Virginia’s Act III: Baptism Does Not Exempt Slaves from Bondage

(1667)

In 1667 in Jamestown, Virginia, the House of Burgesses approved a statute, Act III: Baptism Does Not Exempt Slaves from Bondage, that answered the following query: Does the conferring of the Christian sacrament of baptism in any way change the legal status of a slave? The legislators ruled that baptism did not alter a slave’s legal status. Their decision, when added to certain previous rulings made concerning the colony’s enslaved blacks, revealed a distinct pattern of behavior. Virginia’s House of Burgesses slowly, over a period of years, crafted a legal system that identified enslaved blacks and their descendants as a permanent source of cheap labor. Through that process, British colonials sowed the seeds of institutionalized slavery based on race, a system that survived in the Chesapeake region for more than two centuries.

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James I (Library of Congress)

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