Slavery existed among most modern societies, including African. Even before the European colonization and the onset of the slave trade, it was a part of the culture. Despite that, European slavery differed from the African variant, and the status of slaves was different as a result. In addition to that, the nature of slavery changed in the European colonies in time. Great examples of such changes are Acts of the Virginia Commonwealth and alterations found in them over the years.
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Differences Between European and African Slavery
Since the institute of slavery is an ancient one, it had to sustain changes along the way. There are two kinds of slavery system: patriarchal slavery and classical slavery, or as it is more often called chattel slavery. The first one was the most prevalent in Africa during the reviewed period. At the same time, the second was common in European countries and their colonies (Brahm, 2016). Patriarchal slavery differs from chattel in the definition of a slave. In the first system, a slave is still considered as a man, even if indentured and not-free. The second one classifies a slave as a property of a slave-owner, giving him or her the rights over a slave’s life. Colonies had the chattel slavery system with all that it entails (Brahm, 2016).
Changes in the Length of Service
The Act of 1642-1643 states that all servants brought in the colonies without indentures or covenants should serve a determined amount of years before being able to be freed (“Acts of the Virginia Commonwealth,” 1823a, p. 257). It differentiates such people in three age groups with varying terms: those under the age of twelve should serve seven years, those between the age of twelve and twenty should serve six years, and those above twenty – for five years.
By the time of the Act of 1662, slavery had already become hereditary and life-long (“Acts of the Virginia Commonwealth,” 1823b, p. 170). Moreover, in the Act of 1705 slaves are finally defined as real estate and are inherited by the heirs of previous slave-owner (“Acts of the Virginia Commonwealth,” 1823b, p. 333). Those acts show that the terms of service for slaves turned into life-long enslavement over time.
Status of Children Born to Slaves by White Men
The act of 1662 clears the controversy of whether the children born between slaves and white men are free or enslaved (“Acts of the Virginia Commonwealth,” 1823b, p. 170). It declares that the condition of a child should be decided on the condition of their mother. If she was a slave, then the child was enslaved as well, and if mother was a free woman, then the child was free as well. In addition to that, this act toughened punishment for “fornication” with slaves, doubling fines established by the previous act (“Acts of the Virginia Commonwealth,” 1823b, p. 170). This act shows that there is racial differentiation of slaves, as well as their children.
Similarities Between the Status of Property and Slaves
Beyond the fact that slaves could be sold and bought at will, the act of 1705 has established a slave’s status as that of real estate (“Acts of the Virginia Commonwealth,” 1823b, p. 333). That included the following similarities: slaves could be inherited; they should be inventoried and checked, as well as any children slaves have; slaves could be recovered through lawsuits (“Acts of the Virginia Commonwealth,” 1823b, p. 333). In addition to that, in the case of death of the previous owner and no apparent heirs, they should be escheated (“Acts of the Virginia Commonwealth,” 1823b, p. 333). Those facts establish that by the time of the act of the 1705 slaves became no more than property and were treated as such.
In the end, those acts, along with changes between them, show how slavery became institutionalized in the colonies. Turning from the indentured service into life-long enslavement based on the race and religion, it stayed in place even after the colonies became independent.
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Acts of the Virginia Commonwealth. (1823a). In W. W. Henning, The statutes at large; being a collection of all the laws of Virginia, from the first session of the legislature in the year 1619 (Vols. 1-2) (p. 257). New York, NY: R & W & G Bartow. Web.
Acts of the Virginia Commonwealth. (1823b). In W. W. Henning, The statutes at large; being a collection of all the laws of Virginia, from the first session of the legislature in the year 1619 (Vols. 1-2) (pp. 170, 333). New York, NY: R & W & G Bartow. Web.
Brahm, F. (2016). Slavery hinterland: Transatlantic slavery and continental Europe, 1680-1850. E. Rosenhaft (Ed.). Woodbridge, United Kingdom: The Boydell Press.