Document Analysis: The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia
Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine the time when the society considered women unequal to men. They were perceived like children in their mental abilities and that is why they did not have any civil rights in the United States until the second half of the 20th century.
It was strange to think about giving a child a right to vote, for example. Women were also not allowed to study in the universities, because their intelligence was not considered high enough for this level. That is why the only thing women were able to do in their lives was to get married, to give birth to numerous children and be a housewife. However, the life of a black woman was much harder, because she was twice inferior in the American society until the civil rights movement, because she was a woman and because she was a Negro.
An article from the book American History by Era – The Colonial Period: 1607-1750 by Brenda Stalcup features the document The Statues at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia (Hening). It features the descriptions of painful experiences black women had in colonial America. The source is based upon the laws of Virginia of 1662. Though, it is a secondary source, because it summarizes the main issues of the law. It is evident that the author of the secondary source does not support the ideas promoted by the law of Virginia. He proposes the questions for the argument, without changing the primary information.
The production of this document had a great influence on further social status of black women during several centuries after its ratification. The law of Virginia emphasized the distinction between black and white people and hardened the line between the nations. Black women became the most vulnerable part of the American society of that time, because they had no right to protect their health and well-being legally. According to the previously mentioned law, the child of the black slave woman and a white man automatically becomes a slave and was assigned to his/her mother’s social status. The notion “Christian” referred only to white people, while all Africans were heathens. That led to numerous social and religious prejudices about black people and the stereotypes were actively supported by the church. The popular position regarding the Africans was that they are less human than the whites, because they are less intelligent, do not have their own culture and are just different. The despise to black women was so high and normal in the American society in the 17th century, that the only thing a white man had to do if he had raped a black woman, was to pay a double tax.
It is impossible to understand the historical period without analyzing the documents that were signed during that time. The Law of Virginia of 1662 is a bright example of this theory. The document shows how the state and the society treated black people, especially black women, who turned out to be the least protected social group.
Hening, William. The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia. University press of Virginia, 1969.
Stalcup, Brenda. American History by Era – The Colonial Period: 1607-1750 Vol. 2 (paperback edition) (American History by Era). Greenhaven Press, 2003.