On this day in 1640, Virginia’s General Court issued a decision that described three servants belonging to Hugh Gwyn who ran away to Maryland and were captured there. Victor, “a Dutchman,” and James Gregory, “a Scotchman,” were each sentenced to be whipped, and four years were added to their indentures. The third servant, “a negro named John Punch,” was punished differently. Rather than take on additional years, he was made a slave for life. Scholars have argued that this decision represents the first legal distinction between Europeans and Africans to be made by Virginia courts.
After the jump, you can read the court’s full (one-paragraph) decision.
IMAGE: Admittedly, this scene from the life of Abraham Lincoln, by illustrator Lloyd Ostendorf—probably from Abraham Lincoln: The Boy, the Man (1962)—has nothing to do with John Punch. But it’s cool, and Ostendorf, who died in 2009, was an interesting guy. You can read his obituary here, see his illustration of Lincoln’s son here, and read about how he proved a certain photograph was not of Lincoln. Again, nothing to do with John Punch.