Slave Code of South Carolina - 1857



The slave code of South Carolina. The settlement of South Carolina commenced about 1660. In the scheme of government for this colony, drafted by the afterwards celebrated meta physician John Locke, there was inserted a provision that "every freeman of South Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves, of what opinion and religion whatsoever."

John Locke

John Locke
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In the code of laws knows as the "Duke's laws," no Christian shall be kept in bond slavery, villeinage, or captivity, except such who shall be judged thereunto by authority, or such as willingly have sold or shall sell themselves," in which case a record of such servitude shall be entered in the courts of sessions, "held for that jurisdiction where the master shall inhabit." This provision, borrowed, with some modifications, from the "Massachusetts Fundamentals," did not exempt heathen negroes and Indians form slavery.

The slave code of South Carolina, as revised and reenacted in a statue still regarded as having the force of law, had dropped from its phraseology something of the extreme harshness of the former act. It contained, also, some provisions for the benefit of the slaves, but, on the whole, was harder than before. "Whereas," says the preamble to the act of 1740," In his majesty's plantations in America, slavery has been introduced and allowed, and the people commonly called negroes, Indians, mulattoes, and mestizoes have been deemed absolute slaves, and the subjects of property in the hands of particular persons,

Slave Invoice (South Carolina)

Slave Invoice (South Carolina)
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the extent of whose power over such slaves ought to be settled and limited by positive laws, so that the slaves 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 rigor and cruelty over them, and that the public peace and order of this province ma be preserved," it is therefore enacted that "all negroes, Indians, mulattoes, and mestizoes (free Indians in amity with this government, and negroes, mulattoes, and mestozoes who are now free excepted,) who now are or shall hereafter be in this province, and all their issue and offspring born and 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 claimed, held, taken, reputed, and adjudged in law to be chattels personal."

This provision in the slave code of South Carolina, which deprives the master of the power of manumission, and subjects to slavery the descendant of every slave woman, no matter how many degrees removed, nor who may have been the male ancestor, nor what the color, was subsequently adopted in the same terms by the Georgia Legislature as the law of the province. A suit for freedom might be brought by any white man who chose to volunteer for that purpose on behalf of any person claimed as a slave. But in all such suits, "the burden of proofs shall lay upon the plaintiff, and it shall unless the contrary can be made to appear, the Indians in amity with this government excepted,in which case the burden of proof shall lie on the defendant."

Slave Sale, Charleston, South Carolina, 1856

Slave Sale, Charleston, South Carolina, 1856
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In the slave code of South Carolina, masters were forbidden to allow their slaves to hire their own time; to let or hire any plantation; to possess any vessel or boat; to keep or raise any horses, cattle, or hogs; to engage in any sort of trade on their own account; to be taught to write; or to have or wear any apparel (except livery servants) "finer than negro cloth, duffils, kersey, osnaburgs, blue linen, check linen, or coarse garlix or calicoes, checked cotton or Scotch plaid; and any constable seeing any negro better clad, might seize the clothes and appropriate them to his own use. In the slave code of South Carolina it was forbidden to work slaves on Sundays, under a penalty of five pounds; for working them more than fifteen hours daily in summer, and fourteen in winter, a like penalty was imposed. Upon complaint to any justice that any master does not provide his slaves with sufficient" clothes, covering, or food," the justice might make such order in the premises as he saw fit, and fine the master not exceeding twenty pounds. "And whereas cruelty is not only highly unbecoming those who profess themselves Christians,

Pro-Slavery Bonfire of Abolitionist Literature in Charleston, South Carolina, 1830s

Pro-Slavery Bonfire of Abolitionist Literature in Charleston, South Carolina, 1830s
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but odious in the eyes of all men who have any sense of virtue and humanity," the fine for the willful murder of a slave was increased to 700 pounds currency, with incapacity to hold any office, civil or military, and in case of inability to pay the fine, seven years' labor in a frontier garrison or the Charleston work-house. For killing a slave in the heat of passion, for maiming, or inflicting any other cruel punishment "other than by whipping or beating with a horsewhip, cowskin, switch, or small stick, or by putting in irons or imprisonment," a fine of 350 pounds was imposed; and in case of slaves found dead, maimed, or otherwise cruelly punished, the master were to be held guilty of the act unless they make the contrary appear.

Slave code of South Carolina as recorded in History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, 1857, pages 381 & 382

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