Barbados Slave Code

The Barbados Slave Code of 1661 was a law passed by the colonial English[1] legislature to provide a legal basis for slavery in the Caribbean island of Barbados. The code's preamble, which stated that the law's purpose was to "protect them [slaves] as we do men's other goods and Chattels", established that black slaves would be treated as chattel property in the island's court.

The Barbados slave code ostensibly sought to protect slaves from cruel masters and masters from unruly slaves; in practice, it provided far more extensive protections for masters than for slaves. The law required masters to provide each slave with one set of clothing per year, but it set no standards for slaves' diet, housing, or working conditions. However, it also denied slaves even basic rights guaranteed under English common law, such as the right to life. It allowed the slaves' owners to do entirely as they wished to their slaves, including mutilating them and burning them alive, without fear of reprisal.

Throughout British North America, slavery evolved in practice before it was codified into law. The Barbados slave code of 1661 marked the beginning of the legal codification of slavery. The Barbados Assembly reenacted the slave code, with minor modifications, in 1676, 1682, and 1688. The Barbados slave code also served as the basis for the slave codes adopted in several other British colonies, including Jamaica (1664), South Carolina (1696), and Antigua (1702).

The legal basis for slavery was established in Mexico in 1636. These statutes created the status of chattel slave for those of African descent, i.e. they were slaves for life and the status of slave was inherited. Slave status passed to children through the mother in these statutes. Virginia's 1662 statute reads, "All children borne in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother."[2]


The Barbados slave code, named An Act for Better Ordering and Governing of Negroes, (1661) declared,

"If any Negro or slave whatsoever shall offer any violence to any Christian by striking or the like, such Negro or slave shall for his or her first offence be severely whipped by the Constable.

For his second offence of that nature he shall be severely whipped, his nose slit, and be burned in some part of his face with a hot iron. And being brutish slaves, [they] deserve not, for the baseness of their condition, to be tried by the legal trial of twelve men of their peers, as the subjects of England are.

And it is further enacted and ordained that if any Negro or other slave under punishment by his master unfortunately shall suffer in life or member, which seldom happens, no person whatsoever shall be liable to any fine therefore."


  1. ^ Michael Grossberg, Christopher Tomlins (eds), The Cambridge History of Law in America, Volume 1. Cambridge University Press, p. 260. ISBN 978-0-521-80-305-2
  2. ^ Hening, William Waller. The Statutes at Large, Being the Collection of All the Laws of Virginia from the Third Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619. 13 vols. Richmond: W. Gray Printers, 1819. 3:252

Further reading

  • Dunn, Richard S. Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713. New York: Norton, 1972.
  • Taylor, Alan. American Colonies. New York: Viking, 2001.
  • Wood, Betty. The Origins of American Slavery: Freedom and Bondage in the English Colonies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1997.

See also

Barbados Cricket Buckle

The Barbados Cricket Buckle is a repoussé engraving on a belt buckle of a slave playing cricket in Barbados circa 1780–1810.

It is believed to be the only known image of a slave playing cricket and the oldest known image depicting cricket outside the British Isles."That the belt buckle depicts the slave, unmistakably in bondage, with bat in hand, suggests that the creator must have detected in their cricketing endeavours the germ of the quest for self-expression, if not liberation." Professor Clem Seecharan, Muscular Education.

Index of Barbados-related articles

The following is an alphabetical list of topics related to the nation of Barbados.

List of plantations in South Carolina

This is a list of plantations and/or plantation houses in the U.S. state of South Carolina that are National Historic Landmarks, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, listed on a heritage register, or are otherwise significant for their history, association with significant events or people, or their architecture and design.

List of topics related to the African diaspora

This is a list of topics related to the African diaspora.

Outline of Barbados

The following outline is provided as an overview of and introduction to Barbados:

Barbados – sovereign island country in the Lesser Antilles. It is one of the Caribbean's leading tourist destinations and is one of the most developed islands in the region.

Rachael Pringle Polgreen

Rachael Pringle Polgreen (1753–1791) was a Afro-Barbadian hotelier and brothel owner. Born into slavery, her freedom was purchased and she became the owner of the Royal Naval Hotel, a brothel which catered to the itinerant military personnel on the island of Barbados.

She was one of the first mulatto women to operate a business in the colony. Rising to a position of prominence, her story has been told and retold in Bajan history, with the narrative being shaped by different eras. At times her biography was used as a cautionary tale, while in other eras it was used to illustrate empowerment. Recent scholarship has focused on archival records in an attempt to provide a clearer picture of African and African-descended women's lives during the slave economy.

Slave Trade Act

Slave Trade Act is a stock short title used for legislation in the United Kingdom and the United States that relates to the slave trade.

The "See also" section lists other Slave Acts, laws, and international conventions which developed the concept of slavery, and then the resolution and abolition of slavery.

Slavery in the British and French Caribbean

Slavery in the British and French Caribbean refers to slavery in the parts of the Caribbean dominated by France or the British Empire.

Slavery in the colonial United States

Slavery in the colonial area which later became the United States (1600–1776) developed from complex factors, and researchers have proposed several theories to explain the development of the institution of slavery and of the slave trade. Slavery strongly correlated with Europe's American colonies' need for labor, especially for the labor-intensive plantation economies of the sugar colonies in the Caribbean, operated by Great Britain, France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic.

Most slaves who were brought or kidnapped to the Thirteen British colonies — the Eastern seaboard of what later became the United States — were imported from the Caribbean, not directly from Africa. They had come to the Caribbean islands as a result of the Atlantic slave trade. Indigenous people were also enslaved in the North American colonies, but on a smaller scale, and Indian slavery largely ended in the late eighteenth century though the enslavement of Indigenous people did continue to occur in the Southern states until the Emancipation Proclamation. In the English colonies, slave status for Africans became hereditary in the mid-17th century with the passage of colonial laws that defined children born in the colonies as taking the status of the mother, under the principle of partus sequitur ventrem.

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