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On the evening of 8 December 1811 thirty one year old Charles Deslondes led a group of slaves along the Louisiana coast in what would become the largest protracted slave uprising in American history Also known as the German Coast Uprising the rebel force burned plantations and freed other slaves as it marched toward New Orleans In January 1812 Deslondes s soldiers battled a militia led by General Wade Hampton 1752 1835 at Francois Bernard Bernoudi s plantation which is briefly summarized in the newspaper article below After two days of fighting which included cavalry and pikes the militia defeated the slaves and captured Deslondes A tribunal held soon thereafter sentenced Deslondes and over a dozen other leaders of the revolt to death The bodies were dismembered and Deslondes s head was placed on a pike as a warning against future uprisings In the context of the Haitian Revolution and ...

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The day-to-day trade of human beings involved the brutal practice of separating mothers from their children. Though there were some laws to protect the rights of slave women, the usual practice was to sell mothers with their infants together. However, as the advertisement below indicates, a child who had reached the age of six was already regarded as old enough to be bought separately. This post, it should be noted, is found in the Pennsylvania Gazette, a Philadelphia-based newspaper cofounded by Benjamin Franklin.

Article

Gordon S. Barker

On 24 May 1854, after leaving the secondhand clothing shop owned by Coffin Pitts on Boston's Brattle Street, Anthony Burns was arrested by the notorious slave catcher Asa Butman and several associates on trumped-up charges of petty theft. They took Burns to the courthouse and held him in a third-floor jury room. Burns's former owner, Colonel Charles Suttle of Virginia, and his agent, William Brent, joined Burns in the room, thus beginning Boston's last and most famous fugitive slave case.

Burns's arrest and trial fueled northern resentment of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which had been evident in earlier fugitive slave cases. Renowned for their participation in the Underground Railroad, Boston abolitionists spirited many fugitive slaves to freedom, including William and Ellen Craft and Frederick (Shadrach) Minkins. Several Bostonians had also voiced their support of the daring Jerry Rescue in Syracuse in 1851 Although the city ...

Article

Candy  

Timothy J. McMillan

slave and accused witch, was one of the few blacks in colonial New England to be born in the English colony of Barbados. Candy came to Salem Village, Massachusetts, with her owner Margarett Hawke sometime in the years immediately preceding the notorious witchcraft panic of 1692. As with many of the key players in the Salem witch trials, Candy has left little in the historical record other than the accusations against her, court testimony, and the judgment against her. Still, even this small amount of information is compelling. There were strong economic and political ties between Salem and Barbados, resting on the shipping industry and trade in slave-manufactured goods, particularly sugar and cotton. In fact the Reverend Samuel Parris and his famous Amerindian slave Tituba also were from Barbados and it was in his household that the witch panic of 1692 began.

On 2 July 1692 Candy was ...

Article

Celia  

Steven J. Niven

the first woman executed by the state of Florida, was born a slave in Georgia, the eldest of six children of Jacob Bryan, a white planter, and Susan (maiden name unknown), who was Bryan's slave and also his common-law wife. Legal documents indicate that in January 1830 Bryan brought Susan and his children to a plantation in Duval County, Florida.

In November 1842Jacob Bryan executed a legal deed of manumission to emancipate Susan and several of his children though the historical record is unclear as to whether Celia was one of those freed Manumission of slaves had been possible in Florida under Spanish law though usually for male slaves who had fought for the Spanish Empire and for the common law slave wives and slave children of white planters As a result a sizeable free black population developed in eastern Florida making it possible for interracial couples ...

Article

Celia  

Steven J. Niven

a slave executed for killing her master, was probably born in central Missouri. The names of her parents are unknown. Practically all the information that is known about Celia is taken from court records and newspaper accounts of her trial for the murder in 1855 of Robert Newsom, a farmer and slave-owner in Calloway County, Missouri. Newsom had purchased Celia in neighboring Audrain County, Missouri, some five years earlier. Celia was the only female slave in the Newsom household; the five others included a young boy and four young adult males who herded the livestock and harvested the eight hundred acres of prime land that had helped elevate Robert Newsom to a position “solidly among the ranks of Callaway's residents who were comfortably well-off” (McLaurin, 8). Newsom's wife had died in 1849 and it may have been that he purchased Celia a cook to assist his thirty six ...

Article

Minor Ferris Buchanan

slave, soldier, hunter, guide, and pioneer, was born on Home Hill plantation, Jefferson County, Mississippi, the son of slaves Harrison and Daphne Collier. Little is known of Daphne Collier, although it is believed that she had some Native American ancestry. In 1815Harrison Collier accompanied the famed General Thomas Hinds when he fought alongside General Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812 at the Battle of New Orleans. As house servants the Colliers maintained a higher status on the plantation, and from all indications young Holt was a favorite of the Hinds family. At age ten he was taken into the upriver wilderness to serve as a juvenile valet and hostler on Plum Ridge plantation in what would later become known as Washington County in the Mississippi Delta.

At Plum Ridge plantation Holt was trained to hunt and kill anything that could be used as food for the growing ...

Primary Source

In 1822, the slave insurrection planned by South Carolina carpenter Denmark Vesey (c. 1767–1822) quickly fell apart, undone by slaves who leaked the plot to their masters. Though plantation owners tried to pin the blame on abolitionists in the North, the sheer number of recruits shows the lengths to which supposedly “happy” slaves were willing to go in order to free themselves from bondage. There were over 12,000 bonded servants in Charleston at the time, and estimates place the number of rebels anywhere from 6,000 to 9,000. In the confession reproduced below, the plan for the uprising and subsequent escape to Haiti is laid out. In response, the state created a permanent police force to respond to an insurrection, enforced ordinances against educating the slaves, and banned free blacks from entering the state, among other draconian measures.

Primary Source

Monday Gell, an African-born Ibo who was trained as a harness maker, joined with his friend Denmark Vesey (c. 1767–1822) in the doomed slave insurrection of 1822. As one of Vesey’s chief lieutenants, Gell helped to recruit willing participants—largely from the pool of skilled laborers in Charleston as well as from the congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The plan, however, fell apart when the plot was leaked to the white authorities; Gell is quoted as having predicted who the traitor would be. In the end, it was Gell’s confession, reproduced below, that helped to convict Vesey.

Primary Source

The doomed 1800 revolt organized by the charismatic slave leader Gabriel (1776–1800) resulted in the swift execution of twenty-six rebels. Gabriel’s brother Solomon was among the convicted slaves, and his confession below provides some of the details of the plan. Thanks to these details, the impact of the insurrection lasted for generations. Alarmed by the prospect of mass chaos from the large black population, the State of Virginia took increasingly totalitarian measures to preclude another rebellion, including banning the education of slaves and restricting their ability to travel.

Article

William H. Brown and Graham Russell Hodges

[This entry contains two subentries dealing with law as specifically applied to African Americans from the seventeenth century through the nineteenth century The first article discusses the development of crimes and punishments related to slavery through 1830 while the second article discusses law and legal penalties as applied to ...

Article

Owing largely to the legacy of Slavery in the United States and to a record of unequal enforcement and punishment, the relation of African Americans to the criminal justice system has been a strained and contentious one. For much of American history, blacks were not full participants in the protections and rights offered by the criminal justice system. As a group, however, they have been accused and imprisoned within that system at far greater rates than the general population, a situation that continues to this day. In the 1990s the United States imprisoned African American men at a rate six times that of white men. African Americans made up only about 12 percent of the U.S. population during that period, but they comprised almost half of the population in American prisons and jails.

Article

Delano Greenidge-Copprue

Before his apprenticeship as a ship's caulker in Baltimore, Maryland, Frederick Douglass (then Frederick Bailey) was imprisoned for a week in Easton, Maryland, when his 1835 plan to escape the slavery of the colonel Edward Lloyd's plantation at Saint Michaels was discovered. Along with four conspirators, Douglass was shackled and pulled by horses, stumbling and at times simply dragged over the fifteen miles from the plantation to the jail in Easton.

As the seat of Talbot County on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Easton was a haven for traders who made a living buying slaves from jails and selling them into the more concentrated plantation labor of the Deep South. Hounded by traders while imprisoned in Easton, Douglass never forgot them. On 5 July 1852 Douglass denounced Austin Woolfolk a Maryland slave trader at whose slave mart on Pratt Street in Baltimore the fates of countless African Americans were ...

Primary Source

One of the difficulties of a nation in which some states held slavery to be legal and other states had abolished it was the legal status of fugitive slaves. This was not an issue that escaped the attention of the framers of the United States Constitution. Although, as usual, no mention is made of the word slavery, Article IV, Section 2 makes clear that each state is to honor the laws of every other state in this regard. That article guaranteed the right to repossess in a different state any “person held to service or labor,” but it did not go into any detail about how that was to be accomplished.

Under the circumstances however with widely divergent views prevailing of the moral and legal aspects of slavery detail was found to be necessary There were continual conflicts between abolitionists and slave catchers and these conflicts came to a ...

Primary Source

The provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 are almost unimaginable. It is difficult to believe that the “states'-rights” South could so blatantly demand federal power to defend slavery, and it is almost impossible to imagine that the increasingly antislavery North would agree to that demand. Legally, before the act was passed, free states were supposed to help slaveowners apprehend and return to servitude slaves who had run away. In practice the free states did not do much in this regard. So the Fugitive Slave Act took that responsibility out of their hands and put it in the hands of the federal government. The government could deputize people against their will to help in a slave chase. Federal commissioners held trials to determine whether the captive actually was a slave. More federal officials were to be assigned solely to upholding the provisions of the act.

To understand how this ...

Article

Richard S. Newman and Paul Finkelman

Fugitive, or self-emancipated, slaves ran away in every American colony and state from the beginning of bondage until the Civil War ended slavery forever. Indeed, while fugitive slaves of the colonial and early national periods remain less celebrated than such antebellum counterparts as Frederick Douglass, Henry “Box” Brown, and Harriet Jacobs they too had a significant impact on the institution of slavery From the advent of plantation slavery in British North America in the seventeenth century onward fugitive slaves were intimately connected to patterns of slave resistance and rebelliousness Colonial masters had turned to African labor because of the high incidence of escapism among both Native American laborers and indentured servants No sooner had colonial masters shifted to racial slavery than bondpeople began running away too Moreover because the line between black slavery and indentured servitude remained fluid during the first half of the seventeenth century fugitive slaves ...

Article

Laura Murphy

was born to an enslaved mother on Maplewood Plantation in Boone County, Kentucky. Her mother, Priscilla, worked in the plantation house and helped to raise the children of John P. Gaines, her owner and later a U.S. congressman and governor of the Oregon territory. While Priscilla is listed as “black” in the 1850 census, Margaret Garner is listed as “mulatto” suggesting that John Gaines was perhaps Margaret's father. When Gaines left to govern Oregon, he abruptly sold his plantation and all of the slaves on it to his brother, Archibald James, who thus became Margaret's owner.

On 27 January 1856 Garner and sixteen other slaves escaped from the various Kentucky plantations on which they worked They stole two horses to which they hitched a sled to carry them to the Ohio River Leaving Covington Kentucky together they crossed the frozen Ohio River after which they split up ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

servant and legal pioneer, was born Joao Geaween in Africa, probably in Angola, and was among the first generation of Africans captured and brought to the English colony of Virginia in the late 1620s and early 1630s. At that time, indentured servants from the British Isles vastly outnumbered the few hundred Africans in the colony. Graweere worked as a servant near James City for a white colonist, William Evans It is not clear whether Graweere was a servant for life or for a fixed term but like most early Virginia settlers white and black he probably helped to cultivate and harvest his master s tobacco which became the colony s staple export commodity in the 1620s Court records show however that Evans also allowed his servant Graweere to keep hogs and make the best benefit thereof to himself provided that Evans might have half the increase of any ...

Primary Source

Enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was sometimes impossible for federal officials operating in non slaveholding states thanks in part to vocal networks of abolitionists who used newspapers and word of mouth to warn free blacks of patrols and slave catchers In a celebrated case a laborer named Joshua Glover was seized by U S Marshals in Racine Wisconsin in 1854 Glover had run away from his owner in Missouri and as such did not have the right to a trial In response to this situation a mob of abolitionists raided the jail cell where Glover was imprisoned and freed him While Glover fled to Canada the legal battle over this incident continued for several years as the Wisconsin legislature and court system challenged the legality of the Fugitive Slave Law On the eve of the Civil War the United States Supreme Court ruled against Wisconsin thereby upholding the ...

Article

Marlene L. Daut

first man to be returned to slavery under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, was born James Hamilton Williams in Baltimore, Maryland, the slave of Mary Brown. Little is known of Hamlet's parents, but he claimed during his brief trial that he was the son of a freewoman and thus had never been a slave at all. A purported escaped slave, Hamlet left Baltimore for New York City in 1848 where he worked as a porter in the Tilton and Maloney general store Before his capture and return to slavery he lived in the city of Williamsburg present day Brooklyn with his wife and two children whose names are unknown While in Williamsburg Hamlet was an active member of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and a devoted husband and father It is not surprising that Hamlet chose New York as a safe haven for his family ...