Slavery was a period of intense degradation for African Americans. Most were captured, kidnapped and shipped away from their homes on the African continent. Due to the inhumane conditions and unfairness of the situation, there were many revolts and uprisings. The white man tried to curtail this by implementing certain slavery rules called ‘slave codes’.
The indomitable spirit of the black man refused to be blotted out; as such, they fought and rebelled often. It was not only in the South that rebellions occurred, but also all over America. There was a major uprising in Manhattan in 1712. This occurred because as time passed, there were thousands and hundreds of thousands more black people in America. The white settlers grew more and more paranoid. They grew antsy and thought that the next rebellion could happen in their neighborhoods. It was at this time that the colonies made slavery rules, which restricted the black slaves; these were the ‘slave codes.’
Originally, the colonies could not agree on the slave laws in America. They each had a different opinion on what should be the black’s rights. In those regions where slavery was prevalent, there was commonality in the slave rules and regulations. According to the slave codes or law, they were deemed property; these black people were further prohibited from owning any property of their own. Other examples of slave codes included stated that meetings or gatherings of any kind were illegal, unless a white person was present. For those blacks who did not live on the plantation, they had curfews. In the judicial space, they were given no chance. They could not testify and their testimony was not taken into account. They had no chance in the courts. The judge was white. The lawyer was white. The members of the jury were all white.
Slavery rules were simply unfair. They kept the black people oppressed and suppressed financially, educationally and mentally. The significance of these the slave codes meant that the African society would not flourish or become prosperous, once the slave rules and regulations were enforced. Slaves were not allowed to be educated. That meant that black people could never read or write. However, white Christians wanted to teach them to read so that they could read the bible. On the other hand, these devout white Christians would not allow them marry. Marriage would make it more complicated, or affect their Christian principles that govern breaking up families, by selling off blacks to a different plantation.
In New York, over time, the population of black people increased immensely. This also directly impacted the paranoia levels among white settlers. They were rightly afraid. As the rebellions became more frequent, the list of slave codes increased and became more inhumane and restrictive. These rules ruined the meager moments of hope and enjoyment that the black slaves cherished.
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Virginia’s slave codes
Towards the end of the 17th century, black people saw a decline in their status, in Virginia. Those blacks who were indentured servants were being overlooked for black slaves; that meant that freedom was a distant fantasy. The Virginia General Assembly reassured everyone, this was ‘the new normal’. The declaration, when issued, would be around for a long time. Virginia laws would negatively impact African Americans for many generations.
The Virginia slave code stated that, “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 resist 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 laws were model laws. They would form the template replicated across all other colonies. It was abundantly inhumane and cruel. Overall blacks could not own property, did not have income, so they fines were not instituted. If a slave wanted to visit other plantations or go about his/her business, they could not do so freely without written consent from their owners. Slaves were hanged routinely for committing offenses like murder and rape.
Further, blacks could look forward to upwards of 60 lashes for committing major infractions like robbery. He/she would also be put in stocks. His/her ears would then be removed. Infractions of a lesser nature were rewarded with maiming, branding or whipping. They could not have associations with white people, to do so would be perilous.
It was insanity to bring about or have a dispute with a slave owner in court, where you had no rights. You would be punished under the slave laws in America, after 1705. The Virginia codes allowed masters of black people to be excessively cruel to such their servants. If they wanted to break African Americans, they were permitted to punish him to the point of death. For this, there were no consequences.
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