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“But the jury was following the law” part 1

“If any [Black] slave resists 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 makes murder a felony) would induce a man to destroy his own estate.” [Act VIII, Virginia 1669]

“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.” [Virginia, Act X]

“If any slave resist his master, or owner, or other person, by his or her order, correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction, it shall not be accounted a felony; but the master, owner, and every such other person so giving correction, shall be free and acquit of all punishment and accusation for the same, as if the accident had never happened.” [Act XXXIV Virginia, 1705].

A 1712 South Carolina law required “negroes or slaves” to carry passes, but also obligated every white person to apprehend and punish (beat, maim, assault or kill if necessary) slaves encountered without a pass: …no master, mistress, overseer, or other person whatsoever, that hath the care and charge of any negro or slave, shall give their negroes and other slaves leave, … without a ticket, or leave in writing, from his master or mistress, or some other person by his or her appointment, or some white person in the company of such slave, to give an account of his business, [negro or slave] shall be whipped; and every person who shall not (when in his power,) apprehend every negro or other slave which he shall see out of his master’s plantation, without leave as aforesaid, and after apprehended, shall, neglect to punish him by moderate whipping, shall forfeit twenty shillings, the one half to the poor, to be paid to the church wardens of the Parish… and the other half to him that will inform for the same, …And for the better security of all such persons that shall endeavor to take any runaway, or shall examine any slave for his ticket, passing to and from his master’s plantation, it is hereby declared lawful for any white person to beat, maim or assault, and if such negro or slave cannot otherwise be taken, to kill him, who shall refuse to show his ticket, or, by running away or resistance, shall endeavor to avoid being apprehended or taken.

Section XVII of the 1712 act provided: …if any negro or slave whatsoever, shall offer any violence to any christian or white person, by striking, or the like, such negro or other slave, for his or her first offence, … shall be severely whipped, … for the second offence… he shall be severely whipped, and his nose slit, or be burned in some part of his face with a hot iron, …and for the third offence, … death, or any other punishment… And in case any negro or slave shall so assault and beat any white person, by which the said white person is maimed and disabled, in such case, the slave shall be punished as in the third offence…”

The 1735 statute, for example, made it lawful to kill “on the spot” any slave that resisted any white person with a stick or weapon: III. And for the better security of all such persons who at any time shall endeavor to take any runaway slaves, or that shall examine any slave or slaves for his or their ticket when seen out of his or their master’s or mistress’s plantation, It is hereby declared lawful for any white person to beat, maim, or assault any slave who endeavors to avoid such white person by running away; and if any such slave shall resist with a stick or other instrument or weapon, then it shall and may be lawful to kill any slave or slaves so resisting.

A South Carolina Act (1740) additionally required that any slave resisting examination by striking a white person (without a weapon) may be lawfully killed on the spot without the need for any judicial determination: …any slave who shall be out of the house or plantation…or without some white person in company with such slave, [who] shall refuse to submit to or undergo the examination of any white person, it shall be lawful for any such white person to pursue, apprehend, and moderately correct such slave; and if any such slave shall assault and strike such white person, such slave may be lawfully killed.


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