Describes early colonial North Carolina laws in reference to indentured servants and slaves, particularly in regards to race. For instance, the unfortunate, innocent child born to a white servant woman while under indenture was placed into bondage at birth until age 31. For getting pregnant during her indenture, she would be bound to serve an additional two years, and if the father of the child was Indian, black, or mulatto, on top of serving two additional years, she’d also have to pay an enormous 6 pound fine at the end of her servitude.
SERVANTS AND SLAVES.
Another point intimately connected with agricultural pursuits, was the protection of each man’s rights in the particular of labor. Slavery existed in Carolina from the beginning of its settlement. Before the grant to the lords proprietors, and before the establishment of any organized government, settlers came from Virginia into Albemarle; and there is reason to believe that the first African slaves were brought in by them on their migration. Beside these, however, there were also Indian slaves, who had been made so for crime, or sold, by some of their own race, as captives taken in war. There was yet a third class of bondmen: this consisted of whites who had been indentured in England and brought by their masters into the colony; or of such as had been made apprentices by the courts of the province; and to this class also belonged all such as had been kidnapped in England, brought over and sold; and such as, by act of Parliament, had been transported to the colony for crime and then sold, for a term of years, to the highest bidder. But of this subject we shall have occasion to speak more particularly hereafter. It suffices for our present purpose to say, that, at the period of which we are now writing, all these forms of servitude existed in the province.
The law that was framed to secure to the master the services of his laborers, enacted first, as to whites, that all who came under indentures were, of course, to serve for the time named in the indentures. All imported, not under indentures (that is, the kidnapped and criminals), if above sixteen years of age, were required to serve those who bought them for five years. If they were under sixteen when imported, then they were to remain servants until they attained the age of twenty-two years; and to determine the age, the master or mistress was bound, within six months after their importation, to present them to the precinct court for inspection, and that tribunal decided as to what should be deemed their age. If they were not thus presented to the court, then they were to be classed with those over sixteen, no matter what was their real age, and serve but five years.
If one of this class absented himself from his master’s service without permission, he was bound to serve for double the time thus lost, and as much longer as the court should see fit to adjudge. The master had also power, under the law, to administer moderate correction to one of this class; and corporal punishment was expressly named as the penalty, if a white servant laid violent hands on his master or mistress, or on an overseer under whom he might be placed. If the servant was corrected in excess, he or she had the right to make complaint to the nearest magistrate, who was required thereupon to bind the master over to the next court to answer therefor, and also to take security from the master that he would not, in the mean time, abuse or misuse the complaining servant. The master was also required, during the continuance of the servitude, to provide for the servant competent diet, clothing, and lodging; and, at its close, was bound to give him or her three barrels of corn, two new suits of clothing, and, in the case of a man-servant, a gun also in good order.
If a female white servant became pregnant and gave birth to a child during the time of her servitude, beside being punished by the law for her lewdness, she was made to serve her master two additional years, unless the master were himself the father of her child; in which case, she was not bound to serve the partner of her crime two additional years; but was to be sold by the churchwardens for two years after her service expired, and the money was to be applied for the benefit of the poor; while her innocent offspring was, under any circumstances, to be bound out by the wardens until it reached the age of thirty-one years: that is, to be made a slave for about half a lifetime. If a negro, mulatto, or Indian were the father of the child, then, beside two years additional servitude to her master, she was subjected to a further penalty, at the expiration of her service, of six pounds, to be paid to the wardens for the benefit of the poor.
As to the Indian, mulatto, or negro slave, whose bondage was for life, none such, except those who waited on the master’s person, or wore his livery, could at any time leave the plantation, unless a white servant of the same master were with him; or unless he had a written permission, signed by the master, the mistress, or the overseer, distinctly specifying the place from which he came, and that to which he had permission to go. Anybody might apprehend a slave found beyond the limits of his master’s plantation, save under the circumstances above named; nor would even the written permission, or “ticket,” as it was called, avail him, if he carried a gun or any other weapon, unless the document particularly stated that he carried such weapon by express permission. When a slave was arrested under this law, he was to be carried immediately before the next magistrate, who had a discretionary power to inflict on him corporal punishment. The apprehender was then bound to carry him immediately back to his master, by whom he was to be paid for his trouble and expenses. If, however, the master was not known, then he was to deliver the slave to the provost marshal, who was to advertise him in every precinct, and put him to work, to defray the expense of his maintenance until his master appeared. In cases of absolute necessity only, might he put the slave into close confinement.
A master might set any of his slaves free “for honest and faithful service,” provided the emancipated was “good and orderly;” but the owner was not allowed to make a contract with any “refractory” negro for his freedom under any circumstances. If one were set free, he was required to leave the province or government within six months, under penalty of being sold for five years to whosoever, at the end of that time, would transport him out of the country. As to runaways, whether white servants or slaves, whoever harbored them a longer time than one night, was subjected to a penalty of ten shillings for every twenty-four hours beyond that time. If a slave ran away, and had been lying out for two months, and a white man endeavoring to apprehend him, found that he could not do so without taking the life of the slave; if he did so, the homicide was not to be deemed murder, provided the person apprehending the slave made oath that without killing him he could not take him. There was a barbarity in this enactment which admits of no apology. Happily, the value of the slave’s labor, and, let us hope, the cruelty of the law itself, made it a dead letter. In the allowance of many claims during this period by the proper authorities, the records do not show one of any demand ever made on account of a slave killed in his capture; though the law in such case allowed to the owner a poll-tax on every tithable slave in the whole government, sufficient to compensate for his pecuniary loss, as estimated by the court of the precinct.
Sometimes, however, a slave committed a crime for which his life was, by law, justly forfeited. In such case, a court was constituted, by this statute, for his fair trial. It was composed of three justices of the precinct court, and three freeholders, all of whom were required to be also the owners of slaves. By them a full investigation was made, and the slave had ample opportunity (assisted by his master or counsel employed by him) of making his defence. The court had power of passing sentence and awarding execution. To a similar tribunal it also belonged to try a slave for offences not capital, and to punish them by dismemberment or other corporal punishment. The records show dismemberment to have been applied to but one species of crime, that of animal passion, gratified with brutal violence, at the expense of female helplessness. Emasculation was the penalty.
White servants might lawfully marry; but no white person, bond or free, was permitted to intermarry with a negro, mulatto, or Indian, under a heavy penalty; nor could any clergyman, or other person authorized to marry, perform the ceremony between such parties, without payment of a heavy fine.
Finally, no one was permitted to trade for any commodity with a servant or slave, unless he produced the written consent of his master to authorize such traffic. The law concerning servants and slaves, as here presented, was required to be publicly read, twice a year, by every clergyman, and when there was no clergyman, by the clerk of the precinct court.
Entry above from History of North Carolina: With Maps and Illustrations. Volume: 2. Contributors: Francis L. Hawks – author. Publisher: E.J. Hale & Son. Place of Publication: Fayetteville, NC. Publication Year: 1858. (pp 159-162)