Organization of Slave Patrols

6/5/20231 min read

"The laws also established patrols, ranging in size from small groups of two or three men to larger units of several dozen. They were organized in military fashion, with captains, sergeants, and patrollers (privates); and they had legal authority to search virtually anywhere for runaways.

In times of crises, they could hold appointment through 'executive authority,' as in Virginia in 1808 when special patrols were formed to put down a rumored slave insurrection. As one patroller said, they were instructed to search 'the negro cabins, & take every thing which we found in them, which bore a hostile aspect, such as powder, shot &c.' They were further told to 'apprehend every negro whom we found from his home; & if he made any resistance, or ran from us, to fire on him immediately, unless he could be stopped by other means.'

In most areas with large black populations, patrols frequently roamed across the countryside during the nighttime hours to flush out runaways."

Slavery, Resistance & Freedom, G. Boritt and S. Hancock, eds., Oxford (2007), “The Quest for Freedom: Runaway Slaves and the Plantation South,” by J.H. Franklin and L. Schweninger