- An Act for the Trial of Negroes, 1700, 1705
- Section I Establishes framework for trial of Negroes for high crimes
- Section II Authorizes judges to try Negroes for high crimes and pass judgment
- Section III Mandates High Sheriffs to execute sentences or be fined
- Section IV Makes rape, murder, buggery and burglary by Negroes capital offences
- Section IVa Sets punishments of whippings and brandings for attempted crimes by Negroes
- Section V Prohibits Negroes from carrying weapons
- Section VI Prohibits Negroes from gathering in groups larger than four persons
- An Act for the Better Regulating of Negroes in This Province
- Section I Provides for compensation to owners of executed slaves
- Section II Sets additional duty on imported Negroes charged with crimes
- Section IIIa Preamble to Section III describing free Negroes as a social burden
- Section III Owners wishing to manumit slaves must pay a £30 surety
- Section IV Free Negroes without jobs may be sold into service for terms of years
- Section IVa Children of free Negroes may be sold into servitude
- Section V Free Negroes will be fined for harboring, helping or dealing with slaves
- Section VI Free Negroes unable to pay fines for helping slaves will be sold into servitude
- Section VII Sets fine of £100 for marrying Negroes with white persons
- Section VIII Sets fines and potential servitude for any whites cohabitating with Negroes
- Section VIIIa Free Negroes cohabitating with whites will be sold into slavery for life
- Section IX Prohibits Negroes from drinking alcohol and sets a 9 PM curfew
- Section X Prohibits Negroes from being more than ten miles from their master's home
- Section XI Prohibits slaveholders from allowing slaves to go out seeking work on their own
- Section XII Sets a fine of 30 shillings per day for anyone harboring escaped Negroes
- Section XIII Revenue from fines from this Act go toward restitution to owners of executed Negroes
As the numbers of enslaved Africans imported into Pennsylvania increased in the first few decades of the 18th century, so did the general unease of the white freemen of the province. Those who considered themselves the yeomen, merchants and artisans, appended their signatures with "esquire" and lived in well appointed brick homes, frequently shared the streets and market-places with dark-skinned people who spoke broken English or among themselves in African languages, failed to act deferentially toward whites, and displayed their African origins with prominent body modifications and markings.
Over the years, more and more Blacks were escaping enslavement to gain the coveted status of being free, living and working for themselves, building community, and with it, customs, gatherings and celebrations. This increased freedom of movement and activities led to complaints, which led to action by provincial lawmakers to "regulate" those whose customs, gatherings and celebrations clashed with the social order to which whites were accustomed. These were the first "Black Codes" in Pennsylvania.
As early as 1700, and then again in 1725 and 1726, the Provincial Assembly began writing statutes, first passing "An Act for the Trial of Negroes" in 1700, and expanding on that with "An Act for the Better Regulating of Negroes in This Province" in 1725 and 1726. The earlier act was passed November 27, 1700 but was repealed by the Queen in Council, February 7, 1705-6. After legal wrangling between royal lawyers and William Penn over some of the language and punishments, a revised act was passed January 12, 1705-6 and allowed to become law. Both sets of statutes are presented below. The 1725-6 laws began by addressing the practice by slaveholders of removing to another province any enslaved person that was facing the death penalty for a crime, thereby preserving their "property" but also subverting justice. Following that, however, the laws further restricted the movement, social arrangements, habitations, marriages, gatherings, carrying of weapons, consumption of alcohol, and more, of Blacks, all in the name of protecting them from what was perceived as a natural proclivity to break the law.
The full text of the statutes are presented below, with commentary.
An Act for the Trial of Negroes.
Whereas some difficulties have arisen within this province about the manner of trial and punishment of negroes committing murder, manslaughter, buggery, burglary, rapes, attempts of rapes and other high and heinous enormities and capital offenses; for remedy thereof, and for the speedy trial and condign punishment of such negro or negroes offending as aforesaid:
[ Section I. ] Be it enacted by John Evans, Esquire, by the Queen's royal approbation Lieutenant-Governor under William Penn, Esquire, absolute Proprietary and Governor-in-Chief of the Province of Pennsylvania and Territories, by and with the advice and consent of the freemen of the said Province in General Assembly met, and by the authority of the same, That it shall and may be lawful for two justices of the peace of this province, who shall be particularly commissionated by the governor for that service, within the respective counties thereof, and six of the most substantial freeholders of the neighborhood, to hear, examine, try and determine all such offenses committed by any negro or negroes within this province; which said freeholders shall be, by warrant under the hands and seals of the
respective justices commissionated as aforesaid, directed to the next constable, summoned to appear at such time and place as the said justices shall therein appoint: which freeholders the said justices shall solemnly attest, well and truly to give their assistance and judgment upon the trial of such negro or negroes; who shall hold a court for the hearing, trying, judging, determining and convicting of such negro or negroes as shall be before them charged or accused of committing any murder, manslaughter, buggery, burglary, rapes, attempts of rapes, or any other high or heinous offense committed, acted or done in any of the respective counties within this province as aforesaid.
[ Section II. ] And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That upon the holding of such court by the said justices and freeholders as aforesaid, it shall and may be lawful for the said justices and freeholders to examine, try, hear, judge, determine, convict, acquit or condemn, according to evidence and full proof, any negro or negroes, for any the crimes or offenses aforesaid, or any other high or capital offense; and, upon due proof and conviction, to pronounce such judgment or sentence in the premises as is agreeable to law and the nature of the offense; or otherwise to acquit, free and discharge such negro or negroes, in case the evidence shall not be sufficient for a conviction therein.
[ Section III. ] And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That where such negro or negroes shall be convict, an judgment or sentence shall be pronounced by the respective justices and freeholders as aforesaid, and a warrant by them signed and sealed, to be directed to the high-sheriff of the county where the fact was committed or tried, for the execution of such negro or negroes, the same shall be duly executed, or caused to be duly executed by the said sheriff, on pain of being disabled to act any longer in that post or office.
And if any of the said justices or freeholders neglect or delay to do their duty therein, they shall be liable to be fined by the governor and council, in any sum not exceeding five pounds; to be levied by distress and sale of the goods and chattels of such justices or freeholders so refusing as aforesaid.
[ Section IV. ] And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any negro or negroes within this province shall commit a rape or ravishment upon any white woman or maid,or shall commit murder, buggery or burglary, they shall be tried as aforesaid, and shall be punished by death.
And for an attempt of rape or ravishment on any white woman or maid, and for robbing, stealing, or fraudulently taking and carrying away any goods living or dead, above the value of five pounds, every negro, upon conviction of any of the said crimes, shall be whipped with thirty-nine lashes, and branded on the forehead with the letter R or T, and exported out of this province by the master or owner within six months after conviction, never to return into the same, upon pain of death; and shall be kept in prison till exportation, at their master's or owner's or their own charge.
And for robbing or stealing any goods as aforesaid, under the value of five pounds, every negro, upon conviction thereof, shall be whipped at the discretion of the justices with any number of lashes not exceeding thirty-nine; and the master or owner of such negro shall make satisfaction to the party wronged for the value, and pay all costs; to be levied by distress and sale of the said master's or owner's goods, if he or they refuse or delay to answer it otherwise.
[ Section V. ] And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any negro shall presume to carry any guns, sword, pistol, fowling piece, clubs or other arms or weapons whatsoever without his master's special license for the same, and be convicted thereof before a magistrate, he shall be whipped with twenty-one lashes on his bare back.
[ Section VI. ] And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That for the preventing negroes meeting and accompanying together upon the First-days of the week, or any other day or time, in great companies or numbers; that [ sic] if any person or persons give notice thereof (and to whom they respectively belong) to any justice of the peace within this province, the same being above the number of four in company and upon no lawful business of their master's or owner's, such negroes so offending shall be publicly whipped at the discretion of one justice of the peace, not exceeding thirty-nine lashes.
Passed January 12, 1705-6. Allowed to become a law by lapse of time in accordance with the proprietary charter, having been considered by the Queen in Council, October 24, 1709, and not acted upon.
Repealed by an Act of Assembly passed March 1 , 1780.
An Act for the Better Regulating of Negroes in This Province
Whereas it too often happens that negroes commit felonies and other heinous crimes which by the laws of this province are punishable by death, but the loss in such case falling wholly
on the owner is so great a hardship that sometimes may induce him to conceal such crimes or to convey his negro to some other place and so suffer him to escape justice, to the ill example of others to commit the like offenses:
For remedy whereof:
[ Section I. ] Be it enacted by Sir William Keith, Baronet, Governor of the Province of Pennsylvania, &c., by and with the advice and consent of the freemen of the said Province in General Assembly met, and by the authority of the same, That if any negro owned by any of the inhabitants of this province shall hereafter be convicted of any capital crime for which he or she shall suffer death, the justices with the freeholders before whom he or she shall be convicted shall immediately upon such conviction value such negro, which value by them set shall be allowed and paid to the owner out of the duties, fines and penalties arising from this and one other act laying a duty on negroes imported into this province and no otherways, and the provincial treasurer is hereby empowered and required to pay the same by order under the said justices' hands, which said order they are hereby required to make, seal and deliver to the owner of any negro executed as abovesaid.
[ Section II. ] And be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the twenty-fourth day of June, one thousand seven hundred and twenty-six, for every negro imported or brought into this province from the West Indies or any other place who shall or may have been transported or sent away for being principal or accessary to any felony or grand or petty larceny or other misdemeanors there shall be paid by the owner, importer or possessor the sum of five pounds over and above the five pounds duty laid by an act of assembly of this province passed this sessions, which said duty shall be paid to the officer appointed to collect and receive the said duty imposed by the said-recited act. And all masters of vessels or others bringing into this province any such negroes shall within the space of twenty-four hours make entry, and upon oath or affirmation give a true account to the said collector of the number of negroes by him or them imported or brought in and to whom they respectively belong, whereupon the said officer shall forthwith give notice thereof to any one or more of the justices of the peace for the city or county where such negroes are or shall be imported, which justice or justices are hereby empowered and required immediately by warrant or otherwise to call before him or them the said master, owner or other person or persons importing such negroes as aforesaid, and to examine him or them upon oath or affirmation in order to discover which or how many of the said negroes are liable to the said duty of ten pounds per head, and then the said justice or justices shall deliver or cause to be delivered to the said collector a certificate or list of the number of negroes so imported which shall appear to them or as they shall judge to be within the meaning of this act, and thereupon the said officer shall proceed to collect and recover the said duty or take bond for the same; and all masters of vessels and others bringing into this province any such negroes, as likewise the said collector and all other persons, shall and are hereby required to observe and comply with the directions of the said act, in and about the execution of this part of this act, and under the same exceptions, restrictions and penalties as is appointed and set down in and by the said-recited act, excepting where the same is hereby expressly altered or supplied.
And whereas 'tis found by experience that free negroes are an idle, slothful people and often prove burdensome to the neighborhood and afford ill examples to other negroes:
[ Section III. ] Therefore be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any master or mistress shall discharge or set free any negro, he or she shall enter into recognizance at the respective county court with sufficient sureties in the sum of thirty pounds to secure and indemnify the city, township or county where he resides from any charge or incumbrance they may bring upon the same in case such negro by sickness or otherwise be rendered incapable to support him or herself, but until such recognizance be given such negroes shall not be deemed free.
And if any negro be made free by the will or testament of any person deceased, then the executor or executors of the deceased or some other person shall enter into the like recognizance as above immediately upon proving the said will, or otherwise the said negro shall not be deemed free.
[ Section IV. ] And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any free negro fit and able to work shall neglect so to do and loiter and misspend his or her time or wander from place [ to place ], any two magistrates next adjoining are hereby empowered and required to bind out to service such negro from year to year as to them shall seem meet.
And if any negro be set free under the age of twenty-one years, or where there be any children of free negroes, it shall and may be lawful for the overseers of the poor and they are hereby ordered, with the assent of two or more justices of the peace, to bind out to service such negro or negroes, a man child until he comes to the age of twenty-four years, and a woman child to the age of twenty-one.
[ Section V. ] And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any free negro or mulatto shall harbor or entertain any negro, Indian or mulatto slave or servant in his or her house without the leave and consent of their respective master or mistress, he or she shall forfeit and pay the sum of five shillings for the first hour and one shilling for every hour afterwards they shall be so harbored or entertained.
And if any free negro or mulatto shall barter, trade or anyways deal with any negro or other slave without license had
as abovesaid, he or she shall make restitution to the party grieved and also be publicly whipped not exceeding twentyone lashes.
[ Section VI. ] And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any free negro or mulatto shall refuse or be unable to pay his or her fine or forfeiture as aforesaid, it shall and may be lawful to and for the justice before whom such matter is tried to order satisfaction by servitude.
[ Section VII. ] And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That no minister, pastor or magistrate or other person whatsoever who according to the laws of this province usually [join] people in marriage shall upon any pretense whatsoever join in marriage any negro with any white person on the penalty of one hundred pounds.
[ Section VIII. ] And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid , That if any white man or woman shall cohabit or dwell with any negro under pretense of being married, such white man or woman shall forfeit and pay the sum of thirty pounds or be sold for a servant not exceeding seven years by the justices of the respective county court, and the child or children of such white man or woman shall be put out to service as above directed until they come to the age of thirty-one years;
And if any free negro man or woman shall intermarry with a white woman or man, such negro shall become slave during life, to be sold by order of the justices of the quarter-sessions of the respective county; and if any free negro man or woman shall commit fornication or adultery with any white man or woman, such negro or negroes shall be sold servant for seven years as abovesaid, and the white man or woman shall be punished as the law directs in cases of adultery or fornication.
And whereas a good regulation and suitable management of negroes is very much conducive to the safety and peace as well as advantage of those countries which are possessed of any number of them.
[ Section IX. ] Therefore be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any negro shall at any time be found tippling or drinking in or near any house or shop where strong liquors are sold, or be found out of or absent from his master or mistress's house after nine o'clock at night without license from his said master or mistress, [ he ] shall be whipped on his or her bare back at his master's or owner's own cost, not exceeding ten lashes, by order of any justice of the peace.
[ Section X. ] And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That whoever shall take up any negro above ten miles from his or her master or mistress's habitation who hath not leave in writing from his or her said master or mistress or are not known to be on their service, he, she or they so taken up shall be whipped by order of any justice of the peace on the bare back at the owner's charge not exceeding ten lashes, and the taker-up shall have for his reward five shillings, with reasonable charge for carrying him or them home, paid by the master or mistress of the said negro.
[ Section XI. ] And be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That no master or mistress of any negro shall hereafter for any reward, sum or sums of money stipulated and agreed upon betwixt them or upon any other pretense whatsoever permit or suffer his or their negroes to ramble about under pretense of getting work, give liberty to their negroes to seek their own employ and so go to work at their own wills, under the penalty of twenty shillings for every such offense.
[ Section XII. ] And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That no person or persons whatsoever shall employ or knowingly harbor, conceal or entertain other people's slaves at their houses, out-houses or plantations without the master or owner's consent, excepting in distress of weather or other extraordinary occasion, under the penalty of thirty shillings for every twenty-four hours he or she shall entertain or harbor him or them as aforesaid.
[ Section XIII. ] And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all the fines, forfeitures and penalties arising by this act shall go, one-half thereof for and towards the paying for negroes executed for capital offenses according to the direction of this act, to be paid into the hands of the provincial treasurer, and the other half thereof to the prosecutor; and shall be recovered in manner following, viz.: all those under forty shillings as other debts of the like value are recovered, and those above forty shillings to be recovered in any court of record in this province by bill, plaint or information, where no more than one imparlance shall be allowed.
Passed March 5, 1725-26. Apparently never considered by the Crown, but allowed to become a law by lapse of time, in accordance with the proprietary charter.
- The Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania from 1682 to 1801, Compiled Under the Authority of the Act of May 19, 1887 by James T. Mitchell and Henry Flanders, Commissioners, Volume II, 1700-1712, Clarence M. Busch, State Printer of Pennsylvania, 1896, pp 234-236.
- The Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania from 1682 to 1801, Compiled Under the Authority of the Act of May 19, 1887 by James T. Mitchell and Henry Flanders, Commissioners, Volume IV, 1724-1744, Clarence M. Busch, State Printer of Pennsylvania, 1897, pp 59-64.
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