Sunday, October 4, 2015
An Unwilling Slave Patroller's Account
Reading through American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, published in 1839, by abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld, I came across the account of Hiram White, who had lived in North Carolina for over thirty years, but moved to Illinois, presumably to get away from slavery's influence.
Slavery as an institution of racial control is sometimes overlooked in favor of the economic interests that owners invested in the practice. The amount to which slaves lives were controlled was almost unfathomable to us today living in a era of almost unlimited rights and liberties. Slaves were often required to carry passes when away of their home plantations and were likely to be subjected to random searches both in their quarters and when found out and about at night by patrollers.
But back to our account:
"About the 20th, December, 1830, a report was raised that the slaves of Chatham county, North Carolina, were going to rise on Christmas Day, in consequence of which a considerable commotion ensued among the inhabitants; orders were given by the Governor to the militia captains, to appoint patrolling captains in each district, and orders were given for every man subject to military duty to patrol as their captains should direct. I went two nights in succession, and after that refused to patrol at all. The reason why I refused was this, orders were given to search every negro house for books or prints of any kind, and Bibles and Hymn books were particularly mentioned. And should we find any, our orders were to inflict punishment by whipping the slave until he informed who gave them to him, or how they came by them."
Later in his testimony, White provided a view of the results of the searches:
"At the time of the rumored insurrection above named, the Chatham jail was filled with slaves who were said to be confined in the plot. Without the least evidence of it they were punished in divers [sic] ways; some were whipped, some had their thumbs screwed in a vice to make them confess, but no proof satisfactory was ever obtained that the negroes had ever thought of an insurrection, nor did any so far as I could learn, acknowledge that an insurrection has ever been projected. From this time forth, the slaves were prohibited from assembling together for the worship of God, and many of those who had previously been authorized to preach the Gospel were prohibited."
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.