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Barbados Slave Code

The Barbados Slave Code of 1661 was a law passed by the colonial English[1] legislature to provide a legal base for slavery in the Caribbean island of Barbados. The code's preamble, which stated that the law's purpose was to "protect them [slaves] as we do men's other goods and Chattels," established that black slaves would be treated as chattel property in the island's court.

The Barbados slave code ostensibly sought to protect slaves from cruel masters and masters from unruly slaves; in practice, it provided far more extensive protections for masters than for slaves. The law required masters to provide each slave with one set of clothing per year, but it set no standards for slaves' diet, housing, or working conditions. However, it also denied slaves even basic rights guaranteed under English common law, such as the right to life. It allowed the slaves' owners to do entirely as they wished to their slaves, including mutilating them and burning them alive, without fear of reprisal.

Throughout British North America, slavery evolved in practice before it was codified into law. The Barbados slave code of 1661 marked the beginning of the legal codification of slavery. The Barbados Assembly reenacted the slave code, with minor modifications, in 1676, 1682, and 1688. The Barbados slave code also served as the basis for the slave codes adopted in several other British colonies, including Jamaica (1664), South Carolina (1696), and Antigua (1702).

The legal basis for slavery was established in Mexico in 1636. These statutes created the status of chattel slave for those of African descent, i.e. they were slaves for life and the status of slave was inherited. Slave status passed to children through the mother in these statutes. Virginia's 1662 statute reads, "All children borne in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother."[2]


  1. ^ Michael Grossberg, Christopher Tomlins (eds), The Cambridge History of Law in America, Volume 1. Cambridge University Press, p. 260. ISBN 978-0-521-80-305-2
  2. ^ Hening, William Waller. The Statutes at Large, Being the Collection of All the Laws of Virginia from the Third Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619. 13 vols. Richmond: W. Gray Printers, 1819. 3:252

Further reading

  • Dunn, Richard S. Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713. New York: Norton, 1972.
  • Taylor, Alan. American Colonies. New York: Viking, 2001.
  • Wood, Betty. The Origins of American Slavery: Freedom and Bondage in the English Colonies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1997.

See also

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