Slave Badge

Slave Badge

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Little squares of copper once hung around the necks of certain slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, indicating that those who wore them had the city's permission to accept work for hire. Today, Charleston's slave-hire badges objectify a time when people who were not free were licensed with tags that gave them the right and the freedom to work.
From 1783 to 1790 and again from 1800 to 1865, Charleston responded to the concerns of skilled white workers and imposed regulations requiring slaves hired out by their masters to be identified with tags indicating that they not only had their owners' approval to work in the city, but that they were to receive wages significantly lower than those demanded by whites. The wages such a hired slave did receive were split between the master and the slave.
Each tag is stamped with the city name, the year of issue, the slave's occupation, and a license number. Charleston charged a fee for each tag issued, and maintained detailed badge records at the city treasury. The trades varied from porter and servant to mechanic, carpenter, fisherman, and fruiterer. Charleston slave hire badges also survive in private collections and at the Charleston Museum.
Currently not on view
Object Name
tag, slave
Date made
place made
United States: South Carolina, Charleston
place used
United States: South Carolina, Charleston
Physical Description
metal, iron (overall material)
average spatial: 3.1 cm x 4.8 cm; x 1 1/4 in x 1 7/8 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
African American
Municipal Government
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Ethnic
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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