Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas

Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas

Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas

Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas

Synopsis

Obscured from our view of slaves and masters in America is a critical third party: the state, with its coercive power. This book completes the grim picture of slavery by showing us the origins, the nature, and the extent of slave patrols in Virginia and the Carolinas from the late seventeenth century through the end of the Civil War. Here we see how the patrols, formed by county courts and state militias, were the closest enforcers of codes governing slaves throughout the South.

Mining a variety of sources, Sally Hadden presents the views of both patrollers and slaves as she depicts the patrols, composed of "respectable" members of society as well as poor whites, often mounted and armed with whips and guns, exerting a brutal and archaic brand of racial control inextricably linked to post-Civil War vigilantism and the Ku Klux Klan. City councils also used patrollers before the war, and police forces afterward, to impose their version of race relations across the South, making the entire region, not just plantations, an armed camp where slave workers were controlled through terror and brutality.

Excerpt

Historians interested in crime in the modern period have customarily concentrated on jails and the criminals thrown into them for breaking the law. the persons actually charged with capturing lawbreakers, however, known since the nineteenth century as the police, have attracted less historical study. Until recently, police and their activities were largely left to sociologists and political scientists, who principally investigated police of the twentieth century. Meanwhile, prisons and punishment have been eloquently described by historians like Edward Ayers or Michael Hindus, who evoked the dehumanizing effects of chain gangs or the changing nature of incarceration. the historical profession's traditional emphasis on institutional history has certainly motivated much of this prison research, while more recent scholars have no doubt been inspired by the theories of Michel Foucault about the prison or the asylum. Alternatively, scholars who investigate the “deviant,” the criminal, have often been stimulated by progressive, social, or Marxist history trends to search for patterns in the law or the nature of offenders that would reveal larger issues of social injustice and class bias in the criminal code. But whether they looked at jails, criminals, or even briefly examined the police, most works in the history of crime have focused their attention on New England, and left the American South virtually untouched.

Law enforcement groups have not received the same degree of scrutiny from Southern legal historians. Work done on Southern legal records has largely been left to the historians of slavery, who have paid great attention to slave courts, codes, and punishment in order to em-

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