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Official Records - Virginia Laws 1751-1800

Virginia Laws
County Records
House of Burgesses Journals
Other Documents

Act for preserving the breed of Sheep
In February 1752 burgesses passed a curious act "by reason that negroes and other slaves are not restrained from carrying dogs about with them, from place to place."

An Act for the Better Government of Servants and Slaves
In 1753, this act reduced terms of service for indented servants, provided penalties for female servants who gave birth to illegitimate children, re-asserted the definition of slaves, and prohibited slaves' engaging in commerce without permission.

The Act Regulating the Militia
In 1754 the Assembly amended this act by ordering county lieutenants to appoint patrollers.

An Act to Prevent the Practice of Selling Persons as Slaves That Are Not So
Persons of mixed ancestry who could prove descent from a free white woman were not slaves; instead they were bound as servants until the age of thirty-one. Unscrupulous masters, however, sometimes sold these people as slaves. In 1765 the Assembly addressed this, passing "An act to prevent the practice of selling persons as slaves that are not so." [Thomas Jefferson lost a case involving Sam Howell, a servant who wished to gain his freedom before he reached the age of thirty-one. Howell later ran away. See Virginia Gazette (Purdie and Dixon), August 16, 1770.]

An act to amend the act for the better government of Servants and Slaves
Other laws passed in 1765 tightened procedures for capturing runaways, and refined the procedures for dealing with slaves tried for felonies and insurrections:

An act for amending the act entitled An act directing the trial of slaves committing capital crimes; and for the more effectual punishing conspiracies and insurrections of them; and for the better government of negroes, mulattoes, and indians, bond or free

An act to amend the Act, intituled an Act to amend the Act for the better government of Servants and Slaves
Four years later (1769) another major act was passed that codified previous legislation.

An act for amending the acts concerning the trials and outlawries of slaves
In 1772 the Assembly again addressed the problem of "outlying" slaves.

An act to compel ships importing convicts, servants, or slaves infected with the gaol fever, or small pox, to perform quarantine
Also in 1772, the Assembly passed a law requiring ships importing slaves and servants to undergo quarantine.

An ordinance for establishing a mode of punishment for the enemies to America in this colony
In 1775, following Dunmore's Proclamation that offered freedom to slaves who joined the British, the Virginia Assembly quickly passed a law that established transportation to the West Indies as the penalty for slaves who joined the British.

An act for the more speedily completeing the Quota of Troops to be raised in this commonwealth for the continental army, and for other purposes
Some blacks helped the Americans fight the British in the Revolution, but whites were concerned that slaves might runaway to join the Continental troops, so they enacted a law requiring extra paperwork to enlist blacks and mulattoes.

An act for confirming a codicil annexed to the last will and testament of John Barr, deceased, respecting certain slaves
Barr had been prevented from freeing his slave Rachel because of Dunmore's flight from Williamsburg in the summer of 1775 and the subsequent hostilities.

In 1778 the Assembly took an important first step to limit the number of slaves (and by extension, blacks) in the state.

An act for preventing the farther importation of Slaves
The 1779 act was subsequently amended and exceptions were granted several times.

An act to authorize the citizens of South Carolina and Georgia to remove their slaves into this state
When the British captured Charleston, South Carolina, in 1780, many of its inhabitants fled north into North Carolina and Virginia, bringing their slaves with them. This necessitated a law providing an exception to the previous statute prohibiting imports of slaves.

An act concerning slaves
This act ruled that slaves not born in the state were to be freed after one year.

An act concerning the importation of slaves, into the district of Kentucky (1788)

An act to amend the act for preventing the farther importation of slaves (1789)

An act for the manumission of a certain Slave (1779-05-01)
An act for the manumission of certain Slaves (1779-10-02)
From 1779 through 1783 the Assembly passed a number of acts freeing specific slaves. [One of those freed by this act, Barber Caesar, placed a runaway ad himself, Virginia Gazette or American Advertiser (Hayes), Richmond, April 5, 1786; and was mentioned as having employed another runaway as an apprentice barber in ad: Virginia Gazette and General Advertiser (Davis), Richmond, May 20, 1795.]

"An act for the manumission of certain Slaves."
[Ned, freed by this act, belonged to Henry Delony, a justice of Mecklenburg County. See Mecklenburg County court records. Interestingly, Delony had advertised a slave named Ned, a jockey, as a runaway in 1769. Virginia Gazette (Purdie and Dixon), August 3, 1769.]

An act directing the emancipation of certain slaves who have served as soldiers in this state, and for the emancipation of the slave Aberdeen
This act passed in 1783, asserted that "whereas it appears just and reasonable that all persons enlisted as aforesaid, who have faithfully served agreeable to the terms of their enlistment, and have thereby of course contributed towards the establishment of American liberty and independence, should enjoy the blessings of freedom as a reward for their toils and labours."

An act for the recovery of slaves, horses, and other property, lost during the war
The Revolution caused widespread destruction and disruption in Virginia, and much loss of property, including slaves who ran away. In May, 1782 the Assembly passed

An act to authorize the manumission of slaves
On the other hand, the Revolution also increased the movement toward private emancipation, or manumission, of slaves. Prior to the act, passed in 1782, masters desiring to free their slaves needed a special act of Assembly. The above law enabled them to free slaves by will or deed presented to the county court. [See county court wills and orders.]

An act concerning Slaves
Also passed in 1782, this act addressed the practice of masters' hiring their slaves to other persons; hired slaves were more difficult to control.

An act declaring what persons shall be deemed mulattoes
Also passed in 1782, this act defined mulattoes as persons with one black grandparent, "so every person who shall have one-fourth part or more of negro blood, shall, in like manner, be deemed a mulatto."

An act concerning servants (1785)
This act provided new regulations for white servants.

An act to prevent the importation of convicts into this commonwealth
And in 1788, the Assembly ended the practice of importing convict labor.

An act directing the method of trying Slaves charged with treason or felony (1786)
This act established the post-Revolution rules for trying slaves.

An act to repeal part of an act, directing the trial of slaves committing capital crimes. . .
The portion of the 1786 law that declared masters not liable for killing or wounding slaves "during his or her correction," or by accident, was repealed in this 1788 act.

An act concerning the emancipation of certain slaves, belonging to the estate of Joseph Mayo, late of Henrico county