George W. Williams.

History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens online

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Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 34 of 57)
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negroes, mulatoes, mustizoes 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, to all intents and purposes;
excepting all such negroes, mulatoes, mustizoes or Indians,
which heretofore have been, or hereafter shall be, for some
particular merit, made and declared free, either by the
Governor and council of this Province, pursuant to any Act
or law of this Province, or by their respective owners or
masters; and also, excepting all such negroes, mulatoes,
mustizoes or Indians, as can prove they ought not to be sold
for slaves. And in case any negro, mulatoe, mustizoe or
Indian, doth lay claim to his or her freedom upon all or any
of the said accounts, the same shall be finally heard and
determined by the Governor and council of this
Province."[483]

The above section was re-enacted into another law, containing
forty-three sections, passed on the 23d of February, 1722. Virginia
declared that children should follow the condition of their mothers,
but never passed a law in any respect like unto this most remarkable
Act. South Carolina has the unenviable reputation of being the only
colony in North America where by positive statute the Negro was doomed
to perpetual bondage.[484] On the 10th of May, 1740, an act regulating
slaves, containing fifty sections, recites: -

"Whereas, in his Majesty's plantations in America, slavery
his been introduced and allowed, and the people commonly
called negroes, Indians, mulattoes and mustizoes, have been
deemed absolute slaves, and the subjects of property in the
hands of particular persons, the extent of whose power over
such slaves ought to be settled and limited by positive
laws, so that the slave may be kept in due subjection and
obedience, and the owners and other persons having the care
and government of slaves may be restrained from exercising
too great rigour and cruelty over them, and that the public
peace and order of this Province may be preserved: We pray
your most sacred Majesty that it may be enacted."[485]

The first section of this Act was made more elaborate than any other
law previously passed. It bore all the marks of ripe scholarship and
profound law learning. The first section is produced here: -

"1. _And be it enacted_, by the honorable William Bull,
Esquire, Lieutenant Governor and Commander-in-chief, by and
with the advice and consent of his Majesty's honorable
Council, and the Commons House of Assembly of this Province,
and by the authority of the same, That all negroes and
Indians, (free Indians in amity with this government, and
negroes, mulattoes and mustizoes, who are now free,
excepted,) mulattoes or mustizoes who now are, or shall
hereafter be, in this Province, and all their issue and
offspring, born or to be born, shall be, and they are hereby
declared to be, and remain forever hereafter, absolute
slaves, and shall follow the condition of the mother, and
shall be deemed, held, taken, reputed and adjudged in law,
to be chattels personal, in the hands of their owners and
possessors, and their executors, administrators and assigns,
to all intents, constructions and purposes whatsoever;
_provided always_, that if any negro, Indian, mulatto or
mustizo, shall claim his or her freedom, it shall and may be
lawful for such negro, Indian, mulatto or mustizo, or any
person or persons whatsoever, on his or her behalf, to apply
to the justices of his Majesty's court of common pleas, by
petition or motion, either during the sitting of the said
court, or before any of the justices of the same court, at
any time in the vacation; and the said court, or any of the
justices thereof, shall, and they are hereby fully impowered
to, admit any person so applying to be guardian for any
negro, Indian, mulatto or mustizo, claiming his, her or
their freedom; and such guardians shall be enabled, entitled
and capable in law, to bring an action of trespass in the
nature of ravishment of ward, against any person who shall
claim property in, or who shall be in possession of, any
such negro, Indian, mulatto or mustizo; and the defendant
shall and may plead the general issue on such action
brought, and the special matter may and shall be given in
evidence, and upon a general or special verdict found,
judgment shall be given according to the very right of the
cause, without having any regard to any defect in the
proceedings, either in form or substance; and if judgment
shall be given for the plaintiff, a special entry shall be
made, declaring that the ward of the plaintiff is free, and
the jury shall assess damages which the plaintiff's ward
hath sustained, and the court shall give judgment, and award
execution, against the defendant for such damage, with full
costs of suit; but in case judgment shall be given for the
defendant, the said court is hereby fully impowered to
inflict such corporal punishment, not extending to life or
limb, on the ward of the plaintiff, as they, in their
discretion, shall think fit; _provided always_, that in any
action or suit to be brought in pursuance of the direction
of this Act, the burthen of the proof shall lay on the
plaintiff, and it shall be always presumed that every negro,
Indian, mulatto and mustizo, is a slave, unless the contrary
can be made appear, the Indians in amity with this
government excepted, in which case the burthen of the proof
shall lye on the defendant; _provided also_, that nothing in
this Act shall be construed to hinder or restrain any other
court of law or equity in this Province, from determining
the property of slaves, or their right of freedom, which
now have cognizance or jurisdiction of the same, when the
same shall happen to come in judgment before such courts, or
any of them, always taking this Act for their direction
therein."[486]

The entire slave population of this Province was regarded as _chattel
property, absolutely_. They could be seized in execution as in the
case of other property, but not, however, if there were other chattels
available. In case of "burglary, robbery, burning of houses, killing
or stealing of any meat or other cattle, or other petty injuries, as
maiming one of the other, stealing of fowls, provisions, or such like
trespass or injuries," a justice of the peace was to be informed. He
issued a warrant for the arrest of the offender or offenders, and
summoned all competent witnesses. After examination, if found guilty,
the offender or offenders were committed to jail. The justice then
notified the justice next to him to be associated with him in the
trial. He had the authority to fix the day and hour of the trial, to
summon witness, and "three discreet and sufficient freeholders." The
justices then swore the "freeholders," and, after they had tried the
case, had the authority to pronounce the sentence of death, "or such
other punishment" as they felt meet to fix. "The solemnity of a jury"
was never accorded to slaves. "Three freeholders" could dispose of
human life in such cases, and no one could hinder.[487] The confession
of the accused slave, and the testimony of another slave, were "held
for good and convincing evidence in all petty larcenies or trespasses
not exceeding forty shillings." In the case of a Negro on trial for
his life, "the oath of Christian evidence" was required, or the
"positive evidence of two Negroes or slaves," in order to convict.

The increase of slaves was almost phenomenal. The rice-trade had grown
to enormous proportions. The physical obstruction gave away rapidly
before the incessant and stupendous efforts of Negro laborers. The
colonists held out most flattering inducements to Englishmen to
emigrate into the Province. The home government applauded the zeal and
executive abilities of the local authorities. Attention was called to
the necessity of legislation for the government of the vast Negro
population in the colony. The code of South Carolina was without an
example among the civilized governments of modern times. It was
unlawful for any free person to inhabit or trade with Negroes.[488]
Slaves could not leave the plantation on which they were owned, except
in livery, or armed with a pass, signed by their master, containing
the name of the possessor. For a violation of this regulation they
were whipped on the naked back. No man was allowed to conduct a
"plantation, cow-pen or stock," that shall be six miles distant from
his usual place of abode, and wherein six Negroes were employed,
without one or more white persons were residing on the place.[489]
Negro slaves found on another plantation than the one to which they
belonged, "on the Lord's Day, fast days, or holy-days," even though
they could produce passes, were seized and whipped. If a slave were
found "keeping any horse, horses, or neat cattle," any white man, by
warrant, could seize the animals, and sell them through the
church-wardens; and the money arising from such sale was devoted to
the poor of the parish in which said presumptuous slaves resided. If
more than seven slaves were found travelling on the highway, except
accompanied by a white man, it was lawful for any white man to
apprehend each and every one of such slaves, and administer twenty
lashes upon their bare back. No slave was allowed to hire out his
time. Some owners of slaves were poor, and, their slaves being trusty
and industrious, permitted them to go out and get whatever work they
could, with the understanding that the master was to have the wages.
An Act was passed in 1735, forbidding such transactions, and fining
the persons who hired slaves who had no written certificate from their
masters setting forth the terms upon which the work was to be done. No
slave could hire a house or plantation. No amount of industry could
make him an exception to the general rule. If he toiled faithfully for
years, amassed a fortune for his master, earned quite a competence for
himself during the odd moments he caught from a busy life, and then,
with acknowledged character and business tact, he sought to hire a
plantation or buy a house, the law came in, and pronounced it a
misdemeanor, for which both purchaser and seller had to pay in fines,
stripes, and imprisonment. A slave could not keep in his own name, or
that of his master, any kind of a house of entertainment. He was even
prohibited by law from selling corn or rice in the Province. The
penalty was a fine of forty shillings, and the forfeiture of the
articles for sale. They could not keep a boat or canoe.

The cruelties of the code are without a parallel, as applied to the
correction of Negro slaves.

"If any negro or Indian slave [says the act of Feb. 7, 1690]
shall offer any violence, by stricking or the like, to any
white person, he shall for the first offence be severely
whipped by the constable, by order of any justice of peace;
and for the second offence, by like order, shall be severely
whipped, his or her nose slit, and face burnt in some place;
and for the third offence, to be left to two justices and
three sufficient freeholders, to inflict death, or any other
punishment, according to their discretion."

As the penalties for the smallest breach of the slave-code grew more
severe, the slaves grew more restless and agitated. Sometimes under
great fear they would run away for a short time, in the hope that
their irate masters would relent. But this, instead of helping,
hindered and injured the cause of the slaves. Angered at the conduct
of their slaves, the master element, having their representatives on
the floor of the Assembly, secured the passage of the following brutal
law: -

"That every slave of above sixteen years of age, that shall
run away from his master, mistress or overseer, and shall so
continue for the space of twenty days at one time, shall, by
his master, mistress, overseer or head of the family's
procurement, for the first offence, be publicly and severely
whipped, not exceeding forty lashes; and in case the master,
mistress, overseer, or head of the family, shall neglect to
inflict such punishment of whipping, upon any negro or slave
that shall so run away, for the space of ten days, upon
complaint made thereof, within one month, by any person
whatsoever, to any justice of the peace, the said justice of
the peace shall, by his warrant directed to the constable,
order the said negro or slave to be publicly and severely
whipped, the charges of such whipping, not exceeding twenty
shillings, to be borne by the person neglecting to have such
runaway negro whipped, as before directed by this Act. And
in case such negro or slave shall run away a second time,
and shall so continue for the space of twenty days, he or
she, so offending, shall be branded with the letter R, on
the right cheek. And in case the master, mistress, overseer,
or head of the family, shall neglect to inflict the
punishment upon such slave running away the second time, the
person so neglecting shall forfeit the sum of ten pounds,
and upon any complaint made by any person, within one month,
to any justice of the peace, of the neglect of so punishing
any slave for running away the second time, such justice
shall order the constable to inflict the same punishment
upon such slave, or cause the same to be done, the charges
thereof, not exceeding thirty shillings, to be borne by the
person neglecting to have the punishment inflicted. And in
case such negro or slave shall run away the third time, and
shall so continue for the space of thirty days, he or she,
so offending, for the third offence, shall be severely
whipped, not exceeding forty lashes, and shall have one of
his ears cut off; and in case the master, mistress, overseer
or head of the family, shall neglect to inflict the
punishment upon such slave running away the third time, the
person so neglecting shall forfeit the sum of twenty pounds,
and upon any complaint made by any person, within two
months, to any justice of the peace, of the neglect of the
so punishing any slave for running away the third time, the
said justice shall order the constable to inflict the same
punishment upon such slave, or cause the same to be done,
the charges thereof, not exceeding forty shillings, to be
borne by the person neglecting to have the punishment
inflicted. And in case such male negro or slave shall run
away the fourth time, and shall so continue for the space of
thirty days, he, so offending, for the fourth offence, by
order or procurement of the master, mistress, overseer or
head of the family, shall be gelt; and in case the negro or
slave that shall be gelt, shall die, by reason of his
gelding, and without any neglect of the person that shall
order the same, the owner of the negro or slave so dying,
shall be paid for him, out of the public treasury. And if a
female slave shall run away the fourth time, then she shall,
by order of her master, mistress or overseer, be severely
whipped, and be branded on the left cheek with the letter R,
and her left ear cut off. And if the owner, if in this
Province, or in case of his absence, if his agent, factor or
attorney, that hath the charge of the negro or slave, by
this Act required to be gelt, whipped, branded and the ear
cut off, for the fourth time of running away, shall neglect
to have the same done and executed, accordingly as the same
is ordered by this Act, for the space of twenty days after
such slave is in his or their custody, that then such owner
shall lose his property to the said slave, to him or them
that will sue for the same, by information, at any time
within six months, in the court of common pleas in this
Province. And every person who shall so recover a slave by
information, for the reasons aforesaid, shall, within twenty
days after such recovery, inflict such punishment upon such
slave as his former owner or head of a family ought to have
done, and for neglect of which he lost his property to the
said slave, or for neglect thereof shall forfeit fifty
pounds; and in case any negro slave so recovered by
information, and gelt, shall die, in such case, the slave so
dying shall not be paid for out of the public treasury. And
in case any negro or slave shall run away the fifth time,
and shall so continue by the space of thirty days at one
time, such slave shall be tried before two justices of the
peace and three freeholders, as before directed by this Act
in case of murder, and being by them declared guilty of the
offence, it shall be lawful for them to order the cord of
one of the slave's legs to be cut off above the heel, or
else to pronounce sentence of death upon the slave, at the
discretion of the said justices; and any judgment given
after the first offence, shall be sufficient conviction to
bring the offenders within the penalty for the second
offence; and after the second, within the penalty of the
third; and so for the inflicting the rest of the
punishments."[490]

If any slave attempted to run away from his or her master, and go out
of the Province, he or she could be tried before two justices and
three freeholders, and sentenced to suffer a most cruel death. If it
could be proved that any Negro, free or slave, had endeavored to
persuade or entice any other Negro to run off out of the Province,
upon conviction he was punished with forty lashes, and branded on the
forehead with a red hot iron, "that the mark thereof may remain." If a
white man met a slave, and demanded of him to show his ticket, and the
slave refused, the law empowered the white man "to beat, maim, or
assault; and if such Negro or slave" could not "be taken, to kill
him," if he would not "shew his ticket."

The cruel and barbarous code of the slave-power in South Carolina
produced, in course of time, a re-action in the opposite direction.
The large latitude that the law gave to white people in their dealings
with the hapless slaves made them careless and extravagant in the use
of their authority. It educated them into a brood of tyrants. They did
not care any more for the life of a Negro slave than for the crawling
worm in their path. Many white men who owned no slaves poured forth
their wrathful invectives and cruel blows upon the heads of innocent
Negroes with the slightest pretext. They pushed, jostled, crowded, and
kicked the Negro on every occasion. The young whites early took their
lessons in abusing God's poor and helpless children; while an overseer
was prized more for his brutal powers - to curse, beat, and
torture - than for any ability he chanced to possess for business
management. The press and pulpit had contemplated this state of
affairs until they, too, were the willing abettors in the most cruel
system of bondage that history has recorded. But no man wants his
horse driven to death, if it is a beast. No one cares to have every
man that passes kick his dog, even if it is not the best dog in the
community. It is _his_ dog, and that makes all the difference in the
world. The men who did the most cruel things to the slaves they found
in their daily path were, as a rule, without slaves or any other kind
of property. They used their authority unsparingly. Common-sense
taught the planters that better treatment of the slaves meant better
work, and increased profits for themselves. A small value was finally
placed upon a slave's life, - fifty pounds. Fifty pounds paid into the
public treasury by a man who, "of wantonness, or only of
bloody-mindedness, or cruel intention," had killed "a negro or other
slave of his own," was enough to appease the public mind, and atone
for a cold-blooded murder! If he killed another man's slave, the law
demanded that he pay fifty pounds current money into the public
treasury, and the full price of the slave to the owner, but was "not
to be liable to any other punishment or forfeiture for the same."[491]
The law just referred to, passed in 1712, was re-enacted in 1722. One
change was made in it: i.e., if a white servant, having no property,
killed a slave, three justices could bind him over to the master whose
slave he killed to serve him for five years. This law had a wholesome
effect upon irresponsible white men, who often presumed upon their
nationality, having neither brains, money, nor social standing, to
punish slaves.

In 1740, May 10, the following Act became a law, showing that there
had been a wonderful change in public sentiment rejecting the
treatment of slaves: -

"XXXVII. And _whereas_, cruelty is not only highly
unbecoming those who profess themselves christians but is
odious in the eyes of all men who have any sense of virtue
or humanity; therefore, to restrain and prevent barbarity
being exercised towards slaves, _Be it enacted_ by the
authority aforesaid, That if any person or persons
whosoever, shall wilfully murder his own slave, or the slave
of any other person every such person shall, upon conviction
thereof, forfeit and pay the sum of seven hundred pounds
current money, and shall be rendered, and is hereby declared
altogether and forever incapable of holding, exercising,
enjoying or receiving the profits of any office, place or
employment, civil or military, within this Province: And in
case any such person shall not be able to pay the penalty
and forfeitures hereby inflicted and imposed, every such
person shall be sent to any of the frontier garrisons of
this Province, or committed to the work house in
Charlestown, there to remain for the space of seven years,
and to serve or to be kept at hard labor. And in case the
slave murdered shall be the property of any other person
than the offender, the pay usually allowed by the public to
the soldiers of such garrison, or the profits of the labor
of the offender, if committed to the work house in
Charlestown shall be paid to the owner of the slave
murdered. And if any person shall, on a sudden heat of
passion, or by undue correction, kill his own slave, or the
slave of any other person, he shall forfeit the sum of three
hundred and fifty pounds, current money. And in case any
person or persons shall wilfully cut out the tongue, put out
the eye, castrate, or cruelly scald, burn, or deprive any
slave of any limb or member, or shall inflict any other
cruel punishment, other than by whipping or beating with a
horse-whip, cow-skin, switch or small stick or by putting
irons on, or confining or imprisoning such slave, every such
person shall, for every such offence, forfeit the sum of one
hundred pounds, current money."[492]

It may be said truthfully that the slaves in the colony of South
Carolina were accorded treatment as good as that bestowed upon
horses, in 1750. But their social condition was most deplorable. The
law positively forbid the instruction of slaves, and the penalty was
"one hundred pounds current money." For a few years Saturday afternoon
had been allowed them as a day of recreation, but as early as 1690 it
was forbidden by statute. In the same year an Act was passed declaring
that slaves should "have convenient clothes, once every year; and that
no slave" should "be free by becoming a christian,[493] but as to
payments of debts" were "deemed and taken as all other goods and
chattels." Their houses were searched every fortnight "for runaway
slaves" and "stolen goods." Druggists were not allowed to employ a
Negro to handle medicines, upon pain of forfeiting twenty pounds
current money for every such offence. Negroes were not allowed to
practise medicine, nor administer drugs of any kind, except by the



Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 34 of 57)