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Official Records

Virginia Laws
County Records
House of Burgesses Journals
Other Documents
From the middle years of the seventeenth century on, Virginia lawmakers enacted legislation that established and tightened the system of slavery in the colony. Early laws distinguished between slaves and servants as well as whites and blacks and included acts dealing with running away. Control of all laborers was the goal, but the trend was toward stricter control of African slaves, while the legal condition of servants slowly improved. In 1705 and 1748, the Assembly passed major omnibus acts, intended to gather together the numerous previous laws. Following the Revolution, while there was some legislation making manumission easier, the trend toward stricter control of slaves continued, especially after Gabriel's rebellion of 1800.

As the laws tend to show, punishments for captured runaways were often severe. In addition to punishments meted out by their masters on their return to the plantation or quarter, some runaways faced formal trial before the county courts for criminal activities committed during their escapes. Court records can help document what happened to such individuals.