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Slave Laws In The Caribbean

Updated on July 26, 2011

Some say it was long ago, and others say it was as though it was yesterday. Whatever the case, slavery existed in the West Indies and many other parts of the New World. Peoples from Africa were bought, sold, and stolen, taken across great ships and many waters to the islands of the Caribbean, and ordered to serve their masters. Some masters were British while others were Spanish, and French. Each island was colonized by the European country that claimed it and their people left their homeland and made those islands their homes.

Generally, masters were not fair to their slaves. As they were declared property, they were often sorely mistreated. It took a long time for laws to appear concerning a slave and his rights and some colonies got their laws quicker than others. Though they differed in many areas, there were also many similarities, that is, one could say, that the laws that mattered all echoed the same sound.

For the Spanish colonies, their slave laws were loosely based on an old slave code which was formulated for Spain not the colonies, in the 1400's. The British colonies all enforced their own laws unique to each colony. The French, however, drew up their slave laws in the time that slavery already existed and these were laws meant to deal specifically with slavery in the colonies. These laws were passed in 1685 and they were called, "Le Code Noir" or "The Black Code."

Not very complicated, the Code Noir had two main sections - the disability section, and the beneficent section. Although there was a beneficent section, most times the laws would be referred to concerning disability. It is interesting to note the similarity of some of the slave laws in North and South America as well. It would appear that there was general agreement of where a slave stood in relation of his master in the New World.

The Laws of Disability

  • If a woman was a slave any children that she had were automatically slaves as well. If she was free, the her children were free. Whether the father of the children was a slave or not had no impact whatsoever on the status of the children.
  • Slaves could not socialize with any other slaves except those that belonged to their master. Under no circumstance, whether wedding, birth, or funeral could one master's slaves mingle with another master's slaves.
  • A slave was not allowed to carry with him weapons unless he was a member of his master's hunting party.
  • If a slave attempted to sell sugar- cane, any other type of crop or item of any kind, he would be punished with lashes. This was so forbidden that it mattered not if the slaves' master himself had given permission for the sale, the punishment stood if caught.
  • Any slave who hit his master so that blood was drawn, was sentenced to death. Any slave who hit a member of the master's family and drew blood was sentenced to death. Any slave who committed a violent crime against a free man was to be severely punished and could be sentenced to death as well.
  • If a slave stole, depending on the value of the item stolen he could be put to death. For strong valuable animals like cows and horses, death would be the punishment. For something like a pig or some provisions, lashes or branding would be the punishment.
  • If a slave was put to death in accordance with the law, then a master was allowed to ask for compensation for the loss of that slave. If the slave had caused loss to someone else, then the master had to compensate the party who sustained that loss.
  • A slave who tried to run away had his ears cut off and was branded. If that slave tried to run away again, he was branded a second time. Finally if a slave tried to run away for a third time and was caught doing so, he would be put to death.
  • A slave could not own anything or promise anything. Nothing he had was legally his.
  • Even though a slave could not qualify for any position of office and their witness in court was used solely to support other free witnesses' testimony, a slave could be tried criminally just as free men were.
  • A slave could be sold to settle a debt or could be listed in an inheritance.

The Beneficent Laws

  • Every slave in every colony had to be baptized and schooled in the Roman Catholic faith and observe every holiday and tradition associated with that religion.
  • If a slave woman had children for a free man and the slave did not belong to him, he would be fined. He could chose to marry her if she belonged to him and then she and the children would be free otherwise they would be taken away from him.
  • Every week, each master had to provide all slaves ten years and older with two pounds of salted beef, two and a half pounds of flour or type of grain, and three pounds of fish. Each master also had to provide have that amount for each slave under the age of ten.
  • Every year, each slave was entitled to two linen suits from the master.
  • Any slave who suffered with illness, injury or old age was to be cared for by their masters.
  • A master could beat, whip, and chain their slaves but torture was forbidden. If this was done the slave could be forfeit and the master could face prosecution.
  • If a slave was to be sold, the slaves family would be sold with him. They could not be separated. If a slave was past the age of forty and worked in the fields, he was considered to be a part of the land and could only be sold with that land.
  • A slave could only get married with his master's permission, but a master could not force a slave to marry if he did not wish it.
  • Once a master passed the age of twenty-five, he had the right to free his slaves. Slaves freed by their masters enjoyed the privileges of other free men. These slaves were known as manumitted slaves.Those masters under twenty-five years of age had to heed the advice of older relations.

These laws all had a main purpose and that was to keep the slave in his place. It was to ensure that uprisings and rebellions would be few, and that ultimately, a slave would be thoroughly dependent on his master.



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    • North Wind profile imageAUTHOR

      North Wind 

      7 years ago from The World (for now)

      Hello Alex Henry,

      I am glad as well that they fought for freedom.

    • profile image

      Alex Henry 

      7 years ago

      i just want to say i'm glad that our ancestors fight for freedom else we the new generation would born in slavery and i really appreciate what they had done for us . thus it was awful yes ,but they had to make some sacrifice not for them self but also for us.

    • North Wind profile imageAUTHOR

      North Wind 

      7 years ago from The World (for now)

      Hello Toni Whitw,

      It is sad to think of what they went through. It is good to know this information though.

    • profile image

      Toni Whitw 

      7 years ago

      this makes me sad, knowing that's what my ancestors went through.

    • North Wind profile imageAUTHOR

      North Wind 

      7 years ago from The World (for now)

      Hello Angela Brummer,

      Yes, it was awful. Knowing what these laws were does help us to understand what the slaves in the Caribbean faced.

      Thank you for reading!

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 

      7 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      This sounds awful! But, it is insightful to read! Thank you!

    • North Wind profile imageAUTHOR

      North Wind 

      8 years ago from The World (for now)

      Thank you for reading, cunn26.

    • cunn26 profile image

      Bridget Cunningham 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Very interesting.


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