The Story: Colonial Slavery

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"The slaves begged the privilege of again meeting at their little church in the woods, with their burying ground around it. It was built by the colored people, and they had no higher happiness than to meet there and sing hymns together, and pour out their hearts in spontaneous prayer. Their request was denied, and the church was demolished."

Harriet Jacobs, Edenton, N.C.

Records do exist detailing the colonial laws that whites enacted to control slaves. The first set of these laws, the North Carolina Slave Code of 1715, required slaves to carry a ticket from their master whenever they left the plantation. The ticket stated where they were traveling and the reason for their travel. The 1715 code also prevented slaves from gathering in groups for any reason, including religious worship, and required whites to help capture runaway slaves.

A second set of even stricter laws was put into place in 1741. These laws prevented slaves from raising their own livestock and from carrying guns without their master’s permission, even for hunting. The law also limited manumission, or freeing of slaves. It stated that a master could only free a slave for “meritorious services,” and even then the decision had to be approved by the county court. Perhaps the most ominous of all the laws was the one regarding runaway slaves. It stated that if runaways refused to surrender immediately, they could be killed and there would be no legal consequences.