Document Type


Date of Degree Completion

Winter 2017

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Brian Carroll

Second Committee Member

Jason Knirck

Third Committee Member

Daniel Herman


This study looks at the differing early slave societies of colonial Virginia and Bermuda. Specifically, this study looks at how the first century of slave laws and customs in the respective colonies varied so greatly. Relatively speaking, slave laws and customs in colonial Virginia were harsh when compared to the laws and customs of colonial Bermuda. This difference was due to the difference in the type of labor slaves performed and in landowning patterns in the respective colonies during the seventeenth century. In Virginia, slaves labored under a harsh regime on plantations, while Bermudian slaves worked often in a maritime economy. Furthermore, in Virginia, land owning patterns differed greatly; Virginian landlords typically stayed in Virginia while Bermudian landlords were often absent from their landholdings. These differences that led to a lax system in Bermuda changed by the 1720s when slaves were deemed to be too dangerous. This study has used a great deal of government documents, court records, diaries, and collections of letters from colonial Bermuda and Virginia. Using these sources, this study suggests what aspects within the respective colonies led to the harsh customs and laws in Virginia and the relatively lax system in Bermuda.