Massachusetts Law on Capture and Protection of Servants
Maryland Law Deeming Runaway Apprentices to Be Felons
March 26, 1642
North Carolina Law against Entertaining Runaways
Connecticut Law Regarding Escape of Negroes and Servants
[no date given]
First Fugitive Slave Law
February 12, 1793
Maryland Resolutions Protesting against Pennsylvanians
December 17, 1821
Alabama Slave Code
Americans were concerned with the problem of runaway servants before their colonies contained significant numbers of black African slaves. Apprenticeship and the practice of indentured servitude created a class of persons who might see it in their self-interest to run away. Thus, colonial laws early on took notice of the need to recapture runaway servants, though they sometimes recognized the possibility that the master’s cruelty might be the root cause of the servant’s flight. As time went on, these laws became tougher and more far-reaching in their drive to enlist the community in recapturing runaways. These laws did not prevent a significant number of bystanders from refusing to assist and even from interfering with attempts at recapture.
Massachusetts—Capture and Protection of Servants
Acts respecting Masters, Servants, and Labourers. Sec. 3. It is also ordered, that when any servants shall run from their masters, or any other inhabitants shall privily go away with suspicion of evil intentions, it shall be lawful for the next magistrate, or the constable and two of the chief inhabitants where no magistrate is, to press men and boats or pinnaces at the publick charge, to pursue such persons by sea and land, and bring them back by force of arms. . . . Sec. 6. It is ordered, and by this court declared; that if any servant shall flee from the tyranny and cruelty of his or her master to the house of any freeman of the same town, they shall be there protected and sustained till due order be taken for their relief; provided due notice thereof be speedily given to their master from whom they fled, and to the next magistrate or constable where the party so fled is harboured.
Maryland—Runaway Apprentices Felons
March 26, 1642
Act against Fugitives.—It shall be felony in any apprentice Servant to depart away secretly from his or her Master or dame then being with intent to convey him or her Selfe away out of the Province. And on any other person that shall wittingly accompany such Servant in such unlawfull departure as aforesaid. And the offendors therein shall suffer paines of death, and after his due debts paid shall forfeit all his Lands, goods, & Chattels within the Province. Provided, that in Case his Lordship or his Leivt’t-Generall shall at the request of the partie so condemned exchange such pains of death into Servitude, that then such exchange shall not exceed the term of Seaven years, and that the Master or dame of the parties so pardoned of death shall first be satisfied for the terme of such parties Service unexpired from the day of such unlawfull departure, and for double the time of his absence dureing his said departure.
North Carolina—Entertainment of Runaways
XXVII. Any person harbouring a runaway shall be prosecuted and compelled to pay the sum of twenty-five pounds or serve the owner of the slave or his assigns five years. If he actually carry away the slave, he shall be convicted of felony and suffer accordingly. XXVIII. Seven shillings and sixpence, Proclamation money, reward for taking up runaways. For every mile over ten, threepence. XXXIV. Runaways when taken up shall be whipped. XXXV. Constables must give a receipt for runaway. Any failure shall be fined twenty shillings, Proclamation money, to be paid the church warden. XXXVI. Sheriff who shall hold a runaway longer than the act directs shall forfeit five pounds. Sheriff who allows a runaway to escape is liable to action from the party grieved. XXXVIII. This article takes up the fees of the jailor, etc.
Connecticut—Escape of Negroes and Servants
[no date given]
An Act to prevent the Running away of Indian and Negro Servants. Be it enacted by the Governour, Council, and Representatives, in General Court assembled, and by the Authority of the same, that whatsoever Negro or Indian Servant or Servants shall at any time after the publication hereof be found wandering out of the Town Bounds, or Place to which they belong, without a Ticket or Pass in writing under the Hand of some Assistant or Justice of the Peace, or under the Hand of the Master or Owner of such Negro or Indian Servant or Servants, shall be deemed and accounted to be Run-a-ways; and every person Inhabiting in this Colony, finding or meeting with any such Negro or Indian Servant or Servants, not having a Ticket as aforesaid, is hereby impowered to seize and secure him or them, and bring him or them before the next authority, to be examined and returned to his or their Master or Owner, who shall satisfy the charge accruing thereby; and all Ferrymen within this Colony are hereby required not to suffer any Indian or Negro Servant, without Certificate as aforesaid, to pass over their respective Ferrys, by assisting of them therein directly or indirectly, on penalty of paying a fine of Twenty Shillings for every such Offence to the County Treasury, to be levied on their estates upon non-payment, by warrant from any one Assistant or Justice of the Peace: And the like methods shall or may be used and observed as to Vagrant or Suspected Persons, found wandring from Town to Town, having no Certificate as aforesaid, who shall be seized and conveyed before the next Authority to be Examined and Disposed of according to Law: And if any Free Negroes shall travel without such Certificate or Pass, and be stopped, seized, or taken up, they shall pay all Charges arising thereby.
First Fugitive Slave Law
February 12, 1793
An Act respecting fugitives from justice and persons escaping from the service of their masters
Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That whenever the executive authority of any state in the Union, or of either of the territories northwest or south of the river Ohio, shall demand any person as a fugitive from justice, of the executive authority of any such state or territory to which such person shall have fled, and shall moreover produce the copy of an indictment found, or an affidavit made before a magistrate of any state or territory as aforesaid, charging the person so demanded, with having committed treason, felony or other crime, certified as authentic by the governor or chief magistrate of the state or territory from whence the person so charged fled, it shall be the duty of the executive authority of the state or territory to which such person shall have fled, to cause him or her to be arrested and secured, and notice of the arrest to be given to the executive authority making such demand, or to the agent of such authority appointed to receive the fugitive, and to cause the fugitive to be delivered to such agent when he shall appear: But if no such agent shall appear within six months from the time of the arrest, the prisoner may be discharged. And all costs or expenses incurred in the apprehending, securing, and transmitting such fugitive to the state or territory making such demand, shall be paid by such state or territory.
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That any agent, appointed as aforesaid, who shall receive the fugitive into his custody, shall be empowered to transport him or her to the state or territory from which he or she shall have fled. And if any person or persons shall by force set at liberty, or rescue the fugitive from such agent while transporting, as aforesaid, the person or persons so offending shall, on conviction, be fined not exceeding five hundred dollars, and be imprisoned not exceeding one year.
Sec. 3. And be it also enacted, That when a person held to labour in any of the United States, or in either of the territories on the northwest or south of the river Ohio, under the laws thereof, shall escape into any other of the said states or territory, the person to whom such labour or service may be due, his agent or attorney, is hereby empowered to seize or arrest such fugitive from labour, and to take him or her before any judge of the circuit or district courts of the United States, residing or being within the state, or before any magistrate of a county, city or town corporate, wherein such seizure or arrest shall be made, and upon proof to the satisfaction of such judge or magistrate, either by oral testimony or affidavit taken before and certified by a magistrate of any such state or territory, that the person so seized or arrested, doth, under the laws of the state or territory from which he or she fled, owe service or labour to the person claiming him or her, it shall be the duty of such judge or magistrate to give a certificate thereof to such claimant, his agent or attorney, which shall be sufficient warrant for removing the said fugitive from labour, to the state or territory from which he or she fled.
Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct or hinder such claimant, his agent or attorney, in so seizing or arresting such fugitive from labour, or shall rescue such fugitive from such claimant, his agent or attorney when so arrested pursuant to the authority herein given or declared; or shall harbor or conceal such person after notice that he or she was a fugitive from labour, as aforesaid, shall, for either of the said offences, forfeit and pay the sum of five hundred dollars. Which penalty may be recovered by and for the benefit of such claimant, by action of debt, in any court proper to try the same; saving moreover to the person claiming such labour or service, his right of action for or on account of the said injuries or either of them.
Maryland Resolutions Protesting against Pennsylvanians
December 17, 1821
Mr. Wright laid before the House an attested copy of a resolution passed by the General Assembly of the State of Maryland, complaining of the protection offered by the citizens of Pennsylvania to the slaves of the citizens of Maryland, who abscond and go into that State, and declaring that it is the duty of Congress to enact such a law as will prevent a continuance of the evils complained of; which resolution was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Alabama Slave Code
§983. All white male owners of slaves, below the age of sixty years, and all other free white persons, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years, who are not disabled by sickness or bodily infirmity, except commissioned officers in the militia, and persons exempt by law from the performance of militia duty, are subject to perform patrol duty.
§984. During the second week of the month of March, in each year, the justices of each precinct in the state, must make out a complete list of all the persons within their precinct, subject to patrol duty; and make division of the whole number, into detachments of not less than four, nor more than six, one of which number must be designated leader of the patrol.
§985. After such enumeration and division is made, a record must be made thereof, which must be retained by the senior justice, who must cause lists to be made of the names of the persons composing each detachment, with the leader thereof, numbering the list from number one, consecutively, and designating, on each list, when the term of service of the detachment will commence; each detachment being required to serve as patrol, not less than two nor more than three weeks.
§986. The list, so made out, must be delivered to the constable, during the second week in March, and must be by him served on the leader of each detachment, within ten days thereafter, either personally, or by leaving the list at his place of residence.
§987. If the leader of the patrol is sick or absent, the constable must notify the next person on the list, informing him that he is the leader of the patrol detachment.
§988. When the term of service of all the detachments is exhausted, the justice must again cause notice to be given by the constable, to the leader of each detachment, stating when the term of service of each detachment will commence; which must be served in the same manner as the previous notice.
§989. Upon receiving such notice with a list of the persons comprising the detachment, the leader must within five days thereafter, notify each member thereof, personally, or by leaving written notice at his place of residence; and designate the time and place of the meeting of the patrol.
§990. Each detachment must patrol such parts of the precinct as in their judgment is necessary, at least once a week at night, during their term of service, and oftener, when required so to do by a justice of the peace; or when informed, by a credible person, of evidences of insubordination, or threatened outbreak, or insurrection of the slaves; or of any contemplated unlawful assembly of slaves or free negroes.
§991. Any member of a patrol detachment may send a substitute, who, if accepted by the leader, may patrol in his stead.
§992. The patrol has power to enter, in a peaceable manner, upon any plantation; to enter by force, if necessary, all negro cabins or quarters, kitchens and out houses, and to apprehend all slaves who may there be found, not belonging to the plantation or household, without a pass from their owner or overseer; or strolling from place to place, without authority.
§993. The patrol has power to punish slaves found under the circumstances recited in the preceding section, by stripes, not exceeding thirty-nine.
§994. It is the duty of the patrol, on receiving information that any person is harboring a runaway slave, to make search for such slave, and if found, to apprehend and take him before a justice of the peace, who, if the owner is unknown, must commit him to jail.
§995. If the patrol find any slave from home without a pass, and under circumstances creating the belief that he is a runaway, they must detain him in custody, and give information thereof to the owner, if known; and if unknown, or without their precinct, deliver him up to a justice, who must commit him to jail for safe keeping.
§996. If there is but one justice in the precinct, he must perform all the duties required by this chapter; and if there be no justices in office in the precinct on the second Monday in March, the duties here enjoined must be performed the week succeeding his election.
§997. The leader, or any member of the detachment, failing to appear according to the notice, and perform patrol duty, must be fined ten dollars by the justice of the precinct.
§998. The leader of each patrol must, at the expiration of each term of service, make report in writing, and upon oath, to the justice, of the number of times his detachment has patrolled, and of the absence, without sufficient excuse, of any member of the detachment at the times designated for patrolling, and failure to perform patrol duty; and thereupon it is the duty of the justice to cite such delinquents to appear at a time and place designated by him, and show cause why a fine should not be imposed against him; and upon their failure to appear, or to render a sufficient excuse, they must each be fined ten dollars for each omission, for which execution may issue.
§999. If the leader of the patrol fails to make such report, within one month after the expiration of his term of service, he is guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction, must be fined in a sum not less than twenty dollars, at the discretion of the jury.
§1000. The justice must make report in writing, to the solicitor of his circuit, of all omissions on the part of patrol leaders, to make the reports referred to in the two preceding sections.
§1001. Every person appointed a leader of the patrol, who refuses, without sufficient excuse, to act as such, must be fined twenty dollars by the justice appointing him; being first cited to appear and show cause against it.
§1002. Every justice and constable failing or refusing to perform any of the duties required of them by this chapter, are guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction, must be fined, the justice not less than fifty, and the constable not less than twenty dollars, at the discretion of the jury.
§1003. All fines collected for a violation of the provisions of this chapter, must be paid by the justice or constable collecting it, into the county treasury; and failing to do so, may be proceeded against by motion in the name of the county treasurer, as for other money collected in their official capacity.
§1004. The patrol, if sued for any act done in the performance of patrol duty, may give this law in evidence under the general issue; but are liable in damages, to any person aggrieved, for any unnecessary violence committed under color of performing patrol duty, either by unnecessarily breaking or entering houses, or for excessive punishment inflicted on any slave.
Slaves and Free Negroes
§1005. No master, overseer, or other person having the charge of a slave, must permit such slave to hire himself to another person, or to hire his own time, or to go at large, unless in a corporate town, by consent of the authorities thereof, evidenced by an ordinance of the corporation; and every such offence is a misdemeanor, punishable by fine not less than twenty nor more than one hundred dollars.
§1006. No master, overseer, or head of a family must permit any slave to be or remain at his house, out house, or kitchen, without leave of the owner or overseer, above four hours at any one time; and for every such offence he forfeits ten dollars, to be recovered before any justice of the peace, by any person who may sue for the same.
§1007. Any owner or overseer of a plantation, or householder, who knowingly permits more than five negroes, other than his own, to be and remain at his house, plantation, or quarter, at any one time, forfeits ten dollars for each and every one over that number, to the use of any one who may sue for the same, before any justice of the peace; unless such assemblage is for the worship of almighty God, or for burial service, and with the consent of the owner or overseer of such slaves.
§1008. No slave must go beyond the limits of the plantation on which he resides, without a pass, or some letter or token from his master or overseer, giving him authority to go and return from a certain place; and if found violating this law, may be apprehended and punished, not exceeding twenty stripes, at the discretion of any justice before whom he may be taken.
§1009. If any slave go upon the plantation, or enter the house or out house of any person, without permission in writing from his master or overseer, or in the prosecution of his lawful business, the owner or overseer of such plantation or householder may give, or order such slave to be given ten lashes on his bare back.
§1010. Any railroad company in whose car or vehicle, and the master or owner of any steamboat, or vessel, in which a slave is transported or carried, without the written authority of the owner or person in charge of such slave, forfeits to the owner the sum of fifty dollars; and if such slave is lost, is liable for his value, and all reasonable expenses attending the prosecution of the suit.
§1011. In any action under the preceding section, it devolves on the defendant to prove that the owner has regained possession of the slave.
§1012. No slave can keep or carry a gun, powder, shot, club, or other weapon, except the tools given him to work with, unless ordered by his master or overseer to carry such weapon from one place to another. Any slave found offending against the provisions of this section, may be seized, with such weapon, by any one, and carried before any justice, who, upon proof of the offence, must condemn the weapon to the use of such person, and direct that the slave receive thirty-nine lashes on his bare back.
§1013. Any justice of the peace may, within his own county, grant permission in writing to any slave, on the application of his master or overseer, to carry and use a gun and ammunition within his master’s plantation.
§1014. No slave can, under any pretence, keep a dog; and for every such offence must be punished by any justice of the peace with twenty stripes on his bare back. If such dog is kept with the consent of the owner or overseer, he must pay five dollars for every dog so kept, to the use of any person who will sue for the same before any justice: and is also liable to any person for any injury committed by said dogs.
§1015. Riots, routs, unlawful assemblies, trespasses, and seditious speeches by a slave, are punished, by the direction of any justice before whom he may be carried, with stripes not exceeding one hundred.
§1016. Any person having knowledge of the commission of any offence by a slave against the law, may apprehend him, and take him before a justice of the peace for trial.
§1017. Any slave fire hunting in the night time, must be punished with thirty-nine lashes, by order of any justice before whom he may be carried. If such fire hunting by the slave is by the command of the master or overseer, the slave must not be punished, but the master or overseer forfeits the sum of fifty dollars, one half to the county, and the other half to any person who may sue for the same before any justice of the peace.
§1018. No slave can own property, and any property purchased or held by a slave, not claimed by the master or owner, must be sold by order of any justice of the peace; one half the proceeds of the sale, after the payment of costs and necessary expenses, to be paid to the informer, and the residue to the county treasury.
§1019. Any slave who writes for, or furnishes any other slave with any pass or free paper, on conviction before any justice of the peace, must receive one hundred lashes on his bare back.
§1020. Not more than five male slaves shall assemble together at any place off the plantation, or place to which they belong, with or without passes or permits to be there, unless attended by the master or overseer of such slaves, or unless such slaves are attending the public worship of God, held by white persons.
§1021. It is the duty of all patrols, and all officers, civil and military, to disperse all such unlawful assemblies; and each of the slaves constituting such unlawful assembly, must be punished by stripes, not exceeding ten; and for the second offence, may be punished with thirty-nine stripes, at the discretion of any justice of the peace before whom he may be brought.
§1022. Any slave who preaches, exhorts, or harangues any assembly of slaves, or of slaves and free persons of color, without a license to preach or exhort from some religious society of the neighborhood, and in the presence of five slave-holders, must, for the first offence, be punished with thirty-nine lashes, and for the second, with fifty lashes; which punishment may be inflicted by any officer of a patrol company, or by the order of any justice of the peace.
§1023. Runaway slaves may be apprehended by any person, and carried before any justice of the peace, who must either commit them to the county jail, or send them to the owner, if known; who must, for every slave so apprehended, pay the person apprehending him six dollars, and all reasonable charges.
§1024. Any justice of the peace receiving information that three or more runaway slaves are lurking and hid in swamps, or other obscure places, may, by warrant, reciting the names of the slaves, and their owners, if known, direct a leader of the patrol of the district, and if there be none, then any other suitable person, to summon, and take with him such power as may be necessary to apprehend such runaway; and if taken, to deliver them to the owner or commit them to the jail of his proper county.
§1025. For such apprehension and delivery to the owner, or committal to jail, the parties so apprehending shall be entitled to twenty dollars for each slave, to be paid by the owner.
§1026. The justice committing a runaway, must endeavor to ascertain from the slave, and from all other sources within his reach, the true name of the slave, and his owner’s name, and residence; and must include all such information in the commitment, which must be preserved and filed by the justice.
§1027. On the reception of a runaway slave, the sheriff must, without delay, cause advertisement to be made in a newspaper, published in the county, if there be one, if not, in the one published nearest to the court house of such county, giving an accurate description of the person of the slave, his supposed age, the information contained in the warrant in relation to the slave, and his owner, and such other facts important to the identification of the slave, as the sheriff may be able to obtain from the slave, or from any other source, which must be continued for six months, once a week, if the slave is not sooner reclaimed by the owner.
§1028. If the slave is not reclaimed within six months, the sheriff must advertise and sell him for cash, in the manner slaves are sold under execution. The proceeds of the sale, after all expenses are paid, must be paid to the county treasurer for the use of the county.
§1029. The owner may regain the possession of the slave before sale, or the proceeds after sale, by appearing before the judge of probate of the county, and proving, by an impartial witness, his title to the slave; which proof must be reduced to writing, sworn to, subscribed, and filed in the office of the probate judge.
§1030. Thereupon, and upon the payment by the owner of the costs of advertising, and all other expenses attending the imprisonment, the judge of probate must, by order in writing, direct the jailor, if the slave has not been sold, to deliver him to the applicant. If he has been sold, then the order must be directed to the county treasurer, to pay him over the proceeds of such sale received in the treasury.
§1031. The title of the purchaser of such slave is not affected by the claim of the owner, or by an irregularity in the advertisement or sale.
§1032. The fee of probate judge is two dollars, and the sheriff is allowed the same commissions as on sales under execution.
§1033. Every free colored person who has come to this state since the first day of February, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-two, and has been admonished by any sheriff, justice of the peace, or other judicial officer, that he cannot, by law, remain in this state; and does not, within thirty days, depart therefrom, must, on conviction, be punished by imprisonment in the penitentiary for two years; and shall have thirty days after his discharge from the penitentiary to leave the state; and on failing to do so, must be imprisoned in the penitentiary for five years.
§1034. All sheriffs, justices of the peace, and other judicial officers, knowing of any free person of color being within the state, contrary to the provisions of the preceding section, are hereby required to give the warning therein prescribed.
§1035. If any free person of color is at any time found at an unlawful assembly of slaves, he forfeits twenty dollars, to any person who will sue for the same, before any justice of the peace; and for the second offence, must, in addition thereto, be punished with ten stripes. All justices of the peace, sheriffs, and constables, are charged with the execution of this law.
§1036. No free person of color must retail, or assist in retailing, or vending, spirituous or vinous liquors; and for every such offence, forfeits twenty dollars, to be recovered before any justice of the peace, by any one who will sue for the same; and for the second offence, having been once convicted and fined, must be punished by stripes, not exceeding twenty-five, at the discretion of the justice.
§1037. The preceding sections of this article do not apply to, or affect any free person of color, who, by the treaty between the United States and Spain, became a citizen of the United States, or the descendants of such.
§1038. Any free person of color who writes for, or furnishes a slave with a pass, is guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction, must be fined not less than fifty dollars, and be imprisoned not less than six months.
§1039. Any free person of color who writes for, or furnishes any slave a pass, with the intent to enable such slave to escape from his master, is guilty of a felony, and, on conviction, must be imprisoned in the penitentiary not less than three, nor more than seven years.
§1040. Any free person of color imprisoned in the penitentiary, must leave the state in one month after his discharge, unless pardoned; and failing to do so, or having left returns again, on conviction, must be imprisoned in the penitentiary five years.
§1041. Any free person of color, who buys of, or sells to, any slave, any article, or commodity whatever, without a written permission from the master, or overseer of such slave, designating the article so to be bought, or sold, is guilty of a misdemeanor, and must, upon conviction, before any justice of the peace of the county where such offence is committed, be punished with thirty-nine stripes.
§1042. Any free person of color, found in company with any slave, in any kitchen, out house, or negro quarter, without a written permission from the owner, or overseer of such slave, must, for every such offence, receive fifteen lashes; and for every subsequent offence, thirty-nine lashes; which may be inflicted by the owner or overseer of the slave, or by any officer or member of any patrol company.
§1043. If any free person of color permits a slave to be, or remain in his house, or out house, or about his premises, without permission, in writing, from the owner, or overseer of the slave, he shall be punished as provided in the preceding section.
§1044. Any free person of color, who preaches, exhorts, or harangues any assembly of slaves, or of slaves and free persons of color, unless in the presence of five slaveholders, and licensed to preach or exhort by some religious society of the neighborhood, must, for the first offence, receive thirty-nine lashes, and for the second offence, fifty lashes, by the order of any justice of the county, before whom the offender may be carried.