Slave collar with bells

Cruel and humiliating deterrent to runaway slaves

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This collar with bells would have been used to deter attempted escape by a slave that had previously tried to win his or her freedom by running away.

Runaway slave advertisements were a regular feature in New Orleans newspapers. Though the penalties for running away could be horrific—whipping, branding, maiming, and the forced donning of heavy iron collars—some individuals risked punishment and separation from their families in hopes of escaping bondage, if only for a short time. Strict laws limiting slaves' activities—including prohibitions on learning to read, write, or even swim—made running away difficult, while the presence of roving slave patrols and the sheer physical distance between slavery and freedom doomed most escape attempts.

Runaway ads make clear that the most frequent impetus for an enslaved person to run involved the possibility or reality of being sold. Those who caught wind of an impending sale often tried to avoid that fate by absenting themselves. Similarly, individuals recently sold—whether five or five hundred miles away from their former home—often ran away in an effort to return to loved ones lost.

This object is one of more than 75 original artifacts on display in the special exhibition, Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Slave collar with bells Artifact from New Orleans
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