Slave Laws in British Colonial New York, 1664—1731
As the population of enslaved Africans grew, colonial elites in New York passed laws to restrict the activities and movements of black residents. These laws were similar to laws passed in Virginia and Maryland, indicating that white fears of slave rebellion were widespread. Following an attempted slave insurrection in New York in 1712, British authorities passed an even harsher set of laws known as the “Black Code.” The wording of the laws has been changed to improve clarity.
• No Christian can be held in slavery.
• Slaves may not leave their masters’ houses without permission.
• Slaves may not own weapons.
• Slaves may not gather in groups larger than four.
• White people and free black people may not entertain slaves in their homes.
• White people and free black people may not sell liquor to slaves.
• Slaves who make noise in the street on Sundays will be whipped.
• People of African descent may not be buried in the town cemetery.
• Slaves may not gather in groups larger than three.
• Slaves who break this law will receive 40 lashes on the naked back.
• Masters may punish their slaves for any misdeed in any way they wish except killing them or cutting off their limbs.
• Masters are no longer obligated to free slaves who convert to Christianity.
• Children born to enslaved women are slaves for life.
• Newly freed black people may not own or inherit land.
• Any slave who murders his or her master will be tortured and killed.
• Any slave who plots with others to murder his or her master will be tortured and killed.
• Any slave who plots with others to revolt will be tortured and killed.
• No slave can ever own a gun or pistol.
• No black person who becomes free after 1712 may own a house or pass property on to their children.
• To free a slave, the master must pay a 200-pound bond, to cover the costs should the freed slave ever become a public charge.
• No slave 14 years or older may go out after dark without a lantern.
• Funerals for slaves and free African Americans must be held during daylight.
• Slaves could not gamble for money
• Slaves who rode a horse too fast or dangerously in the city could be whipped
Creator | Various
Item Type | Laws/Court Cases
Cite This document | Various, “Slave Laws in British Colonial New York, 1664—1731,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 2, 2023, https://shec.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/869.