Selections from Alabama's Laws Governing Slaves
While slaveholders defended slavery as a benign system, this selection of laws, on the books in Alabama in 1833, suggest that slaves themselves were finding many ways to resist and escape it. Whites became particularly concerned about slave gatherings after Nat Turner and his followers undertook a violent uprising in Virginia in 1831. (These laws have been paraphrased to assist readers.)
No slave may travel beyond his master’s home without a pass or some letter that proves the slave is traveling with the permission of a master, employer, or overseer. If a slave is caught without such a pass, the owner or overseer can whip the slave ten lashes on the back.
Any master, mistress, or overseer who allows slaves from other plantations to stay more than four hours on his or her property will be fined.
It is illegal for more than 5 male slaves, either with or without passes, to assemble together at any place off the plantations where they belong.
Any slave who conspires to rebel, make insurrection, or murder any person or persons will be punished by death.
Anyone can capture a runaway slave.
Many times slaves run away and hide in swamps, woods, and other obscure places; patrols will search for and capture these slaves; whoever captures the slaves will be given a $30 reward.
FREE PERSONS OF COLOR
Any free person of color who tries to settle in Alabama may be arrested and whipped up to 39 lashes. If after this punishment the free person of color still doesn’t leave the state, the punishment is to be sold into slavery.
READING AND WRITING
Anyone who attempts to teach any free person of color or slave to spell, read, or write, shall be fined not less than $250 and not more than $500.
Any free person of color who writes a pass or free paper for any slave will be punished by 39 lashes on a bare back and forced to leave the state. Any slave who does so will be punished by 50 lashes on a bare back for the first offense and 100 lashes for later offenses.
Creator | State of Alabama
Item Type | Laws/Court Cases
Cite This document | State of Alabama, “Selections from Alabama's Laws Governing Slaves,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed June 13, 2021, https://shec.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1640.