From each chapter of:
Black Laws of Virginia:
A Summary of Legislative Acts of Virginia Concerning Negroes
From Earliest Times to the Present
June Purcell Guild, LL.M
Compiled by Karen Hughes White and Joan
Peters for the
Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County, 1996
With permission from the Afro-American Historical
Chapter I: The Struggle for Racial Integrity
1785. Chapter LXXVIII. Every person of whose grandfathers
or grandmothers anyone is or shall have been a Negro, although all
his other progenitors, except that descending from the Negro shall
have been white persons, shall be deemed a mulatto, and so every
person who shall have one-fourth or more Negro blood shall in like
manner be deemed a mulatto. This act is to be in force from January
1866. Chapter 17. Every person having one-fourth
or more Negro blood shall be deemed a colored person, and every
person not a colored person having one-fourth or more Indian blood
shall be deemed an Indian.
1878. Chapter 311. Under the subject of offences
against morality and decency, it is said: If any white or Negro
resident of the state shall go out of the state for the purpose
of being married, and with the intention of returning, be married
out of it, and return, he shall be as guilty as if the marriage
had been in the state.
Any white person who shall intermarry with a Negro, or any Negro
who shall intermarry with a white person, shall be confined in the
penitentiary from two to five years.
Chapter II: Servants and Slaves in the Sixteen
1642. Act XXII. A punishment is provided for loitering
runaways in the colony; for a second offense a runaway is to be
branded in the cheek with the letter “R.”
It is a felony for a runaway to carry powder and shot, punishable
If there is a complaint of the master for harsh or un-Christian
usage or for want of diet, the commissioner may warn the master
1655. Act I. Indian children brought in as hostages
are not to be treated as slaves.
1661. CIII. Whereas the barbarous usage of some
servants by cruel masters brings so much scandal and infamy to the
country that people who would adventure hither are through fear
diverted, it is enacted that every master shall provide servants
with a competent diet, clothing, lodging, and shall not exceed the
bounds of moderation in correcting them and a servant may make complaint
to the commissioner and have remedy for his grievances.
1669. Act I. If a slave resist his master and
by the extremity of the correction, chance to die, his death shall
not be a felony, since it cannot be presumed that malice (which
alone makes murder a felony) would induce a man to destroy his own
1680. Act X. Whereas the frequent meetings of considerable
numbers of Negro slaves under pretense of feasts and burials is
judged of dangerous consequence, it is enacted that no Negro or
slave may carry arms, such as any club, staff, gun, sword, or other
weapon, nor go from his owner’s plantation without a certificate
and then only on necessary occasions; the punishment twenty lashes
on the bare back, well laid on. And, further, if any Negro lift
up his hand against any Christian he shall receive thirty lashes,
and if he absent himself or lie out from his master’s service
and resist lawful apprehension, he may be killed and this law shall
be published every six months.
Chapter III: Servants and Slaves in the
1705. Chapter XLIX. This is a general act concerning
servants and slaves and covers a great many subjects. A number of
the sections are given here, and some are summarized elsewhere in
this book. Some of the paragraphs cover Negroes only, some refer
to runaways and servants generally, some apparently to indentured
All servants (not being slaves) shall have their complaints received
by a justice of the peace, and an order at the discretion of the
court may be made as to diet, lodging, clothing and correction.
On a second complaint the servant may be sold at an outcry by the
sheriff, and after charges deducted the remainder shall be paid
to the owner.
Contracts of masters with servants are void unless approved by
court; sick or lame servants are not to be discharged, upon pretence
of freedom, under penalty.
In case any slave who has run away does not immediately return
home after a proclamation at the door of every church in the county,
it shall be lawful for any person whatsoever to kill and destroy
such slave by such means as may be thought fit without accusation
of any crime. If any runaway slave shall be apprehended it shall
be lawful to order such punishment, either by dismembering or any
other way not touching his life, as may be thought fit, for reclaiming
such incorrigible slave, and terrifying others from like practices.
Slaves shall not go armed under penalty of twenty lashes on the
bare back, well laid on.
For every slave killed, under this act, the owner shall be paid
by the public.
1710. Chapter XVI. Whereas, a Negro slave named
Will, belonging to Robt. Ruffin, of the County of Surry, was signally
serviceable in discovering a conspiracy of Negroes for levying war
in this colony; for a reward of his fidelity hereafter shall be
free and shall continue to be within this colony, if he think fit
to continue. The sum of forty pounds sterling shall be paid the
said Robt. Ruffin for the price of Will.
1732. Chapter VI. Stealing a slave is a felony,
and the punishment death without benefit of clergy.
1782. Chapter XXXII. Because great inconvenience
has arisen from persons permitting their slaves to go at large and
hire themselves out, under promise of paying their owners money
in lieu of services, it is enacted that if slaves are permitted
to go at large, they may be sold and disposed of by the sheriff.
Twenty-five per cent of the amount of the sale shall go toward lessening
the county levy, five per cent to the gaoler and the rest to the
owner of the slave.
1785. Chapter LXXVII. No person shall henceforth
be a slave in Virginia, except such as were so on the first day
of this Assembly and the descendants of the females of them. Slaves
hereafter brought in and kept one year shall be free.
A slave shall not go from where he lives without a license of letter
showing he has authority from his master.
Slaves shall not keep arms; riots and unlawful assemblies by slaves
shall be punished by stripes.
1798. Chapter 4. Free persons conspiring with
slaves to rebel shall suffer death. Free persons harboring or entertaining
any slave without the master’s consent shall pay ten dollars,
free Negroes not able to pay shall receive not to exceed thirty-nine
Chapter IV: Slaves in the Eighteen Hundreds
1801. Chapter 34. Sound policy dictates that rewards
should be held out to those who have rendered essential service
to our country, the governor is therefore authorized to purchase
and set free Pharaoh, slave of Philip Sheppard and Tom, slave of
1804. Chapter 119. All meetings of slaves at any
meeting house or any other place in the night shall be considered
an unlawful assembly, and any justice may issue his warrant to enter
the place where the assembly may be for apprehending or dispersing
the slaves, and to inflict corporal punishment on the offenders
at the discretion of the justice, not exceeding twenty lashes.
Any person may be summoned to aid in the execution of this act
and may be fined not exceeding $10.00 for refusing to serve; counties
west of the Blue Ridge are excepted from this act.
1805. Chapter 12. It is declared that it is not
unlawful for masters to permit slaves to accompany them, or any
part of the family to religious worship if it is conducted by a
1806. Chapter 63. Slaves brought into this state
and kept one year shall be forfeited by the owner, and the right
to the slaves shall rest in the overseers of the poor, who shall
apprehend such slaves for the benefit of the poor.
If any slave hereafter emancipated shall remain within this Commonwealth
more than twelve months after his freedom, he shall forfeit such
right, and may be sold by the overseers for the benefit of the poor.
1810. Chapter LXXX. Polly Coleman is permitted
to hold a Negro named Hannah who had been carried to Georgia.
1817. Chapter XXXVI. Because of serious inconvenience
experienced by Virginians from the frequent elopement of slaves
to states north of the Potomac it is enacted that hereafter $20.00
reward, and mileage, be allowed any person who may apprehend any
runaway slave attempting to cross the Potomac if the plantation
on which the slave is employed be not less than ten miles from the
river. If the slave is apprehended in Maryland or Kentucky, the
reward shall be $25.00; in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New
York, or Ohio, $50.00, plus twenty-five cents a mile.
1848. Criminal Code. Chapter 120. Section 31.
The unlawful importation of a slave born without the United States
shall be punishable by a fine of $1,000.00.
1860. Chapter 2. No person shall without license
buy for sale or sell for others on commission slaves, horses, mules,
cattle, sheep or hogs.
1861. Chapter 169. This act authorizes the governor
to pardon slaves, Jack and Ben, condemned for sale and transportation
and restore them to their former owner, F. N. Fitzhugh.
1866. Chapter 17. This act repeals all acts and
parts of acts relating to slaves and slavery.
Chapter V: Free Persons of Color and Slaves
1782. Chapter XXI. It is lawful for any person
by last will or other instruments in writing, sealed and witnessed,
to emancipate his slaves.
1788. Chapter XXXVII. Whoever steals a free person,
knowing him to be free, shall suffer death.
1793. Chapter 22. Free Negroes or mulattoes shall
be registered and numbered in a book to be kept by the town clerk,
which shall specify age, name, color, status and by whom, and in
what court emancipated. Annually the Negro shall be delivered a
copy for twenty-five cents. A penalty is fixed for employing a Negro
without a certificate; the Negro may be committed to jail. Every
free Negro shall once in every three years obtain a new certificate.
1806. Chapter 94. A free Negro is not to carry
any firelock of any kind without a license. For a second offense
he shall in addition to forfeiting all such arms be punished with
stripes, at the discretion of the justice not exceeding thirty-nine.
1814. Chapter CVI. In January, James, a man of
color, who had been promised his freedom if he paid $600.00 to his
master, which condition has now been complied with, when emancipated,
may remain in the Commonwealth as a free person.
In December, Armistead, sometimes called Armistead Smith, a man
of exemplary character, had an equitable right to freedom previous
to the passage of the law prohibiting emancipated persons of color
from remaining in this state; he is permitted to remain.
1824. Chapter 101. Dennis Holley, a free man of
color, being sick and unable to leave the state within the time
limit, is now permitted to remain a year.
1826. Chapter 61. No person other than a free
white citizen of the Commonwealth shall be allowed to pilot a
vessel up or down the Rappahannock River.
1828. Chapter 169. Lydia, a free woman of color,
of Greenbrier, is permitted to remain in the Commonwealth in consideration
of uniform good conduct of one year after the death of the owner
of her father and mother, who will then be free also. If she remains
longer, she shall forfeit her freedom and be subject to sale. The
court may at any time require Lydia to give security for her good
behavior; moreover, she shall remove from the Commonwealth all children
she may have living.
1834. Chapter 68. A free Negro shall not migrate
into this Commonwealth from any state in this Union, or from any
foreign country, under penalty of thirty-nine lashes on his bare
back at the public whipping post. Returning after removal is to
be punished according to the act of 1819. Special fines and penalties
are set for masters of vessels who being in any free Negroes. An
exception is made for travelers who have any free Negroes in their
1853. Chapter 55. The sum of $30,000 is appropriated
for five years for the removal of free Negroes from the Commonwealth.
The Colonization Board of Virginia is given power to act under this
law. The annual tax of one dollar is levied on every male free Negro
of twenty-one years and under fifty-five years, and collected as
other taxes on free Negroes are collected. The fund arising from
this source shall be applied to the removal of free Negroes.
1860. Chapter 54. If any free Negro commit an
offense punishable by confinement in the penitentiary, he may at
the discretion of the court, in lieu of such confinement, be sold
into absolute slavery.
1866. Chapter 15. No contract between a white
and a colored person for the labor or service of the latter for
a longer period than two months shall be binding on such colored
person, unless in writing, signed by the white person and the colored
person before a justice, notary, clerk of the court, or overseer
of the poor, or two or more credible witnesses. It shall be the
duty of the justice, notary, clerk, overseers, or witnesses to read
and explain the contract to the colored person.
If any person entice away from the service of another any laborer
employed by him under contract, he shall forfeit to the party aggrieved
from $10.00 to $20.00.
1866. Chapter 17. This act repeals Chapter One
Hundred and Seven of the Virginia Code relating to free Negroes.
1882. Chapter 245. The directors of the Central
Lunatic Asylum are authorized to erect suitable buildings for the
colored insane at Petersburg, on land donated by the City of Petersburg.
Chapter VI: Taxes, Civil Rights and Duties
of Negroes and Others
1699. Act IV. No person shall be capable to serve
as a juror in the general court except a freeholder, whose lands
and goods are visibly worth one hundred pounds sterling; in the
county court jurors must have estates to the value of at least fifty
1762. Chapter I. No woman, infant under twenty-one
years of age, recusant, convict, person convicted in Great Britain
or Ireland during the time for which he is transported, nor any
free Negro, mulatto, or Indian, although such persons are freeholders,
shall have a vote.
1848. Criminal Code. Chapter 120; Chapter XXI,
Section 5. No person shall be capable to be of a jury for the trial
of a felony unless he be a freeholder over the age of twenty-one
years and possessed of a visible estate of the value of $300.00
1867. Chapter 46. On January 9th the Assembly
ratifies the proposed 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the
United States state that all persons born or naturalized in the
United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens
of the United States and of the state wherein they reside; and no
state shall abridge the privileges of citizens of the United States,
nor deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due
process of law, not deny any persons the equal protection of the
1871. Chapter 57. All male citizens twenty-one
to sixty years of age, entitled to vote and hold office, shall be
liable to serve as jurors, except persons convicted of scandalous
offense, or those guilty of gross immorality. The judge shall prepare
a list of inhabitants as he shall think well qualified to serve,
being persons of sound judgment.
1874. Chapter I. The General Assembly recognizes
the 14th amendment to the constitution of the United States as part
of that instrument and desires in good faith to abide by its provisions
as expounded by the Supreme Court of the United States. That tribunal
recently held that it is only the privileges and immunities of the
citizens of the United States that are placed under the protection
of the Constitution and privileges of the citizens of the state
are not intended to have any additional protection.
The bill before Congress, known as the civil rights bill, is in
violation of this amendment. It is an infringement on the constitutional
powers of the state; it is sectional in its operation and injurious
alike to the white and colored population of the Southern States;
its enforced application in these states will prove destructive
of their systems of education, arrest the enlightenment of the colored
population (in whose improvement the people of Virginia feel a lively
interest), and produce continual irritation between the races.
1900. Chapter 226. All railroad companies running
by steam, within this state, are required to furnish separate coaches
for the transportation of white and colored passengers. There shall
be no difference in the quality, convenience and accommodations
in the cars. Failure of any railroad company to comply with this
act is a misdemeanor. Passengers refusing to occupy the car to which
they are assigned by the conductor may be put off the train. Failure
of the conductor to carry out the provisions of this act is a misdemeanor.
When any coach for either race is filled, the conductor may set
apart a portion of a car assigned to passengers of the other race.
This act does not apply to nurses, railroad employees, officers
in charge of prisoners, passengers in a caboose on freight train,
Pullman cars, express trains doing local business.
1902. Constitution of Virginia. Section 21. Poll
taxes for three years shall be personally paid at least six months
prior to the election.
1926. Chapter 569. It shall be the duty of any
person, firm or institution conducting any public hall, theatre,
motion picture show, or any place of public entertainment or assemblage
which is attended by both white and colored persons, to separate
the white race and the colored race, and to set apart and designate
in each pubic place of public entertainment or assemblage, certain
seats to be occupied by white persons and certain by colored persons.
Chapter VII: Criminal Law and the Negro
1699. Act VI. The penalty for the first offense
of hog stealing by a Negro or a slave is set at thirty lashes on
the bare back, well laid on; for the second offense, two hours in
the pillory with both ears nailed thereto, at the expiration of
the two hours the ears are to be cut off close by the nails.
1748. Chapter XXXVIII. Section 6. The trial of
a Negro shall be on confession or oath of one or more witnesses,
but if the court is of divided opinion, the Negro shall be acquitted.
1748. Chapter XXXVIII. Section 22. An accidental
homicide during correction of a slave still does not make one liable
for prosecution or punishment, unless the slave is killed willfully;
on a manslaughter verdict, there is no forfeiture or punishment.
1788. Chapter XXXVII. Several evil-disposed persons
have stolen the children of black free persons and have disposed
of them as slaves. It is enacted that whoever steals or sells a
free person for a slave, knowing the person to be free, shall suffer
death without benefit of clergy.
1808. Chapter 24. If any slave maliciously burn
or set fire to a stable, cornhouse, or other house, or aid any slave,
free Negro or mulatto to commit such an offense, he shall be guilty
of a felony and suffer death, if the amount of the burning be to
the value of $10.00.
1848. Chapter X. Section 29. Any person entitled
to the possession of a slave who shall permit such slave to go at
large, trade as a free man or hire himself out, shall be fined $20.00
to $50.00, and such slave may be sold for the use of the Commonwealth.
1848. Chapter X. Section 30. Permitting a slave
of unsound mind, aged or infirm to go at large without adequate
support shall be punished by a fine of $20.00 to $50.00.
1866. Chapter 17. All laws in respect to crimes
and punishment applicable to white persons, shall apply in like
manner to colored persons and Indians unless otherwise especially
All acts imposing on Negroes the penalty of stripes, where the
same is not imposed on whites, are repealed; also chapters respecting
offenses by Negroes.
1867. Chapter 62. At the extra session it is enacted
that hereafter colored persons shall be competent to testify in
this state as if white.
1928. Chapter 213. The lynching of any person
within the state by a mob is murder, and persons composing a mob
which commits an assault and/or battery upon any person without
authority of law shall be guilty of a felony.
Chapter VIII: The Development of Free Compulsory
Education for Negroes and Whites
1831. Chapter XXXIX. All meetings of free Negroes
or mulattoes at any school house, church, meeting house or other
place for teaching them reading or writing, either in the day or
the night shall be considered an unlawful assembly. Warrants shall
direct any sworn officer to enter and disperse such Negroes and
inflict corporal punishment on the offenders at the discretion of
the justice, not exceeding twenty lashes. Any white person assembling
to instruct free Negroes to read or write shall be fined not over
$50.00, also be imprisoned not exceeding two months.
It is further enacted that if any white person for pay shall assemble
with any slaves for the purpose of teaching them to read or write,
he shall for each offense be fined, at the discretion of the justice,
1867-1870. Constitution of Virginia. Article VIII,
Section 3. The General Assembly shall provide in its first session
under this constitution a uniform system of public free schools,
and for its gradual, equal, and full introduction in all counties
of the state by 1876, or as much earlier as practical.
1877. Chapter 62. The appropriation to Hampton
Normal and Agricultural Institute, Incorporated 1870, is made on
condition that there be departments for instruction in agriculture,
mechanic arts, military tactics. The governor is to appoint three
of the six curators from persons of African descent, citizens of
1902. Constitution of Virginia. Article IX. Section
138. The Assembly may provide for the compulsory education of children
between the ages of eight and twelve years, except such as are weak
in body or mind, or can read and write, or are attending private
schools, or are excused for cause by the district school trustees.
1902. Constitution of Virginia. Article IX. Section
140. White and colored children shall not be taught in the same
Chapter IX: War and the Negro
1723. Chapter II. Such free Negroes, mulattoes,
or Indians as are capable may be listed and employed as drummers
or trumpeters, upon invasion, insurrection, or rebellion; all such
shall be obliged to attend and march with the militia, and do the
duties of pioneers or such other servile labor as directed.
1782. Chapter VIII. An act for the recovery of
slaves, horses and other property lost during the Revolution declares
that any one having such property in his possession shall return
it to the owner, and if the owner is not known, advertise in the
Virginia Gazette. Wandering slaves may be committed to prison for
three months unless the owners sooner appear.
1861. Ordinance No. 84. In July it is ordained
that all able-bodied male free Negroes, between eighteen and fifty,
shall be enrolled. They shall be selected as laborers, having reference
to their condition and circumstances, and be entitled to such compensation,
rations, quarters, and medical attendance as may be allowed other
labor in the public service. Negroes who fail to obey when requisitioned
shall be subject to the penalties provided for persons drafted from
the militia who fail to obey.
1928. Chapter 148. Any person who actually accompanied
a Confederate soldier in service and remained faithful and loyal
as a body servant, or who served as a cook, hostler or teamster,
or who worked on Confederate breastworks, or who buried the Confederate
dead, etc., shall be entitled to receive an annual pension of $25.00.
Chapter X: Abolition and Emancipation
1776. Virginia Bill of Rights, passed June 12.
I. All men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain
inherent rights, namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with
the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and
obtaining happiness and safety.
1778. Chapter I. Hereafter no slave shall be imported
into the Commonwealth by sea or land.
1836. Resolution No. 1. This resolution, relative
to the interference of certain associations in the Northern States
with domestic slavery in the South, states that this Commonwealth
only has the right to control domestic slavery within its limits
and will maintain this right at all hazards and calls on co-states
to restrain and punish their citizens who form abolition societies.
Furthermore, Congress has no power to abolish slavery in the District
of Columbia or territories of the United States and any act having
for its object the abolition of slavery therein would afford just
cause of alarm to the slave-holding states and bring the Union into
1858. Chapter 10. This is an act to prevent and
to punish the unlawful bridging of the Ohio River in manifest defiance
of the authority of Virginia, which has repeatedly declined to authorize
the erection of such a bridge; the exclusive proprietary right of
this Commonwealth upon and in the said river and the soil under
its waters having ever been asserted and maintained by Virginia.
1860. Resolution No. 31. This paper is adopted
in response to the request of South Carolina and Mississippi for
a conference of Southern States: the General Assembly recognizes
an imperative necessity for decisive measures in our present relations
with non-slave-holding states, but does not yet distrust the capacity
of the Southern States by a wise and firm exercise of their reserved
power to protect the rights and liberties of the people, and to
preserve the Federal Union. We earnestly desire the concurrent action
of the Southern States, but submit to South Carolina and Mississippi
and all our sister states of the South that efficient co-operation
will be more safely obtained by such direct legislative action of
the several states, as may be necessary, than through the agency
of an assemblage which can exercise no legitimate power, except
to debate and advise.
1860. Chapter 425. This is an act to compensate
Andrew Hunter, of Charlestown, in the amount of $1,500.00 for his
legal services in prosecution against John Brown and others connected
with the recent outrage at Harpers Ferry.
1861. Resolution No.1 passed January 8. The government
of the Union has no power to declare war against any of the states,
and when any one of the states shall determine under existing circumstances
to withdraw from the Union, we are unalterably opposed to any attempt
on the part of the federal government to coerce the same into reunion
or re-submission and we will resist the same by all means in our
1861. Ordinance No. 1. The people of Virginia
do declare and ordain that the ratification of the constitution
of the United States is hereby repealed, and the union of Virginia
and the other states under the aforesaid Constitution is hereby
dissolved, to take affect when ratified by a majority of the votes
of the people on the fourth Thursday in May, next; done in convention
at Richmond, April 17, 1861.
1861. Ordinance No. 9. The governor of Virginia
is authorized to call volunteers into the service of the state to
repel invasion and protect the citizens of the state; passed April
1865. Chapter XX. The session of the Virginia
Assembly convening at Alexandria ratifies the thirteenth amendment
to the Constitution of the United States abolishing slavery.
1866. Resolution No. 1. Resolved by the General
Assembly of Virginia that the people of the Commonwealth cordially
approve the policy pursued by Andrew Johnson, President of the United
States, in the reorganization of the Union. We accept the result
of the late contest and do not desire to renew what has been so
conclusively determined. Involuntary service, except for crime,
is abolished and ought not to be re-established; the Negro race
among us should be treated with justice, humanity and good faith.
1866. Chapter 17. The following acts are repealed:
All acts relating to slaves and slavery, and free Negroes.