4.1.4 Mountain South (1770-1831): Slavery Goes West



 

1800

1820

% of total population

Free Black

Slave

Free Black

Slave

Kentucky

-

18%

-

22%

Tennessee

-

13%

1%

17%

Missouri

 

 

1%

15%

Arkansas

 

 

-

11%

Slavery in the Mountain South

  • The law of slavery has been extinct for nearly 150 years, but from the mid-1600s to 1865 it was a major component of the American legal system both in the North and the South.  Slavery law was complex and covered many subjects, including:
    • Slave status:  Should black Americans be presumed to be free or slaves in cases of doubt?  How much black “blood” could a person have and still be treated as white under the law?
    • Manumission:  Should masters be allowed to free their slaves and if so, under what conditions?
    • Slave trade and migration:  Should slaveowners be allowed to import slaves from outside the United States?  From other states?
    • Owner-slave relations:  Should states act to curb mistreatment of slaves by their owners?
    • Slaves’ civil rights:  Should slaves be allowed to assemble and travel freely and to worship without white supervision? 
    • Slaves’ economic rights:  Should slaves be allowed to retain money earned from work done in their free time?  Should whites be permitted to educate slaves?
    • Sojourn and fugitive cases:  Did slaves whose masters took them to free states, either for long-term residence or brief sojourns, thereby become free?  Did a fugitive slave become free once he or she set foot on free soil?  
  • Slavery in the mountain South was similar in many ways to slavery in the coastal upper South. due to both economic and cultural similarities between the regions.  Slaves were profitable only if they could be used for year-round crops such as tobacco and cotton; the mountain South states had some of each, but wheat and corn (both seasonal crops not suited to slave labor) played important roles in each of the mountain South states except Arkansas.  Virginia and North Carolina, whose slave laws in the main were not as harsh as Deep South slave laws, contributed heavily to Kentucky and Tennessee law, which in turn influenced Missouri and Arkansas law. 
  • Thomas Jefferson captured the essence of the Revolutionary spirit when he wrote in the Declaration of Independence that it was a “self-evident” truth “that all men are created equal.”  Most of the Founders understood this ideal to be limited to white males, but some Americans had a more expansive vision of liberty.  As a result, between 1770 and 1800 there was a significant uptick in manumissions (freeing of slaves by owners) throughout the United States, including the South, and slave laws were relaxed somewhat as well.  (See § ___.)  The uptick ended just as Kentucky and Tennessee were coming into existence, but it helped to create and reinforce a system of relatively moderate slave laws in each state.

 

 

Kentucky

Tennessee

Missouri

Arkansas

1775-1800

1794:  Manumission freely allowed

1798:  Blacks not allowed to strike whites; whites and free blacks not allowed to assemble with slaves

1799:  Slaves and free blacks not allowed to bear arms except for defending against raids

1777:  Manumission prohibited except for meritorious service in Revolution

1777:  Slaves may not trade except with master’s consent

 

 

 

1800-1831

1808:  Free blacks not allowed to enter state

1811:  Anti-slave insurrection law

1825:  Children of destitute free blacks must be apprenticed

1801:  Manumission laws liberalized, but consent of legislature or court required

1812:  Slaves may not be brought into state for sale

1804:  Territorial code:  Blacks not allowed to testify against whites; slaves not allowed to hire their own time; commercial dealings between blacks and whites prohibited

1825:  Slave patrols introduced

1819: Arkansas Territory informally follows Louisiana’s Code Noir

1825:  Slave patrols introduced


Early Mountain South slavery cases

Rankin v. Lydia – Kentucky, 1820 (9 Ky. 467); Ely v. Thompson – Kentucky, 1820 (10 Ky. 70); Winny v. Whitesides – Missouri, 1824 (1 Mo. 472)

  • Between the American Revolution and the Civil War, legislatures and courts throughout the South spent much time considering what place the small cohort of free blacks should have in their legal systems.  Did free blacks have the same legal rights as whites?  Did they lack all rights except freedom?  Or were they somewhere in between? 
  • No Southern state seriously entertained the thought of making free blacks equal to whites, but upper South states generally accorded them at least minimal rights.  In Ely, Kentucky’s supreme court struck down a law requiring that free blacks be whipped for raising their hand to a white person.  The court held that such punishment could not be imposed without giving the defendant a hearing and considering any extenuating circumstances, such as self-defense. 
  • Kentucky and Missouri shared long boundaries and extensive commercial and social dealings with their neighbor free states (Illinois, Indiana and Ohio).  As a result, a large number of “transit” cases, requiring decisions as to the status of slaves who had traveled to free states, came before their courts in the early 19th century.  Both states were relatively liberal in granting freedom.  In Lydia, Kentucky’s court freed a slave who was taken by her master to Indiana for seven years:  the court held that Indiana law, not its own law, applied and Lydia was free even though she had returned to Kentucky.  In Winny, Missouri’s court not only freed a slave who had resided in Illinois for four years before returning to Missouri, but held that Winny was entitled to back wages for her labor since she had become free.  This judicial liberality would change as the Civil War approached (see § ___).



File:Lynch's Slave Market by Thomas Easterly, c1852.png

Lynch's Slave Market, St.Louis, Missouri (1852) - courtesy Missouri History Museum and Wikimedia Commons


Jackson Slavery Slaves Poster

Poster for slave auction, Fayetteville, Tennessee (1859) - courtesy Tennessee State Museum and National Endowment for the Humanities




























digital file from b&w film copy neg.

Ohio River steamer, Wheeling, West Virginia (1869) - courtesy Library of Congress

“When the states assumed the right of self-government they found their citizens claiming a right of property in a miserable portion of the human race.  Sound national policy required that the evil shold be restricted as much as possible.  What they could, they did.” – Justice George Tompkins, in Winny

“[Free blacks] are entitled to repose under [the law’s] shadow, and thus secure themselves from the heated vengeance of the organs of government.” – Justice Benjamin Mills, in Ely
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