6.2.2 Deep South (1803-1831): Slavery and Judicial Struggles Over Manumission



 

1800

1820

% of total population

Free Black

Slave

Free Black

Slave

South Carolina

1%

42%

1%

51%

Georgia

1%

37%

1%

44%

Florida

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Alabama

N/A

N/A

<1%

33%

Mississippi

N/A

40%

<1%

31%

Louisiana

N/A

38%

7%

45%



Slave Laws of the Period:


South Carolina

Georgia

Florida

Alabama

Mississippi

Louisiana

1820 – Slaves many be manumitted only with approval of legislature

1821 – Penalties increased for killing slaves (imprisonment as well as fines)

1822 – Slaveowners forbidden to hire out slaves

1822 – Black seaman’s act:  any black sailors landing at state ports are subject to enslavement

1823 – Free blacks prohibited from entering state

1818 – Owners may not free slaves through wills or trusts

1824- Importation of slaves authorized

1829 -  Importation of slaves again prohibited

1803 – Spain relaxes restrictions on slavery to encourage American settlement

1821 (treaty with U.S.) – Free blacks given full citizenship rights

1824 – Slaves not allowed to carry  firearms, not allowed to trade without master’s consent

1828 – Limits placed on importation of slaves

1829 – Owners may free slaves; freed slaves must leave Florida

 

1805 – Legislature may free slaves for meritorious service

1805 – Slaves not allowed to trade in goods

1819 – Penalties increased for killing or maiming slaves (imprisonment as well as fines)

1819 – Slaves may be manumitted only with approval of legislature

1820 – All freed slaves must leave state

1827 – Importation of slaves prohibited

 

1808 – Importation of slaves restricted

1817 – Slaves not allowed to raise crops or animals for own use

1822 emancipation law

1822 – Owners may not use cruel and unusual means to discipline slaves

1822 – All freed slaves must leave state

 

1806 revisions to Code Noir:

 - Slaves must have passes to leave plantation

 - Any white may correct an insubordinate slave whose master is absent

- Restrictions on selling slave family members separately are reduced

- Slaves not allowed to carry firearms 

1807 – Patrol system created

1808 – Slaves treated cruelly may be sold to other masters

1814  - There must be at least one white person for  every 30 blacks on a plantation

1824 – Vessels harboring fugitive slaves are subject to severe penalties

1825 – Slaves may gain freedom by prescription (living apart from master for long periods of time without objection)

1830 – emancipated blacks who return to Louisiana will be fined but may remain

1831 – Prohibition on teaching blacks to read or write

1831 – Importation of slaves banned except for owner’s s use on own plantation


A Relaxed Approach to Emancipation  in the Frontier Southwest

Harry v. Decker - Mississippi, 1818 (1 Miss. 36); Lunsford v. Coquillon – Louisiana, 1824 (2 Martin N.S. 401)

  • Some slaveowners took their slaves with them to free states, either to provide assistance for the trip, to serve the owner while he resided in the north, or to free them.  “Sojourn” cases, presenting the issue of whether such slaves became free when they set foot on Northern soil, came regularly before courts in all parts of the South.
  • During the first years of the 19th century Southern courts, even in the Deep South, liberally held in “sojourn” cases that slaves taken temporarily to free states thereby  became free.  In Harry, Mississippi’s newly-established supreme court held that blacks who had resided in the Midwest before the 1787 Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in the region, were free.  In so doing, Mississippi went further than some Midwestern courts which held that persons who were slaves before the Ordinance took effect remained slaves afterward.  The Mississippi court criticized slavery in terms that would be unthinkable for state lawmakers only a few years later.  Louisiana’s supreme court adopted a similar rule in Lunsford and other early 19th-century cases, although it carefully refrained from attacking slavery.

Who Is Free, Who A Slave in Louisiana?  The Saga of Adelaide Metayer

Beard v. Poydras – Louisiana, 1816 (4 Martin O.S. 348); Metayer v. Noret – Louisiana, 1818 (5 Martin O.S. 566); Metayer v. Metayer – Louisiana, 1819 (6 Martin O.S. 16)

  • Louisiana’s population was as much a hybrid as its legal system.  The new state was home to a unique mix of Americans, Europeans, African slaves, Creoles (persons of mixed race who had been free under French and Spanish rule) and refugees from the revolution-wracked island of Dominica.  Interesting questions arose as to who in this mix was free and who a slave.  
  • The Poydras and Metayer cases provide two striking examples.  In Poydras, an African claimed his master had verbally freed him during the era of Spanish rule, but he had no papers.  The Partidas allowed verbal emancipation, but the Code Noir required that emancipation be in writing.  The court suggested that the Code had continued in effect for some time after the Spanish took control, but ultimately decided that evidence of verbal emancipation was enough to establish freedom. 
  • Adelaide Metayer was born a slave in Haiti in the mid-1700s.  In 1793, France’s revolutionary government decreed that all slaves in Haiti and other French colonies were free.  Adelaide left Haiti in 1803 and lived as a free person in Spanish Cuba until 1809; she then migrated to Louisiana, where her former master’s heirs claimed her as a slave in 1816.  Adelaide’s first freedom suit failed, although  Louisiana’s supreme court agreed that under Spanish law she would have been free if her master’s heirs had waited 20 years (until 1823) to claim her.  Adelaide did not give up:  she filed another lawsuit, arguing that the French government had freed her in 1793, and this time she prevailed. 
  • Adelaide Metayer’s story is little known today, but she deserves a place in the pantheon of early fighters for black freedom.





































































“Would … not [refusal to recognize that slaves who go to a free state become free] defeat the great object of the general government? … Slavery is condemned by reason and the laws of nature.  It exists and can only exist, through municipal regulations, and in matters of doubt, is it not an unquestioned rule, that courts must lean in favorem vitae et libertatis.” – Mississippi Supreme Court, in  Harry 

“It [freedom] can work injury to no one, for the principle acts only on the willing [owners].” – Justice Francois-Xavier Martin, in Lunsford



“[N]o foreign court will presume to pronounce that unlawful which, through a course of political events, has been sanctioned by the supreme authority of the country [Haiti]… [We will not] enter … into this very delicate subject [emancipation] any further.”
– Justice Pierre Derbigny, in Metayer v. Metayer