An Early Edict on Slavery in English America: The Barbados Resolution of 1636

2018 (Jerome S. Handler) “An Early Edict on Slavery in English America: The Barbados Resolution of 1636,” submitted to Slavery & Abolition.

A resolution on slavery by the Barbados Governor and Council in 1636 has been widely cited and quoted by writers on Anglo American slavery and Barbados history from the early 19th century until the present. Writers have universally accepted either explicitly or implicitly that the resolution was the earliest slave law and was foundational in legitimizing slavery in Anglo America. No writer has attempted to explain why the resolution was adopted or has questioned or challenged its role in the history of slave law in Barbados or Anglo America.

This paper considers a possible reason for the Resolution’s adoption and argues, primarily relying on evidence from the history of Barbados slave law, that it had absolutely no impact on how early English settlers thought about the status of chattel slaves or on how slave law developed in Barbados. In fact, the Resolution disappeared from the legal record of Barbados and never influenced any later law pertaining to slaves

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