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Photo of slave wearing collar device from Ken Burns documentary

Discussion in 'Civil War Photography' started by 8668476, Aug 20, 2011.

  1. 8668476

    8668476 Cadet

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    So, I recently finished watching Ken Burns's Civil War documentary for the first time. Its second most haunting image was one from the 1st episode, "The Cause," which shows a black man wearing something around his neck. I'm guessing he's either a slave or ex-slave given that IIRC, the photo was shown in a montage of photos of other slaves and something I didn't notice at first -- what appears to be a series of letters upon his brow.

    My question concerns what exactly the device around his neck is and what its purpose was, and is there any further information available concerning the man in the photograph? Apologies for the substandard quality, as I took a picture of the image on my TV with my cellphone:

    [​IMG]
     

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  3. atuttle32

    atuttle32 Corporal

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    Here is some information I found on iron slave collars from the Smithsonian Institute: (http://www.civilwar.si.edu/slavery_collar.html). Perhaps someone else can provide more information.

    Slave collars made of iron were used to discipline and identify slaves who were considered risks of becoming runaways. This broken collar once had three prongs. Abolitionist Theodore Weld in his provocative treatise American Slavery As It Is described the use of a similar collar on a spirited slave near Charleston, South Carolina, who served her mistress as a seamstress: “A handsome mulatto woman, about eighteen or twenty years of age, whose independent spirit could not brook the degradation of slavery, was in the habit of running away.” For this offence, she was repeatedly and severely whipped, and a “heavy iron collar, with three long prongs projecting from it, was placed round her neck, and a strong and sound front tooth was extracted, to serve as a mark to describe her, in case of escape.”Division of Social History, Political History
    National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
    Behring Center


    And here's another copy of that picture, taken from http://usslave.blogspot.com/2011/02/iron-chains-and-collars-on-slaves.html: Could not find the story behind it.

    [​IMG]


    (And let me just say that googling "metal collars for slaves" turned up some *very* interesting results ... note to self to always add "civil war" at the end of any search!! Yikes!!)
     
  4. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    This spring, I attended a workshop at the Massachusetts Historical Society. In their collection they had an iron collar with projecting prongs recovered by some Massachusetts soldiers from New Orleans. The troops had found a teenage girl locked in a shed with the collar fastened around her neck. She said she had been in the shed and wearing the collar for weeks as a punishment. I held it in my hands. It was cold, rough and heavy.

    Her mistress(this is memory now) was notoriously cruel and had been in trouble with the antebellum authorities in New Orleans for mistreatment.
     
  5. Robtweb1

    Robtweb1 2nd Lieutenant Retired Moderator Civil War Photo Contest
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    I have seen that collar in other publications, and one similar to it that was designed to keep the person from lying down for sleep as a punishment. My question is, how widespread was the use of these things. I've never seen that discussed anywhere and have only seen pictures of two or three of them. Above is mentioned some type of regulations concerning harsh treatment, so what were the laws governing this and were they in place in all the slave states (north and South).
     
  6. diane

    diane Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    There were laws regarding the mistreatment of slaves, how much they could be 'disciplined', laws against rape, murder, maiming and so forth. However, one could do all these things if the witnesses were black - black testimony was inadmissible in court. That's why a good many of the overseers were black and why other slaves were often used to help in these things. Even white people were restricted from testifying - if a powerful planter did something horrible to his slave, less powerful farmers would keep quiet as that planter could make their lives mighty sorry.
     
  7. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    As diane notes, blacks could not testify in court, severely curtailing what legal redress was available to them.

    However very little legal redress was available. Slaves were not allowed to defend themselves against physical assault by their owners, physical confinement by their owners, including slave jails and varieties of shackles and other restraining equipment. Slaves could not defend themselves against rape.

    As far as shackles, handcuffs, collars and other disturbing instruments, they are mentioned in other places. In Thomas W. Higginson's "Army Life in a Black Regiment" one of his corporals makes sure Higginson sees the collection of shackles and other restraints in one of the plantations the unit is patrolling through. The corporal, Robert Sutton, had been at the plantation, "in another capacity" before joining the Union Army.
     
  8. Bob Owen

    Bob Owen Captain Forum Host Trivia Game Winner

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    I have seen simular collars on cattle that were noted for climbing through fences. It would also hinder one from running through dense vegetation.
     
  9. diane

    diane Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    It seems a lot of this type of thing was done where life was particularly hard - rice, sugar, indigo plantations in Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina. The survival rate on these plantations was abysmal. Forrest had a steady customer who regularly bought 300-500 slaves per month for trade in Louisiana alone. If malaria and plague didn't get you the cottonmouths and 'gators would. The Old Southwest had a different relationship with slaves than did the older regions of Virginia and Tennessee - there were a lot of uneducated but ambitious men who wanted to be rich - land, slaves and cotton was the ticket for them, and they were often very, very hard on their slaves. They didn't know them from generations on like they were almost family. It doesn't excuse this stuff - but it's appalling to see how casually these masters declared what they were doing. Nobody noticed, either.
     
  10. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    There was an excellent program on C-Span the other night about the 1811 slave rebellion in Louisiana and they pointed out that very difference. Most slaves in Louisiana were not the "first pick" slaves found in other places. Sugar farming had an extremely high mortality rate and the slaves were generally the leftovers not kept in other places....often those who had already been in trouble for some type of rebellious behavior.

    Here's the book. Has anyone read it? http://www.theroot.com/views/untold-story-unknown-hero
     
  11. atuttle32

    atuttle32 Corporal

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    From what I understand some states had laws in effect where fines/imprisonment for providing assistance to a slave by disengaging them from any such collar was greater than an act of committing cruelty upon a slave. Ultimately, slaves were considered property, and I am sure there were slave owners back then who would argue, "How can you commit cruelty upon a piece of property?"

    Today we consider shackling someone to a brick wall and selling them not only a cruel and unjust action toward humanity, but a clear felony within our legal system. Back then, it was normal.
     
  12. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    "Back then, it was normal." That all depended where and who was being shackled.
     
  13. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    "They didn't know them from Generations on like they(slaves) were almost family."

    Virginian slaveowners did a brisk business selling their slaves to the plantations of the old Southwest. In the phrase "almost family," and key word is "almost."
     
  14. diane

    diane Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    That's true. Most of Forrest's stock came from Virginia and South Carolina, where there was a surplus of slaves. A dealer could purchase a prime field hand in Virginia for $250 and resell him in Mississippi for $1200 - a fine profit. Virginia slave owners might feel regret at selling dear Sally but it was no longer cost effective to feed her and her kids!
     
  15. mulejack

    mulejack Sergeant

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    When you've lowered yourself to the point you're selling people for profit regret or sorrow is not likely to enter your mind.

    Mulejack
     
  16. atuttle32

    atuttle32 Corporal

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    Good point, Matthew. I meant from the point of views of the seller and buyer. My fourth great-grandfather was a slave owner, and in his last will and testament, he stated he wanted a slave girl named Vine sold so that, besides paying off his burial, three of his young boys could go to school for a few months. Sickening to me, but it was a common occurrence in the wills I have read for the slave owners to pass down slaves or state they were to be sold upon the owner's death, along with their other property. It makes me sick to my stomach just typing that. (By the way, two of those sons sent to school would die in the CW.) I'd like to think that my family was one of the "good ones", meaning they did not use physical punishment as a means to control their slaves ... but of course there is no way to tell now, and those family stories were definitely not passed down. But then I think if they sold slaves and split up families - that is just as bad, and what would have stopped them from using physical cruelty?
     
  17. atuttle32

    atuttle32 Corporal

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    OK - that's what I was trying to say ... I tend to get very emotional about this, and thus long-winded.
     
  18. diane

    diane Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    My Choctaw relations were planters near Memphis - definitely slave owners, and I have a slave catcher on my Catawba side. I don't know which is worse! There wasn't much employment for Indians in South Carolina and slave hunting was quite profitable.
     
  19. mulejack

    mulejack Sergeant

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    We have a race of people often referred to as lazy and shiftless and Lord knows what else, yet they're the ones who did all the work on farms and pantations. I've also read where the sons and daughters of plantation owners performed absolutely no manual labor, nor did they cook, do laundry or kitchen work. Whatever did those people do after their slaves were freed.

    Mulejack
     
  20. diane

    diane Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    True! I've wondered about that. A business client of Forrest's was surveying his railroad after the war and wanted to know who would rebuild Mississippi? Forrest replied the blacks would because they were the hardest workers - there were 50,000 white men who wouldn't work! He was talking about the planters and their sons. Sherman made pretty close to the same comment, saying the whole class of planters should be deported because they would cause trouble forever - they wouldn't work and were idle and useless!
     
  21. mulejack

    mulejack Sergeant

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    The American freedmen commisson offered the following: Sufficient evidence is before the commission that colored refugees in general place a high value both on education for their children and religious instruction for themselves. In Alexandria and in various other places it came to the knowledge of the commission that one of the first acts of the negroes when they became free was to establish schools at their own expense; and in every instance where schools and churches were provided for them they show lively gratitude and the greatest eagerness to avail themselves of such opportunities for improvement.

    this was just one paragraph of a 22 page document of the American Freedmen's inquiry commission.
     

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