“An ACT providing additional protection for the slave property of citizens of this commonwealth” (1856)

Acts of the General Assembly (1856)Acts of the General Assembly (1856)Acts of the General Assembly (1856)Acts of the General Assembly (1856)

In “An ACT providing additional protection for the slave property of citizens of this commonwealth,” passed on March 17, 1856, the General Assembly seeks to prevent slaves from escaping Virginia ports via the Underground Railroad by providing for rigorous inspections of ships.


Acts of the General Assembly (1856)

Chap. 47.— An ACT providing additional protection for the slave property of citizens of this commonwealth.

Passed March 17, 1856.

1. Be it enacted by the general assembly, that it shall not be lawful for any vessel of any size or description whatever, owned in whole or in part by any citizen or resident of another state, and about to sail or steam from any port or place in this state for any port or place north of and beyond the capes of Virginia, to depart from the waters of this commonwealth until said vessel has undergone the inspection herein after provided for in this act, and received a certificate to that effect. If any such vessel shall depart from this state without such certificate of inspection, the captain or owner thereof shall forfeit and pay the sum of five hundred dollars, to be recovered by any person who will sue for the same in any court of record in this state, in the name of the governor of the commonwealth. Pending said suit, the vessel of such captain or owner shall not leave the state until bond be given by the captain or owner, or other person for him, payable to the governor, with two or more sureties, satisfactory to the court, in the penalty of one thousand dollars, for the payment of the forfeit or fine, together with the costs and expenses incurred in enforcing the same; and in default of such bond, the vessel

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shall be held liable: provided, that nothing contained in this section shall apply to vessels belonging to the United States government, or vessels, American or foreign, bound direct to any foreign country other than the British North American colonies.

2. The pilots licensed under the laws of Virginia, and while attached to a vessel regularly employed as a pilot boat, are hereby constituted and appointed inspectors to execute this act, so far as the same may be applicable to the Chesapeake bay and the waters tributary thereto, within the jurisdiction of this state, together with such other inspectors as may be appointed by virtue of this act.

3. The branch or license issued to a pilot according to the provisions of the ninety-second chapter of the Code, shall be sufficent evidence that he is authorized and empowered to act as inspector as aforesaid.

4. It shall be the duty of the inspector or other person authorized to act under this law, to examine and search all vessels herein before described, to see that no slave, or person held to service or labor in this state, or person charged with the commission of any crime within the state, shall be concealed on board said vessel; such inspection shall be made within twelve hours of the time of departure of such vessel from the waters of Virginia, and may be made in any bay, river, creek or other water course of the state: provided, however, that steamers plying as regular packets between ports in Virginia and those north of and outside of the capes of Virginia, shall be inspected at the port of departure nearest to Old Point Comfort.

5. A vessel so inspected and getting under weigh, with intent to leave the waters of the state, if she returns to an anchorage above Back river point or within Old Point Comfort, shall be again inspected and charged as if an original case. If such vessel be driven back by stress of weather when to seek a harbor, she shall be exempt from payment of a second fee, unless she holds intercourse with the shore.

6. If, after searching the vessel, the inspector see no just cause to detain her, he shall give to the captain a certificate to that effect. If, however, upon such inspection, or in any other manner, any slave or person held to service or labor, or any person charged with any crime, be found on board of any vessel whatever, for the purpose aforesaid, or said vessel be detected in the act of leaving this commonwealth with any such slave or person on board, or otherwise violating the provisions of this act, he shall attach said vessel, and arrest all persons on board to be delivered up to the sergeant or sheriff of the nearest port in this commonwealth, to be dealt with according to law.

7. If any inspector or other officer be opposed, or shall have reason to suspect that he will be opposed or obstructed in the discharge of any duty required of him under this act, he shall have power to summon and command the force of any county or corporation to aid him in the discharge of such duty; and every person who shall resist, obstruct or refuse to aid any inspector or other officer in the discharge of such duty, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof, shall be fined and imprisoned as in other cases of misdemeanor.

8. For every inspection of a vessel under this law, the inspector or other officer shall be entitled to demand and receive the sum of five dollars; for the payment of which such vessel shall be liable, and the inspector or other officer may seize and hold her till the same is paid, together with all charges incurred in taking care of the vessel, as well as in enforcing the payment of the same: provided, that steam packets trading regularly between the waters of Virginia and ports north of and beyond the capes of Virginia, shall pay not more than five dollars for each inspection under the provisions of this act: provided, however, that for every inspection of a vessel engaged in the coal trade, the inspector shall not receive a greater sum than two dollars.

9. Any inspector or other person apprehending a slave in the act of escaping from the state on board a vessel trading to or belonging to a nonslaveholding state, or who shall give information that will lead to the recovery of any slave as aforesaid, shall be entitled to a reward of one hundred dollars, to be paid by the owner of such slave, or by the fidu-

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ciary having charge of the estate to which such slave belongs; and if the vessel be forfeited under the provisions of this act, he shall be entitled to one-half of the proceeds arising from the sale of the vessel; and if the same amounts to one hundred dollars, he shall not receive from the owner the above reward of one hundred dollars.

10. An inspector permitting a slave to escape for the want of proper exertion, or by neglect in the discharge of his duty, shall be fined one hundred dollars; or if, for like causes, he permit a vessel, which the law requires him to inspect, to leave the state without inspection, he shall be fined not less than twenty nor more than fifty dollars; to be recovered by warrant by any person who will proceed against him.

11. No pilot acting under the authority of the laws of this state shall pilot out of the jurisdiction of this state any such vessel as is described in this act, which has not obtained and exhibited to him the certificate of inspection hereby required; and if any pilot shall so offend, he shall forfeit and pay not less than twenty nor more than fifty dollars; to be recovered in the mode prescribed in the next preceding section of this act.

12. The courts of the several counties or corporations situated on the Chesapeake bay or its tributaries, by an order entered of record, may appoint one or moreinspectors at such place or places within their respective districts as they may deem necessary to prevent the escape or for the recapture of slaves attempting to escape beyond the limits of the state, and to search or otherwise examine all vessels trading to such counties or corporations. The expense in such cases to be provided for by a levy on negroes now taxed by law; but no inspection by county or corporation officers thus appointed shall supersede the inspection of such vessel by pilots and other inspectors, as specially provided for in this act.

13. It shall be lawful for the county court of any county, upon the application of five or more slaveholders, residents of the counties where the application is made, by an order entered of record, to designate one or more police stations in their respective counties, and a captain and three or more other persons as a police patrol on each station for the recapture of fugitive slaves; which patrol shall be in service at such times and such stations as the court shall direct by their order aforesaid; and the said court shall allow a reasonable compensation, to be paid to the members of such patrol; and for that purpose the said court may from time to time direct a levy on negroes now taxed by law, at such rate per capita as the court may think sufficient; to be collected and accounted for by the sheriff as other county levies, and to be called the fugitive slave tax. The owner of each fugitive slave, in the act of escaping beyond the limits of the commonwealth to a nonslaveholding state and captured by the patrol aforesaid, shall pay for each slave over fifteen and under forty-five years old, a reward of one hundred dollars; for each slave over five and under fifteen years and over forty-five years old, the sum of sixty dollars; and for all others, the sum of forty dollars. Which reward shall be divided equally among the members of the patrol retaking the slave, and actually on duty at the time. And to secure the payment of said reward, the said patrol may retain the possession and use of the slave until the reward is paid or secured to them.

14. The executive of the state may appoint one or more inspectors for the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers, if he shall deem it expedient for the due execution of this act. The inspectors so appointed, to perform the same duties and to be invested with the same powers in their respective districts, and receive the same fees as pilots acting as inspectors in other parts of the state. A vessel subject to inspection under this law, departing from any of the above named counties or rivers, on her voyage to sea, shall be exempted from the payment of a fee for a second inspection by another officer, if provided with a certificate from the proper inspecting officer of that district; but if after proceeding on her voyage she returns to the port or place of departure, or enter any other port, river or roadstead in the state, the said vessel shall be again inspected and pay a fee of five dollars, as if she had undergone no previous examination and received no previous certificate. If driven by

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stress of weather to seek a harbor, and she has no intercourse with the shore, then and in that case, no second fee shall be paid by said vessel.

15. For the better execution of the provisions of this act in regard to the inspection of vessels, the executive is hereby authorized and directed to appoint a chief inspector, to reside at Norfolk, whose duty it shall be to direct and superintend the police agents or inspectors above referred to. He shall keep a record of all vessels engaged in the piloting business, together with a list of such persons as may be employed as pilots and inspectors under this law. The owner or owners of each boat shall make a monthly report to him of all vessels inspected by persons attached to said pilot boats, the names of such vessels, the owner or owners thereof, and the places where owned or licensed, and where trading to or from, and the business in which they are engaged, together with a list of their crews. Any inspector failing to make his report to the chief inspector, shall pay a fine of twenty dollars for every such failure. Which fine shall be recovered by warrant before a justice of the county or corporation. The chief inspector may direct the time and station for the cruise of each pilot boat, and perform such other duty as the governor may designate, not inconsistent with the other provisions of this act. He shall make a quarterly return to the executive of all the transactions of his department, reporting to him any failure or refusal on the part of the inspectors to discharge the duty assigned to them; and the governor, for sufficient cause, may suspend or remove from office any delinquent inspector. The chief inspector shall receive as his compensation ten per centum on all the fees and fines received by the inspectors acting under his authority, and may be removed at the pleasure of the executive.

16. All fines and forfeitures imposed by this act, and not otherwise specially provided for, shall go, one-half to the informer, and the other be paid into the treasury of the state; to constitute a fund to be called “the fugitive slave fund,” and to be used for the payment of rewards awarded by the governor for the apprehension of runaway slaves, and to pay other expenses incident to the execution of this law, together with such other purposes as may hereafter be determined on by the general assembly.

17. This act shall be in force from its passage.


Runaway Servants (1643) “Against Runawayes” (1699) “An act concerning Servants and Slaves” (1705) “A Caution to All Travellers to Philadelphia,” Virginia Journal and Alexandria Advertiser (March 30, 1786) Letter from George Washington to Robert Morris (April 12, 1786) “An Act respecting fugitives from justice, and persons escaping from the service of their masters” (1793) “An ACT to amend an act, intituled, ‘An act to reduce into one the several acts concerning slaves, free negroes and mulattoes, and for other purposes’” (1795) “Tales of Oppression” by Isaac T. Hopper, National Anti-Slavery Standard (March 25, 1841) “Abolitionism,” New York Spectator (September 26, 1842) “Miraculous Escape,” Boston Emancipator and Free American (May 11, 1843) “The Albany Forwarding Trade,” Boston Emancipator and Free American (May 20, 1843) “An Act to amend, and supplementary to, the Act entitled ‘An Act respecting Fugitives from Justice, and Persons escaping from the Service of their Masters,’ approved February twelfth, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three” (1850) Chapter VII; an excerpt from the Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown (1851) “More Fugitive Slaves,” New York Daily Times (May 14, 1852) “Fugitive Slaves in Ohio,” New York Daily Times (September 7, 1853) “The United States Bond”; an excerpt from Isaac T. Hopper by L. Maria Child (1854) The Thomas Hughes Affair; an excerpt from Isaac T. Hopper by L. Maria Child (1854) Chapter II; an excerpt from Twelve Years a Slave (1855) Arrivals from Virginia; an excerpt from The Refugee (1856) Excerpt from Reminiscences of Levi Coffin (1880) Arrivals from Virginia; an excerpt from Still’s Underground Rail Road Records (1886) “The Quakers”; an excerpt from A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1896)

APA Citation:
General Assembly. “An ACT providing additional protection for the slave property of citizens of this commonwealth” (1856). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
General Assembly. "“An ACT providing additional protection for the slave property of citizens of this commonwealth” (1856)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 28 May. 2024
Last updated: 2020, December 07
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