Barbados Slave Code

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The Barbados Slave Code of 1661 was a law passed by the colonial English [1] legislature to provide a legal basis 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 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.

The Barbados Assembly reenacted the slave code, with minor modifications, in 1676, 1682, and 1688.

Wider influence

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. According to historian Russell Menard, "Since Barbados was the first English colony to write a comprehensive slave code, its code was especially influential." [2]

The Barbados slave code served as the basis for the slave codes adopted in several other British colonies, including Jamaica (1664), South Carolina (1696), and Antigua (1702). In other colonies where the codes are not an exact copy, such as Virginia and Maryland, the influence of the Barbadian codes can be traced throughout various provisions. [2] [3]

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." [4]


The Barbados slave code, named An Act for Better Ordering and Governing of Negroes, (1661) was promoted on the island, ostensibly, to standardize procedures for managing the island's increasing slave population, which had tripled since 1640.

"If any Negro or slave whatsoever shall offer any violence to any Christian by striking or any other form of violence, such Negro or slave shall for his or her first offence be severely whipped by the Constable.

For his second offence of that nature he shall be severely whipped, his nose slit, and be burned in some part of his face with a hot iron. And being brutish slaves, [they] deserve not, for the baseness of their condition, to be tried by the legal trial of twelve men of their peers, as the subjects of England are.

And it is further enacted and ordained that if any Negro or other slave under punishment by his master unfortunately shall suffer in life or member, which seldom happens, no person whatsoever shall be liable to any fine therefore."


  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. ^ a b Sweet Negotiations: Sugar, Slavery, and Plantation Agriculture in Early Barbados, Chapter 6 The Expansion of Barbados, p. 112
  3. ^ Atlantic Virginia: Intercolonial Relations in the Seventeenth Century
  4. ^ 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.
  • Andrew Curran, The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

See also