Introduction by Steven Mintz
|Digital History ID 452|
As early as the late 1630s, English colonists began to make a sharper distinction between the status of white servants and black slaves. In 1639, Maryland became the first colony to specifically state that baptism as a Christian did not make a slave a free person. Discrimination against black servants began to increase. In 1640, when two white indentured servants and a black servant named John Punch fled from Virginia to Maryland, all three received thirty lashes. The whites also had their terms of service extended by four years, but Punch, the black servant, was condemned to lifelong servitude. In 1669, Virginia became the first colony to declare that it was not a crime to kill an unruly slave in the ordinary course of punishment.
As the slave population grew in size, racial lines grew increasingly rigid. By the end of the 17th century, Virginia and Maryland had forbidden interracial marriages and sexual relations. Laws adopted in several colonies in the early 18th century confiscated slaves' property, forbid masters from freeing their slaves, permitted masters to mutilate and dismember disobedient slaves, and declared that slave status was inherited through the mother. The law now defined Africans as chattel property, under the complete legal control of their masters.