16 Hastings Race & Poverty L.J. 1 (2019)

handle is hein.journals/hasrapo16 and id is 1 raw text is: 













                         The   Birth of a Nation:

   A  Study of Slavery in Seventeenth-Century Virginia



                          RANDOLPH M. MCLAUGHLIN*


     Race  based  slavery in North America  had  its origins in seventeenth-century
Virginia.  Initially, the position of the African worker was similar to that of the
indentured servants from  England.'  During  the early to mid-seventeenth century,
both  African and  English indentured  servants served  for a period of  years and
received the protections to which a servant was entitled.2 However, during the 1640s
there appeared examples   of Africans also being held as slaves.3 Thus, during the
seventeenth  century there existed a dual system  of servitude or bondage   for the
African  worker.  One   basis for this duality was the common law practice that
mandated  that Christians could not hold fellow Christians as slaves.4
      This dual system existed until the 1660s when the Virginia General Assembly,
the legislative and highest judicial body in the colony, began to enact legislation that
made  it more difficult for Africans to assert claims that they were servants and not
slaves.5 While  the legal status of the black worker declined, that of white servants
was  elevated. White  servants were granted  protections under the laws as African


     *  The author is a professor of law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace
University (Pace). I wish to thank Debra S. Cohen, Adjunct Professor of Civil Rights Law
at Pace, for her review and comments on the final draft of this article. I want to express my
appreciation and gratitude to Marie S. Newman, Law Library Director and Professor of Law
at Pace, for her assistance in retrieving the authorities and sources for this article. I also thank
Trevor P. Hall, Ph.D., whose work on first contacts between Africans and Europeans in West
Africa inspired my inquiry into such contacts in Virginia. I express my appreciation to Theron
D. Cook, M.Div., for his review and retention of an earlier draft of this article. Finally, I also
wish to thank Matthew Lawrence and the editorial staff at the Hastings Race and Poverty Law
Journal for their efforts to bring this work to fruition.
    1.  See infra notes 25-44 and accompanying text for a discussion of the comparable status
of the English indentured servants and the African servant.
    2.  See infra notes 67-73 and accompanying text for a discussion of the thesis that both
servants, black and white, had similar conditions of servitude during the 1640-1660 period.
     3. See infra notes 80-81, 86 and accompanying text for examples of the duality in the
status of African workers.
    4.  See infra notes 89-101 and accompanying text for a discussion of cases wherein
African workers petitioned for freedom based on their conversion to Christianity.
    5.  See infra notes 108, 112 and accompanying text for an analysis of the statutes that
established the contours of the slavery institution during the 1660s.


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