BARBADOS

Barbados Slave Code (1661 – 1667)

In 1661, Barbados became the first English colony to pass a comprehensive slave code.  Below is the best version of it we have.  The problem is that the only versions of it that survive date to 1667, when it had already been amended twice: this version was transcribed and sent by members of the Council. The passage of the act was quite peculiar.

Introduction by Holly Brewer

The Governor was Humphrey Walrond, whom Charles II had appointed. He was a staunch royalist: after surrendering to Parliamentary troops in 1645, he had migrated to Barbados in 1647, where Governor Philip Bell appointed him to the Council, Barbados’ governing body.

In late 1649 and early 1650, Walrond helped to lead a royalist coup on the Island.  In 1651, after Cromwell sent troops to regain control of Barbados, he was one of only two leaders (Frances Willoughby was the other) to be banished.  During the 1650s Walrond spent much time among the Spanish: presumably he gave them valuable information about the English and the Island, since the King of Spain knighted him and ennobled him for his services in 1653.

In 1660, after the Restoration, new Governor Walrond called an assembly and asked them to ratify a slave code that he and his Council had already written; they refused. So he prorogued (dismissed) them and called another which he presented with orders to repeal all the laws passed during the 1650s during the “Interregnum” (by order of the king) and then to pass a slate of laws on topics ranging from the settling of estates to the rulings governing “Negroes” as well as a separate set of rules for “Servants.”  The new assembly passed all six.

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Further Reading
Citations
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Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire (October 5, 2022) . Retrieved from https://slaverylawpower.org/6248-2/.
"." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - October 5, 2022, https://slaverylawpower.org/6248-2/
Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire January 27, 2022 ., viewed October 5, 2022,<https://slaverylawpower.org/6248-2/>
Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - . [Internet]. [Accessed October 5, 2022]. Available from: https://slaverylawpower.org/6248-2/
"." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - Accessed October 5, 2022. https://slaverylawpower.org/6248-2/
"." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire [Online]. Available: https://slaverylawpower.org/6248-2/. [Accessed: October 5, 2022]

Timeline of

Barbados
Slavery

^
1627

Barbados Founded

Captain Henry Powell establishes a colony on Barbados, along with about 80 English colonists and some 40 African and Indian “slaves.” It is not clear that they actually were enslaved–they had apparently agreed to come for a term of years. But it indicates an intention to replicate Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch practices elsewhere. 

^
1636

Lifetime Servitude

In 1636, Governor Henry Hawley and the Barbados Council proclaim that all Africans and Indians who arrive in Barbados without labor contracts could be kept as servants for life. Meanwhile, most English laborers who arrive in the island come with contracts that specify only a few years of service.

^
1657

Richard Ligon

Richard Ligon publishes A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes, which contained one of the first detailed descriptions of a British sugar plantation.

^
1660

Royal African Company

The newly restored King Charles II, together with his brother James, charters the Royal Adventurers into Africa, England’s first state-sponsored slave trading company. 

^
1661

Barbados Slave Code

Barbados becomes the first English colony to pass a comprehensive slave code. 

^
1677

Butts v. Penny

 The Court of King’s Bench, the highest common law court in England, rules that “negroes” are infidels, that as infidels they could not become subjects and were therefore aliens, outside the protection of the law. They could as a consequence be considered property. They thereby set up powerful legal mechanisms for recovering enslaved “property” that applied across the empire, and legitimated racial slavery at the highest levels of English law. In Barbados this meant that credit could be more easily extended against enslaved property, which facilitated the slave trade.