Editorial Introduction: Viewed through the looking glass of contemporary law as reflected in free and democratic societies, the 1740 Slave Code of South Carolina is most certainly an abomination. It is a stain upon British and American legal history - South Carolina was a subject Province (aka colony) of "Her Majesty" in 1740. But then, few if any countries have perfect historical records regards to slavery.

This law reflected the reality that pursuant to property law as then in vogue, negro slaves were the chattel of their owners to do with as they liked; really, except for speech, no different from a pig or a horse. This code of law is striking in its horrific detail which confirms the pathetic status of fellow human beings, the slave.

To some extent, it was a reaction to a slave riot that had occurred in September 9, 1739 near the Stono River (see §56), especially as news had reached South Carolina slaves that the Spanish masters in present-day Florida was not only liberating slaves that could reach their but was also giving them land (see §47). The Governor, William Bull (see his signature after §58) just barely escaped with his life in the accident we came across the 50-some mob of armed slaves. The "white" got together a posse of some 100 strong and in the result, by some accounts, every single slave was shot dead captured and executed. Even those few that escaped were eventually hunted down.

colony of South Carolina circaThe Slave Code was quickly passed and became known as the Negro Act. It remained in full force until 1865. Technically,  it was an amendment to a 1712 slave law but which was mostly ignored.  South Carolina was only one of many  American colonies to confirm the status as chattel of African-American slaves  especially to ban interracial marriages.

South Carolina's Negro Act certainly went a step further.

We have taken the liberty of highlighting certain parts of the law for the convenience of readers who might be looking for the more egregious sections, recognizing and apologizing for the fact that this is somewhat of a subjective exercise.

In order to properly understand where we have come from as a civilization, which is an essential requirement to better prepare our future and guard against the repetition of past errors, a thorough reading of this document is well worth the time in spite of the great sadness and, for "whites", the humiliation it evokes. We've also reverse-engineered the original to add article numbering at natural breaks in the original text (which was not numbered).

Given the length, the Code is presented in eleven web pages: page 1 (§1-2), page 2 (§3-7), page 3 (§8-12), page 4 (§13-19), page 5 (§20-24), page 6 (§25-28), page 7 (§29-33), page 8 (§34-37), page 9 (§38-43), page 10 (§44-49) and page 11 (§50-58).


AN ACT FOR THE BETTER ORDERING AND GOVERNING NEGROES AND OTHER SLAVES IN THIS PROVINCE

WHEREAS, IN HIS MAJESTY'S PLANTATIONS IN AMERICA, SLAVERY HAS 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 THE PARTICULAR PERSONS, THE EXTEND 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:

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 degrees, 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;

slave ship

 

    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 by 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 of 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 empowered 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 to 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.

2.    And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that in every action or suit to be brought by any such guardian as aforesaid, appointed pursuant to the direction of this Act, the defendant shall recognizance, with one or more sufficient sureties, to the plaintiff, in such a sum as the said court of common pleas shall direct, with condition that the sum as the said court of common pleas shall direct, with condition that he shall produce the ward of the plaintiff at all times when required by the said court, and that whilst such action or suit shall be depending and undetermined, the ward of the plaintiff shall not be eloined, abused or misused.

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