Slave Codes of Massachusetts in the Year 1856



The slave codes of Massachusetts was a body of fundamental laws established in 1641. One of the articles, based on the Mosaic code, provides that "there shall never be any bond slavery, villeinage, nor captivity among us, unless it be lawful captives, taken in just wars, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold unto us, and these shall have all the liberties and Christian usages which the law of God established in Israel requires. This exempts none from servitude who shall be judged thereto by authority." This article sanctions the slave trade and the holding of negroes and Indians in bondage. This seems to be the first positive enactment in the colonies on the subject of slavery.

Runaway Slaves Captured in Boston and Returned to South Carolina under Fugitive Slave Act

Runaway Slaves Captured in Boston and Returned to South Carolina under Fugitive Slave Act
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About this time a transaction occurred, (1645), which some consider a protest on the part of Massachusetts against the African slave trade. We state the facts and the reader can judge whether the inference is warranted or not: The ships which took cargoes of slaves and fish to Madeira and the Canaries were accustomed to touch on the coast of Guinea "to trade for negroes", who were carried generally to Barbados or the other English islands in the West Indies, the demand for them at home being so small. In the case above referred to, instead of buying negroes in the regular course of traffic, which, under a fundamental law of Massachusetts already quoted, would have been perfectly legal, the crew of a Boston ship joined with some London vessels on the coast, and , on pretense of some quarrel with the natives, landed a "murderer" -- the expressive name of a small piece of cannon -- attacked a negro village on Sunday, killed many of the inhabitants and made a few prisoners, two of whom fell to the share of the Boston ship. In the course of a lawsuit between the master, mate, and owners, all this story came out, and Saltonstall, who sat as one of the magistrates, thereupon presented a petition to the court, in which he charged the master and mate with a threefold offense, murder, man stealing, and Sabbath-breaking; the two first capital by the fundamental slave codes of Massachusetts, and all of them "capital by the law of God".

William Lloyd Garrison making an anti-slavery speech on Boston common

William Lloyd Garrison making an anti-slavery speech on Boston common
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The magistrates doubted their authority to punish crimes committed on the coast of Africa; but they ordered the negroes to be sent back, as having been procured not honestly by purchase, but unlawfully by kidnapping.

Slave codes of Massachusetts as recorded in History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, W. O. Blake, 1856.

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