The legal mechanism that transformed English common law slavery into American bond slavery is interesting. In England, the term “slave,” like villein, freeman, gentleman and noble, described a civil status that was inherited at birth from the father. One of the chief disabilities associated with the civil status of slave was that neither the slave nor a descendant of a slave could own or convey property and they were obliged to do their owners bidding come what may. But they did retain certain civil rights and they could petition the manor court for redress of some grievances. Slaves, prisoners, indentured servants and pressed men were all under very similar legal circumstances. The chief difference being “slave” was an inherent civil status.
In England and its American colonies before 1663 if the father of a child born to a slave mother was unknown the child was usually presumed to have been born free but it was a question of fact for a jury. In Virginia before 1663 one or two slaves actually won their freedom by arguing this point before a jury.
Common law slavery was not bond slavery. Under the common law a slave was still a person but a bond slave was not a person at all. Chief Justice Taney made that distinction very clear in Scott v. Sanford (1857).
A provision in all of the colonial charters was that the colonial government could not make any laws contrary to the laws of England. Bond slavery came to the Anglosphere when Charles II allowed first the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas and then other colonies to change the colonial laws by providing that in the case of slaves, the child inherited the civil status of the mother (whose civil status was always known), stripping slaves of any civil rights and making it clear that slaves, like other livestock, were the personal property of their owner. The colonies with plantation economies adopted such laws and other colonies tended not to do so.
In 1700, being a slave in Massachusetts was quite different from being a slave in South Carolina. In Massachusetts a slave could petition the town meeting or the colony’s General Court for redress of grievances and the magistrates could free or order compensation to an abused slave. That was not the case in South Carolina. Of course, the New England economy did not depend on slave labor while economy of South Carolina did. In Massachusetts a slave was seen as a very un-republican status symbol that was associated in the public mind with prosperous merchants and titled minions of the crown.