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Tarboro (N.C.)
Patrol Regulations for the Town of Tarborough
Tarboro? N.C.: The town, 18--?.


Slave codes in the North American colonies and the antebellum United States limited the movements and rights of enslaved people ("Slavery in the Capital"). Codes in some colonies authorized white citizens to participate in enforcement of these restrictions. According to Sally Hadden, a historian of North Carolina's slave control laws, the colony's first such law was passed in 1699 (p. 34). It encouraged all white men to capture escaped slaves and return them to their masters. In 1753, the first formal patrol groups appeared in North Carolina. County courts appointed these "searchers," who would come to be known as patrollers (Hadden p. 35-36). Patrollers received exemptions from county taxes and from jury duty, and an appointment as a patroller was therefore a coveted position. Patrollers not only looked for escaped slaves, but also searched for stolen goods and weapons in slave cabins and broke up meetings of slaves (Hadden p. 40). After a reported slave insurrection in Bertie County in northeastern North Carolina in 1802, a summer of rumors about other planned uprisings, and 24 hangings of suspected slaves (Crow p. 100), the North Carolina General Assembly authorized county courts to appoint patrollers in whatever numbers they thought necessary (Bassett p. 16). Two documents in CDLA's North Carolina Experience allow a closer look at the responsibilities and restrictions of such patrollers.

The 1825 Patrol Regulations for the County of Rowan contains a set of regulations for patrollers in Rowan County, northeast of Charlotte, and cites the 1802 authorization from the General Assembly (p. 3). Five pages long, the regulations specify that at minimum two patrollers should patrol each district at least once a week, updating a 1794 Act of the General Assembly that had required patrolling once every two weeks (p. 5). Patrollers were required to take an oath before a magistrate before commencing their duties, at which point the patroller would receive a certificate he was required to carry in order to "be allowed the privileges and compensation" of a patroller (p. 4). The regulations both extended power to and limited the power of the patrollers. They state, for instance, that patrollers "shall have power to inflict corporal punishment," but only "if two be present agreeing thereto"; if only one is present, he has "power to seize any negro slave who behaves insolently . . . or otherwise unlawfully or suspiciously; and hold such slave in custody until he can bring together a requisite number of Patrollers to act in the business" (p. 3).

The document stipulates that the sheriff have the regulations, along with certain extracts from the Acts of Assembly regarding the duties of patrollers, printed at county expense and distributed to each set of patrollers. It goes on to include the relevant extracts, and is presumably itself one of the copies printed for distribution. The extracts are from several Acts of Assembly regarding the behavior of patrols and of slaves, with dates ranging from 1787 to 1802. For example, patrollers were entitled to "one half of the penalties recovered" in addition to tax exemptions (p. 5). A section of the Act of 1802 gave patrollers permission to "inflict a punishment not exceeding fifteen lashes" on slaves found traveling without a permit or pass (p. 5). The extracts conclude with laws regarding slaves: they prohibit buying from or selling to a slave, hosting a slave in one's home on Sunday or at night, and allowing slaves to hire their time. One act prohibits the armament of slaves, "Provided, That the Master has a right, under certain circumstances, to employ any one slave on each plantation to carry a gun to preserve stock, or kill game," and forbids any slave gatherings without special permission in writing from the masters of those gathered (p. 6).

Another similar document, Patrol Regulations for the Town of Tarborough, is undated but may be from the same period. Tarborough was most likely the town now known as Tarboro, about 75 miles east of Raleigh. A single page, the regulations consist of three rules. The first two concern the behavior of slaves; one forbids slaves residing in the country from coming to town on Sunday or at night, unless they have a spouse in town, are attending church, are on business for their masters or mistresses, or have written permission. Another sets a curfew of 9:00 p.m. for slaves who are not on business for their masters. The third regulation outlines the "power and . . . duty" of patrollers, "any two of their number being present," to whip slaves up to three months after an offence against the first two rules. The "number of stripes" is "not to exceed fifteen . . . unless the said slave shall he guilty of insolent behaviour, or make his escape from the Patrol, in either of which cases the number of stripes shall not exceed thirty-nine." (p. 1) These patrol regulations for Rowan County and the Town of Tarborough reflect the increasing regulation of patrol activity over the course of the history slavery in North Carolina, probably due in part to more pronounced fears of rebellion after the summer of 1802.

Works Consulted: Bassett, John Spencer, Slavery in the State of North Carolina, Ed. Herbert B. Adams, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1899, available from Documenting the American South (accessed September 28, 2010); Crow, Jeffrey J., "Slave Rebelliousness and Social Conflict in North Carolina, 1775 to 1802," William and Mary Quarterly 37.1 (Jan. 1980): 79-102; Hadden, Sally, Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2001; "Slavery in the Capital," American Treasures of the Library of Congress (accessed October 12, 2010).

Erin Bartels

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