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Slave Punishments: An Overview

The slavery practiced in the United States prior to the Civil War was the legal establishment of human chattel enslavement, primarily, but not exclusively, of Africans and their descendants. Chattel slavery is so named because the enslaved are the personal property of the owners and bought and sold as a commodity, and the status of slave was imposed on the enslaved from birth. This form of slavery is in contrast to other forms such as bonded labor, in which a person pledged him or herself against a loan.

In chattel slavery, the limits of slave punishments were only set by the masters, as they had the legal right to do whatever they wished. Therefore, slaves in the American South experienced horrific levels of brutality.


A slave would be punished for:

  • Resisting slavery
  • Not working hard enough
  • Talking too much or using their native language
  • Stealing from his master
  • Murdering a white man
  • Trying to run away

Slave punishments included:

slave punishments
 Being put in shackles Being put in various contraptions Being chained to the ground
Being whipped  Being forced to walk a treadmill Being hung and left to die

The more serious the ‘crime’ committed, the more severe the punishment.

Plantation owners often made the other slaves watch the punishment to prevent them from slacking at work or trying to run away.

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"Slave Punishments in the Antebellum American South" History on the Net
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July 13, 2024 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/black-peoples-of-america-slave-punishments>
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