Let’s Talk History 52: An American Distinction


The Virginia Governor’s Council sentences two white European men — Victor, a Dutchmen, and James Gregory, a Scotsman — and John Punch, a “negro”, to 30 lashes each for running away (to Maryland) from their master Hugh Gwyn, a wealthy planter and landowner and member of the House of Burgesses. Victor and James Gregory are additionally sentenced to longer indentures, and John Punch is additionally sentenced to life-long servitude.

The Council’s ruling is considered to be the first legal sanctioning of life-long slavery. It is also considered to be the first legal distinction made between Africans/“negroes” and Europeans in the colony, and predecessor to the Anglo/white/European institution of slavery in the present-day United States.

*note it is uncertain if a racial distinction was purposely made

*note it is uncertain what kind of servant Punch was e.g. an indentured servant, chattel-bond servant, etc.

Was John Punch a Christian?

English law forbade the enslavement of Christians. English law also established servant status paternally, while law in the colonies came to establish slave/servant status maternally.

*the Council’s ruling also signaled a significant break between English society and what would become cultural law in present-day America

Now stay tuned for either the Massachusetts Body of Liberties or the English Civil War. See ya next Tuesday! >>>