Virginia Slave Code

(1860)

Virginia’s legal defense of slave ownership began in 1662 and ended in 1865, so Virginia statutes concerning slaves reflected two centuries of lawmaking. In the nineteenth century, these statutes were incorporated into the much broader Code of Virginia. Thus, to refer to a single “slave code” is a bit of a misnomer, for the Virginia Slave Code consisted in fact of provisions that were made part of the 1860 version of the Code of Virginia, which was in turn the “second edition” of the 1849 revised code. The fact that none of the many slave revolts over the centuries ever fully succeeded testifies to the lawmakers’ role in perpetuating the “peculiar institution.” As in other slaveholding societies, white Virginians were continually alert to any signs of slave rebelliousness, and they modified their laws accordingly.

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Illustration of African Americans escaping from slavery (Library of Congress)

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