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‘From Their Said Masters’
Decisions of the General Court of Virginia, 1640

The Court ruling below is used by modern academics as a false explanation for white slavery being “replaced by the racially [meaning white over black] based slave system,” which it was not.]

July 22nd, 1640. Whereas complaint has been made to this Board by Capt. William Pierce, Esqr., that six of his servants [1] and a negro of Mr. Reginald's has plotted to runaway unto the Dutch plantation [2] from their said masters, and did assay to put the same in Execution upon Saturday night, being the 8th day July, 1640, as appeared to the Board by the Examinations of Andrew Noxe, Richard Hill, Richard Cookeson and John Williams, and likewise by the confession of Christopher Miller, Peter Milcocke and Emanuel, the foresaid Negro, who had, at the foresaid time, taken the skiff of the said Capt. William Pierce, their master, and corn, powder and shot and guns to accomplish their said purposes, which said persons sailed down in the said skiff to Elizabeth river, where they were taken and brought back again, the court taking the same into consideration as a dangerous precedent for the future time (if left unpunished), did order that:

-Christopher Miller, a dutchman (a prime agent in the business), should receive the punishment of whiping, and to have thirty stripes and so be burnt in the cheek with the letter R [3] and to work with a shackle on his legg for one whole year and longer if said master shall see cause, and after his full time of service is Expired with his said master to serve the colony for seven whole years,

-and the said Peter Milcocke to receive thirty stripes and to be Burnt in the cheek with the letter R, and after his term of service is Expired with his said master to serve the colony for three years,

-and the said Richard Cockson, after his full time Expired with his master, to serve the colony for two years and a half,

-and the said Richard Hill to remain upon his good behavior until the next offence,

-and the said Andrew Noxe to receive thirty stripes,

-and the said John Williams, a dutchman and a chirurgeon [surgeon] after his full time of service is Expired with his master, to serve the colony for seven years,

-and Emanuel, the Negro, to receive thirty stripes and to be burnt in the cheek with the letter R and to work in shackles one year or more as his master shall see cause.


Despite this document being cited by revisionist historians as proof that the punishment of Emanuel the Negro represented the turning away from an economy based on universal enslavement to one based on racial enslavement, the evidence proves otherwise at 6 white to 1 black. 36 years later the ratio would be roughly 10 white to 1 black.

Unlike 18th century notices in Virginia, Emanuel is not referred to as a slave, but as a negro. It is assumed that he is a servant. In this period it was also assumed that all whites were servants, unless listed as masters. The different distinction here is that Emanuel is of a class that received no surname, therefore deriving his identity from his master, not from his heritage, which had been stolen. The chief difference in whites and blacks of this period was a lack of recognized heritage for the blacks. This fact is what made them increasingly valuable as slaves, being less willing to run than whites, as they were socially identified with their master. Note that two, possibly three, of these slaves had been Dutchmen and that they sought to flee to the Dutch colony in New Jersey. This heritage issue, of Dutch, Scotch, Irish, English, Welsh and Indian fleeing to live in free communities of their ethnicity caused a continual bleeding off of labor into the hinterlands and back to the Old Country. This eventually made the triple or quadruple cost of a negro worth it, and this additional expense also encouraged the idea of a single, lifetime term of service rather than the cyclic of re-enslavement of less cooperative whites. High negro cost also encouraged their breeding, which was already in effect for white servant girls as a gambit to retain them as free servants through their child's term of 31 years of servitude.

Severity of Punishment

The list below lists the severity of punishment metted out in 1640, from most to least severe, with notes on ethnicity.

1. Christopher Miller, Dutch

2. Peter Milcoke, Orphan [European, ethnicity unknown]

3. John Williams, Dutch

4. Emanuel, negro

5. Richard Cockson, English

6. Andrew Noxe, English

7. Richard Hill, English

Based on the above severity table, the administrators of this English colony were most sever to the Dutch, least severe to the English and Emanuel seemed to fall somewhere in between. Note that Peter, either English or Dutch by his name, was brutally treated second only to the ring leader, reflecting the strong animus English plantation owners directed against orphans.

Do note that Emanuel was obviously used by the Dutch ring leaders to get their hands on his master’s boat. In this light his easier sentence than the Dutch is understandable, as is his more severe sentence than the English, who come off as lackeys. Note that John Williams is an educated professional and the orphan, Peter, was probably a key pawn of the two adult Dutchmen, as boys tended to have more access to the houses of their master and neighboring masters due to their duty as messengers. Emanuel, for his part, seems to have been a trusted man charged with the care of a valuable vessel.


1. Captain Pierce might have had as many as 100 servants. 20 servants would barely be enough to work a modest plantation.

2. The Dutch plantations were in New Jersey.

3. The R was burned with gunpowder, not with a branding iron. Two years later, those in Virginia branded with the R would serve for life, regardless of race.

So Her Master May Have Her Again

A History of Runaway White Slaves in Plantation America: Part Two

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