Virginia Slavery Laws

Virginia Slavery Laws


As slavery became a significant part of Virginia's economy, the colony's leaders enacted laws establishing and perpetuating the institution. In the beginning these laws traced the differences between slave laborers and indentured servants, gradually distinguishing race as the most prominent feature. By the eighteenth century, Virginia's white leaders had created a full range of separate legal provisions for slave and free, black and white.

A Personal Profile~Profile & Ad For Billy

Billy, William, or Will, property of John Tayloe of Richmond County, was around twenty years of age when he ran away from the Neabsco Iron Furnace in March 1774. Described as a "light coloured mulatto," Billy also served as a personal servant, traveling with his master or Tayloe's agent Thomas Lawson throughout Virginia and Maryland. A "very likely young fellow," Billy had a swagger in his gait, and had the "surprising knack ... of gaining the good graces of almost every body who will listen to his bewitching and deceitful tongue."

The personable young man may also have been the person mentioned in Tayloe's 1771 letter to his neighbor Landon Carter, in which he complains that Carter's "Patroll do not do their duty." Apparently numbers of Tayloe's slaves, including Billy, had been meeting with Carter's bondpersons in late-night "Entertainments." Billy, whom Tayloe described to Carter as "your favorite," was suspected of taking Tayloe's horse to join the party.

In 1781 Billy was captured in Prince William County while fighting for the British against the Virginia troops. Tried for treason, he was convicted and sentenced to hang, but Governor Thomas Jefferson was persuaded to issue a reprieve based on problems with the evidence against him and the argument that a slave, as a non-citizen, could not be guilty of treason. Billy's subsequent fate remains unknown.

[See Philip J. Schwarz, "Billy," in John Kneebone, et al., Dictionary of Virginia Biography, vol. 1, Richmond, 1998, pp. 490-491.]


NEABSCO FURNACE, April 1, 1774. RUN away from the Neabsco Furnace, on the 16th of last Month, a light coloured Mulatto Man named BILLY or WILL, the Property of the Honourable John Tayloe, Esquire. When I tell the Publick that he is the same Boy, who, for many Years, used to wait on me in my Travels through this and the neighbouring Province, and, by his Pertness, or rather Impudence, was well known to almost all my Acquaintances, there is the less Occasion for a particular Description of him. However, as he is now grown to the size of a Man, and has not attended me for some Time past, I think it not amiss to say that he is a very likely young Fellow, about twenty Years old, five Feet nine Inches high, stout and strong made, has a remarkable Swing in his Walk, but is much more so by a surprising Knack he has of gaining the good Graces of almost every Body who will listen to his bewitching and deceitful Tongue which seldom if ever speaks the Truth; has a small Scar on the right Side of his Forehead, and the little Finger of his right Hand is quite straight by a Hurt he got when a Child. He had on when he went away a blue Fearnought and an under Jacket of green Baize, Cotton Breeches, Osnabrug Shirt, a mixed blue Pair of Stockings, a Pair of Country made Shoes, and yellow Buckles. From his Ingenuity, he is capable of doing almost any sort of Business, and for some Years past has been chiefly employed as a Founder, a Stone Mason, and a Miller, as Occasion required; one of which Trades, I imagine, he will, in the Character of a Freeman, profess. I have some Reason to suspect his travelling towards James River, under the Pretence of being sent by me on Business. Whoever apprehends the said Mulatto Slave, and brings him to me, or to his Master, the Honourable John Tayloe of Mount Airy, or secures him so as to be had again, shall have double what the Law allows, and all reasonable

Charges paid by THOMAS LAWSON

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