The Early Ways of the South: How Slave Codes Regulated the Relationship Between Slaves and Owners

1 Posted by - June 19, 2018 - LATEST POSTS, SLAVERY

Slavery in the United States was governed by an extensive body of law developed from the 1660s to the 1860s. Every slave state had its own slave code and body of court decisions. These codes made slavery permanent in these states. It was very common for to rebel against slave buyers, master’s and anyone else who tried to gain control over them. However, most southern states had codes on how to handle these slaves and their behavior. Here is a look at two southern states on their , however there are many other states with that had strict codes.  “All servants imported and brought into the Country…who were not Christians in their native Country…shall be accounted and be slaves. All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion…shall be held to be real estate. If any slave resist his master…correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction…the master shall be free of all punishment…as if such accident never happened.”00034514

The code served as a model for other colonies as well. The law imposed harsh physical punishments, because enslaved people did not own property and could not pay finds. Slaves had to have written permission to leave their plantations. Slaves who were found guilty of breaking the laws would be murdered, raped, or hanged. If a slave was found guilty of robbing, or other offense the slave would receive sixty lashes and be put in stocks, where his ears would be cut off, other minor offenses included associating with whites, then slaves would be beat, branded, or maimed.


South Carolina’s Slave Code of 1740 was a series of laws aimed at controlling the population of enslaved African-Americans.  It prohibited slaves from gathering without white supervision, learning to read and write, and growing their own food.  It also created harsher punishments for disobeying the law.  The legislature enacted the Slave Code shortly after the Stono Rebellion, which reinforced slave owners’ fears of slave uprisings.

Slave codes ended with the Civil War but were the replaced by other discriminatory laws known as “black codes” during Reconstruction (1865-77). The black codes were attempts to control the newly freed African-Americans by barring them from engaging in certain occupations, performing jury duty, owning firearms, voting, and other pursuits.


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