Virginia Laws on Slavery and Servitude
In 1660 an act was passed aimed at inhibiting white servants
and African slaves from running away together.
The following year, the House of Burgesses passed another
act specifying punishments for persons who aided runaway slaves and
In 1672, the law dealing with runaways was tightened.
A major concern of the colony's rulers was the presence
of "outlying" slaves: slaves who had escaped permanently and lived as
outlaws on the fringes of settlement.
The following, passed in 1701, concerns a specific slave,
Billy, who ran away and may have organized a group of accomplices to
commit a number of crimes in James City and New Kent counties. The act
promised one thousand pounds of tobacco to anyone who killed or captured
Billy and made it a felony to aid him.
act to prevent the clandestine transportation or carrying of persons
in debt, servants, and slaves, out of this colony, 1705.
This act defined all slaves in Virginia as property.
In 1705, a major act was passed incorporating most of
the legal restrictions on slaves up to that point.
Part of the above law required that African-Virginians traveling away from the plantation were required to carry a pass"be it enacted, by the authority aforesaid, and it is hereby enacted, That no slave go armed with gun, sword, club, staff, or other weapon, nor go from off the plantation and seat of land where such slave shall be appointed to live, without a certificate of leave in writing, for so doing, from his or her master, mistress, or overseer: And if any slave shall be found offending herein, it shall be lawful for any person or persons to apprehend and deliver such slave to the next constable or head-borough, who is hereby enjoined and required, without further order or warrant, to give such slave twenty lashes on his or her bare back well laid on, and so send him or her home. . ." A number of ads reveal that runaways attempting to gain their freedom might forge a pass in order to proceed without arrest. A typical pass might look like this.
As the eighteenth century progressed, and the number of African-American slaves increased, the House of Burgesses enacted a number of laws specifically relating to runaway slaves. Rewards were set for capturing runaways; various officials, sheriffs, constables, justices, were empowered to deal with runaways or those suspected of running away; and procedures established for returning runaways.
In 1732 the House passed a law declaring it a felony
without benefit of clergy to help a slave run away.