Created By: LSU
Baton Rouge Slave Depot
“When a master wishes to punish a slave, male or female, he will send that person to the jail with a note that contains the order for the number of the lashes that the jailer is to administer. The poor man or woman returns home with the note that shows that the indicated punishments has been carried out”
There is little available information about the Baton Rouge slave depot, there was a need for slave depots because of enslaved resistance. The enslaved used a variety of strategies to contest the authority of slaveholders and assert their right to control their own lives. One example is running away but whatever the resistance, the common denominator between them was an attempt to claim some measure of freedom against an institution that defined people fundamentally as property. Slave depots collected fees for detaining, whipping and selling African American inmates and also made money from forced manual labour, which contributed to the infrastructure that helped Louisiana’s commercial expansion. An example of the forced labour of the prison chaingangs was building a levee in Pointe Coupee Parish, showing how dependent Louisiana was on this system for their infrastructure. By 1855 there was legislature passed to centralise the slave depot systems and decided to keep the Baton Rouge Depot open for the reception of unclaimed runaway slaves.
Enslaved runaways that were caught faced an indefinite incarceration while they waited to return to their owners. This jailing system played a important role in the business of slaveholding, not just in Baton Rouge but throughout the South. Runaway slaves were not considered to be dangerous criminals, but it was a massive inconvenience to slaveholders because it impacted them economically, not just because of loss of labour but also the amount of time and money spent on recovering them. Some slaves on record originally came from outside Louisiana such as Philadelphia and Chicago, but the vast majority were from Louisiana. This illustrates the expansive geographical sphere of Louisiana’s incarceration system.
The other reason that the enslaved would end up in the Baton Rouge Slave Depot was because of their slaveholders sending them there as punishment because of a private violation or crime, or because they wanted to secure them. For a fee masters or mistresses would send their slaves to these jails to be corrected by jailers, some of the reasons include removing them from outside influence that could make them rebel or keeping them till they were old enough to work and be profitable. Records indicate that this only cost around 25 cent a day, because of its convenience it was a tool utilised by a variety of slaveholders to combat other slave resistance and manage their enslaved property. In some more extreme cases the Baton Rouge Slave Depot was used as a place to keep slaves that were deemed ungovernable or unwanted, some were kept incarcerated while the slaveholders tried to get their money back when they were unhappy with the slave that they purchased.
-A New Digest of the Statute Laws of the State of Louisiana: From the Change of Government to the Year 1841, Inclusive. United States: E. Johns, 1842.
-Kaye, A (2009).. Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South: Easyread Edition.
- Birch, K. (2017), September. Kelly Birch phd thesis submission - university of adelaide.
-Childs, D. (2015). Slaves of the State. University of Minnesota Press.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Slavery in Baton Rouge