"S" is for Slave Badges

Apr 11, 2018

Credit SC Public Radio

"S" is for Slave badges. Slave badges served as the physical proof required to demonstrate the legal status of slaves hired out by their masters. Laws controlling such hiring began early, and badges or “tickets” were mentioned by 1751; wearing them was mandated by 1764. In 1783, with its incorporation, Charleston immediately passed badge laws. Although other cities had similar laws, only Charleston badges have survived. By 1806 badges were valid for a calendar year and were sold at varying fees, in specific categories: mechanics, fruiterers (hucksters), fishers, porters, and servants. All sported a number, a category, and a year. The badges were made of copper of various shapes—round, diamond, or square—depending upon the official maker. By the twenty-first century, slave badges had become highly collectible, often selling for thousands of dollars.