• Structure 17, Glassblowing and Island Drive

    Historic Jamestowne

    Part of Colonial National Historical Park Virginia

African Americans at Jamestown

The first documented "20 and Odd" Blacks that arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in August of 1619 are not known to have been immediately enslaved. As an institution, slavery did not exist in Virginia in 1619. Slavery as we know it today, evolved gradually, beginning with customs rather than laws. To further shed light on how this institution evolved legally, from indentured servitude to life long servitude, the following laws and/or facts are given as well as other sources on 17th century servitude among Blacks in Virginia.
1619 Arrival of "20 and Odd" Blacks in late August of 1619 aboard a Dutch man of war. These blacks were sold/traded into servitude for supplies.
1630's Indication by surviving wills, inventories, deeds and other documents that in some instances it was considered "customary practice to hold some Negroes in a form of life service." It should be noted that by examining these documents it was also found that some blacks were able to hold on to their status of being indentured servants, thus, eventually gaining their freedom.
1639 All persons except Negroes are to be with Arms and Ammunition.
1640 John Punch, a runaway indentured Servant, first documented slave for life.
1662 Slavery was recognized in the statutory law of the colony.

Legislation was passed defining the status of mulatto children. Children would be considered the same status as the mother. If the child was born to a slave, the child would be considered a slave.
1667 Baptism does not bring freedom. Until the General Assembly outlawed it, baptism could be the grounds for a black slave to obtain his/her freedom. It was considered for a period of time that it was not proper for a Christian to enslave a fellow Christian.
1670 Blacks or Indians could no longer own white indentured servants.
1680 An act was passed preventing insurrections among slaves.

Blacks could not congregate in large numbers for supposed funeral or feasts. Blacks must also obtain written authorization to leave a plantation at any given time. They could not remain at another plantation longer than 4 hours.
1691 First act prohibiting intermarriage.

No Negro or Mulatto may be set free by any person unless the pay for the transportation out of the colony within six months or forfeit ten pounds of sterling so that the church wardens might have the Negro transported.
1692 Negroes must give up ownership of horses, cattle or hogs.

Separate courts for the trial of slaves charged with a capital crime, thus depriving them of the right of a trial by jury.
1700's Slaves composed half of Virginia's unfree labor force.
1705 Slave laws were codified.


Billings, Warren M. Ed. The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century - A Documentary History of Virginia, 1606-1689. University of North Carolina Press, 1975

Breen, T.H., and Innes, S. "Myne Owne Ground" - Race and Freedom on Virginia's Eastern Shore, 1640-1676. New York: Oxford University Press: 1980

Craven, Wesley F. White, Red and Black: The Seventeenth Century Virginian, Charlottesville, 1961.

Hening, William W. Ed. The Statues at Large: Being a Collection of all Laws of Virginia, from the first session of the Legislature in the year 1619. 13 Volumes Richmond, New York and Philadelphia, 1809-1823.

Hughes, Sarah and Zeigler, J. Jamestown's Other People, Children's Program Teachers Manual, , Colonial National Historical Park, 1976.

McLLwaine, H.R. Minutes of the Council and general Court of Colonial Virginia, 1622-1632, 1670-1676, with notes and excerpts from the original Council and General Court records, Now Lost. Richmond, vVirginia1924.

Russell, John H. The Free Negro Property Owner in Virginia, 1619-1865. (Out of Print)

Vaughan, Alden T. "Blacks in Virginia: A Note on the First Decade" The William and Mary Quarterly, XXIX, July 1972.

Now available online from the National Park Service is Martha W. McCartney's A Study of Africans and African Americans on Jamestown Island and at Green Spring, 1619 - 1803.

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