Friday, April 4, 2008

South Carolina Slave Code

South Carolina was on the cutting edge of so-called necessary legislation to govern those “wild, barbarous, savages”. They admit in the first paragraph that their Province, South Carolina would not be able to exist (agriculturally, or industrial) without the work of the slaves. The slave work was so important that the Province created a “marshal law” existence for the slaves and blacks in the area. The code also applied to Indians, Mexicans, people of mixed ancestry, and any half-breed children of slaves (Cooper, pg 352-356). At the beginning of slavery in America, the children of slaves were born free, but it didn’t take long for the slave owners to figure out these children were worth money on the selling block. (Zinn, 2006).
It is interesting to see that slaves could not take leave on Sundays. This was a day when whites were engaged with duties related to church. They may have been unarmed on Sundays, therefore unable to protect themselves in case they were attacked by one of these “savages”. Slaves either needed to be escorted by a white person or have papers signed by a white person giving them permission to travel through the country side. The punishment for non-compliance was to receive a whipping. If whites that questioned a slave and found he/she didn’t have the correct documentation, must capture that slave and return him/her to the proper owner. If they didn’t the white person would be charged 20 shilling fine (Cooper, pg 352-356).
The white fear about a slave uprising was go great that the slave code enacted a law stating that the slave owners must search the slave homes every 14 days. They were searching for anything out of the ordinary, weapons, fugitive slaves, any unofficial documents, etc.. (Cooper, pg 352-356).
Slaves, Indians, Mexicans, and people of mixed races were not to carry weapons, unless they were given special permission by their white owners. And only if the slave was in the company of a white person, the slave could carry the weapon off the owners planation (Cooper, pg 352-356). The white owners would be fined 3 pounds if their guns were accessible to slaves.
What does all this mean? Whites needed slaves, but they were also afraid of the slaves. There is no mention of
1. treating the slaves in humane way.
2. paying them for their labor
3. allowing them to have family lives that were safe and secure
4. keeping families together.

These laws were created to protect whites from slaves, not to protect slaves from whites.
South Carolina Slave Code
In 1712 South Carolina passed a series of laws governing slaves and blacks. These laws became the model for slave codes enacted throughout the South in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
WHEREAS, the plantations and estates of this Province cannot be well and sufficiently managed and brought into use, without the labor and service of negroes and other slaves; and forasmuch as the said negroes and other slaves brought unto the people of this Province for that purpose, are of barbarous, wild, savage is absolutely necessary, that constitutions, laws and orders, should in this Province be made and enacted, for the good regulating and ordering of them....
I. Be it therefore enacted, by his Excellency, William, Lord Craven, Palatine.... and the rest of the members of the General Assembly, now met at Charlestown, for the South-west part of this Province, and by the authority of the same, That all negroes, mulatoes, mestizoes or Indians, which at any time heretofore have been sold, or now are held or taken to be, or hereafter shall be bought and sold for slaves, are hereby declared slaves; and they, and their children, are hereby made and declared slaves....
II. ....Be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That no master, mistress, overseer, or other person whatsoever, that hath the care and charge of any negro or slave, shall give their negroes and other slaves leave, on Sundays, holidays, or any other time, to go out of their plantations.... Every slave hereafter out of his master's plantation, without a ticket, or leave in writing, from his master or mistress, or .... some white person in the company of such slave, to give an account of his business, shall be whipped.... and every person who shall not (when in his power,) apprehend every negro or other slave which he shall see out of his master's plantation, without leave .... shall forfeit twenty shillings....
III. And be it further enacted .... That every master, mistress or overseer of a family in this Province, shall cause all his negro houses to be searched diligently and effectually, once every fourteen days, for fugitive and runaway slaves, guns, swords, clubs, and any other mischievous weapons....
V. And be it further enacted.... That no negro or slave shall carry out of the limits of his master's plantation any sort of gun or fire arms, without his master, or some other white person by his order....
VI. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That every master or head of any family, shall keep all his guns and other arms, when out of use, in the most private and least frequented room in the house, upon the penalty of being convicted of neglect therein, to forfeit three pounds.
Source: Thomas Cooper and David J. McCord, ed., Statutes at Large of South Carolina, (10 Vols., Columbia, 1836-1841) VII, pp. 352-356.
Zinn, Howard, “A Peoples History of the US”, HarperPerennial, 2003

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