May 10, 1740 – South Carolina Enacts the Negro Act of 1740

On this day in history, South Carolina passed an extensive list of rules regulating slavery. The justification for the legislation is provided at the outset:

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….”

The act went on (and on) to ensure that slaves were prohibited form growing their own food, learning to read, earning money, assembling in groups, using loud musical instruments (“which may call together or give sign or notice to one another of their wicked designs and purposes”), wearing nice clothes, killing a “whiter person,” and especially not inciting or attempting to incite an insurrection.

Furthermore, the act established that “it shall be always presumed that every Negro, Indian, mulatto, and mustizo, is a slave,” with the burden of proof otherwise on the plaintiff.

You can read the full text of this legislation here.

Reproduction of a handbill advertising a slave auction in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1769

Reproduction of a handbill advertising a slave auction in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1769

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