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Published by H-South@h-net.msu.edu (January, 2002)

Sally E. Hadden.  _Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the
Carolinas_.  [Harvard Historical Studies].  Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 2001.  xi + 340 pp.  Tables, maps, illustrations, notes,
bibliography, and index.  $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-674-00470-1.

Reviewed for H-South by Laura Croghan Kamoie (kamoie@american.edu),
Department of History, American University

The History, Methods, Composition, and Legacy of Southern Slave Patrols

In _Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas_, Sally
E. Hadden examines the public regulation of slavery through slave patrols
in Virginia and the Carolinas between the early eighteenth century and the
Civil War.  Hadden sets out the following goals: to "better understand how
the laws of slavery actually applied to slaves" (2); to "flesh out our
understanding of how slave laws were actually enforced, day to day" (2); to
"test the long-held, though unproven, view that patrols were composed of
the poorest whites of Southern society" (3); and to examine all of these
questions comparatively across the South by focusing on the three eastern
seaboard states that had the longest tradition of employing slave patrols
and thus offer "a stable view of how patrols functioned through multiple
decades, wars, and slave revolts" (3).  Hadden offers a well-written and
thoroughly researched work that combines legal and social history to
address these questions.

Hadden begins her analysis with the founding of the colonies and finds that
all three had similar motivations for establishing slave patrols.  As slave
populations increased and the threat of foreign invasion loomed,
southerners saw a need for racial control above and beyond what individual
slave owners could do.  In other words, fear drove southerners to institute
community policing in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries,
and continued to motivate them to refine, expand, and fund patrols through
the Civil War.  Due to its Caribbean influence, early black majority, and
threats from Native Americans and the Spanish, South Carolina established
the earliest formal patrols by 1704, followed by Virginia by 1727 and North
Carolina by 1753.  By the American Revolution, "the main contours of
patrols became evident" (40) and "remain[ed] largely unchanged until the
Civil War" (31).

While offering some interesting contrasts, Hadden more often finds
similarities between the activities, powers, composition, and community
interest in slave patrols in the three states she studies.  The strong
evidence of similarity enables Hadden to make a number of fundamental
conclusions about southern culture and society as a whole across a large
chronological scope.  Building on the work of Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Hadden
uncovers the pervasive southern approval of public racial control and
(sometimes even mob) violence to define social norms and maintain the
social order by almost any means necessary (68, 90). [1]  Hadden
complicates Wyatt-Brown's work on the concept of honor by showing that
slaveholders' honor sometimes challenged community policing by pitting
masters, who felt insulted at the implication that they needed assistance
disciplining their slaves, against officially appointed white patrollers
(130-131).  She interestingly notes the many ironies involved here: slave
owners fully believed in the need for slaves to have passes, yet some
individual slave owners believed "that they (or their slaves) were above
such limitations" and neglected to write them (111); some masters went so
far in protecting their own honor that they sheltered their rule-breaking
slaves, and sometimes even slaves belonging to neighboring plantations,
rather than allowing patrollers on their property to conduct searches,
"creating an ironic conspiracy of masters and slaves hoodwinking
patrollers" (131).

Wealthy slave owners consistently resisted not only serving on the patrols
themselves, which is not that surprising, but also refused in their
capacities as legislators to approve many pieces of legislation that would
have strengthened the scope of authority and effectiveness of the patrols
in policing slave behavior (64-66, 70, 74, 82, 99).  Hadden explains why:
"patrols, by their very nature, were communal, intrusive in the
master-slave relationship, and implied that the individual alone could not
adequately control his bondsmen" (70).  Hadden effectively explores the
complicated psychology of southerners' fear of slavery and slave
rebellion.  English newspaperman William H. Russell described the fear that
most southerners felt but hesitated to admit to themselves: "'[t]here is
something suspicious in the constant never ending statement that 'we are
not afraid of our slaves.'  The curfew and the night patrol in the streets,
the prisons and watch-houses, and the police regulations prove that strict
supervision, at all events, is needed and necessary'" (172).

Hadden is also able to use the similarities that she finds in the patrols
of Virginia and the Carolinas to make conclusions about their composition
and activities.  While there were local variations, patrollers were usually
white men between the ages of sixteen and sixty chosen either from militia
muster or tax rolls to serve terms on specific "beats."  Though urban
patrollers sometimes had additional responsibilities, patrollers generally
had three principal duties: searching slave quarters, dispersing slave
gatherings, and safeguarding communities by patrolling the roads.  Based on
statistical analyses of two Virginia counties, Hadden finds that the men
appointed to perform these duties "conform[ed] to the middle-status groups
of their respective communities" (97).  They "were a representative
cross-section of citizens -- rich, poor, and in between" (102) who, she
proves in a useful analysis, differed from other authority figures in
southern society who might also attempt to control slaves.

Therefore, alluding to the debate over the class origins of racism, Hadden
apparently sees southern racism as neither originating from the top-down
nor from the bottom-up.  She contrasts her middle-class conclusion with
that of Eugene Genovese, who put most of the onus on lower-class whites
(90), but doesn't explicitly play out the full meaning of her findings for
this debate.  Given the continued importance of this question for the
twentieth century -- see, for example, Michael Honey's work on race
relations among southern workers [2] -- this seems a missed opportunity
given the centrality of patrol composition to her work.  Her conclusions
here could also use further refining on the issue of the role of
overseers.  She notes that overseers were not only the first line of
defense before patrollers, but also that southern society increasingly
turned to overseers to fill the patrols (81, 99, 129-130).  Indeed,
overseers' work on patrols was so important that southerners gave them
exemptions from military service at the beginning of the Civil War
(175).  So who were these overseers that were playing increasingly
important roles on the patrols?  From what class did overseers come?  The
triangular relationship between slaves, masters, and patrollers that Hadden
uncovers seems very similar to the one Genovese found between slaves,
masters, and overseers in _Roll, Jordan, Roll_.[3]  Exploring this further
would have strengthened her conclusions on the class composition of the

Hadden proves that southerners, across time and space, needed and wanted
slave patrols in their communities.  Southerners were willing to commit
resources for patrols and some individuals nearly made careers out of
patrolling, even taking positions in what developed as the urban South's
first police forces.  She also proves that "patrols constituted [such] an
important presence in the lives of black and white Southerners" (72) that
whites, seeing patrols "as their true instrument of 'law enforcement'"
(216), reformulated them into vigilante groups like the KKK during
Reconstruction, and ex-slaves could speak in detail about patrol activities
and individual patrollers when interviewed in the 1930s.

What she cannot prove for lack of source material, however, is the
effectiveness of slave patrols at actually regulating slave behavior.  She
does show that patrols discovered some rebellious plots and that slaves
learned survival skills to thwart patrollers, but she cannot analyze the
comparative effectiveness of patrols in the various states she
studies.  Southerners repeatedly expressed their belief in the
effectiveness of patrols (62, 85), but in times of crisis, planters also
said they did not believe that patrols could stop determined runaways from
stealing themselves (163).  She concludes that "it [is] impossible to
characterize all patrols, everywhere, as either habitually ineffective or
habitually conscientious" (69).  Slaves themselves were really the only
ones who could shed light on this question, and certainly slaves did not
reveal at the time when they had gotten away with something nor brag to
white WPA interviewers during the 1930s that they had done so.  It is
therefore difficult to determine how extensively slave life and culture
were shaped by the work of the patrollers.  Hadden's work lays important
groundwork for future research on this topic.

This book will appeal to those interested in southern history, race
relations, and the history of American police forces.  The book's
readability would make it appropriate for undergraduate students; teachers
may be especially interested in assigning the Epilogue, analyzing the
transformation of patrols into the Klan, in undergraduate surveys.  Hadden
makes an important contribution to what she rightly identifies as a
little-studied aspect of southern history.  Patrols represented both the
institutionalized public role in regulating slavery and, as important, a
source of solace and confidence for whites in southern society's ability to
safely and effectively continue its reliance on the institution of
slavery.  She is strongest when analyzing how slave patrols worked at the
local level and on a daily basis, and effectively connects the influence of
laws to people's everyday lives.

[1]  Bertram Wyatt-Brown, _Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old
South_ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983).

[2]  Michael K. Honey, _Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights: Organizing
Memphis Workers_ (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1993).

[3]  Eugene D. Genovese, _Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaveholders
Made_ (New York: Random House, 1976).

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