English Law and the Virginia Indians

Thomas Jefferson notes that crime is rare among the Indians who have no laws. He poses the question: Are the sheep (Indians) better off with no laws than the Europeans with numerous laws?

Wolves and Sheep

“Imperfect as this species of coercion may seem, crimes are very rare among them: insomuch that were it made a question, whether no law, as among the savage Americans, or too much law, as among the civilized Europeans, submits man to the greatest evil, one who has seen both conditions of existence would pronounce it to be the last: and that the sheep are happier of themselves, than under care of the wolves.” Thomas Jefferson, 1782

Later, he expounds on his comparison:

“I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians) which live without government, enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under the European governments. Among the former, public opinion is in the place of law, and restrains morals as powerfully as laws ever did anywhere. Among the latter, under pretense of governing, they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves and sheep. I do not exaggerate… Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor.” Thomas Jefferson, 1787

English Law and Seventeenth Century Virginia Indians

(NOTE: The hypertext links to the actual statute. I have added a brief notation of meaning)

March 1655/6-ACT I: An act creating a distinction between Africans and Native Americans.

March 1657/8-ACT XLVI: An act denoting which African and Native American female slaves are tithable.

March 1661/2-ACT CXXXVIII: An act stating that Native American and English servants were to serve their masters the same length of time.

March 1661/2: A ruling providing freedom for a Native American slave.

October 1670-ACT IV: An act prohibiting Free blacks and Native Americans from owning white servants.

October 1670-ACT XII: An act creating further additional distinction between African Americans and Native Americans.

June 1676-ACT I: An act declaring Indians captured in war slaves for life.

April 1679-ACT I: An act for the defence of the country from Indians.

November 1682-ACT I:An act repealing a former law making Indians and others free.

November 1682-ACT II:An act declaring Indian women servants tithables.

October 1705-CHAP. XXII:An act declaring the Negro, Mulatto, and Indian slaves real estate.

Early 1647/8-Term of Servitude for Captain William Taylor’s Indian Girl. Source: York County Deeds, Orders, and Wills (2) 329, 25 January 1647/8.

See also “Crime and Justice,” Algonquian Life and Customs – The Other Jamestown (virtual-jamestown.com).

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