The Barbados Slave Act of 1661

Editor’s Note: Cuckold Point? I’ve read elsewhere that disobedient slaves were subjected to something called the “cucking stool.”

The Barbados Slave Act of 1661 swept through the Greater Caribbean and became the model slave code for South Carolina and eventually the other Southern colonies:

“Colonists in Barbados responded to the growing number of enslaved Africans by drafting a comprehensive slave act in 1661. Early colonists had created a number of laws dealing with indentured servants, but the slave act represented a new and harsher system of control, one for which no English precedents existed. The preamble manifested the prevailing attitudes toward Africans, labeling them “an heathenish, brutish and uncertaine, dangerous kinde of people,” before moving on to specific regulations. By law, masters had complete control over the lives of their slaves. They could punish slaves as they saw fit; there was no consequence for killing slaves while punishing them, and only a fine for outright murder. Slaves who physically assaulted any “Christian” faced a series of draconian penalties, ranging from branding to having their noses slit, and ultimately, to death. Planters did not extend the English tradition of trial by jury to the slaves. Instead, a committee composed of two justices of the peace and three freeholders passed judgment. Rebels and suspected rebels were tried by court-martial.

The 1661 Barbados law served as the model, directly or indirectly, for slave laws in other colonies throughout the region. Colonists in Jamaica copied it extensively in 1661 but added new language, including clauses concerning runaways and slave provision grounds, when they revised the law twenty years later. The 1684 Jamaican law, in turn, provided the model for colonists in South Carolina who adopted it almost word for word when they passed a slave law in 1691. Colonists in Antigua drew on the Barbados and Jamaica laws when they drafted their slave act in 1697. …”

Full stop.

A few points need to be made here:

1.) First, it is beyond clear that the Greater Caribbean wasn’t based on Lockean liberalism. In Barbados, a slave could legally be murdered by his master, so there unquestionably wasn’t any universal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness there.

2.) Second, it hard to imagine a society less based on the liberal tradition as defined by Jeffrey Tucker and than the Greater Caribbean. It was capitalist without being liberal.

3.) Third, there was a tradition of “liberty” in the Greater Caribbean. It wasn’t abstract or universalist though. It was the idea that English liberty followed English subjects overseas. This is why the English could boast about “liberty” while simultaneously creating slave states.

Specifically, I want to learn more about “liberty” as it was understood in Britain, the West Indies and the Southern colonies and it how it related to slavery. That’s where my research is going.

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  1. First, it is beyond clear that the Greater Caribbean wasn’t based on Lockean liberalism.

    And therefore what?

  2. Some interesting materials that are somewhat-related to this subject:

    1 – “Making Slavery English: Comprehensive Slave Codes in the Greater Caribbean During the Seventeenth Century”

    This is a thirty-four page scholarly paper that, as far as I can tell, from some Googling, was presented in September 2011 at the Yale University British Historical Studies Colloquium. It examines the development of British slave codes from the Barbados code of 1661 to the revised South Carolina code of 1696. The author is one Edward Bartlett Rugemer, a Baltimore man who joined the Yale faculty in 2007.

    A few interesting points:

    — Rugemer points out that South Carolina’s first slave code, of 1691, was based on Jamaica’s 1684 code, which is to say, not directly on the 1661 Barbados code. The said 1684 code, of Jamaica, was a revision of Jamaica’s first slave code, 1664, which had been, essentially, a duplicate of the Barbados code.

    — The final two paragraphs of the paper proper (before a brief appendix) begin and end with the two following sentences:

    “Over the course of thirty five years [1661-1696], the Assemblies of Barbados, Jamaica, and South Carolina forged the political foundation for slavery in the British Empire.”

    “Through a decades-long struggle fraught with blood, terror, sweat, and considerable investment, these English colonial Assemblies used the power of the law to forge an English political economy of slavery that would last for two hundred years.”

    2 — “The British Empire – Jamaica”

    This is an interesting page at a website by a man who, in presenting himself, writes as follows: “… I was a teacher for many years. I am currently based in Plymouth, UK. … I have also taught in France, the Middle East and Japan.”

    I found particularly interesting the page’s second section, which is headed “The Western Design.” That was the name for the undertaking by which Admiral William Penn and Commander Robert Venables–if my sense of the history is correct–advanced Britain’s Caribbean position from the region’s eastern islands to the heart of the Caribbean Sea itself. What is interestingly explained here is that the Western Design–of which the capture, by those two men, of Jamaica was a not-quite-planned part–was, conceived, by Oliver Cromwell, as, in part, a means of attacking Catholic Spain indirectly. The author writes as follows:

    “Oliver Cromwell agreed to export his Protestant Revolution outside of England’s borders in the years following Parliament’s victory in the Civil War. His ‘Western Design’ was supposed to avoid a direct war in Europe itself but instead to attack and seize the economically wealthy assets of England’s Catholic rivals. Cromwell was partly convinced by an ex-Dominican monk turned Protestant by the name of Thomas Gage who had, unusually for an Englishman, spent time in the Spanish West Indies and the Spanish Main. Thomas Gage convinced Oliver Cromwell that the islands were teeming with wealth and were sparsely defended. The growing success of England’s own sugar colonies in islands like Barbados, Nevis and St. Christopher further encouraged Cromwell and his advisors. The fact that many of the English colonists in the Caribbean had declared allegiance to the Crown gave an additional motivation to send Parliamentarian forces to the region to assert control and remind them who was now in power.

    “This Western Design was actually the first military investment into Trans-Oceanic Empire building by the English. Hitherto, all colonisation had been undertaken with a view to establishing new colonies in virgin territories by settlers inspired by profit or religion. Oliver Cromwell gave voice to the idea of seizing Catholic colonies and converting them into Protestant ones by force if necessary. This was a step change from merely raiding and privateering in and around the Spanish settlements.”

    3 — The scholarly paper, “Making Slavery English,” which I presented as item 1, above, includes, on its pages 20 and 21, the following:

    “A sizable Quaker community had developed in Barbados and at some point in the 1670s the Quakers began inviting black people to their meetings. The Assembly did not approve and passed a law to ban the practice, to which the Quakers protested with a petition to the Board of Trade. While the Board did not take the Quakers seriously, in 1680 the Bishop of London ordered that efforts be taken among Church leaders in Barbados to Christianize Africans. Absentee Barbadians in London attended a meeting with the Board of Trade to nip this idea in the bud.”

    In mentioning that, the author is concerned to show that the instructing of slaves in Christianity could complicate things because the Barbados slave act had used the term “Christians” when it meant whites. What struck me as interesting about it was that the Quakers were there, undermining slavery, as early as the 1670s–before the founding of Pennsylvania. By that time, the younger William Penn, who would eventually found Pennsylvania, was a Quaker himself; thus a group of which he was a member was already complicating Britain’s Caribbean venture, which his father had exerted himself to advance.

    4 — Table of Contents: Laws of Barbados Collected in One Volume (1699);idno=A30866.0001.001

    If you’ll use your browser to “find” the word “Negro” or “Negroes” at this webpage, you’ll come across many interesting things. The first is the 1661 slave act itself, whose title is “An Act for the Better Ordering and Governing of Negroes.” Additional interesting items are the following:

    “An ACT declaring the Negro Slaves of this Island to be Real Estate.” (On page 22 of the scholarly paper I linked above, it’s explained that “[t]his meant that heirs and widows could not lose their slaves to the creditors of a deceased slaveholder.”)

    “An ACT to prevent People called Quakers, from bringing Negroes to their Meeting.”

    “An ACT to prohibit and hinder the Inhabitants of this Island, to imploy their Negroes and other Slaves in Buying and Sell?ing.” (Not sure what the purpose of this was, but it might be mentioned in the scholarly paper I linked above.)

    “An ACT for incouragement of all Negroes and Slaves, that shall discover any Conspiracy.” (I gather that “discover” means “report.” In other words, the acts seems to have been providing blacks inducements to inform on other blacks, who might be conspiring to rebel.)

    5 — Edward Bartlett Rugemer, author of the scholarly paper I linked above, has written a book with the following interesting title: “The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War.” At is a review of it.

  3. Simple fact, English Liberty, English Culture, etc, was for Englishmen. They didn’t have universalism. The English nation didn’t apply to non Englishmen. America used to be the same. Slaves were not Englishmen, nor Americans. The rights, privileges and common laws of England and America didn’t apply to them, period. That’s why a separate legal code existed for negroes, apart from common law. Similarly, we have laws dealing with foreign residents. Slaves were foreign residents in a time when nation meant blood, race and kinship, not geography, or a piece of paper.

    • And now we have strong empirical evidence that extending those rights beyond one’s in-group is rather extravagantly suicidal.

    • Many of those Barbados slaves were WHITE Convict slaves as well, Barbados was an English prison colony where they sent Celts who rebelled. Today their descendants still live there, they are called Redlegs. The Negro signer Rhianna’s grandmother was a Redleg

    • Unfortunately the United States had TWO levels of Citizenship STATE and FEDERAL. State Citizenship was established in 1776, Federal was established in 1789. State Citizenship was supreme and each state set their own qualifications for citizenship and voting. Freed Slaves were citizens in NINE of the Thirteen States. The Republic of Vermont gave Negroes citizenship in 1777. In 1796, Freed Negroes were citizens in eight of the 13, Delaware revoking it in 1792 Vermont Kentucky and Tennessee. As all of the New States came after the US Constitution and the Immigration Act of 1790, all of these were Whites Only from Day one. The only new state that gave Negroes citizenship was Maine 1820 and that was grandfathered in as Maine was established as part of Massachusetts in 1776. Rhode Island had allowed Negroes to vote and be citizens, they legalized it again under the new Rhode Island Constitution 1842.

      Kentucky specified Whites-only citizenship in 1799, Maryland in 1809, Connecticut 1818 New Jersey 1807 and 1820, It took until 1835 for North Carolina and Tennessee to officially designate Negroes as noncitizens. Pennsylvania was the last to do so in 1838.

      Why the US Constitution allowed the states to keep their own citizenship requirements is beyond me, by the time Dred Scott was decided in 1857, Negroes were considered full citizens in all New England states save Connecticut. The problem with Dred Scott was that in 1857 as the US Supreme Court had NO ENFORCEMENT POWER, Taney’s decision was as worthless as the paper it was written on.

      The Confederacy required UNIFORM CITIZENSHIP in the Confederate Constitution. No state could confer citizenship upon anyone. You were a citizen of the Confederacy First and your State Second

  4. The more things change the more they stay the same…

    Then was the Scold herself,
    In a wheelbarrow brought,
    Stripped naked to the smock,
    As in that case she ought:
    Neats tongues about her neck
    Were hung in open show;
    And thus unto the cucking stool
    This famous scold did go.

    • “Now, if one cucking-stool was for each scold, Some towns, I fear, would not their numbers hold.”

      Feminazi/scold/libtard. Different names for the same mental condition.

  5. Menacing and breeding natural farm equipment from the get go, now obsolete but still breeding and menacing.

  6. If history is any guide as to were things are heading of disparity of societies, best college university will not touch it with 1000 foot pole.

  7. Noble sounding concepts such as liberty, freedom and equality can only apply to respected White male citizens. But they become a bad joke if extended to females, slaves, convicts, drunkards and dark-skinned heathen savages.

  8. I highly recommend Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World.

  9. Brothers this story here should boil EVERYONE’s blood. Think about this when we talk about the Barbados slave revolt. Many of those slaves revolting were our blood brothers and sisters.

    The women and female children, mostly nuns, the wives and daughters of soldiers who had fought against Cromwell and members of the Catholic gentry, were stripped and publically checked for virginity. Those deemed suitable for breeding were sold to studs or brothels. The men meanwhile were a source of labour – plantation owners bought them up, branded them with their initials and set them to work in the fields. Historians reckon as many as 50,000 Irish were sent to Barbados alone.

    Oliver Cromwell thought forcibly breeding Irish girls to Black men and Irish men to Black women would produce a more intelligent Negro. Oddly enough Barbados has one of the highest rates of Education for Negroes on the planet

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