The History Of Slavery In Illinois: Part II
In part one of our series on the history of slavery in Illinois, we discussed where this occurred and the implications of a set of laws called Code Noir. “Illinois Country” consisted of parts of Missouri and Wisconsin, which were all part of a larger territory called “New France” — obviously under French control. Code Noir determined what masters could do with slaves and what slaves could not do to their masters. We’ll start there.
Punishments were severe. They were considered a deterrent for certain types of behavior. We previously mentioned that a slave who struck his or her master would be killed as a matter of course.
Slaves who ran from their masters — but were caught — would be subject to having their ears cut off as punishment. Also, they would be branded to make recapture easier if the slave ran a second time. The second attempt would result in a month of hamstring mutilation and a rebranding. If the slave ran a third time, they would be killed.
If former slaves who were freed went on to harbor fugitive slaves, then the fugitive’s owner was allowed to beat the former slave who committed the infraction. Also, the former slave would be fined 300 pounds of sugar for each day the slave spent in their presence (which essentially put the former slave into slavery once again, in most cases). Anyone else who harbored a fugitive slave was subject to a lesser fine.
Masters were fined if a slave was wrongly put to death. In this way, slaves were not considered “property” in the same way they were in English colonies and American states after the American Revolution.
Still, they were property. If the master died, then the slaves he owned would be “equally split” among the master’s beneficiaries. Only when there was unpaid debt could the slaves be sold.