Milestone Documents in African American History: Exploring by Editor in Chief Paul Finkelman

By Editor in Chief Paul Finkelman

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Masters marked black female slaves as being different from white female servants by assigning only black females to work in the tobacco fields. In small increments whites labeled blacks as second-rate and unusual in a negative way. As time passed, the social contact and sexual intimacy that was so ordinary between black and white laborers in the colony’s early years ended. Instead, sexual relationships between the races drew condemnation and social ostracism for whites and physical punishments for blacks.

All three audiences had vested interests in the act’s implementation and perceived it differently. Anglo-Virginians perceived the legislation largely as expedient. For large landowners, the inheritability of slaves’ status provided a captive labor force that would increase over time. It also clearly defined distinct racial lines between Anglo-Americans and their African slaves. Officials in different areas of the British Empire had similar motives for accepting and adapting the legislation. In England, primarily the members of Parliament and merchants responded to the statute, albeit at a distance.

Anglo-Virginians perceived the legislation largely as expedient. For large landowners, the inheritability of slaves’ status provided a captive labor force that would increase over time. It also clearly defined distinct racial lines between Anglo-Americans and their African slaves. Officials in different areas of the British Empire had similar motives for accepting and adapting the legislation. In England, primarily the members of Parliament and merchants responded to the statute, albeit at a distance.

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