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American Negro Slavery by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips

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Then followed a checkered experience as a plantation hand on the Red River,
lasting for a dozen years until a letter which a friendly white carpenter
had written for him brought one of his former patrons with an agent's
commission from the governor of New York. With the assistance of the local
authorities Northrup's identity was promptly established, his liberty
procured, and the journey accomplished which carried him back again to his
wife and children at Saratoga.[64]

[Footnote 64: [David Wilson ed.], _Narrative of Solomon Northrup_ (New
York, 1853). Though the books of this class are generally of dubious value
this one has a tone which engages confidence. Its pictures of plantation
life and labor are of particular interest.]

A third instance, but of merely local notoriety, was that of William
Houston, who, according to his own account was a British subject who had
come from Liverpool as a ship steward in 1840 and while at New Orleans had
been offered passage back to England by way of New York by one Espagne de
Blanc. But upon reaching Martinsville on the up-river voyage de Blanc had
ordered him off the boat, set him to work in his kitchen, taken away his
papers and treated him as his slave. After five years there Houston was
sold to a New Orleans barkeeper who shortly sold him to a neighboring
merchant, George Lynch, who hired him out. In the Mexican war Houston
accompanied the American army, and upon returning to New Orleans was sold
to one Richardson. But this purchaser, suspecting a fault of title, refused
payment, whereupon in 1850 Richardson sold Houston at auction to J.F.
Lapice, against whom the negro now brought suit under the aegis of the
British consul. While the trial was yet pending a local newspaper printed
his whole narrative that it might "assist the plaintiff to prove his
freedom, or the defendant to prove he is a slave."[65]

[Footnote 65: New Orleans _Daily Delta_, June 1, 1850.]

Societies were established here and there for the prevention of kidnapping
and other illegal practices in reducing negroes to slavery, notable among
which for its long and active career was the one at Alexandria.[66]
Kidnapping was, of course, a crime under the laws of the states generally;
but in view of the seeming ease of its accomplishment and the potential
value of the victims it may well be thought remarkable that so many
thousands of free negroes were able to keep their liberty. In 1860 there
were 83,942 of this class in Maryland, 58,042 in Virginia, 30,463 in North
Carolina, 18,467 in Louisiana, and 250,787 in the South at large.

[Footnote 66: Alexandria, Va., _Advertiser_, Feb. 22, 1798, notice of the
society's quarterly meeting; J.D. Paxton, _Letters on Slavery_ (Lexington,
Ky., 1833), p. 30, note.]

A few free negroes were reduced by public authority to private servitude,
whether for terms or for life, in punishment for crime. In Maryland under
an act of 1858 eighty-nine were sold by the state in the following two
years, four of them for life and the rest for terms, after convictions
ranging from arson to petty larceny.[67] Some others were sold in various
states under laws applying to negro vagrancy, illegal residence, or even to
default of jail fees during imprisonment as fugitive suspects.

[Footnote 67: J.R. Brackett, _The Negro in Maryland_, pp. 231, 232.]

A few others voluntarily converted themselves into slaves. Thus Lucinda who
had been manumitted under a will requiring her removal to another state
petitioned the Virginia legislature in 1815 for permission, which was
doubtless granted, to become the slave of the master of her slave husband
"from whom the benefits and privileges of freedom, dear and flattering
as they are, could not induce her to be separated."[68] On other grounds
William Bass petitioned the South Carolina general assembly in 1859,
reciting "That as a free negro he is preyed upon by every sharper with whom
he comes in contact, and that he is very poor though an able-bodied
man, and is charged with and punished for every offence, guilty or not,
committed in his neighborhood; that he is without house or home, and lives
a thousand times harder and in more destitution than the slaves of many
planters in this district." He accordingly asked permission by special act
to become the slave of Philip W. Pledger who had consented to receive
him if he could lawfully do so.[69] To provide systematically for such
occasions the legislatures of several states from Maryland to Texas enacted
laws in the middle and late fifties authorizing free persons of color at
their own instance and with the approval of magistrates in each case to
enslave themselves to such masters as they might select.[70] The Virginia
law, enacted at the beginning of 1856, safeguarded the claims of any
creditors against the negro by requiring a month's notice during which
protests might be entered, and it also required the prospective master
to pay to the state half the negro's appraised value. Among the Virginia
archives vouchers are filed for sixteen such enslavements, in widely
scattered localities.[71] Most of the appraisals in these cases ranged from
$300 to $1200, indicating substantial earning capacity; but the valuations
of $5 for one of the women and of $10 for a man upwards of seventy years
old suggest that some of these undertakings were of a charitable nature.
An instance in the general premises occurred in Georgia, as late as July,
1864, when a negro freeman in dearth of livelihood sold himself for five
hundred dollars, in Confederate currency of course, to be paid to his free
wife.[72] Occasionally a free man of color would seek a swifter and surer
escape from his tribulations by taking his own life;[73] but there appears
to be no reason to believe that suicides among them were in greater ratio
than among the whites.

[Footnote 68: _Plantation and Frontier_, II, 161, 162.]

[Footnote 69: _Ibid_., II, 163, 164.]

[Footnote 70: In the absence of permissive laws the self-enslavement of
negroes was invalid. Texas Supreme Court _Reports_, XXIV, 560. And a negro
who had deeded his services for ninety-nine years was adjudged to retain
his free status, though the contract between him and his employer was not
thereby voided. North Carolina Supreme Court _Reports_, LX, 434.]

[Footnote 71: MSS. in the Virginia State Library.]

[Footnote 72: American Historical Association _Report_ for 1904, p. 577.]

[Footnote 73: An instance is given in the _Louisiana Courier_ (New
Orleans), Aug. 26, 1830, and another in the New Orleans _Commercial
Advertiser_, Oct. 25, 1831. The motives are not stated.]

Invitations to American free negroes to try their fortunes in other lands
were not lacking. Facilities for emigration to Liberia were steadily
maintained by the Colonization Society from 1819 onward;[74] the Haytian
government under President Boyer offered special inducements from that
republic in 1824;[75] in 1840 an immigration society in British Guiana
proffered free transportation for such as would remove thither;[76] and in
1859 Hayti once more sent overtures, particularly to the French-speaking
colored people of Louisiana, promising free lands to all who would come as
well as free transportation to such as could not pay their passage.[77] But
these opportunities were seldom embraced. With the great bulk of those to
whom they were addressed the dread of an undiscovered country from whose
bourne few travellers had returned puzzled their wills, as it had done
Hamlet's, and made them rather bear those ills they had than to fly to
others that they knew not of.

[Footnote 74: J.H.T. McPherson, _History of Liberia_ (Johns Hopkins
University _Studies_, IX, no. 10).]

[Footnote 75: _Correspondence relative to the Emigration to Hayti of the
Free People of Colour in the United States, together with the instructions
to the agent sent out by President Boyer_ (New York, 1824); _Plantation and
Frontier_, II, 155-157.]

[Footnote 76: _Inducements to the Colored People of the United States
to Emigrate to British Guiana, compiled from statements and documents
furnished by Mr. Edward Carberry, agent of the immigration society of
British Guiana and a proprietor in that colony_. By "A friend to the
Colored People" (Boston, 1840); The _Liberator_ (Boston), Feb. 28, 1840,

[Footnote 77: E.P. Puckett, "The Free Negro in Louisiana" (MS.), citing the
New Orleans _Picayune_, July 16, 1859, and Oct. 21 and 23, 1860.]

Their caste, it is true, was discriminated against with severity. Generally
at the North and wholly at the South their children were debarred from the
white schools and poorly provided with schools of their own.[78] Exclusion
of the adults from the militia became the general rule after the close of
the war of 1812. Deprivation of the suffrage at the South, which was made
complete by the action of the constitutional convention of North Carolina
in 1835 and which was imposed by numerous Northern states between 1807
and 1838,[79] was a more palpable grievance against which a convention
of colored freemen at Philadelphia in 1831 ineffectually protested.[80]
Exclusion from the jury boxes and from giving testimony against whites was
likewise not only general in the South but more or less prevalent in the
North as well. Many of the Southern states, furthermore, required license
and registration as a condition of residence and imposed restrictions upon
movement, education and occupations; and several of them required the
procurement of individual white guardians or bondsmen in security for good

[Footnote 78: The schooling facilities are elaborately and excellently
described and discussed in C.G. Woodson, _The Education of the Negro Prior
to 1861_ (New York, 1915).]

[Footnote 79: Emil Olbrich, _The Development of Sentiment for Negro
Suffrage to 1860_ (University of Wisconsin _Bulletin_, Historical Series,
III, no, I).]

[Footnote 80: _Minutes and Proceedings of the First Annual Convention of
the People of Colour, held in Philadelphia from the sixth to the eleventh
of June_, 1831 (Philadelphia, 1831).]

These discriminations, along with the many private rebuffs and oppressions
which they met, greatly complicated the problem of social adjustment which
colored freemen everywhere encountered. It is not to be wondered that some
of them developed criminal tendencies in reaction and revolt, particularly
when white agitators made it their business to stimulate discontent.
Convictions for crimes, however, were in greatest proportionate excess
among the free negroes of the North. In 1850, for example, the colored
inmates in the Southern penitentiaries, including slaves, bore a ratio
to the free colored population but half as high as did the corresponding
prisoners in the North to the similar population there. These ratios were
about six and eleven times those prevalent among the Southern and Northern
whites respectively.[81] This nevertheless does not prove an excess of
actual depravity or criminal disposition in any of the premises, for the
discriminative character of the laws and the prejudice of constables,
magistrates and jurors were strong contributing factors. Many a free negro
was doubtless arrested and convicted in virtually every commonwealth under
circumstances in which white men went free. The more severe industrial
discrimination at the North, which drove large numbers to an alternative of
destitution or crime, was furthermore contributive to the special excess of
negro criminality there.

[Footnote 81: The number of convicts for every 10,000 of the respective
populations was about 2.2 for the whites and 13.0 for the free colored
(with slave convicts included) at the South, and 2.5 for the whites and
28.7 for the free colored at the North. _Compendium of the Seventh Census_,
p. 166. See also _Southern Literary Messenger_, IX, 340-352; _DeBow's
Review_, XIV, 593-595; David Christy, _Cotton Is King_ (Cincinnati, 1855),
p. 153; E.R. Turner, _The Negro in Pennsylvania_, pp. 155-158.]

In some instances the violence of mobs was added to the might of the law.
Such was the case at Washington in 1835 when following on the heels of a
man's arrest for the crime of possessing incendiary publications and his
trial within the jail as a precaution to keep him from the mob's clutches,
a new report was spread that Beverly Snow, the free mulatto proprietor of
a saloon and restaurant between Brown's and Gadsby's hotels, had spoken in
slurring terms of the wives and daughters of white mechanics as a class.
"In a very short time he had more customers than both Brown and Gadsby--but
the landlord was not to be found although diligent search was made all
through the house. Next morning the house was visited by an increased
number of guests, but Snow was still absent." The mob then began to search
the houses of his associates for him. In that of James Hutton, another free
mulatto, some abolition papers were found. The mob hustled Hutton to a
magistrate, returned and wrecked Snow's establishment, and then held an
organized meeting at the Center Market where an executive committee was
appointed with a view to further activity. Meanwhile the city council held
session, the mayor issued a proclamation, and the militia was ordered out.
Mobs gathered that night, nevertheless, but dispersed after burning a negro
hut and breaking the windows of a negro church.[82] Such outrages appear to
have been rare in the distinctively Southern communities where the racial
subordination was more complete and the antipathy correspondingly fainter.

[Footnote 82: Washington _Globe_, about August 14, reprinted in the _North
Carolina Standard_, Aug. 27, 1835.]

Since the whites everywhere held the whip hand and nowhere greatly
refrained from the use of their power, the lot of the colored freeman
was one hardly to be borne without the aid of habit and philosophy. They
submitted to the regime because it was mostly taken as a matter of course,
because resistance would surely bring harsher repression, and because there
were solaces to be found. The well-to-do quadroons and mulattoes had
reason in their prosperity to cherish their own pride of place and carry
themselves with a quiet conservative dignity. The less prosperous blacks,
together with such of their mulatto confreres as were similarly inert,
had the satisfaction at least of not being slaves; and those in the South
commonly shared the humorous lightheartedness which is characteristic of
both African and Southern negroes. The possession of sincere friends among
the whites here and there also helped them to feel that their lives lay in
fairly pleasant places; and in their lodges they had a refuge peculiarly
their own.

The benevolent secret societies of the negroes, with their special stress
upon burial ceremonies, may have had a dim African origin, but they were
doubtless influenced strongly by the Masonic and other orders among the
whites. Nothing but mere glimpses may be had of the history of these
institutions, for lowliness as well as secrecy screened their careers.
There may well have been very many lodges among illiterate and moneyless
slaves without leaving any tangible record whatever. Those in which the
colored freemen mainly figured were a little more affluent, formal and
conspicuous. Such organizations were a recourse at the same time for mutual
aid and for the enhancement of social prestige. The founding of one of
them at Charleston in 1790, the Brown Fellowship Society, with membership
confined to mulattoes and quadroons, appears to have prompted the free
blacks to found one of their own in emulation.[83] Among the proceedings
of the former was the expulsion of George Logan in 1817 with a consequent
cancelling of his claims and those of his heirs to the rights and benefits
of the institution, on the ground that he had conspired to cause a
free black to be sold as a slave.[84] At Baltimore in 1835 there were
thirty-five or forty of these lodges, with memberships ranging from
thirty-five to one hundred and fifty each.[85]

[Footnote 83: T.D. Jervey, _Robert Y. Hayne and His Times_ (New York,
1909), p. 6.]

[Footnote 84: _Ibid_., pp. 68, 69.]

[Footnote 85: _Niles' Register_, XLIX, 72.]

The tone and purpose of the lodges may be gathered in part from the
constitution and by-laws of one of them, the Union Band Society of New
Orleans, founded in 1860. Its motto was "Love, Union, Peace"; its officers
were president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, marshal, mother, and
six male and twelve female stewards, and its dues fifty cents per month.
Members joining the lodge were pledged to obey its laws, to be humble to
its officers, to keep its secrets, to live in love and union with fellow
members, "to go about once in a while and see one another in love," and to
wear the society's regalia on occasion. Any member in three months' arrears
of dues was to be expelled unless upon his plea of illness or poverty a
subscription could be raised in meeting to meet his deficit. It was the
duty of all to report illnesses in the membership, and the function of the
official mother to delegate members for the nursing. The secretary was to
see to the washing of the sick member's clothes and pay for the work from
the lodge's funds, as well as the doctor's fees. The marshal was to have
charge of funerals, with power to commandeer the services of such members
as might be required. He might fee the officiating minister to the extent
of not more than $2.50, and draw pay for himself on a similar schedule.
Negotiations with any other lodge were provided for in case of the death of
a member who had fellowship also in the other for the custody of the corpse
and the sharing of expense; and a provision was included that when a lodge
was given the body of an outsider for burial it would furnish coffin,
hearse, tomb, minister and marshal at a price of fifty dollars all
told.[86] The mortuary stress in the by-laws, however, need not signify
that the lodge was more funereal than festive. A negro burial was as
sociable as an Irish wake.

[Footnote 86: _The By-laws and Constitution of the Union Band Society of
Orleans, organised July 22, 1860: Love, Union, Peace_ (Caption).]

Doubtless to some extent in their lodges, and certainly to a great degree
in their daily affairs, the lives of the free colored and the slaves
intermingled. Colored freemen, except in the highest of their social
strata, took free or slave wives almost indifferently. Some indeed appear
to have preferred the unfree, either because in such case the husband would
not be responsible for the support of the family or because he might engage
the protection of his wife's master in time of need.[87] On the other hand
the free colored women were somewhat numerously the prostitutes, or in more
favored cases the concubines, of white men. At New Orleans and thereabouts
particularly, concubinage, along with the well known "quadroon balls," was
a systematized practice.[88] When this had persisted for enough generations
to produce children of less than octoroon infusion, some of these doubtless
cut their social ties, changed their residence, and made successful though
clandestine entrance into white society. The fairness of the complexions of
some of those who to this day take the seats assigned to colored passengers
in the street cars of New Orleans is an evidence, however, that "crossing
the line" has not in all such breasts been a mastering ambition.

[Footnote 87: J.H. Russell, _The Free Negro in Virginia_, pp. 130-133.]

[Footnote 88: Albert Phelps, _Louisiana_ (Boston, 1905), pp. 212, 213.]

The Southern whites were of several minds regarding the free colored
element in their midst. Whereas laboring men were more or less jealously
disposed on the ground of their competition, the interest and inclination
of citizens in the upper ranks was commonly to look with favor upon those
whose labor they might use to advantage. On public grounds, however, these
men shared the general apprehension that in case tumult were plotted, the
freedom of movement possessed by these people might if their services were
enlisted by the slaves make the efforts of the whole more formidable. One
of the Charleston pamphleteers sought to discriminate between the mulattoes
and the blacks in the premises, censuring the indolence and viciousness
of the latter while praising the former for their thrift and sobriety and
contending that in case of revolt they would be more likely to prove allies
of the whites.[89] This distinction, however, met no general adoption. The
general discussion at the South in the premises did not concern the
virtues and vices of the colored freemen on their own score so much as the
influence exerted by them upon the slaves. It is notable in this connection
that the Northern dislike of negro newcomers from the South on the ground
of their prevalent ignorance, thriftlessness and instability[90] was more
than matched by the Southern dread of free negroes from the North. A
citizen of New Orleans wrote characteristically as early as 1819:[91]
"It is a melancholy but incontrovertible fact that in the cities of
Philadelphia, New York and Boston, where the blacks are put on an equality
with the whites, ... they are chiefly noted for their aversion to labor
and proneness to villainy. Men of this class are peculiarly dangerous in
a community like ours; they are in general remarkable for the boldness of
their manners, and some of them possess talents to execute the most wicked
and deep laid plots."

[Footnote 89: [Edwin C. Holland], _A Refutation of the Calumnies circulated
against the Southern and Western States respecting the institution and
existence of Slavery among them_. By a South Carolinian (Charleston, 1822),
pp. 84, 85.]

[Footnote 90: E.R. Turner, _The Negro in Pennsylvania_, p. 158.]

[Footnote 91: Letter to the editor in the _Louisiana Gazette_, Aug. 12,



The negroes were in a strange land, coercively subjected to laws and
customs far different from those of their ancestral country; and by being
enslaved and set off into a separate lowly caste they were largely deprived
of that incentive to conformity which under normal conditions the hope of
individual advancement so strongly gives. It was quite to be expected that
their conduct in general would be widely different from that of the whites
who were citizens and proprietors. The natural amenability of the blacks,
however, had been a decisive factor in their initial enslavement, and the
reckoning which their captors and rulers made of this was on the whole well
founded. Their lawbreaking had few distinctive characteristics, and gave no
special concern to the public except as regards rape and revolt.

Records of offenses by slaves are scant because on the one hand they were
commonly tried by somewhat informal courts whose records are scattered and
often lost, and on the other hand they were generally given sentences
of whipping, death or deportation, which kept their names out of the
penitentiary lists. One errs, however, in assuming a dearth of serious
infractions on their part and explaining it by saying, "under a strict
slave regime there can scarcely be such a thing as crime";[1] for
investigation reveals crime in abundance. A fairly typical record in the
premises is that of Baldwin County, Georgia, in which the following trials
of slaves for felonies between 1812 and 1832 are recounted: in 1812
Major was convicted of rape and sentenced to be hanged. In 1815 Fannie
Micklejohn, charged with the murder of an infant was acquitted; and Tom,
convicted of murdering a fellow slave was sentenced to branding on each
cheek with the letter M and to thirty-nine lashes on his bare back on each
of three successive days, after which he was to be discharged. In 1816
John, a slave of William McGeehee, convicted of the theft of a $100 bill
was sentenced to whipping in similar fashion. In 1818 Aleck was found
guilty of an assault with intent to murder, and received sentence of fifty
lashes on three days in succession. In 1819 Rodney was capitally sentenced
for arson. In 1821 Peter, charged with murdering a slave, was convicted of
manslaughter and ordered to be branded with M on the right cheek and to be
given the customary three times thirty-nine lashes; and Edmund, charged
with involuntary manslaughter, was dismissed on the ground that the court
had no cognizance of such offense. In 1822 Davis was convicted of assault
upon a white person with intent to kill, but his sentence is not recorded.
In or about the same year John, a slave of William Robertson, convicted of
burglary but recommended to mercy, was sentenced to be branded with T on
the right cheek and to receive three times thirty-nine lashes; and on the
same day the same slave was sentenced to death for assault upon a white
man with intent to kill. In 1825 John Ponder's George when convicted of
burglary was recommended by the jury to the mercy of the court but received
sentence of death nevertheless; and Stephen was sentenced likewise for
murderous assault upon a white man. In 1826 Elleck, charged with assault
with intent of murder and rape, was convicted on the first part of the
charge only, but received sentence of death. In 1828 Elizabeth Smith's
George was acquitted of larceny from the house; and next year Caroline was
likewise acquitted on a charge of maiming a white person. Finally, in 1832
Martin, upon pleading guilty to a charge of murderous assault, was given a
whipping sentence of the customary thirty-nine lashes on three successive

[Footnote 1: W.E.B. DuBois, in the _Annals of the Academy of Political and
Social Science_, XVIII, 132.]

[Footnote 2: "Record of the Proceedings of the Inferior Court of Baldwin
County on the Trials of Slaves charged with capital Offences." MS. in the
court house at Milledgeville. The record is summarized in Ac American
Historical Association _Report_ for 1903, I, 462-464, and in _Plantation
and Frontier_, II, 123-125.]

A few negro felonies, indeed, resulted directly from the pressure of slave
circumstance. A gruesome instance occurred in 1864 in the same county as
the foregoing. A young slave woman, Becky by name, had given pregnancy
as the reason for a continued slackness in her work. Her master became
skeptical and gave notice that she was to be examined and might expect the
whip in case her excuse were not substantiated. Two days afterward a negro
midwife announced that Becky's baby had been born; but at the same time
a neighboring planter began search for a child nine months old which was
missing from his quarter. This child was found in Becky's cabin, with its
two teeth pulled and the tip of its navel cut off. It died; and Becky,
charged with murder but convicted only of manslaughter, was sentenced to
receive two hundred lashes in instalments of twenty-five at intervals of
four days.[3] Some other deeds done by slaves were crimes only because the
law declared them to be such when committed by persons of that class. The
striking of white persons and the administering of medicine to them are
examples. But in general the felonies for which they were convicted were of
sorts which the law described as criminal regardless of the status of the

[Footnote 3: _Confederate Union_ (Milledgeville, Ga.), Mch. 1, 1864.]

In a West Indian colony and in a Northern state glimpses of the volume of
criminality, though not of its quality, may be drawn from the fact that
in the years from 1792 to 1802 the Jamaican government deported 271 slave
convicts at a cost of L15,538 for the compensation of their masters,[4] and
that in 1816 some forty such were deported from New York to New Orleans,
much to the disquiet of the Louisiana authorities.[5] As for the South,
state-wide statistical views with any approach to adequacy are available
for two commonwealths only. That of Louisiana is due to the fact that the
laws and courts there gave sentences of imprisonment with considerable
impartiality to malefactors of both races and conditions. In its
penitentiary report at the end of 1860, for example, the list of inmates
comprised 96 slaves along with 236 whites and 11 free colored. All the
slaves but fourteen were males, and all but thirteen were serving life
terms.[6] Classed by crimes, 12 of them had been sentenced for arson, 3
for burglary or housebreaking, 28 for murder, 4 for manslaughter, 4 for
poisoning, 5 for attempts to poison, 7 for assault with intent to kill, 2
for stabbing, 3 for shooting, 20 for striking or wounding a white person,
1 for wounding a child, 4 for attempts to rape, and 3 for insurrection.[7]
This catalogue is notable for its omissions as well as for its content.
While there were four white inmates of the prison who stood convicted of
rape, there were no negroes who had accomplished that crime. Likewise as
compared with 52 whites and 4 free negroes serving terms for larceny, there
were no slave prisoners in that category. Doubtless on the one hand the
negro rapists had been promptly put to death, and on the other hand the
slaves committing mere theft had been let off with whippings. Furthermore
there were no slaves committed for counterfeiting or forgery, horse
stealing, slave stealing or aiding slaves to escape.

[Footnote 4: _Royal Gazette_ (Kingston, Jamaica), Jan. 29, 1803.]

[Footnote 5: Message of Governor Claiborne in the _Journal_ of the
Louisiana House of Representatives, 3d legislature, 1st session, p, 22. For
this note I am indebted to Mr. V.A. Moody.]

[Footnote 6: Under an act of 1854, effective at this time, the owner of any
slave executed or imprisoned was to receive indemnity from the state to the
extent of two-thirds of the slave's appraised value.]

[Footnote 7: _Report of the Board of Control of the Louisiana Penitentiary,
January, 1861_ (Baton Rouge, 1861). Among the 22 pardoned in 1860 were 2
slaves who had been sentenced for murder, 2 for arson, and 1 for assault
with intent to kill.]

The uniquely full view which may be had of the trend of serious crimes
among the Virginia slaves is due to the preservation of vouchers filed in
pursuance of a law of that state which for many decades required appraisal
and payment by the public for all slaves capitally convicted and sentenced
to death or deportation. The file extends virtually from 1780 to 1864,
except for a gap of three years in the late 1850's.[8] The volume of crime
rose gradually decade by decade to a maximum of 242 in the 1820's, and
tended to decline slowly thereafter. The gross number of convictions was
1,418, all but 91 of which were of males. For arson there were 90 slaves
convicted, including 29 women. For burglary there were 257, with but one
woman among them. The highway robbers numbered 15, the horse thieves 20,
and the thieves of other sorts falling within the purview of the vouchers
24, with no women in these categories. It would be interesting to know how
the slaves who stole horses expected to keep them undiscovered, but this
the vouchers fail to tell.

[Footnote 8: The MS. vouchers are among the archives in the Virginia State
Library. They have been statistically analyzed by the present writer,
substantially as here follows, in the _American Historical Review_, XX,

For murder there were 346, discriminated as having been committed upon the
master 56, the mistress 11, the overseer 11; upon other white persons 120;
upon free negroes 7; upon slaves 85, including 12 children all of whom were
killed by their own mothers; and upon persons not described 60. Of the
murderers 307 were men and 39 women. For poisoning and attempts to poison,
including the administering of ground glass, 40 men and 16 women were
convicted, and there were also convictions of one man and one woman for
administering medicine to white persons. For miscellaneous assault there
were 111 sentences recorded, all but eight of which were laid upon male
offenders and only two of which were described as having been directed
against colored victims.

For rape there were 73 convictions, and for attempts at rape 32. This total
of 105 cases was quite evenly distributed in the tale of years; but the
territorial distribution was notably less in the long settled Tidewater
district than in the newer Piedmont and Shenandoah. The trend of slave
crime of most other sorts, however, ran squarely counter to this; and
its notably heavier prevalence in the lowlands gives countenance to the
contemporary Southern belief that the presence of numerous free negroes
among them increased the criminal proclivities of the slaves. In at least
two cases the victims of rape were white children; and in two others, if
one be included in which the conviction was strangely of mere "suspicion
of rape," they were free mulatto women. That no slave women were mentioned
among the victims is of course far from proving that these were never
violated, for such offenses appear to have been left largely to the private
cognizance of the masters.[9] A Delaware instance of the sort attained
record through an offer of reward for the capture of a slave who had run
away after being punished.

[Footnote 9: Elkton (Md.) _Press_, July 19, 1828, advertisement, reprinted
in _Plantation and Frontier_, II, 122.]

For insurrection or conspiracy 91 slaves were convicted, 36 of them in
Henrico County in 1800 for participation in Gabriel's revolt, 17 in 1831,
mainly in Southampton County as followers of Nat Turner, and the rest
mostly scattering. Among miscellaneous and unclassified cases there was one
slave convicted of forgery, another of causing the printing of anti-slavery
writings, and 301 sentenced without definite specification of their crimes.
Among the vouchers furthermore are incidental records of the killing of a
slave in 1788 who had been proclaimed an outlaw, and of the purchase and
manumission by the commonwealth of Tom and Pharaoh in 1801 for services
connected with the suppression of Gabriel's revolt.

As to punishments, the vouchers of the eighteenth century are largely
silent, though one of them contains the only unusual sentence to be found
in the whole file. This directed that the head of a slave who had murdered
a fellow slave be cut off and stuck on a pole at the forks of the road.
In the nineteenth century only about one-third of the vouchers record
execution. The rest give record of transportation whether under the
original sentences or upon commutation by the governor, except for the
cases which from 1859 to 1863 were more numerous than any others where the
commutations were to labor on the public works.

The statistics of rape in Virginia, and the Georgia cases already given,
refute the oft-asserted Southern tradition that negroes never violated
white women before slavery was abolished. Other scattering examples may be
drawn from contemporary newspapers. One of these occurred at Worcester,
Massachusetts in 1768.[10] Upon conviction the negro was condemned to
death, although a white man at the same time found guilty of an attempt at
rape was sentenced merely to sit upon the gallows. In Georgia the governor
issued a proclamation in 1811 offering reward for the capture of Jess, a
slave who had ravished the wife of a citizen of Jones County;[11] and in
1844 a jury in Habersham County, after testimony by the victim and others,
found a slave named Dave guilty of rape upon Hester An Dobbs, "a free white
female in the peace of God and state of Georgia," and the criminal was duly
hanged by the sheriff.[12] In Alabama in 1827 a negro was convicted of rape
at Tuscaloosa,[13] and another in Washington County confessed after capture
that while a runaway he had met Miss Winnie Caller, taken her from her
horse, dragged her into the woods and butchered her "with circumstances
too horrible to relate";[14] and at Mobile in 1849 a slave named Ben was
sentenced to death for an attempt at rape upon a white woman.[15] In
Rapides Parish, Louisiana, in 1842, a young girl was dragged into the
woods, beaten and violated. Her injuries caused her death next day. The
criminal had been caught when the report went to press.[16]

[Footnote 10: _Boston Chronicle_, Sept. 26, 1768, confirmed by a
contemporary broadside: "_The Life and Dying Speech of Arthur, a Negro Man
who was executed at Worcester, October 20, 1786, for a rape committed on
the body of one Deborah Metcalfe_" (Boston, 1768).]

[Footnote 11: Augusta _Chronicle_, Mch. 29, 1811.]

[Footnote 12: American Historical Association _Report_ for 1904, pp. 579,

[Footnote 13: Charleston _Observer_, Nov. 24, 1827.]

[Footnote 14: _Ibid_., Nov. 10, 1827.]

[Footnote 15: New Orleans _Delta_, June 23, 1849.]

[Footnote 16: New Orleans _Bee_, Sept. 27, 1842, reprinted in _Plantation
and Frontier_, II, 121, 122.]

Other examples will show that lynchings were not altogether lacking
in those days in sequel to such crimes. Near the village of Gallatin,
Mississippi, in 1843, two slave men entered a farmer's house in his absence
and after having gotten liquor from his wife by threats, "they forcibly
took from her arms the infant babe and rudely throwing it upon the floor,
they threw her down, and while one of them accomplished the fiendish design
of a ravisher the other, pointing the muzzle of a loaded gun at her head,
said he would blow out her brains if she resisted or made any noise." The
miscreants then loaded a horse with plunder from the house and made off,
but they were shortly caught by pursuing citizens and hanged. The local
editor said on his own score when recounting the episode: "We have ever
been and now are opposed to any kind of punishment being administered
under the statutes of Judge Lynch; but ... a due regard for candor and the
preservation of all that is held most sacred and all that is most dear to
man in the domestic circles of life impels us to acknowledge the fact that
if the perpetrators of this excessively revolting crime had been burned
alive, as was at first decreed, their fate would have been too good for
such diabolical and inhuman wretches."[17]

[Footnote 17: Gallatin, Miss., _Signal_, Feb. 27, 1843, reprinted in the
_Louisiana Courier_ (New Orleans), Mch. 1, 1843.]

An editorial in the _Sentinel_ of Columbus, Georgia, described and
discussed a local occurrence of August 12, 1851,[18] in a different tone:

[Footnote 18: Columbus _Sentinel_, reprinted in the Augusta _Chronicle_,
Aug. 17, 1851. This item, which is notable in more than one regard, was
kindly furnished by Prof. R.P. Brooks of the University of Georgia.]

"Our community has just been made to witness the most high-handed and
humiliating act of violence that it has ever been our duty to chronicle....
At the May term of the Superior Court a negro man was tried and condemned
on the charge of having attempted to commit rape upon a little white girl
in this county. His trial was a fair one, his counsel was the best our
bar afforded, his jury was one of the most intelligent that sat upon the
criminal side of our court, and on patient and honest hearing he was found
guilty and sentenced to be hung on Tuesday, the 12th inst. This, by the
way, was the second conviction. The negro had been tried and convicted
before, but his counsel had moved and obtained a new trial, which we have
seen resulted like the first in a conviction.

"Notwithstanding his conviction, it was believed by some that the negro was
innocent. Those who believed him innocent, in a spirit of mercy, undertook
a short time since to procure his pardon; and a petition to that effect was
circulated among our citizens and, we believe, very numerously signed. This
we think was a great error.... It is dangerous for the people to undertake
to meddle with the majesty of the jury trial; and strange as it may sound
to some people, we regard the unfortunate denouement of this case as but
the extreme exemplification of the very principle which actuated those who
originated this petition. Each proceeded from a spirit of discontent with
the decisions of the authorized tribunals; the difference being that in the
one case peaceful means were used for the accomplishment of mistaken mercy,
and in the other violence was resorted to for the attainment of mistaken

"The petition was sent to Governor Towns, and on Monday evening last the
messenger returned with a full and free pardon to the criminal. In the
meantime the people had begun to flock in from the country to witness the
execution; and when it was announced that a pardon had been received, the
excitement which immediately pervaded the streets was indescribable. Monday
night passed without any important demonstration. Tuesday morning the crowd
in the streets increased, and the excitement with it. A large and excited
multitude gathered early in the morning at the market house, and after
numerous violent harangues a leader was chosen, and resolutions passed to
the effect that the mob should demand the prisoner at four o'clock in the
afternoon, and if he should not be given up he was to be taken by force
and executed. After this decision the mob dispersed, and early in the
afternoon, upon the ringing of the market bell, it reassembled and
proceeded to the jail. The sheriff of the county of course refused to
surrender the negro, when he was overpowered, the prison doors broken open,
and the unfortunate culprit dragged forth and hung.

"These are the facts, briefly and we believe accurately, stated. We do
not feel now inclined to comment upon them. We leave them to the public,
praying in behalf of our injured community all the charity which can be
extended to an act so outraging, so unpardonable."

A similar occurrence in Sumter County, Alabama, in 1855 was reported with
no expression of regret. A negro who had raped and murdered a young girl
there was brought before the superior court in regular session. "When the
case was called for trial a motion for change of venue to the county of
Greene was granted. This so exasperated the citizens of Sumter (many of
whom were in favor of summary punishment in the outset) that a large number
of them collected on the 23d. ult., took him out of prison, chained him
to a stake on the very spot where the murder was committed, and in the
presence of two or three thousand negroes and a large number of white
people,[19] burned him alive." This mention of negroes in attendance is in
sharp contrast with their palpable absence on similar occasions in later
decades. They were present, of course, as at legal executions, by the
command of their masters to receive a lesson of deterrence. The wisdom of
this policy, however, had already been gravely questioned. A Louisiana
editor, for example, had written in comment upon a local hanging: "The
practice of sending slaves to witness the execution of their fellows as
a terror to them has many advocates, but we are inclined to doubt its
efficacy. We took particular pains to notice on this occasion the effects
which this horrid spectacle would produce on their minds, and our
observation taught us that while a very few turned with loathing from the
scene, a large majority manifested that levity and curiosity superinduced
by witnessing a monkey show."[20]

[Footnote 19: _Southern Banner_ (Athens, Ga.), June 21, 1855.]

[Footnote 20: _Caddo Gazette_, quoted in the New Orleans _Bee_, April 5,

For another case of lynching, which occurred in White County, Tennessee, in
1858, there is available merely the court record of a suit brought by the
owners of the slave to recover pecuniary damages from those who had lynched
him. It is incidentally recited, with strong reprehension by the court,
that the negro was in legal custody under a charge of rape and murder when
certain citizens, part of whom had signed a written agreement to "stand by
each other," broke into the jail and hanged the prisoner.[21]

[Footnote 21: Head's _Tennessee Reports_, I, 336. For lynchings prompted by
other crimes than rape see below, p. 474, footnote 60.]

In general the slaveholding South learned of crimes by individual negroes
with considerable equanimity. It was the news or suspicion of concerted
action by them which alone caused widespread alarm and uneasiness. That
actual deeds of rebellion by small groups were fairly common is suggested
by the numerous slaves convicted of murdering their masters and overseers
in Virginia, as well as by chance items from other quarters. Thus in 1797
a planter in Screven County, Georgia, who had recently bought a batch of
newly imported Africans was set upon and killed by them, and his wife's
escape was made possible only by the loyalty of two other slaves.[22]
Likewise in Bullitt County, Kentucky, in 1844, when a Mr. Stewart
threatened one of his slaves, that one and two others turned upon him and
beat him to death;[23] and in Arkansas in 1845 an overseer who was attacked
under similar circumstances saved his life only with the aid of several
neighbors and through the use of powder and ball.[24] Such episodes were
likely to grow as the reports of them flew over the countryside. For
instance in 1856 when an unruly slave on a plantation shortly below New
Orleans upon being threatened with punishment seized an axe and was
thereupon shot by his overseer, the rumor of an insurrection quickly ran to
and through the city.[25]

[Footnote 22: _Columbian Museum and Savannah Advertiser_ (Savannah, Ga.),
Feb. 24, 1797.]

[Footnote 23: Paducah _Kentuckian_, quoted in the New Orleans _Bee_, Apr.
3, 1844.]

[Footnote 24: New Orleans _Bee_, Aug. 1, 1845, citing the Arkansas
_Southern Shield_.]

[Footnote 25: New Orleans _Daily Tropic_, Feb. 16, 1846.]

If all such rumors as this, many of which had equally slight basis, were
assembled, the catalogue would reach formidable dimensions. A large number
doubtless escaped record, for the newspapers esteemed them "a delicate
subject to touch";[26] and many of those which were recorded, we may be
sure, have not come to the investigator's notice. A survey of the revolts
and conspiracies and the rumors of such must nevertheless be attempted; for
their influence upon public thought and policy, at least from time to time,
was powerful.

[Footnote 26: _Federal Union_ (Milledgeville, Ga.), Dec. 23, 1856,

Early revolts were of course mainly in the West Indies, for these were long
the chief plantation colonies. No more than twenty years after the first
blacks were brought to Hispaniola a score of Joloff negroes on the
plantation of Diego Columbus rose in 1622 and were joined by a like number
from other estates, to carry death and desolation in their path until they
were all cut down or captured.[27] In the English islands precedents of
conspiracy were set before the blacks became appreciably numerous. A plot
among the white indentured servants in Barbados in 1634 was betrayed and
the ringleader executed;[28] and another on a larger scale in 1649 had a
similar end.[29] Incoming negroes appear not to have taken a similar course
until 1675 when a plot among them was betrayed by one of their number. The
governor promptly appointed captains to raise companies, as a contemporary
wrote,[30] "for repressing the rebels, which accordingly was done, and
abundance taken and apprehended and since put to death, and the rest kept
in a more stricter manner." This quietude continued only until 1692 when
three negroes were seized on charge of conspiracy. One of these, on promise
of pardon, admitted the existence of the plot and his own participation
therein. The two others were condemned "to be hung in chains on a gibbet
till they were starved to death, and their bodies to be burned." These
endured the torture "for four days without making any confession, but then
gave in and promised to confess on promise of life. One was accordingly
taken down on the day following. The other did not survive." The tale as
then gathered told that the slaves already pledged were enough to form six
regiments, and that arrangements were on foot for the seizure of the forts
and arsenal through bribery among their custodians. The governor when
reporting these disclosures expressed the hope that the severe punishment
of the leaders, together with a new act offering freedom as reward to
future informers, would make the colony secure.[31] There seems to have
been no actual revolt of serious dimensions in Barbados except in 1816 when
the blacks rose in great mass and burned more than sixty plantations, as
well as killing all the whites they could catch, before troops arrived from
neighboring islands and suppressed them.[32]

[Footnote 27: J.A. Saco, _Esclavitud en el Nuevo Mondo_ (Barcelona, 1879),
pp. 131-133.]

[Footnote 28: Maryland Historical Society _Fund Publications_, XXXV.]

[Footnote 29: Richard Ligon, _History of Barbados_ (London, 1657).]

[Footnote 30: Charles Lincoln ed., _Narratives of the Indian Wars,
1675-1699_ (New York, 1913), pp. 71, 72.]

[Footnote 31: _Calendar of State Papers, America and West Indies,
1689-1692_, pp. 732-734.]

[Footnote 32: _Louisiana Gazette_ (New Orleans), June 17, 1816.]

In Jamaica a small outbreak in 1677[33] was followed by another, in
Clarendon Parish, in 1690. When these latter insurgents were routed by the
whites, part of them, largely Coromantees it appears, fled to the nearby
mountain fastnesses where, under the chieftainship of Cudjoe, they became
securely established as a community of marooned freemen. Welcoming runaway
slaves and living partly from depredations, they made themselves so
troublesome to the countryside that in 1733 the colonial government built
forts at the mouths of the Clarendon defiles and sent expeditions against
the Maroon villages. Cudjoe thereupon shifted his tribe to a new and better
buttressed vale in Trelawney Parish, whither after five years more spent in
forays and reprisals the Jamaican authorities sent overtures for peace. The
resulting treaty, signed in 1738, gave recognition to the Maroons, assigned
them lands and rights of hunting, travel and trade, pledged them to render
up runaway slaves and criminals in future, and provided for the residence
of an agent of the island government among the Maroons as their
superintendent. Under these terms peace prevailed for more than half a
century, while the Maroon population increased from 600 to 1400 souls. At
length Major James, to whom these blacks were warmly attached, was replaced
as superintendent by Captain Craskell whom they disliked and shortly
expelled. Tumults and forays now ensued, in 1795, the effect of which upon
the sentiment of the whites was made stronger by the calamitous occurrences
in San Domingo. Negotiations for a fresh accommodation fell through,
whereupon a conquest was undertaken by a joint force of British troops,
Jamaican militia and free colored auxiliaries. The prowess of the Maroons
and the ruggedness of their district held all these at bay, however, until
a body of Spanish hunters with trained dogs was brought in from Cuba. The
Maroons, conquered more by fright than by force, now surrendered, whereupon
they were transported first to Nova Scotia and thence at the end of the
century to the British protectorate in Sierra Leone.[34] Other Jamaican
troubles of some note were a revolt in St. Mary's Parish in 1765,[35] and
a more general one in 1832 in which property of an estimated value of
$1,800,000 was destroyed before the rebellion was put down at a cost of
some $700,000 more.[36] There were troubles likewise in various other
colonies, as with insurgents in Antigua in 1701[37] and[38] 1736 and
Martinique and Guadeloupe in 1752;[39] with maroons in Grenada in 1765,[40]
Dominica in 1785[41] and Demarara in[42] 1794; and with conspirators in
Cuba in 1825[43] and St. Croix[44] and Porto Rico in 1848.[45]

[Footnote 33: _Calendar of State Papers, America and West Indies,
1689-1692_, p. 101.]

[Footnote 34: R.C. Dallas, _History of the Maroons_ (London, 1803).]

[Footnote 35: _Gentleman's Magazine_, XXXVI, 135.]

[Footnote 36: _Niles' Register_, XLIV, 124.]

[Footnote 37: _Calendar of State Papers, America and West Indies_, 1701,
pp. 721, 722.]

[Footnote 38: _South Carolina Gazette_ (Charleston), Jan. 29, 1837.]

[Footnote 39: _Gentleman's Magazine_, XXII, 477.]

[Footnote 40: _Ibid_., XXXV, 533.]

[Footnote 41: Charleston, S.C., _Morning Post and Daily Advertiser_, Jan.
26, 1786.]

[Footnote 42: Henry Bolinbroke, _Voyage to the Demerary_ (Philadelphia,
1813), pp. 200-203.]

[Footnote 43: _Louisiana Gazette_, Oct. 12, 1825.]

[Footnote 44: New Orleans _Bee_, Aug. 7, 1848.]

[Footnote 45: _Ibid_., Aug. 16 and Dec. 15, 1848.]

Everything else of such nature, however, was eclipsed by the prodigious
upheaval in San Domingo consequent upon the French Revolution. Under the
flag of France the western end of that island had been converted in the
course of the eighteenth century from a nest of buccaneers into the most
thriving of plantation colonies. By 1788 it contained some 28,000 white
settlers, 22,000 free negroes and mulattoes, and 405,000 slaves. It had
nearly eight hundred sugar estates, many of them on a huge scale. The
soil was so fertile and the climate so favorable that on many fields the
sugar-cane would grow perennially from the same roots almost without end.
Exports of coffee and cotton were considerable, of sugar and molasses
enormous; and the volume was still rapidly swelling by reason of the great
annual importations of African slaves. The colony was by far the most
valued of the French overseas possessions.

Some of the whites were descendants of the original freebooters, and
retained the temperament of their forbears; others were immigrant fortune
seekers. The white women were less than half as numerous as the men, and
black or yellow concubines were common substitutes for wives. The colony
was the French equivalent of Jamaica, but more prosperous and more
self-willed and self-indulgent. Its whites were impatient of outside
control, and resolute that the slaves be ruled with iron hand and that the
colored freemen be kept passive.

A plentiful discontent with bureaucracy and commercial restraint under the
old regime caused the planters to welcome the early news of reform projects
in France and to demand representation in the coming States General. But
the rapid progress of radical republicanism in that assembly threw most of
these into a royalist reaction, though the poorer whites tended still to
endorse the Revolution. But now the agitations of the _Amis des Noirs_
at Paris dismayed all the white islanders, while on the other hand the
National Assembly's "Declaration of the Rights of Man," together with its
decrees granting political equality in somewhat ambiguous form to free
persons of color, prompted risings in 1791 among the colored freemen in the
northern part of the colony and among the slaves in the center and south.
When reports of these reached Paris, the new Legislative Assembly revoked
the former measures by a decree of September 24, 1791, transferring all
control over negro status to the colonial assemblies. Upon receiving news
of this the mulattoes and blacks, with the courage of despair, spread ruin
in every district. The whites, driven into the few fortified places, begged
succor from France; but the Jacobins, who were now in control at Paris, had
a programme of their own. By a decree of April 4, 1792, the Legislative
Assembly granted full political equality to colored freemen and provided
for the dispatch of Republican commissioners to establish the new regime.
The administration of the colony by these functionaries was a travesty.
Most of the surviving whites emigrated to Cuba and the American continent,
carrying such of their slaves as they could command. The free colored
people, who at first welcomed the commissioners, unexpectedly turned
against them because of a decree of August 29, 1793, abolishing slavery.

At this juncture Great Britain, then at war with the French Republic,
intervened by sending an army to capture the colony. Most of the colored
freemen and the remaining whites rallied to the flag of these invaders; but
the slaves, now commanded by the famous Toussaint L'Ouverture, resisted
them effectually, while yellow fever decimated their ranks and paralyzed
their energies. By 1795 the two colored elements, the mulattoes who had
improvised a government on a slaveholding basis in the south, and the
negroes who dominated the north, each had the other alone as an active
enemy; and by the close of the century the mulattoes were either destroyed
or driven into exile; and Toussaint, while still acknowledging a nominal
allegiance to France, was virtual monarch of San Domingo. The peace of
Amiens at length permitted Bonaparte to send an army against the "Black
Napoleon." Toussaint soon capitulated, and in violation of the amnesty
granted him was sent to his death in a French dungeon. But pestilence again
aided the blacks, and the war was still raging when the breach of the peace
in Europe brought a British squadron to blockade and capture the remnant
of the French army. The new black leader, Dessalines, now proclaimed the
colony's independence, renaming it Hayti, and in 1804 he crowned himself
emperor. In the following year any further conflict with the local whites
was obviated by the systematic massacre of their small residue. In the
other French islands the developments, while on a much smaller scale, were

[Footnote 46: T. Lothrop Stoddard, _The French Revolution in San Domingo_
(Boston, 1914).]

In the Northern colonies the only signal disturbances were those of 1712
and 1741 at New York, both of which were more notable for the frenzy of
the public than for the formidableness of the menace. Anxiety had been
recurrent among the whites, particularly since the founding of a mission
school by Elias Neau in 1704 as an agent of the Society for the Propagation
of the Gospel. The plot was brewed by some Coromantee and Paw Paw negroes
who had procured the services of a conjuror to make them invulnerable;
and it may have been joined by several Spanish or Portuguese Indians
or mestizoes who had been captured at sea and unwarrantably, as they
contended, reduced to slavery. The rebels to the number of twenty-three
provided themselves with guns, hatchets, knives and swords, and chose the
dark of the moon in the small hours of an April night to set a house afire
and slaughter the citizens as they flocked thither. But their gunfire
caused the governor to send soldiers from the Battery with such speed
that only nine whites had been killed and several others wounded when the
plotters were routed. Six of these killed themselves to escape capture; but
when the woods were beaten and the town searched next day and an emergency
court sat upon the cases, more captives were capitally sentenced than the
whole conspiracy had comprised. The prosecuting officer, indeed, hounded
one of the prisoners through three trials, to win a final conviction after
two acquittals. The maxim that no one may twice be put in jeopardy for the
same offense evidently did not apply to slaves in that colony. Of those
convicted one was broken on the wheel, another hanged alive in chains;
nineteen more were executed on the gallows or at the stake, one of these
being sentenced "to be burned with a slow fire, that he may continue in
torment for eight or ten hours and continue burning in said fire until he
be dead and consumed to ashes"; and several others were saved only by the
royal governor's reprieve and the queen's eventual pardon. Such animosity
was exhibited by the citizens toward the "catechetical school" that for
some time its teacher hardly dared show himself on the streets. The furor
gradually subsided, however, and Mr. Neau continued his work for a dozen
years longer, and others carried it on after his death.[47]

[Footnote 47: E.B. O'Callaghan ed., _Documents Relative to the Colonial
History of New York_, V, 341, 342, 346, 356, 357, 371; _New York
Genealogical and Biographical Record_, XXI, 162, 163; New Orleans _Daily
Delta_, April 1, 1849; J.A. Doyle, _English Colonies in America_ (New York,
1907), V, pp. 258, 259.]

The commotion of 1741 was a panic among the whites of high and low degree,
prompted in sequel to a robbery and a series of fires by the disclosures of
Mary Burton, a young white servant concerning her master John Hughson, and
the confessions of Margaret Kerry, a young white woman of many aliases but
most commonly called Peggy, who was an inmate of Hughson's disreputable
house and a prostitute to negro slaves. When Mary testified under duress
that Hughson was not only a habitual recipient of stolen goods from the
negroes but was the head of a conspiracy among them which had already
effected the burning of many houses and was planning a general revolt, the
supreme court of the colony began a labor of some six months' duration in
bringing the alleged plot to light and punishing the alleged plotters.[48]
Hughson and his wife and the infamous Peggy were promptly hanged, and
likewise John Ury who was convicted of being a Catholic priest as well as a
conspirator; and twenty-nine negroes were sent with similar speed either to
the gallows or the stake, while eighty others were deported. Some of the
slaves made confessions after conviction in the hope of saving their lives;
and these, dubious as they were, furnished the chief corroborations of
detail which the increasingly fluent testimony of Mary Burton received.
Some of the confessions, however, were of no avail to those who made them.
Quack and Cuffee, for example, terror-stricken at the stake, made somewhat
stereotyped revelations; but the desire of the officials to stay the
execution with a view to definite reprieve was thwarted by their fear of
tumult by the throng of resentful spectators. After a staggering number of
sentences had been executed the star witness raised doubts against herself
by her endless implications, "for as matters were then likely to turn
out there was no guessing where or when there would be an end of
impeachments."[49] At length she named as cognizant of the plot several
persons "of known credit, fortune and reputations, and of religious
principles superior to a suspicion of being concerned in such detestable
practices; at which the judges were very much astonished."[50] This
farcical extreme at length persuaded even the obsessed magistrates to stop
the tragic proceedings.

[Footnote 48: Daniel Horsmanden, one of the magistrates who sat in these
trials, published in 1744 the _Journal of the Proceedings in the Detection
of the Conspiracy formed by some white people in conjunction with negro and
other slaves for burning the city of New York in America, and murdering
the Inhabitants_; and this, reprinted under the title, _The New York
Conspiracy, or a History of the Negro Plot_ (New York, 1810), is the chief
source of knowledge in the premises. See also the contemporary letters of
Lieutenant-Governor Clarke in E.B. O'Callaghan, ed., _Documents Relative to
the Colonial History of New York_, VI, 186, 197, 198, 201-203.]

[Footnote 49: _Ibid_., pp. 96-100.]

[Footnote 50: _Ibid_., pp. 370-372.]

In New Jersey in 1734 a slave at Raritan when jailed for drunkenness and
insolence professed to reveal a plot for insurrection, whereupon he and
a fellow slave were capitally convicted. One of them escaped before
execution, but the other was hanged.[51] In Pennsylvania as late as 1803 a
negro plot at York was detected after nearly a dozen houses had been burnt
and half as many attempts had been made to cause a general conflagration.
Many negroes were arrested; others outside made preparations to release
them by force; and for several days a reign of terror prevailed. Upon the
restoration of quiet, twenty of the prisoners were punished for arson.[52]

[Footnote 51: MS. transcript in the New York Public Library from the New
York _Gazette_, Mch. 18, 1734.]

[Footnote 52: E.R. Turner, _The Negro in Pennsylvania_, pp. 152, 153.]

In the Southern colonies there were no outbreaks in the seventeenth century
and but two discoveries of plots, it seems, both in Virginia. The first
of these, 1663, in which indented white servants and negro slaves in
Gloucester County were said to be jointly involved, was betrayed by one of
the servants. The colonial assembly showed its gratification not only by
freeing the informer and giving him five thousand pounds of tobacco but by
resolving in commemoration of "so transcendant a favour as the preserving
all we have from so utter ruin," "that the 13th. of September be annually
kept holy, being the day those villains intended to put the plot in
execution."[53] The other plot, of slaves alone, in the "Northern Neck" of
the colony in 1687, appears to have been of no more than local concern.[54]
The punishments meted out on either occasion are unknown.

[Footnote 53: Hening, _Virginia Statutes at Large_, II, 204.]

[Footnote 54: J.C. Ballagh, _History of Slavery in Virginia_ (Baltimore,
1902), p. 79.]

The eighteenth century, with its multiplication of slaves, saw somewhat
more frequent plots in its early decades. The discovery of one in Isle of
Wight County, Virginia, in 1709 brought thirty-nine lashes to each of
three slaves and fifty lashes to a free negro found to be cognizant, and
presumably more drastic punishments to two other slaves who were held as
ringleaders to await the governor's order. Still another slave who at
least for the time being escaped the clutches of the law was proclaimed
an outlaw.[55] The discovery of another plot in Gloucester and Middlesex
Counties of the same colony in 1723 prompted the assembly to provide for
the deportation to the West Indies of seven slave participants.[56]

[Footnote 55: _Calendar of Virginia State Papers_, I, 129, 130.]

[Footnote 56: _Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1712-1726_,
p. 36.]

In South Carolina, although depredations by runaways gave acute uneasiness
in 1711 and thereabouts, no conspiracy was discovered until 1720 when some
of the participants were burnt, some hanged and some banished.[57] Matters
were then quiet again until 1739 when on a September Sunday a score of
Angola blacks with one Jonny as their leader broke open a store, supplied
themselves with arms, and laid their course at once for Florida where they
had been told by Spanish emissaries welcome and liberty awaited them.
Marching to the beat of drums, slaughtering with ease the whites they came
upon, and drawing black recruits to several times their initial number, on
the Pon Pon road that day the rebels covered ten prosperous miles. But
when at evening they halted to celebrate their exploits with dancing and
plundered rum they were set upon by the whites whom couriers had collected.
Several were killed in the onslaught, and a few more were captured on the
spot. Most of the rest fled back to their cabins, but a squad of ten made
their way thirty miles farther on the route to Florida and sold their
lives in battle when overtaken. Of those captured on the field or in their
quarters some were shot but none were tortured. The toll of lives lost
numbered twenty-one whites and forty-four[58] blacks.

[Footnote 57: Letter of June 24, 1720, among the MS. transcripts in the
state capitol at Columbia of documents in the British Public Record

[Footnote 58: _Gentleman's Magazine_, X, 127; South Carolina Historical
Society _Collections_, II, 270; Alexander Hewatt, _Historical Account of
South Carolina and Georgia_ (London, 1779), II, 72, 73. Joshua Coffin in
his _Account of Some of the Principal Slave Insurrections_ (New York, 1860)
listed a revolt at Savannah, Ga., in 1728. But Savannah was not founded
until 1733, and it contained virtually no negroes prior to 1750.]

Following this and the New York panic of two years later, there was
remarkable quiet in race relations in general for a full half century. It
was not indeed until the spread of the amazing news from San Domingo and
the influx thence of white refugees and their slaves that a new series of
disturbances began on the continent. At Norfolk in 1792 some negroes were
arrested on suspicion of conspiracy but were promptly discharged for lack
of evidence;[59] and close by at Portsmouth in the next year there were
such savage clashes between the newly come French blacks and those of the
Virginia stock that citizens were alarmed for their own safety.[60] In
Louisiana an uprising on the plantation of Julien Poydras in Pointe
Coupee Parish in 1796 brought the execution of a dozen or two negroes and
sentences to prison of several whites convicted as their accomplices;[61]
and as late as 1811 an outbreak in St. Charles and St. James Parishes was
traced in part to San Domingo slaves.[62]

[Footnote 59: _Calendar of Virginia State Papers_, V, 540, 541, 546.]

[Footnote 60: _Ibid_., VI, 490, letter of a citizen who had just found four
strange negroes hanging from the branches of a tree near his door.]

[Footnote 61: C.C. Robin, _Voyages_ (Paris, 1806), II, 244 ff.; E.P.
Puckett, "Free Negroes in Louisiana" (MS.).]

[Footnote 62: M Puckett, _op. cit. Le Moniteur de la Louisiane_ (New
Orleans), Feb. 11, 1811, has mention of the manumission of a mulatto slave
at this time on the ground of his recent valiant defence of his master's
house against attacking insurgents.]

Gabriel's rising in the vicinity of Richmond, however, eclipsed all other
such events on the continent in this period. Although this affair was
of prodigious current interest its details were largely obscured by the
secrecy maintained by the court and the legislature in their dealings with
it. Reports in the newspapers of the time were copious enough but were
vague except as to the capture of the leading participants; and the
reminiscent journalism of after years was romantic to the point of
absurdity. It is fairly clear, however, that Gabriel and other slaves
on Thomas H. Prosser's plantation, which lay several miles distant from
Richmond, began to brew the conspiracy as early as June, 1800, and enlisted
some hundreds of confederates, perhaps more than a thousand, before
September 1, the date fixed for its maturity. Many of these were doubtless
residents of Richmond, and some it was said lived as far away as Norfolk.
The few muskets procured were supplemented by cutlasses made from scythe
blades and by plantation implements of other sorts; but the plan of
onslaught contemplated a speedy increase of this armament. From a
rendezvous six miles from Richmond eleven hundred men in three columns
under designated officers were to march upon the city simultaneously, one
to seize the penitentiary which then served also as the state arsenal,
another to take the powder magazine in another quarter of the town, and the
third to begin a general slaughter with such weapons as were already at

Things progressed with very little hitch until the very eve of the day
set. But then two things occurred, either of which happening alone would
probably have foiled the project. On the one hand a slave on Moseley
Sheppard's plantation informed his master of the plot; on the other hand
there fell such a deluge of rain that the swelling of the streams kept most
of the conspirators from reaching the rendezvous. Meanwhile couriers had
roused the city, and the rebels assembled could only disperse. Scores of
them were taken, including eventually Gabriel himself who eluded pursuit
for several weeks and sailed to Norfolk as a stowaway. The magistrates, of
course, had busy sessions, but the number of death sentences was less than
might have been expected. Those executed comprised Gabriel and five other
Prosser slaves along with nineteen more belonging to other masters; and
ten others, in scattered ownership, were deported. To provide for a more
general riddance of suspected negroes the legislature made secret overtures
to the federal government looking to the creation of a territorial
reservation to receive such colonists; but for the time being this came
to naught. The legislature furthermore created a permanent guard for the
capitol, and it liberated at the state's expense Tom and Pharaoh, slaves of
the Sheppard family, as reward for their services in helping to foil the

[Footnote 63: T.W. Higginson, "Gabriel's Defeat," in the _Atlantic
Monthly_, X, 337-345, reprinted in the same author's _Travellers and
Outlaws_ (Boston, 1889), pp. 185-214; J.C. Ballagh, _History of Slavery in
Virginia_, p. 92; J.H. Russell, _The Free Negro in Virginia_, p. 65; MS.
vouchers in the Virginia State Library recording public payments for
convicted slaves.]

Set on edge by Gabriel's exploit, citizens far and wide were abnormally
alert for some time thereafter; and perhaps the slaves here and there were
unusually restive. Whether the one or the other of these conditions
was most responsible, revelations and rumors were for several years
conspicuously numerous. In 1802 there were capital convictions of fourteen
insurgent or conspiring slaves in six scattered counties of Virginia;[64]
and panicky reports of uprisings were sent out from Hartford and Bertie
Counties, North Carolina.[65] In July, 1804, the mayor of Savannah received
from Augusta "information highly important to the safety, peace and
security" of his town, and issued appropriate orders to the local
militia.[66] Among rumors flying about South Carolina in this period, one
on a December day in 1805 telling of risings above and below Columbia
led to the planting of cannon before the state house there and to the
instruction of the night patrols to seize every negro found at large. An
over-zealous patrolman thereupon shot a slave who was peacefully following
his own master, and was indicted next day for murder. The peaceful passing
of the night brought a subsidence of the panic with the coming of day.[67]

[Footnote 64: Vouchers as above.]

[Footnote 65: Augusta, Ga., _Chronicle_, June 26, 1802.]

[Footnote 66: Thomas Gamble, Jr., _History of the City Government of
Savannah_ [Savannah, 1900], p. 68.]

[Footnote 67: "Diary of Edward Hooker," in the American Historical
Association _Report_ for 1896, pp. 881, 882.]

In Virginia, again, there were disturbing rumors at one place or another
every year or two from 1809 to 1814,[68] but no occurrence of tangible
character until the Boxley plot of 1816 in Spottsylvania and Louisa
Counties. George Boxley, the white proprietor of a country store, was a
visionary somewhat of John Brown's type. Participating in the religious
gatherings of the negroes and telling them that a little white bird had
brought him a holy message to deliver his fellowmen from bondage, he
enlisted many blacks in his project for insurrection. But before the
plot was ripe it was betrayed by a slave woman, and several negroes were
arrested. Boxley thereupon marched with a dozen followers on a Quixotic
errand of release, but on the road the blacks fell away, and he, after some
time in hiding, surrendered himself. Six of the negroes after conviction
were hanged and a like number transported; but Boxley himself broke jail
and escaped.[69]

[Footnote 68: _Calendar of Virginia State Papers_, X, 62, 63, 97, 368.]

[Footnote 69: _Ibid_., X, 433-436; _Louisiana Gazette_ (New Orleans), Apr.
18 and 24 (Reprinting a report from the _Virginia Herald_ of Mch. 9), and
July 12, 1816; MS. Vouchers in the Virginia State Library recording public
payments for convicted slaves.]

In the lower South a plot at Camden, South Carolina, in 1816[70] and
another at Augusta, Georgia,[71] three years afterward had like plans of
setting houses afire at night and then attacking other quarters of the
respective towns when the white men had left their homes defenceless. Both
plots were betrayed, and several participants in each were executed.
These conspiracies were eclipsed in turn by the elaborate Vesey plot at
Charleston in 1822, which, for the variety of the negro types involved, the
methods of persuasion used by the leading spirits and the sobriety of the
whites on the occasion is one of the most notable of such episodes on

[Footnote 70: [Edwin C. Holland], _A Refutation of the Calumnies circulated
against the Southern and Western States, with historical notes of
insurrections_ (Charleston, 1822), pp. 75-77; H.T. Cook, _Life and Legacy
of David R. Williams_, p. 131; H.M. Henry, _Police Control of the Slave in
South Carolina_, pp. 151, 152.]

[Footnote 71: News item from Augusta in the _Louisiana Courier_ (New
Orleans), June 15, 1819.]

Denmark Vesey, brought from Africa in his youth, had bought his freedom
with part of a $1500 prize drawn by him in a lottery, and was in this
period an independent artisan. Harboring a deep resentment against the
whites, however, he began to plan his plot some four years before its
maturity. He familiarized himself with the Bible account of the deliverance
of the children of Israel, and collected pamphlet and newspaper material on
anti-slavery sentiment in England and the North and on occurrences in San
Domingo, with all of which on fit occasions he regaled the blacks with whom
he came into touch. Arguments based on such data brought concurrence of
negroes of the more intelligent sort, prominent among whom were certain
functionaries of the African Church who were already nursing grievances
on the score of the suppression of their ecclesiastical project by the
Charleston authorities.[72] The chief minister of that church, Morris
Brown, however, was carefully left out of the conspiracy. In appealing
to the more ignorant and superstitious element, on the other hand, the
services of Gullah Jack, so called because of his Angola origin, were
enlisted, for as a recognized conjuror he could bewitch the recalcitrant
and bestow charmed crabs' claws upon those joining the plot to make them
invulnerable. In the spring of 1822 things were put in train for the
outbreak. The Angolas, the Eboes and the Carolina-born were separately
organized under appropriate commanders; arrangements were made looking to
the support of the plantation slaves within marching distance of the city;
and letters were even sent by the negro cook on a vessel bound for San
Domingo with view apparently both to getting assistance from that island
and to securing a haven there in case the revolt should prove only
successful enough to permit the seizure of the ships in Charleston harbor.
Meanwhile the coachmen and draymen in the plot were told off to mobilize
the horses in their charge, pikes were manufactured, the hardware stores
and other shops containing arms were listed for special attention, and
plans were laid for the capture of the city's two arsenals as the first
stroke in the revolt. This was scheduled for midnight on Sunday, June 16.

[Footnote 72: See above, p. 421.]

On May 30 George, the body-servant of Mr. Wilson, told his master that Mr.
Paul's William had invited him to join a society which was to make a stroke
for freedom. William upon being seized and questioned by the city council
made something of a confession incriminating two other slaves, Mingo Harth
and Peter Poyas; but these were so staunch in their denials that they were
discharged, with confidential slaves appointed to watch them. William was
held for a week of solitary confinement, at the end of which he revealed
the extensive character of the plot and the date set for its maturity. The
city guard was thereupon strengthened; but the lapse of several days in
quiet was about to make the authorities incredulous, when another citizen
brought them word from another slave of information precisely like that
which had first set them on the _qui vive_. This caused the local militia
to be called out to stiffen the patrol. Then as soon as the appointed
Sunday night had passed, which brought no outbreak, the city council
created a special court as by law provided, comprising two magistrates
together with five citizens carefully selected for their substantial
character and distinguished position. These were William Drayton, Nathaniel
Heyward, James R. Pringle, James Legare and Robert J. Turnbull. More
sagacious and responsible men could certainly not have been found. A
committee of vigilance was also appointed to assist the court.

This court having first made its own rules that no negro was to be tried
except in the presence of his master or attorney, that everyone on trial
should be heard in his own defense, and that no one should be capitally
sentenced on the bare testimony of a single witness, proceeded to the trial
of Peter Poyas, Denmark Vesey and others against whom charges had then been
lodged. By eavesdropping those who were now convicted and confronting them
with their own words, confessions were procured implicating many others who
in turn were put on trial, including Gullah Jack whose necromancy could not
save him. In all 130 negroes were arrested, including nine colored freemen.
Of the whole number, twenty-five were discharged by the committee of
vigilance and 27 others by the court. Nine more were acquitted with
recommendations with which their masters readily complied, that they be
transported. Of those convicted, 34 were deported by public authority
and 35 were hanged. In addition four white men indicted for
complicity, comprising a German peddler, a Scotchman, a Spaniard and a
Charlestonian,[73] were tried by a regular court having jurisdiction over
whites and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to twelve months.

[Footnote 73: _An Account of the late intended Insurrection among a portion
of the Blacks of this City. Published by the Authority of the Corporation
of Charleston_ (Charleston, 1822); Lionel H. Kennedy and Thomas Parker (the
presiding magistrates of the special court), _An Official Report of the
Trials of sundry Negroes charged with an attempt to raise an insurrection,
with a report of the trials of four white persons on indictments for
attempting to excite the slaves to insurrection_ (Charleston, 1822); T.D.
Jervey, _Robert Y. Hayne and His Times_ (New York, 1909), pp. 130-136.]

A number of Charleston citizens promptly memorialized the state assembly
recommending that all free negroes be expelled, that the penalties
applicable to whites conspiring with negroes be made more severe, and that
the control over the blacks be generally stiffened.[74] The legislature
complied except as to the proposal for expulsion. Charlestonians also
organized an association for the prevention of negro disturbances; but by
1825 the public seems to have begun to lose its ardor in the premises.[75]

[Footnote 74: _Memorial of the Citizens of Charleston to the Senate and
House of Representatives of the State of South Carolina_ (Charleston,
1822), reprinted in _Plantation and Frontier_, II, 103-116.]

[Footnote 75: Address of the association, in the Charleston _City Gazette_,
Aug. 5, 1825.]

The next salient occurrence in the series was the outbreak which brought
fame to Nat Turner and the devoted Virginia county of Southampton. Nat,
a slave who by the custom of the country had acquired the surname of his
first master, was the foreman of a small plantation, a Baptist exhorter
capable of reading the Bible, and a pronounced mystic. For some years, as
he told afterward when in custody, he had heard voices from the heavens
commanding him to carry on the work of Christ to make the last to be first
and the first last; and he took the sun's eclipse in February, 1831, as a
sign that the time was come. He then enlisted a few of his fellows in his
project, but proceeded to spend his leisure for several months in prayer
and brooding instead of in mundane preparation. When at length on Sunday
night, August 21, he began his revolt he had but a petty squad of
companions, with merely a hatchet and a broad-axe as weapons, and no
definite plan of campaign. First murdering his master's household and
seizing some additional equipment, he took the road and repeated the
process at whatever farmhouses he came upon. Several more negroes joined
the squad as it proceeded, though in at least one instance a slave resisted
them in defense of his master's family at the cost of his own life. The
absence of many whites from the neighborhood by reason of their attendance
at a camp-meeting across the nearby North Carolina line reduced the number
of victims, and on the other hand made the rally of the citizens less
expeditious and formidable when the alarm had been spread. By sunrise
the rebels numbered fifteen, part of whom were mounted, and their outfit
comprised a few firearms. Throughout the morning they continued their
somewhat aimless roving, slaughtering such white households as they
reached, enlisting recruits by persuasion or coercion, and heightening
their courage by draughts upon the apple-brandy in which the county, by
virtue of its many orchards and stills, abounded. By noon there were some
sixty in the straggling ranks, but when shortly afterward they met a squad
of eighteen rallying whites, armed like themselves mainly with fowling
pieces with birdshot ammunition, they fled at the first fire, and all but a
score dispersed. The courage of these whites, however, was so outweighed
by their caution that Nat and his fellows were able to continue their
marauding course in a new direction, gradually swelling their numbers to
forty again. That night, however, a false alarm stampeded their bivouac and
again dispersed all the faint-hearted. Nat with his remaining squad then
attacked a homestead just before daybreak on Tuesday, but upon repulse
by the five white men and boys with several slave auxiliaries who were
guarding it they retreated only to meet a militia force which completed
the dispersal. All were promptly killed or taken except Nat who secreted
himself near his late master's home until his capture was accomplished six
weeks afterward. The whites slain by the rebels numbered ten men, fourteen
women and thirty-one children.

The militia in scouring the countryside were prompted by the panic and its
vindictive reaction to shoot down a certain number of innocent blacks along
with the guilty and to make display of some of their severed heads. The
magistrates were less impulsive. They promptly organized a court comprising
all the justices of the peace in the county and assigned attorneys for
the defense of the prisoners while the public prosecutor performed his
appointed task. Forty-seven negroes all told were brought before the court.
As to the five free blacks included in this number the magistrates, who had
only preliminary jurisdiction in their cases, discharged one and remanded
four for trial by a higher court. Of the slaves four, and perhaps a fifth
regarding whom the record is blank, were discharged without trial, and
thirteen more were acquitted. Of those convicted seven were sentenced to
deportation, and seventeen with the ringleader among them, to death by
hanging. In addition there were several slaves convicted of complicity in
neighboring counties.[76]

[Footnote 76: W.S. Drewry, _Slave Insurrections in Virginia, 1830-1865_
(Washington, 1900), recounts this revolt in great detail, and gives a
bibliography. The vouchers in the Virginia archives record only eleven
executions and four deportations of Southampton slaves in this period. It
may be that the rest of those convicted were pardoned.]

This extraordinary event, occurring as it did after a century's lapse since
last an appreciable number of whites on the continent had lost their lives
in such an outbreak, set nerves on edge throughout the South, and promptly
brought an unusually bountiful crop of local rumors. In North Carolina
early in September it was reported at Raleigh that the blacks of Wilmington
had burnt the town and slaughtered the whites, and that several thousand
of them were marching upon Raleigh itself.[77] This and similarly alarming
rumors from Edenton were followed at once by authentic news telling merely
that conspiracies had been discovered in Duplin and Sampson Counties and
also in the neighborhood of Edenton, with several convictions resulting in
each locality.[78]

[Footnote 77: News item dated Warrenton, N.C., Sept. 15, 1831, in the New
Orleans _Mercantile Advertiser_, Oct. 4, 1831.]

[Footnote 78: _Federal Union_ (Milledgeville, Ga.), Oct. 6, 1831, citing
the Fayetteville, N.C. _Observer_ of Sept. 14; _Niles' Register_, XLI,

At Milledgeville, the village capital of Georgia where in the preceding
year the newspapers and the town authorities had been fluttered by the
discovery of incendiary pamphlets in a citizen's possession,[79] a rumor
spread on October 4, 1831, that a large number of slaves had risen a dozen
miles away and were marching upon the town to seize the weapons in the
state arsenal there. Three slaves within the town, and a free mulatto
preacher as well, were seized on suspicion of conspiracy but were promptly
discharged for lack of evidence, and the city council soon had occasion,
because there had been "considerable danger in the late excitement ...
by persons carrying arms that were intoxicated" to order the marshal and
patrols to take weapons away from irresponsible persons and enforce the
ordinance against the firing of guns in the streets.[80] Upon the first
coming of the alarm the governor had appointed Captain J.A. Cuthbert,
editor of the _Federal Union_, to the military command of the town; and
Cuthbert, uniformed and armed to the teeth, dashed about the town all
day on his charger, distributing weapons and stationing guards. Upon the
passing of the baseless panic Seaton Grantland, customarily cool and
sardonic, ridiculed Cuthbert in the _Southern Recorder_ of which he was
editor. Cuthbert retorted in his own columns that Grantland's conduct in
the emergency had proved him a skulking coward.[81] No blood was shed, even
among the editors.

[Footnote 79: _Federal Union_, Aug. 7, 1830; American Historical
Association _Report_ for 1904, I. 469.]

[Footnote 80: American Historical Association _Report_ for 1904, pp. 469,

[Footnote 81: _Federal Union_, Oct. 6 and 13 and Dec. 1, 1831.]

There were doubtless episodes of such a sort in many other localities.[82]
It was evidently to this period that the reminiscences afterward collected
by Olmsted applied. "'Where I used to live,'" a backwoodsman formerly of
Alabama told the traveller, "'I remember when I was a boy--must ha' been
about twenty years ago--folks was dreadful frightened about the niggers. I
remember they built pens in the woods where they could hide, and Christmas
time they went and got into the pens, 'fraid the niggers was risin'.' 'I
remember the same time where we were in South Carolina,' said his wife, 'we
had all our things put up in bags, so we could tote 'em if we heerd they
was comin' our way.'"[83]

[Footnote 82: The discovery of a plot at Shelbyville, Tennessee, was
reported at the end of 1832. _Niles' Register_, XLI, 340.]

[Footnote 83: F.L. Olmsted, _A Journey in the Back Country_ (New York,
1863), p. 203.]

Another sort of sequel to the Southampton revolt was of course a plenitude
of public discussion and of repressive legislation. In Virginia a flood of
memorials poured upon the legislature. Petitions signed by 1,188 citizens
in twelve counties asked for provision for the expulsion of colored
freemen; others with 398 signatures from six counties proposed an amendment
to the United States Constitution empowering Congress to aid Virginia to
rid herself of all the blacks; others from two colonization societies
and 366 citizens in four counties proposed the removal first of the
free negroes and then of slaves to be emancipated by private or public
procedure; 27 men of Buckingham and Loudon Counties and others in
Albemarle, together with the Society of Friends in Hanover and 347 women,
prayed for the abolition of slavery, some on the _post nati_ plan and
others without specification of details.[84] The House of Delegates
responded by devoting most of its session of that winter to an
extraordinarily outspoken and wide-ranging debate on the many phases of the
negro problem, reflecting and elaborating all the sentiments expressed in
the petitions together with others more or less original with the members
themselves. The Richmond press reported the debate in great detail, and
many of the speeches were given a pamphlet circulation in addition.[85]
The only tangible outcome there and elsewhere, however, was in the form of
added legal restrictions upon the colored population, slave and free. But
when the fright and fervor of the year had passed, conditions normal to the
community returned. On the one hand the warnings of wiseacres impressed
upon the would-be problem solvers the maxim of the golden quality of
silence, particularly while the attacks of the Northern abolitionists upon
the general Southern regime were so active. On the other hand the new
severities of the law were promptly relegated, as the old ones had been,
to the limbo of things laid away, like pistols, for emergency use, out of
sight and out of mind in the daily routine of peaceful industry.

[Footnote 84: _The Letter of Appomattox to the People of Virginia:
Exhibiting a connected view of the recent proceedings in the House of
Delegates on the subject of the abolition of slavery and a succinct account
of the doctrines broached by the friends of abolition in debate, and the
mischievous tendency of those proceedings and doctrines_ (Richmond, 1832).
These letters were first published in the Richmond _Enquirer_, February 4,
1832 et seqq.]

[Footnote 85: The debate is summarized in Henry Wilson, _History of the
Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America_ (Boston, 1872), I, 190-207.]

In the remaining ante-bellum decades, though the actual outbreaks were
negligible except for John Brown's raid, the discoveries, true or false,
and the rumors, mostly unwarranted, were somewhat more frequent than
before. Revelations in Madison County, Mississippi, in 1835 shortly before
July 4, told of a conspiracy of whites and blacks scheduled for that day
as a ramification of the general plot of the Murrell gang recently
exposed.[86] A mass meeting thereupon appointed an investigating committee
of thirteen citizens with power to apply capital punishment; and several
whites together with ten or fifteen blacks were promptly put to death.[87]

[Footnote 86: See above, pp. 381, 382.]

[Footnote 87: _The Liberator_ (Boston, Mass.), Aug. 8, 1835, quoting the
Clinton, Miss., _Gazette_ of July 11.]

Widespread rumors at the beginning of the following December that a general
uprising was in preparation for the coming holiday season caused the
summons of citizens in various Georgia counties to mass meetings which with
one accord recommended special precautions by masters, patrols and militia,
and appointed committees of vigilance. In this series the resolutions
adopted in Washington County are notable especially for the tone of their
preamble. Mentioning the method recently followed in Mississippi only to
disapprove it, this preamble ran: "We would fain hope that the soil of
Georgia may never be reddened or her people disgraced by the arbitrary
shedding of human blood; for if the people allow themselves but one
participation in such lawless proceedings, no human sagacity can foretell
where the overwhelming deluge will be staid or what portions of our state
may feel its desolating ruin. This course of protection unhinges every tie
of social and civil society, dissolves those guards which the laws throw
around property and life, and leaves every individual, no matter how
innocent, at the sport of popular passion, the probable object of popular
indignation, and liable to an ignominious death. Therefore we would
recommend to our fellow-citizens that if any facts should be elicited
implicating either white men or negroes in any insurrectionary or abolition
movements, that they be apprehended and delivered over to the legal
tribunals of the country for full and fair judicial trial."[88] At
Clarksville, Tennessee, uneasiness among the citizens on the score of the
negroes employed in the iron works thereabout was such that they procured a
shipment of arms from the state capital in preparation for special guard at
the Christmas season.[89]

[Footnote 88: _Federal Union_ (Milledgeville, Ga.), Dec. 11, 1835. At
Darien on the Georgia coast Edwin C. Roberts, an Englishman by birth, was
committed for trial in the following August for having told slaves they
ought to be free and that half of the American people were in favor of
their freedom. The local editor remarked when reporting the occurrence:
"Mr. Roberts should thank his stars that he did not commence his crusade in
some quarters where Judge Lynch presides. Here the majesty of the law
is too highly respected to tolerate the jurisdiction of this despotic
dignitary." Darien _Telegraph_, Aug. 30, quoted in the _Federal Union_,
Sept. 6, 1836.]

[Footnote 89: MS. petition with endorsement noting the despatch of arms, in
the state archives at Nashville.]

In various parts of Louisiana in this period there was a succession of
plots discovered. The first of these, betrayed on Christmas Eve, 1835,
involved two white men, one of them a plantation overseer, along with forty
slaves or more. The whites were promptly hanged, and doubtless some of the
blacks likewise.[90] The next, exposed in the fall of 1837, was in the
neighborhood of Alexandria. Nine slaves and three free negroes were hanged
in punishment,[91] and the negro Lewis who had betrayed the conspiracy was
liberated at state expense and was voted $500 to provide for his security
in some distant community.[92] The third was in Lafayette and St. Landry
Parishes, betrayed in August, 1840, by a slave woman named Lecide who was
freed by her master in reward. Nine negroes were hanged. Four white men
who were implicated, but who could not be convicted under the laws which
debarred slave testimony against whites, were severely flogged under a
lynch-law sentence and ordered to leave the state.[93] Rumors of other
plots were spread in West Feliciana Parish in the summer of 1841,[94] in
several parishes opposite and above Natchez in the fall of 1842,[95] and at
Donaldsonville at the beginning of 1843;[96] but each of these in turn was
found to be virtually baseless. Meanwhile at Augusta, Georgia, several
negroes were arrested in February, 1841, and at least one of them was
sentenced to death. A petition was circulated for his respite as an
inducement for confession; but other citizens, disquieted by the testimony
already given, prepared a counter petition asking the governor to let the
law take its course. The plot as described contemplated the seizure of the
arsenal and the firing of the city in facilitation of massacre.[97]

[Footnote 90: _Niles' Register_, XLIX, 331.]

[Footnote 91: _Ibid_., LIII, 129.]

[Footnote 92: Louisiana, _Acts_ of 1838, p. 118.]

[Footnote 93: _Niles' Register_, LXIX, 39, 88; E.P. Puckett, "Free Negroes
in Louisiana" (MS.).]

[Footnote 94: New Orleans _Bee_, July 23, 29 and 31, 1841.]

[Footnote 95: _Niles' Register_, LXIII, 212.]

[Footnote 96: _Louisiana Courier_ (New Orleans), Jan. 27 and Feb. 17,

[Footnote 97: Letter of Mrs. S.A. Lamar, Augusta, Ga., Feb. 25, 1841, to
John B. Lamar at Macon. MS. in the possession of Mrs. A.S. Erwin, Athens,

The rest of the 'forties and the first half of the 'fifties were a period
of comparative quiet; but in 1855 there were rumors in Dorchester and
Talbot Counties, Maryland,[98] and the autumn of 1856 brought widespread
disturbances which the Southern whites did not fail to associate with the
rise of the Republican Party. In the latter part of that year there were
rumors afloat from Williamsburg, Virginia, and Montgomery County in the
same state, from various quarters of Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas, from
New Orleans, and from Atlanta and Cassville, Georgia.[99] A typical episode
in the period was described by a schoolmaster from Michigan then sojourning
in Mississippi. One night about Christmas of 1858 when the plantation
homestead at which he was staying was filled with house guests, a courier
came in the dead of night bringing news that the blacks in the eastern part
of the county had risen in a furious band and were laying their murderous
course in this direction. The head of the house after scanning the
bulletin, calmly told his family and guests that they might get their guns
and prepare for defense, but if they would excuse him he would retire again
until the crisis came. The coolness of the host sent the guests back to bed
except for one who stood sentry. "The negroes never came."[100]

[Footnote 98: J.R. Brackett, _The Negro in Maryland_, p. 97.]

[Footnote 99: _Southern Watchman_ (Athens, Ga.), Dec. 18 and 25, 1856. Some
details of the Texas disturbance, which brought death to several negroes,
is given in documents printed in F.L. Olmsted, _Journey through Texas_, pp.
503. 504]

[Footnote 100: A. DePuy Van Buren, _Jottings of a Sojourn in the South_
(Battle Creek, Mich., 1859), pp. 121, 122]

The shiver which John Brown's raid sent over the South was diminished by
the failure of the blacks to join him, and it was largely overcome by the
wave of fierce resentment against the abolitionists who, it was said, had
at last shown their true colors. The final disturbance on the score of
conspiracy among the negroes themselves was in the summer of 1860 at
Dallas, Texas, where in the preceding year an abolitionist preacher had
been whipped and driven away. Ten or more fires which occurred in one day
and laid much of the town in ruins prompted the seizure of many blacks and
the raising of a committee of safety. This committee reported to a public
meeting on July 24 that three ringleaders in the plot were to be hanged
that afternoon. Thereupon Judge Buford of the district court addressed the
gathering. "He stated in the outset that in any ordinary case he would
be as far from counselling mob law as any other man, but in the present
instance the people had a clear right to take the law in their own hands.
He counselled moderation, and insisted that the committee should execute
the fewest number compatible with the public safety." [101]

[Footnote 101: _Federal Union_ (Milledgeville, Ga.), Aug. 21, 1860, quoting
the Nashville _Union_.]

On the whole it is hardly possible to gauge precisely the degree of popular
apprehension in the premises. John Randolph was doubtless more picturesque
than accurate when he said, "the night bell never tolls for fire in
Richmond that the mother does not hug the infant more closely to her
bosom."[102] The general trend of public expressions laid emphasis upon the
need of safeguards but showed confidence that no great disasters were to be
feared. The revolts which occurred and the plots which were discovered were
sufficiently serious to produce a very palpable disquiet from time to time,
and the rumors were frequent enough to maintain a fairly constant undertone
of uneasiness. The net effect of this was to restrain that progress of
liberalism which the consideration of economic interest, the doctrines of
human rights and the spirit of kindliness all tended to promote.

[Footnote 102: H.A. Garland, _Life of John Randolph_, I, 295.]



In many lawyers' briefs and court decisions it has been said that slavery
could exist only by force of positive legislation.[1] This is not
historically valid, for in virtually every American community where it
existed at all, the institution was first established by custom alone and
was merely recognized by statutes when these came to be enacted. Indeed the
chief purpose of the laws was to give sanction and assurance to the racial
and industrial adjustments already operative.

[Footnote 1: The source of this error lies doubtless in Lord Mansfield's
famous but fallacious decision of 1772 in the Somerset case, which is
recorded in Howell's _State Trials_, XX, Sec. 548. That decision is well
criticized in T.R.R. Cobb, _An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in
the United States of America_ (vol. I, all published, Philadelphia and
Savannah, 1858), pp. 163-175.

Cobb's treatise, though dealing with slaves as persons only and not as
property, is the best of the general analyses of the legal phase of the
slaveholding regime. A briefer survey is in the _Cyclopedia of Law and
Procedure_, William Mack ed., XXXVI (New York, 1910), 465-495. The works
of G.M. Stroud, _A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery in the Several
States_ (Philadelphia, 1827), and William Goodell, _The American Slave Code
in Theory and Practice_ (New York, 1853), are somewhat vitiated by the
animus of their authors.

The many statutes concerning slavery enacted in the several colonies,
territories and states are listed and many of them summarized in J.C. Hurd,
_The Law of Freedom and Bondage in the United States_ (Boston, 1858), I,
228-311; II, 1-218. Some hundreds of court decisions in the premises are
given in J.D. Wheeler, _A Practical Treatise on the Law of Slavery_
(New York and New Orleans, 1837); and all the thousands of decisions of
published record are briefly digested in _The Century Edition of the
American Digest_, XLIV (St. Paul, 1903), 853-1152.

The development of the slave code in Virginia is traced in J.C. Ballagh,
_A History of Slavery in Virginia_ (Baltimore, 1902), supplemented by J.H.
Russell, _The Free Negro in Virginia_ (Baltimore, 1913); and the legal
regime of slavery in South Carolina at the middle of the nineteenth century
is described by Judge J.B. O'Neall in _The Industrial Resources of the
Southern and Western States_, J.B.D. DeBow ed., II (New Orleans, 1853),

As a rule each slaveholding colony or state adopted early in its career
a series of laws of limited scope to meet definite issues as they were
successively encountered. Then when accumulated experience had shown a
community that it had a general problem of regulation on its hands its
legislature commonly passed an act of many clauses to define the status of
slaves, to provide the machinery of their police, and to prescribe legal
procedure in cases concerning them whether as property or as persons.
Thereafter the recourse was again to specific enactments from time to
time to supplement this general or basic statute as the rise of new
circumstances or policies gave occasion. The likeness of conditions in the
several communities and the difficulty of devising laws to comply with
intricate custom and at the same time to guard against apprehended ills led
to much intercolonial and interstate borrowing of statutes. A perfect chain
of this sort, with each link a basic police law for slaves in a separate
colony or state, extended from Barbados through the southeastern trio of
commonwealths on the continent. The island of Barbados, as we have seen,
was the earliest of the permanent English settlements in the tropics and
one of the first anywhere to attain a definite regime of plantations
with negro labor. This made its assembly perforce a pioneer in slave
legislation. After a dozen minor laws had been enacted, beginning in 1644,
for the control of negroes along with white servants and for the recapture
of runaways, the culmination in a general statute came in 1688. Its
occasion, as recited in the preamble, was the dependence of plantation
industry upon great numbers of negro slaves whose "barbarous, wild and
savage nature ... renders them wholly unqualified to be governed by the
laws, customs and practices of our nation," and the "absolutely necessary
consequence that such other constitutions, laws and orders should be in
this island framed and enacted for the good regulating and ordering of them
as may ... restrain the disorders, rapines and inhumanities to which they
are naturally prone and inclined, with such encouragements and allowances
as are fit and needful for their support, that ... this island through the
blessing of God thereon may be preserved, His Majesty's subjects in their
lives and fortunes secured, and the negroes and other slaves be well
provided for and guarded against the cruelties and insolences of themselves
or other ill-tempered people or owners."

The statute itself met the purposes of the preamble unevenly. The slaves
were assured merely in annual suits of clothing, and the masters were given
claim for pecuniary compensation for slaves inveigled away or illegally
killed by other freemen; but the main concern of the statute was with
routine control and the punishment of slave malfeasances. No slaves were to
leave their masters' premises at any time unless in company with whites or
when wearing servants' livery or carrying written passes, and offenders
in this might be whipped and taken into custody by any white persons
encountering them. No slaves were to blow horns or beat drums; and masters
were to have their negro houses searched at frequent intervals for such
instruments, as well as for weapons, runaway slaves and stolen goods.
Runaways when caught were to be impounded, advertised and restored to their
masters upon payment of captors' and custodians' fees. Trading with slaves
was restricted for fear of encouraging theft. A negro striking a white
person, except in lawful defense of his master's person, family or goods,
was criminally punishable, though merely with lashes for a first offense;
and thefts to the value of more than a shilling, along with all other
serious infractions, were capital crimes. Negro transgressors were to be
tried summarily by courts comprising two justices of the peace and three
freeholders nearest the crime and were to be punished immediately upon
conviction. To dissuade masters from concealing the crimes of their negroes
the magistrates were to appraise each capitally convicted slave, within a
limit of L25, and to estimate also the damage to the person or property
injured by the commission of the crime. The colonial treasurer was then to
take the amount of the slave's appraisal from the public funds and after
making reimbursement for the injury done, pay the overplus, if any, to the
criminal's owner. If it appeared to the magistrates, however, that the
crime had been prompted by the master's neglect and the slave's consequent
necessity for sustenance, the treasurer was to pay the master nothing. A
master killing his own slave wantonly was to be fined L15, and any other
person killing a slave illegally was to pay the master double the slave's
value, to be fined L25, and to give bond for subsequent good behavior. If
a slave were killed by accident the slayer was liable only to suit by
the owner. The destruction of a slave's life or limb in the course of
punishment by his master constituted no legal offense, nor did the killing
of one by any person, when found stealing or attempting a theft by night.
Ascertained hiding places of runaway slaves were to be raided by constables
and posses, and these were to be rewarded for taking the runaways alive or
dead.[2] This act was thenceforward the basic law in the premises as long
as slavery survived in the island.

[Footnote 2: Richard Hall ed., _Acts Passed in the Island of Barbados from
1643 to 1762 inclusive_ (London. 1764), pp. 112-121.]

South Carolina, in a sense the daughter of Barbados and in frequent
communication with her, had enacted a series of specific laws of her own
devising, when the growth of her slave population prompted the adoption of
a general statute for negro police. Thereupon in 1712 her assembly copied
virtually verbatim the preamble and some of the ensuing clauses of the
Barbadian act of 1688, and added further provisions drawn from other
sources or devised for the occasion. This served as her basic law until
the shock of the Stono revolt in 1739 prompted the legislature to give the
statute a greater elaboration in the following year. The new clauses, aside
from one limiting the work which might be required by masters to fourteen
and fifteen hours per day in winter and summer respectively, and another
forbidding all but servants in livery to wear any but coarse clothing,
were concerned with the restraint of slaves, mainly with a view to the
prevention of revolt. No slaves were to be sold liquors without their
masters' approval; none were to be taught to write; no more than seven men
in a group were to travel on the high roads unless in company with white
persons; no houses or lands were to be rented to slaves, and no slaves were
to be kept on any plantation where no white person was resident.[3]

[Footnote 3: Cooper and McCord, _Statutes at Large of South Carolina_, VII,
408 ff.]

This act, supplemented by curfew and patrol laws and variously amended in
after years, as by the enhancement of penalties for negroes convicted of
striking white persons and by the requirement that masters provide adequate
food as well as clothing, was never repealed so long as slavery continued
to exist in South Carolina. Though its sumptuary clauses, along with
various others, were from first to last of no effect, the statute as a
whole so commended itself to the thought of slaveholding communities that
in 1770 Georgia made it the groundwork of her own slave police; Florida in
turn, by acts of 1822 and 1828, adopted the substance of the Georgia law
as revised to that period; and in lesser degree still other states gave
evidence of the same influence. Complementary legislation in all these
jurisdictions meanwhile recognized slaves as property, usually of chattel
character and with children always following the mother's condition,
debarred negro testimony in court in all cases where white persons were
involved, and declared the juridical incapacity of slaves in general except
when they were suing for freedom. Contemporaneously and by similar methods,
a parallel chain of laws, largely analogous to those here noted, was
extended from Virginia, herself a pioneer in slave legislation, to
Maryland, Delaware and North Carolina and in a fan-spread to the west as
far as Missouri and Texas.[4]

[Footnote 4: The beginning of Virginia's pioneer slave code has been
sketched in chapter IV above; and the slave legislation of the Northern
colonies and states in chapters VI and VII.]

Louisiana alone in all the Union, because of her origin and formative
experience as a Latin colony, had a scheme of law largely peculiar to
herself. The foundation of this lay in the _Code Noir_ decreed by Louis XV
for that colony in 1724. In it slaves were declared to be chattels, but
those of working age were not to be sold in execution of debt apart from
the lands on which they worked, and neither husbands and wives nor mothers
and young children were to be sold into separate ownership under any
circumstances. All slaves, furthermore, were to be baptized into the
Catholic church, and were to be exempt from field work on Sundays and
holidays; and their marriages were to be legally recognized. Children,
of course, were to follow the status and ownership of their mothers.
All slaves were to be adequately clothed and fed, under penalty of
confiscation, and the superannuated were to be maintained on the same
basis as the able-bodied. Slaves might make business contracts under their
masters' approval, but could not sue or be sued or give evidence against
whites, except in cases of necessity and where the white testimony was in
default. They might acquire property legally recognized as their own when
their masters expressly permitted them to work or trade on their personal
accounts, though not otherwise. Manumission was restricted only by the
requirement of court approval; and slaves employed by their masters in
tutorial capacity were declared _ipso facto_ free. In police regards, the
travel and assemblage of slaves were restrained, and no one was allowed to
trade with them without their masters' leave; slaves were forbidden to have
weapons except when commissioned by their masters to hunt; fugitives were
made liable to severe punishments, and free negroes likewise for harboring
them. Negroes whether slave or free, however, were to be tried by the same
courts and by the same procedure as white persons; and though masters were
authorized to apply shackles and lashes for disciplinary purpose, the
killing of slaves by them was declared criminal even to the degree of

[Footnote 5: This decree is printed in _Le Code Noir_ (Paris, 1742), pp.
318-358, and in the Louisiana Historical Society _Collections_, IV, 75-90.
The prior decree of 1685 establishing a slave code for the French West
Indies, upon which this for Louisiana was modeled, may be consulted in
L. Peytraud, _L'Esclavage aux Antilles Francaises_ (Paris, 1897), pp.

Nearly all the provisions of this relatively liberal code were adopted
afresh when Louisiana became a territory and then a state of the Union. In
assimilation to Anglo-American practice, however, such recognition as had
been given to slave _peculium_ was now withdrawn, though on the other hand
slaves were granted by implication a legal power to enter contracts for
self-purchase. Slave marriages, furthermore, were declared void of all
civil effect; and jurisdiction over slave crimes was transferred to courts
of inferior grade and informal procedure. By way of reciprocation the state
of Alabama when framing a new slave code in 1852 borrowed in a weakened
form the Louisiana prohibition of the separate sale of mothers and their
children below ten years of age. This provision met the praise of citizens
elsewhere when mention of it chanced to be published; but no other
commonwealth appears to have adopted it.[6]

[Footnote 6: _E. g_., Atlanta _Intelligencer_, Feb. 27, 1856.]

The severity of the slave laws in the commonwealths of English origin, as
compared with the mildness of the Louisiana code, was largely due to
the historic possession by their citizens of the power of local
self-government. A distant autocrat might calmly decree such regulations as
his ministers deemed proper, undisturbed by the wishes and apprehensions of
the colonial whites; but assemblymen locally elected and responsive to the
fears as well as the hopes of their constituents necessarily reflected more
fully the desire of social control, and preferred to err on the side of
safety. If this should involve severity of legislative repression for
the blacks, that might be thought regrettable and yet be done without a
moment's qualm. On the eve of the American Revolution a West Indian writer
explained the regime. "Self preservation," said he, "that first and ruling
principle of human nature, alarming our fears, has made us jealous and
perhaps severe in our _threats_ against delinquents. Besides, if we attend
to the history of our penal laws relating to slaves, I believe we shall
generally find that they took their rise from some very atrocious attempts
made by the negroes on the property of their masters or after some
insurrection or commotion which struck at the very being of the colonies.
Under these circumstances it may very justly be supposed that our
legislatures when convened were a good deal inflamed, and might be induced
for the preservation of their persons and properties to pass severe laws
which they might hold over their heads to terrify and restrain them."[7] In
the next generation an American citizen wrote in similar strain and with
like truthfulness: "The laws of the slaveholding states do not furnish
a criterion for the character of their present white population or the
condition of the slaves. Those laws were enacted for the most part in
seasons of particular alarm produced by attempts at insurrection, or when
the black inhabitants were doubly formidable by reason of the greater
proportion which they bore to the whites in number and the savage state and
unhappy mood in which they arrived from Africa. The real measure of danger
was not understood but after long experience, and in the interval the
precautions taken were naturally of the most jealous and rigorous aspect.
That these have not all been repealed, or that some of them should be still
enforced, is not inconsistent with an improved spirit of legislation, since
the evils against which they were intended to guard are yet the subject of
just apprehension."[8]

[Footnote 7: _Slavery Not Forbidden by Scripture, or a Defence of the West
India Planters_. By a West Indian (Philadelphia, 1773), p. 18, note.]

[Footnote 8: Robert Walsh, Jr., _An Appeal from the Judgments of Great
Britain respecting the United States of America_ (Philadelphia, 1819), p.

Wherever colonial statutes were silent the laws of the mother country
filled the gap. It was under the common law of England, for example, that
the slaves Mark and Phillis were tried in Massachusetts in 1755 for
the poisoning of their master, duly convicted of petit treason, and
executed--the woman as the principal in the crime by being burned at the
stake, the man as an accessory by being hanged and his body thereafter
left for years hanging in chains on Charlestown common.[9] The severity of
Anglo-American legislation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,
furthermore, was in full accord with the tone of contemporary English
criminal law. It is not clear, however, that the great mitigation which
benefit of clergy gave in English criminal administration[10] was
commensurately applied in the colonies when slave crimes were concerned.
Even in England, indeed, servants were debarred in various regards, that of
petit treason, for example, from this avenue of relief. On the other hand
many American slaves were saved from death at the hands of the law by the
tolerant spirit of citizens toward them and by the consideration of the
pecuniary loss to be suffered through their execution. A Jamaican statute
of 1684 went so far as to prescribe that when several slaves were jointly
involved in a capital crime one only was to be executed as an example and
the loss caused by his death was to be apportioned among the owners of the

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