The Organization of the Patrols

5/27/20231 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 etc.’ 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