Excerpt from pbs.org All servants imported and brought into the Country…who were not Christians in their native Country…shall be accounted and be slaves. All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion…shall be held to be real estate. If any slave resists his master… correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction…the master shall be free of all punishment…as if such accident never happened.
- Virginia General Assembly declaration, 1705 “We sometimes imagine that such oppressive laws were put quickly into full force by greedy landowners. But that’s not the way slavery was established in colonial America. It happened gradually -- one person at a time, one law at a time, even one colony at a time. One of the places we have the clearest views of that ‘terrible transformation’ is the colony of Virginia. In the early years of the colony, many Africans and poor whites -- most of the laborers came from the English working class -- stood on the same ground. Black and white women worked side-by-side in the fields. Black and white men who broke their servant contract were equally punished. All were indentured servants. During their time as servants, they were fed and housed. Afterwards, they would be given what were known as ‘freedom dues,’ which usually included a piece of land and supplies, including a gun. Black-skinned or white-skinned, they became free. Historically, the English only enslaved non-Christians, and not, in particular, Africans. And the status of slave (Europeans had African slaves prior to the colonization of the Americas) was not one that was life-long. A slave could become free by converting to Christianity. The first Virginia colonists did not even think of themselves as ‘white’ or use that word to describe themselves. They saw themselves as Christians or Englishmen, or in terms of their social class. They were nobility, gentry, artisans, or servants… [But] the indentured servants, especially once freed, began to pose a threat to the property-owning elite. The colonial establishment had placed restrictions on available lands, creating unrest among newly freed indentured servants. In 1676, working class men burned down Jamestown, making indentured servitude look even less attractive to Virginia leaders. Also, servants moved on, forcing a need for costly replacements; slaves, especially ones you could identify by skin color, could not move on and become free competitors. In 1641, Massachusetts became the first colony to legally recognize slavery. Other states, such as Virginia, followed. In 1662, Virginia decided all children born in the colony to a slave mother would be enslaved. Slavery was not only a life-long condition; now it could be passed, like skin color, from generation to generation.” Reflection: How did the institution of slavery develop in the colonies and why did it develop? _____________________________________________________________________