Slavery in America

Published 9:48 am Wednesday, August 8, 2012

by James D. “Archie” Howell

This is in response to Jon Pyle’s article (“How slavery came to America,” Aug. 3).

It’s somewhat tiresome to continue to read excuses for behaviors that are inexcusable. Mr. Pyle’s article attempts to blame Puritans and New Englanders for the origination of slavery and subsequent actions of all colonists.

A closer look at the timeline of slavery in America reveals a larger picture. These data are from resources readily available to anyone with a computer and Internet access.

From, accessed Aug. 4:

• 1619—At Jamestown, Va., approximately 20 captive Africans are sold into slavery in the British North American colonies.

• 1654—A Virginia court grants blacks the right to hold slaves.

• 1657—Virginia passes a fugitive slave law.

• 1662—Virginia enacts a law of hereditary slavery meaning that a child born to an enslaved mother inherits her slave status.

• 1663—In Gloucester County, Va., the first documented slave rebellion in the colonies takes place.

• 1664—Maryland mandates lifelong servitude for all black slaves. New York, New Jersey, the Carolinas and Virginia all pass similar laws.

• 1667—Virginia declares that Christian baptism will not alter a person’s status as a slave.

• 1670—Virginia prohibits free blacks and Indians from keeping white Christian servants.

• 1676—In Virginia, black slaves and black and white indentured servants band together to participate in Bacon’s Rebellion (Certainly, at best, a confusing and misunderstood event).

• 1680—Virginia forbids blacks and slaves from bearing arms, prohibits blacks from congregating in large numbers and mandates harsh punishment for slaves who assault Christians or attempt escape.

• 1682—Virginia declares that all imported black servants are slaves for life.

• 1691—Virginia passes the first anti-miscegenation law, forbidding marriages between whites and blacks, or whites and Native Americans.

• 1691—Virginia prohibits the manumission (arbitrary freeing of a slave. Slaves are property.) of slaves within its borders. Manumitted slaves are forced to leave the colony.

• 1705—The Virginia Slave Code codifies slave status, declaring all non-Christian servants entering the colony to be slaves. It defines all slaves as real estate, acquits masters who kill slaves during punishment, forbids slaves and free colored people from physically assaulting white persons, and denies slaves the right to bear arms or move abroad without written permission.

• 1723—Virginia outlaws manumission.

• 1783—Virginia emancipates those slaves who served in the colonial forces against Britain, provided that the slave’s master gives permission.

• 1785—Virginia deems any person with black blood to be a mulatto and declares that the use of the term Negro is understood to include mulattos.

• 1799—Virginia banishes white mothers of mulattos with their children.

• 1800—A slave named Gabriel Prosser, believing himself called by God, organizes a plot to kill all whites in Virginia, sparing only Quakers, Methodists and French. The conspirators meet under the pretense of holding religious meetings.

• 1805—Virginia allows slaves to accompany white masters to religious services presided over by white preachers.

• 1806—Virginia requires slaves to leave the state within a year of manumission.

• 1819—Virginia and North Carolina remove restraints on interstate slave trade.

• 1819—Virginia outlaws blacks and mulattos, whether free or slave, from meeting for the purposes of education and forbids teaching blacks to read and write.

• 1831—Nat Turner, an enslaved Baptist preacher believing himself divinely inspired, leads a violent rebellion in Southampton, Va. At least 57 whites are killed.

• 1831—Virginia passes a law enforcing prohibitions against slaves congregating for religious service at night, regardless of whether black or white preachers hold those services.

• 1836—Virginia, Georgia and Alabama request that other states suppress abolitionist activities.

• 1849— Virginia passes a law permitting the emancipation of any slave by will or deed.

• 1850—Virginia demands that emancipated slaves leave the state within a year and forbids the legislature from freeing any slave.

• 1857—Richmond, Va., passes a comprehensive slave code that, among other stipulations, prohibits self-hiring by slaves, restricts blacks from entering certain parts of the city, specifies street etiquette and forbids slaves from smoking, carrying canes, standing on the sidewalk and using provocative language.

• 1865—The 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishes slavery.

This is a partial list, with emphasis on actions in Virginia — not New England or Massachusetts. There’s enough blame to go around.

There are sufficient causative factors, stimulus/response and name calling to more than cover the period of slavery and the tacit slavery that followed in this country — my country, my state. Regrettably, racial hatred and racism are alive and well in Virginia and many other states; perhaps some factual, historical accuracy and personal acknowledgement of the inherent horrors of that “peculiar institution” can help.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at