The History of Slave-Hunting Dogs in America

John Hartwell

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An excellent article from the journal "Past & Present" (vol.246, #1, Feb. 2020,pp.69-108) entitled Slave Hounds and Abolition in the Americas, by Tyler D. Parry, and Charlton W. Yingling, is available to read online or as a downloadable pdf. It covers the breeding and spread of slave-catching dogs, most notably the now-extinct Cuban bloodhound, in Latin America and the Caribbean, and their subsequent introduction and use in the southern United States. This breed was most feared and effective because they were not merely trackers, but fighting dogs, related to mastiffs and bulldogs rather than modern bloodhounds, and were bred to attack and maim their prey.

800px-DogoCubano2.jpg

Cuban Bloodhound
"The most extensively documented deployment of slave hounds, which also provoked the most vitriolic national divisions, occurred in the antebellum American South and built upon Caribbean foundations. As early as 1790, newspapers in the North were protesting the occasional use of slave dogs. However, later spectacular stories circulating from Jamaica and Haiti also prompted curiosity among American slaveholders about this form of white power. By the 1820s slaves and dogs were fighting in the South, for example, when a runaway in Georgia was severely wounded by hounds after killing one of his assailants with a dagger. The bishop of Charleston was accosted by 'dogs that were set to guard against the negroes', following a trip to Haiti in the 1830s. The use of dogs increased during that decade, especially with the Second Seminole War in Florida (1835–42). The first recorded sale of Cuban dogs into the United States came with this conflict, when the US military apparently purchased three such dogs for $151.72 each, though in consequence Northerners lamented that 'the American flag was disgraced with the importation of blood-hounds'."​
 
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GwilymT

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Pittsburgh
An excellent article from the journal "Past & Present" (vol.246, #1, Feb. 2020,pp.69-108) entitled Slave Hounds and Abolition in the Americas, by Tyler D. Parry, and Charlton W. Yingling, is available to read online or as a downloadable pdf. It covers the breeding and spread of slave-catching dogs, most notably the now-extinct Cuban bloodhound, in Latin America and the Caribbean, and their subsequent introduction and use in the southern United States. This breed was most feared and effective because they were not merely trackers, but fighting dogs, related to mastiffs and bulldogs rather than modern bloodhounds, and were bred to attack and maim their prey.

View attachment 415322
Cuban Bloodhound
"The most extensively documented deployment of slave hounds, which also provoked the most vitriolic national divisions, occurred in the antebellum American South and built upon Caribbean foundations. As early as 1790, newspapers in the North were protesting the occasional use of slave dogs. However, later spectacular stories circulating from Jamaica and Haiti also prompted curiosity among American slaveholders about this form of white power. By the 1820s slaves and dogs were fighting in the South, for example, when a runaway in Georgia was severely wounded by hounds after killing one of his assailants with a dagger. The bishop of Charleston was accosted by 'dogs that were set to guard against the negroes', following a trip to Haiti in the 1830s. The use of dogs increased during that decade, especially with the Second Seminole War in Florida (1835–42). The first recorded sale of Cuban dogs into the United States came with this conflict, when the US military apparently purchased three such dogs for $151.72 each, though in consequence Northerners lamented that 'the American flag was disgraced with the importation of blood-hounds'."​
@John Hartwell Thank you for sharing this well researched and important article. It shows how the institution of slavery turns civilized people into barbarians. The cruelty necessary to breed and raise dogs for the sole purpose of hunting and controlling humans based on the color of their skin shows the depravity the institution caused in those who practiced it and the horrors suffered by those subjected to it.

All too often folk downplay the evil and hatred necessary to uphold a slave society, this article makes the moral depravity and cognitive dissonance of such a society clear. I never knew that the horror caused by these dogs and their masters played a role in accelerating abolitionist movements both in Europe and North America. Even when used for evil, it seems in an odd way the dogs helped, through the sheer brutality of the practice, move the needle towards freedom as those outsiders who witnessed the practice seem to have been immediately moved to hate the institution.
 

John Hartwell

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@John Hartwell Thank you for sharing this well researched and important article. It shows how the institution of slavery turns civilized people into barbarians. The cruelty necessary to breed and raise dogs for the sole purpose of hunting and controlling humans based on the color of their skin shows the depravity the institution caused in those who practiced it and the horrors suffered by those subjected to it.

All too often folk downplay the evil and hatred necessary to uphold a slave society, this article makes the moral depravity and cognitive dissonance of such a society clear. I never knew that the horror caused by these dogs and their masters played a role in accelerating abolitionist movements both in Europe and North America. Even when used for evil, it seems in an odd way the dogs helped, through the sheer brutality of the practice, move the needle towards freedom as those outsiders who witnessed the practice seem to have been immediately moved to hate the institution.
It's a circle of fear that corrupts everyone involved. The slave holder, terrified, with good reason, of the prospect of slave rebellion, thinks only to react with increased savagery, exacerbating an atmosphere designed to making such a rebellion yet more terrifying when it should come. The enslaved, increasingly controlled (yes, I know there were exceptions), and with ever more adamant (fear-charged) rhetoric against emancipation, growing hopeless to the point of desperation.

The Civil War saved the South from a yet more terrible bloodbath.
 
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It's a circle of fear that corrupts everyone involved. The slave holder, terrified, with good reason, of the prospect of slave rebellion, thinks only to react with increased savagery, exacerbating an atmosphere designed to making such a rebellion yet more terrifying when it should come. The enslaved, increasingly controlled (yes, I know there were exceptions), and with ever more adamant (fear-charged) rhetoric against emancipation, growing hopeless to the point of desperation.

The Civil War saved the South from a yet more terrible bloodbath.
What was the more terrible bloodbath?
 
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The righteous bloodbath was ridding the nation of slaveholders. What was more terrible was leaving the enslavers, with their dogs, to continue their inhumane practice
Just find it curious as have read several books on slavery in the US, and hadn't seen any claim there was any impending bloodbath...........from 1850-60 the runaway rate around .02%, revolts were even far more rare and statistically insignificant............ Not seeing what a claim of a looming or impending bloodbath would be based on without the ACW.

Don't think I've ever seen it claimed violent uprisings were increasing in frequency, I would imagine it actually was quite the opposite, as they remained rather rare despite the rapidly increasing slave population.
 
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GwilymT

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Here we have a member posting an article which clearly outlines the horrors of slavery.

For anyone who actually read the article posted and is interested in learning, I was taken by one part:

“Wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water, the Lord’s gonna trouble the water”

I used to sing that song at my primarily white Christian summer camp. I didn’t know that it was meant to teach runaway slaves to take to the water so that the dogs specifically bred to maim and kill them by the white masters would have a harder time tracking them.

It’s an uncomfortable truth to learn.
 

John Hartwell

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Just find it curious as have read several books on slavery in the US, and hadn't seen any claim there was any impending bloodbath...........from 1850-60 the runaway rate around .02%, revolts were even far more rare and statistically insignificant............ Not seeing what a claim of a looming or impending bloodbath would be based on without the ACW.

Don't think I've ever seen it claimed violent uprisings were increasing in frequency, I would imagine it actually was quite the opposite, as they remained rather rare despite the rapidly increasing slave population.
Reading the comments of southerners at the time, you would think differently. "Servile insurrection" was one of their greatest fears. And, if steps were not taken to end slavery, the situation on the ground was sure to worsen as fear and desperation, on both sides, grew. And, asking millions to suffer "just a few more" generations of servitude, while some promise of "gradual emancipation," aimed at minimizing the economic losses of the masters, was played out.

And, yes, we've all heard, many, many times, just how happy and content southern slaves were. As all the dogs and slave patrols prove.
 

Fairfield

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Reading the comments of southerners at the time, you would think differently. "Servile insurrection" was one of their greatest fears. And, if steps were not taken to end slavery, the situation on the ground was sure to worsen as fear and desperation, on both sides, grew. And, asking millions to suffer "just a few more" generations of servitude, while some promise of "gradual emancipation," aimed at minimizing the economic losses of the masters, was played out.

And, yes, we've all heard, many, many times, just how happy and content southern slaves were. As all the dogs and slave patrols prove.
Having researched abolition, I agree with you. The South had already had several nasty slave revolts (not counting another in colonial Virginia that I'm still working on). The impetus for and reaction to John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry was directly related. The writings of Radical Abolitionists (such as Lysander Spooner) are filled with the concept of slave rebellion and much of the criticism of the South to the underground railroad was based on this fear.

Nat Turner's rebellion had been only ~20 years before 1850 and its impact on the population of Virginia can't be overstated. The South had nearby examples in Haiti to further unnerve them.
 
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Reading the comments of southerners at the time, you would think differently. "Servile insurrection" was one of their greatest fears. And, if steps were not taken to end slavery, the situation on the ground was sure to worsen as fear and desperation, on both sides, grew. And, asking millions to suffer "just a few more" generations of servitude, while some promise of "gradual emancipation," aimed at minimizing the economic losses of the masters, was played out.

And, yes, we've all heard, many, many times, just how happy and content southern slaves were. As all the dogs and slave patrols prove.
Yes there was somewhat a hysteria over the possibility, but it seems more fueled from Caribbean large scale insurrection's then American ones, it's generally noted sugar plantations we're the worst, which is what Caribbean plantations were primarily.

Yes and the context would actually be dogs were used on runaways, which constituted less then 1%. Just as police still use dogs today on fleeing fugitives.
 

Fairfield

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Don't think I've ever seen it claimed violent uprisings were increasing in frequency, I would imagine it actually was quite the opposite, as they remained rather rare despite the rapidly increasing slave population.
And no one claimed it here. However, in the 180 years preceding the Civil War there were at least 12 uprisings (mostly in SC and VA). Slaves who participated--or were even suspected--often were tortured to death in rather ghastly ways. They weren't "rather rare" at all--this averages out to at least 1 each decade with the last one (that I could find in research) occurring in 1856.

The frequent occurrences, understandably, unnerved the slavers and they resorted to grim tactics. The training of dogs for this activity is sad. In my experience from years of working with dogs, they are not usually aggressive by nature.
 
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Yes that's what hysteria is, plenty examples of even today of hysterias over the possibility of events that are in reality about as likely as being struck by lightning............it's usually exaggerated or unreasonable fears fueled by media.
 
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shooter too

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I had a pit-bull that that I adopted that was the most loving dog that I ever had, 70 lbs of love in my lap. They are reviled in many places due too their aggressive "reputation", but it is the so-called owner that determines outcome.

Hunting dogs can be trained the same way, Dad was a racoon-hunter, so I know some k-rap about this....
 
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Fairfield

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I had a pit-bull that that I adopted that was the most loving dog that I ever had, 70 lbs of love in my lap. They are reviled in many places due too their aggressive "reputation", but it is the so-called owner that determines outcome.

Hunting dogs can be trained the same way, Dad was a racoon-hunter, so I know some k-rap about this....
Absolutely! Or, as a colleague at the local humane society often said "behind every bad dog is a bad owner". A next door neighbor had a pit bull for many years (the dog died only a few months ago). We often said that the only way that this dog would ever hurt anyone is if a person fell over him!

Inadvertently, many people set up dogs (of any breed) for a negative outcome. Leaving a small child or toddler alone with any dog is a case in point. Children can be quite mean to dogs without intending and dogs can react defensively.

I've been told that the breed with the greatest history of biting is the chihuahua. Now how many people are going to tell police that they were savaged by a chihuahua? But this is a tiny dog with a justifiable fear of being stomped on.
 

Jantzen64

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Aug 10, 2019
In looking at this thread, it reminded me of a Civil War Times entry I still have lying around. It's the June 2018 Edition. I don't know how well you can see it, but it's a sculpture entitled "The Biter Bit" and apparently commemorates a skirmish in South Carolina in 1864 where Confederates set bloodhounds loose on advancing USCTs, only to have the hounds face the steely ends of the troops' bayonets. The Biter got bit, indeed.

USCT.jpg
 

FedericoFCavada

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I might point out that Cuban slave holders made distinctions between a "bozal" born in Africa and brought to the island through the Middle Passage, and the "ladino" slave born on the island to a slave mother. During the 1830s and 1840s there were large numbers of Yoruba-speaking soldiers brought over as slaves, prisoners of war from the collapse of the Oyo states in what is now Nigeria during particularly brutal wars. As one might imagine, having ex-soldier slaves with a rather keen sense of their own power as warriors or parts of a fighting machine led to any number of significant and frequently bloody revolts. The "contagion" of a servile war has stalked slave societies since antiquity, but certainly the Haitian revolution and slave revolt and subsequent civil wars there were broadly influential in all remaining slave societies. In eastern Cuba, it would seem that the tendency was for revolting slaves to abscond to the frontier hinterland and attempt a fugitive existence in a so-called "palenque." [A similar tendency existed in Brazil, with its "quilombos" and also in Dutch Guiana/ Surinam]. Early in the United States experience with slavery, there were patterns of maroonage, followed by some slave revolts, with several that come to mind in South Carolina where primarily Congo slaves intended, apparently, to flee to Spanish territory in Florida (1739 Stono), or New Orleans in 1811, and finally, with the division of states into territories with lots of slave labor and those with hardly any, or emancipation enacted, of people running away from those states that bordered so-called free labor states, the Underground railroad, the opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act, taking runaways to places like Canada, and so on.

Thanks for posting the article.
 
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