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How Did Race, Class and Gender Interact in 17th Century Virginia

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 868
  • Category: Slavery

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Race, class and gender interacted in 17th Century Virginia in several important ways which include the English changing the slave system that was not based on race into one that was, population of free blacks were also strictly controlled which resulted in their slave status as being inevitable and they created the perception that masculinity and femininity only existed among white men and women.

The first law to discriminate blacks from the Europeans was created in 1640 where all blacks except freeholders were banned from bearing arms. Not being able to bear arms meant that in no way were the black able to fight against their unfair treatment. The black indentured servants were also treated unfairly when it came to punishments. This can be seen with the case of John Punch. He and two other white servants tried to escape to Maryland but ended up being caught. The two white servants only had to serve 3 extra years while John Punch was sentenced to serve for life. (Film Slavery and the Making of America) To push racial slavery further, a law was implemented that banned nonwhites from purchasing whites. This ensured that whites could never be servants under blacks; blacks were always of a lower class to whites. Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 was another case where we see unfair punishment being handed out to the blacks.

When Nathaniel Bacon died suddenly, the enslaved had no where to go and were captured by the new army England had sent. The leader of the army said that those whites that surrendered would get a few extra years of service but blacks that surrendered got service for life instead of death. (C.D.) More unfairness followed with the act in 1687, “Speedy Prosecution of the Negros and Other Slaves.” This law saw differences in how the black and white that committed capital crimes were prosecuted. Blacks were prosecuted in the county they committed the offense whereas Whites were sent to the capital for trial. The Slave Code in 1705 also stated that Blacks were not allowed to hold office, “the code forbade nonwhite people from holding any ecclesiastical, civil or military office, regardless of status, thus denying them any substantial role in the colony.” (The Laws of Slavery, Pg. 121)

The condition of the mother law that was passed in 1662 by the house of Burgesses at first seemed matrilineal but in fact wasn’t. The law was to allow the great planters to assert authority over the child of the enslaved women in other words allowing the owner to make the child his slave. The law also stated any child born after 1662 was bound to slavery. Earlier in 1658, the father of the child had the option of compensating the employer for keeping the child. (C.D.) This new law meant that slaveholders could rape their slaves to make more slaves for them in the future. The miscegenation law in 1662 on the other hand fined white women for sleeping with black men because the child that came out of a white women was free from slavery.

The English thought that a relationship between a free white women and an enslaved black men was “implicitly most dangerous to the social order and threatening to patriarchal authority, property and security of labor.” (The Laws of Slavery, pg. 116) Blacks slaves that were freed by manumission were to be transported out of the colony within six moths, this is another way the authorities controlled the population of free blacks in Virginia. In 1705, Robert Beverley’s letter states that by the law of the country, upon freedom “each slave has then also the right to take up fifty acres of land where he can find any unpatented.” Although when blacks were freed they were asked to leave the colony because they didn’t want the population of free blacks to increase in the colony.

The scarcity of white women in the colony encouraged the assembly to inhibit the use of white women on the field. This made white women dependents because they did not work. In addition to that, their sexuality was controlled by banning them from sleeping with black men. This made white women seem more feminine compared to black women. The Virginia tax law in 1643 also taxed all black men and women but exempted white women because, “according to English custom, they were considered household dependents.” (The Laws of Slavery, pg.119) Even free white women were tithed as laborers. This not only made black families suffer from economic devastation but it also ensured that blacks were always seen as laborers while white men and women were seen to be more masculine and feminine.

Clearly, unfair punishments catered towards the blacks created a sense that whites were a superior race compared to blacks which lead to racial slavery. In addition, the laws implemented to ensure blacks were always slaves and could never accumulate property manifested a sense of class among blacks and whites in Virginia. Finally the unfair taxing of black women and not white women together with the restriction of white female workers to work on fields created a sense of gender superiority among whites.

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