African Americans at Jamestown
The first documented "20 and Odd" Blacks that arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in August of 1619 are not known to have been immediately enslaved. As an institution, slavery did not exist in Virginia in 1619. Slavery as we know it today, evolved gradually, beginning with customs rather than laws. To further shed light on how this institution evolved legally, from indentured servitude to life long servitude, the following laws and/or facts are given as well as other sources on 17th century servitude among Blacks in Virginia.
1619 -- Arrival of "20 and Odd" Blacks in late August of 1619 aboard a Dutch man of war. These blacks were sold/traded into servitude for supplies.
1630's -- Indication by surviving wills, inventories, deeds and other documents that in some instances it was considered "customary practice to hold some Negroes in a form of life service." It should be noted that by examining these documents it was also found that some blacks were able to hold on to their status of being indentured servants, thus, eventually gaining their freedom.
1639 -- All persons except Negroes are to be with Arms and Ammunition.
1640 -- John Punch, a runaway indentured Servant, first documented slave for life.
1662 -- Slavery was recognized in the statutory law of the colony.
Legislation was passed defining the status of mulatto children. Children would be considered the same status as the mother. If the child was born to a slave, the child would be considered a slave.
1667 -- Baptism does not bring freedom. Until the General Assembly outlawed it, baptism could be the grounds for a black slave to obtain his/her freedom. It was considered for a period of time that it was not proper for a Christian to enslave a fellow Christian.
1670 -- Blacks or Indians could no longer own white indentured servants.
1680 -- An act was passed preventing insurrections among slaves.
Blacks could not congregate in large numbers for supposed funeral or feasts. Blacks must also obtain written authorization to leave a plantation at any given time. They could not remain at another plantation longer than 4 hours.
1691 -- First act prohibiting intermarriage.
No Negro or Mulatto may be set free by any person unless the pay for the transportation out of the colony within six months or forfeit ten pounds of sterling so that the church wardens might have the Negro transported.
1692 -- Negroes must give up ownership of horses, cattle or hogs.
Separate courts for the trial of slaves charged with a capital crime, thus depriving them of the right of a trial by jury.
1700's -- Slaves composed half of Virginia's unfree labor force.
1705 -- Slave laws were codified.
[source: National Park Service: African Americans at Jamestown]