Slave Codes

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During North Carolina’s colonial period and as a state following the Revolutionary War, white citizens, especially in the Cape Fear region, feared slave insurrections and invasion or an attack by foreign powers. The military often could not respond to both threats simultaneously. Consequently slave codes and slave patrols were established to act as a supplementary force to regulate the black population. The first slave code, which was enacted in 1715, was an attempt to define the social, economic, and physical place of African Americans by the ruling white society. Some conditions of this early slave code stated that: 1. A slave could not leave “master’s” property without a ticket or was to be “under escort” by a white citizen when off the land. 2. Runaway slaves who had gone missing for more than two months could be killed. 3. Freed slaves were required to leave the colony within a six-month period or were subject to re-enslavement for a period of five years. Other codes dealt with slaves drinking intoxicating beverages, the possession of weapons, and the assembly of slaves in groups of four or more. Monitored church services were exempted from this assembly clause. Wilmington in 1745 was given power by the general assembly of the colony to monitor and regulate the “buying or dealing with Negroes” bringing goods to market without proper certification from their owners or overseers in an attempt to regulate “Irregular Mobbs by Negroes”. As the Revolutionary War approached, even stricter ordinances were established by Wilmington. These included a curfew set for blacks at 10:00 PM. Slave wages were to be paid directly to their owners, and slaves could not hire themselves out without the owner’s permission. If a slave took lodging away from the owner’s property, it could be for no more than one day at a time. Free blacks fared somewhat better than their slave counterparts. In 1785, a code stated that a badge was to be worn on the left shoulder by both slave and...
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