On this dayJan 18, 1771

White Enslavers Receive Money for Execution of Enslaved Black People in North Carolina

On January 18, 1771, the North Carolina General Assembly approved the disbursement of public funds to enslavers as compensation for the executions of Black people they held in bondage. Nearly a dozen enslavers received money from the state, including a white man in Duplin County who was given 80 pounds—the equivalent of over $18,000 today—following the government-led execution of a man he enslaved by the name of George.

In nine of 13 colonies, laws provided economic support and compensation to white people after the execution of Black people they enslaved, with the earliest compensation law established in 1705 in Virginia. In a system that subsidized enslavers and permitted the continued trafficking of humans and their summary execution, the state could enact capital punishment without consequence or complaint from enslavers. For decades, if an enslaved person was executed by the state or if an enslaved person died from injuries induced during any other corporal punishment, enslavers could receive an uncapped sum of money and up to 80 pounds by the late 1700s in North Carolina.

Consequently, between 1734 and 1786, the North Carolina government authorized the execution of 86 enslaved people that involved compensation to enslavers. Critically, these executions were carried out without any formal legal process. North Carolina’s Slave Code of 1741 denied enslaved people their right to due process, founded in the belief that enslaved people were not suitable for the legal system. Enslaved people were tried before a tribunal composed of enslavers who were quick to deliver convictions and punishments, often on the same day. In 1793, this practice was re-codified in North Carolina as enslaved people were only entitled to a “trial” made up of a jury of “good and lawful men, owners of slaves.” Before imposing execution, the enslaver tribunal assigned a monetary amount that would be given to enslavers.

Half of the claims approved by the North Carolina General Assembly on January 18 came in the wake of executions of enslaved people who committed “felonies” which were loosely defined and took the form of petty crimes, arson, “witchcraft,” or attempts to escape bondage.

In the wake of these executions, on January 18, North Carolina dispersed nearly 1,000 pounds, or the equivalent of $230,000 today, to enslavers following the executions of 13 enslaved people.

To learn more about the era of enslavement, read the Equal Justice Initiative’s report, Slavery in America

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