The Barbados Code

Barbados Act 1661

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.

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 he Governor 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 Walrond 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.2

1 Barbados Act 1661 [1667]

An Act for the Better Ordering and Governing of Negroes’, original version passed Barbados 1661 but amended repeatedly through 1667 and repeatedly over the next thirty years, always keeping the 1661 signature of Walrond at the end. This version incorporates the amendments through 1667. The full manuscripts where this law resides are in Barbados “Transcript Acts” pp. 311-323 (in Barbados National Archives).

These were transcribed in 1906 from manuscripts in the (then) public record office (now British National Archives). Interestingly they contain other laws than those in British National Archives, Kew, CO 30/2/16-26. This manuscript version of the laws is dated 1682, but has a separate section of all the laws as in force in 1667, of which this is one.

It states clearly: “A Book of the Acts Laws and Statutes of the said Island whoso were by Commissioners thereunto appointed Compiled and [ ] to bee published according to an Act in that case made and provided to bee the only Acts and Statutes thou made and  . . or collated or amended did or the government of this his Majesties his Royal Father or Grandfather of ever blessed Memory which were the only Acts as those ought to bee in force as by the said Commissioners  returned Copies dated this 18th day of July 1667 in page 53 more plainely  appeared,  as also the Acts Lawes and Statutes made sinse unto this present yeare 1682 but in any of them being expired, repealed and” redundant. 

Another version of the laws (from C0 30/3) repeats the requirement that the members of the council were supposed to collect the laws in 1667 in the form that they took as then (in 1667) in force.  CO 30/3, another version, specifies the names of those commissioners in 1667 who wrote down this version of the Barbados Act “for the better ordering and Governing of Negroes.”  “And it is hereby further enacted by the Authority afroresaid That Phillip Bell Esq [the former governor] Robert Hooper Esq Constant Silvester, Simon Lambert, John Jennings, and Richard Evans Esquires and Mr. Edward Bowden Secretary do with what convenient speed they can collect and compile all the Acts and statutes in force as aforesaid and them cause to be fairely and distinctly entred and inscribed by ye Secretary of this island into one Booke intirely by them selves without being mixed with any of the Laws acts and Statutes Made void as aforesaid.” 

The slave code of 1661 was amended, it is clear, twice between 1661 and 1667, on . . and . . . .  It is also presented out of the original order of passage. Part of this law was published in Stanley Engerman, Seymour Drescher, and Robert Paquette, eds., Slavery (Oxford University Press, 2001), 105-113: it is based on this 1682 manuscript copy. 

2 Six Passed Acts

Introduction and transcribing by Holly Brewer.  The acts were: “ An Act concerning the Conveyance of Estates, An act for the Encouraging the Importing of Gold and Silver into this Island, An Act for the better ordering and governing of Negroes, An act for the good governing of Servants and ordaining the rights between masters and servants. An act for settling the militia . .  . then one more.  CO 31/1/57-64.

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