The Story: Life as a Slave

Slaves themselves could be brought to trial in a slave court, which was separate from the regular court system. This court had the authority to try, sentence, and even execute slaves without trial by jury. The accused slaves had no representation, and could not call witnesses to defend themselves. During the colonial period, about 96 percent of slaves tried in these courts in North Carolina were convicted.

In addition to these public courts, each plantation or farm had its own private system of justice in which individual slaveholders dealt out the punishments they felt were appropriate. Slaves were usually only brought to the slave courts for what were considered the most serious crimes, such as murder, theft from a white person, or assault on a white person.

"A woman who gives offence in the field, and is large in the family way, is compelled to lie down over a hole made to receive her, and is then flogged with the whip, or beaten with a paddle, which has holes in it; at every hole comes a blister. One of my sisters was so severely punished in this way, that labour was brought on, and the child was born in the field. This very overseer, Mr. Brooks, killed in this manner a girl named Mary: her father and mother were in the field at the time. He also killed a boy about twelve years old. He had no punishment, or even trial, for either... "

"The evidence of a black man, or of ever so many black men, stands for nothing against that of one white…there is nothing which a white man may not do against a black one, if he only takes care that no other white man can give evidence against him. "

- Moses Grandy, Camden County, N.C.