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December 29, 2012


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Alfred Brophy

This is a great topic.

Bill Turnier

I wonder if there is a difference in the use of jails between states that barred freedmen from remaining in the state (e.g. Virginia) and those that allowed freedmen to remain in the state (e.g. Louisiana and North Carolina). It would be somewhat understandable if the former was more rigorous in the use of jails to detain suspected escaped slaves whereas it may be less common in the latter group of states. You have a lot of interesting research before you.

Alfred Brophy

Thinking some more about this: I'm interested in the relationship between public jails and "private prisons" as it were -- like those run by slave traders. Do I recall that after Anthony Burns was sent back to Richmond he was kept confined in the house/jail of a slave trader? There's pretty harrowing story about the conditions of his confinement, some of which is discussed in this Smithsonian Magazine article:

Taja-Nia Henderson

I’ve attributed this development, in part, to the growth of slave hiring in Virginia between (roughly) 1840 and 1860. Hired slaves lived outside of direct, absolute white control; in Richmond, where hiring was prevalent, some hired slaves lived on their own in private quarters. Their value depended entirely upon their (implicit) agreement not to flee. This contributed to a perception of eroding white authority and anxiety over black insubordination and conspiratorial activity; Turner’s rebellion had made that perception real. The other issue contributing to these mass confinements of suspected fugitives to local jails is, I think, the nature of the slave market in Virginia (and Richmond, specifically). Fred Bancroft called Virginia “a nursery of slavery,” in part because Virginia was the center of the slave trade (both transatlantic/trans-Caribbean and overland). Securing fugitives thus had the potential to be immensely profitable for both “catchers” and jailors (who could demand maintenance fees from putative owners).

Yes, Burns was held in Lumpkin’s private jail; abolitionists broadly publicized the conditions of his confinement there (much of what we know for sure about Lumpkin’s jail is from Burns’ accounts). Not all traders could claim Lumpkin’s fortune, though, and many utilized the state’s local jails as they made their way south in the overland trade.

Bill raises an interesting point about the law barring freedman from remaining in the state. I haven't looked at manumission rates after the 1806 law, and can't be sure about this; will definitely give it some thought...

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