Andrea Dennis of the University of Georgia law school has posted A Snitch in Time: An Historical Sketch of Black Informing During Slavery. Cribbing now from her abstract:
This article sketches the socio-legal creation, use, and regulation of informants in the Black community during slavery and the Black community’s response at that time. Despite potentially creating benefits such as crime control and sentence reduction, some Blacks today are convinced that cooperation with government investigations and prosecutions should be avoided. One factor contributing to this perspective is America’s reliance on Black informants to police and socially control Blacks during slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Wars on Drugs, Crime and Gangs. Notwithstanding this historical justification for non-cooperation, only a few informant law and policy scholars have examined closely the Black community’s relationship with informing. Furthermore, even among this small group of works, noticeably absent are historical explorations of Black America’s experience with informing during slavery. Drawn using a variety of primary and secondary historical and legal sources, this article develops a snapshot of the past revealing many similarities between the Black experience with informing both while enslaved and in contemporary times. Consideration of these resemblances during present debate on the topic may help to facilitate nuanced conversation as to whether and how the modern Black community and government should approach using informants in current times.
I think this is a very exciting article. It reminds me of Uncle Tom -- the title character of Stowe's 1852 novel -- who was tortured to death because he refused to tell where two of Legree's slaves were hiding. It also reminds me of the controversy around the young girl, Beck, who was a key witness in several of the trials in the wake of Nat Turner's rebellion. There was at least some question of whether she was promised freedom in exchange for her testimony. Scott French's The Rebellious Slave tells in detail the story of Beck and the shift in credibility from the court in Southampton County to that of Sussex County.
I suspect that Brando Starkey will have something to say about this as well, as I think it intersects with his forthcoming book. The image is of the Sussex County Courthouse where the supposed Turner rebels were tried. As close followers of the faculty lounge may realize, that's one of my favorite antebellum courthouses.