Saturday, April 26, 2014

Progress: Virginia's 1782 Act Allowing Masters To Free Slaves

Up to this point, the law required legislative action for a master to free a slave.  From Hening, Laws of Virginia 11:39:


Let me emphasize that if a master ended up in serious debt, even decades later, Virginia courts would sometimes re-enslave these freed slaves to cover those debts -- rather like what happens today if you dispose of property shortly before filing for bankruptcy.

Progress, although not perfection.

UPDATE: And the 1783 act which dealt with a situation of great dishonesty.  It was possible to hire a free man as a substitute for militia service during the Revolution, and a few masters had misrepresented slaves provided as substitutes to be free men.  But after the war was over (and the misery and potential for loss of life), "the former owners have attempted again to force them to return to a state of servitude, contrary to the principles of justice, and to their own solemn promise."

From Hening's Laws of Virginia 11:308.

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