Slave Badges, Charleston, South Carolina, 1833

These small metal badges, most often made of copper, were produced in Charleston, South Carolina between 1800 and the Civil War. They were worn by slaves working in the city; slaves living and working on the rural plantations were not required to wear them. The badges only identified the type of work they were permitted to do. Neither the slave owner nor the slave’s name were engraved into the badges. These three are marked for servant, porter, and mechanic. Other categories were fisher and fruiterer. Slave owners would purchase a badge from the City of Charleston. The wages earned by a hired-out slave belonged to their owners. However, evidence exists that wages earned in excess of what was owed to their owner could be retained by the slave, if the owner allowed it. The badges were typically sewn to clothing and gave the wearer more freedom of movement within the city than would be given to a slave working on a plantation. Badges were dated and were issued annually and became a source of tax revenue for the city. Cost for tags in 1865 ranged from $10 to $35 with the number peaking at about 5,000 in 1860. Ironically, slave badges which may be looked at as tagging a human as if property, may actually be evidence of relative freedom of movement within Charleston and a means of income for a slave and his or her family.
Date made
overall: 2 in x 2 in; 5.08 cm x 5.08 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
African American
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Home and Community Life: Ethnic
Cultures & Communities
Many Voices, One Nation
Many Voices, One Nation
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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