable mixture and spurious issue which hereafter may increase in this dominion, as well as negroes, mulattoes and Indians intermarrying with English, or other white women . . . be it enacted . . . that for the time to come whatsoever English or other white man or woman being free shall intermarry intermarry with a negro, mulatto, or Indian man or woman, bond or free, shall within three months of such marriage be banished and removed from this dominion forever. (as quoted in Blackburn 1997, 264-265)
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