The Story: Life as a Slave

Slaves had no way to legally protest their masters’ harsh treatment and abuse. A black person had no means of bringing a complaint to court, and could not even testify against a white person who had committed a crime against him or her. In fact, before 1774 it was not a crime in North Carolina to assault or even kill a slave. After 1774, a white person who murdered a slave would receive only 12 months in prison if it was their first offense. However, according to the 1774 law, if the slave was killed while the white person was using “moderate correction” to punish him or her, there would be no criminal charge.

"I will give you but one case of flogging in detail; that will be of Agnes, the slave of Augustus M----. She was hired to John B----; she was some six months advanced in pregnancy at the time. Being in an unfit state for field labour, she could not do as much as other slaves. For this cause, B---- tied her up and commenced whipping her. With my own hands have I dressed her back, and I solemnly declare that she had not a piece of skin left on it as wide as my finger. She was a hired slave. Had B---- killed her at a single blow, her master could have punished B----, if he could have got white witnesses to certify to that effect, which is not likely; but she might have died in an hour after being cut down, and there was no law to harm him. It would have been death caused by moderate correction, which North Carolina does not punish a slaveholder for."

John S. Jacobs, Edenton, N.C.