Would an Arab traveler w/ white slaves be able to travel freely in the old south?

The antebellum south included the colonial period, and at the time of the American revolution, Virginia had already had slaves for about 150 years. Besides, even after America became independent, in a lot of cases, the old colonial law stayed intact. In fact, the 1705 Virginia slave code I cited remained Virginia slaverly law until 1819

It’s relevant because the act I cited made illegal the importation of all slaves.

First, because the hypothetical women were white, without any “Negro” blood in them, and as far as I can tell, slavery of whites (not counting, of course, those people who we probably would consider white, but were considered “mulattos” at the time) was illegal in every state, north and south, and second, because the act I mentioned earlier banned the importation of slaves, even for personal use, from another country. The Fugitive Slave Act, in both versions, applied to those who were legally slaves in a US state or territory, and not those who may have been slaves in some other country.

  1. Nonsense. The antebellum south is never used in the sense of colonial America. And the laws of the colonies were revised under the new state constitutions enacted after the federal constitution was. Whether some of the laws remained unchanged or not, the laws you quoted have nothing to do with the status of white slaves. They are also about the slave trade, not about the legal status of slaves in conjunction with masters who are not American. They do not apply here.

  2. Nonsense. The OP specifically mentioned a “traveling party”. This is not “importation of slaves.” These slaves would leave with their master once the travel is at an end.

  3. Nonsense. Whether slavery of whites was illegal is what we are arguing. It is what we are asking for a cite about. You cannot simply assume that as a fact. What proof do you have of this assertion? (And you talk about “importation” again, which has nothing to do with the OP.)

The status of slaves who are legally chattel as part of a traveling party of non-Americans is the issue at hand. Stop conflating it with importation of slaves, another topic entirely.

If you have a relevant cite that refers to the status of whites as slaves after the federal Constitution went into effect, I’d be glad to read it. Nothing you have said yet meets that standard.

Nope, Capt. Amazing is correct. Separate laws were made regarding interstate movements of slave but that is immaterial to the OP’s question since importation of slaves from foreign countries was illegal after 1808.

The Sultan is not importing slaves. Reread the OP if you won’t read my previous post.

It seems to me that the question of the legality of slavery is beside the point. I believe that the attitude would have been, “No Ayrab is going to traipse around Dixie with a bunch of white women slaves without he get his neck stretched while I’m alive.” Legalities be damned. And if the neck was stretched there would be no witnesses against the stretchers and no jury to convict them.

I have to agree with Simmons. No matter the legal situation, public sentiment would not allow an Arab to own slaves (especially if they’re from Christian countries) that were white. So yeah the answer to the OP is “no.”

“An Arab traveler with a traveling party of white male and female slaves” certainly sounds like he was importing slaves to me. That he entered the U.S. with them is irrelevant; slave traders entered with their slave cargos too. And the 1808 Act of Congress forbid anyone to “sell, or dispose of such negro, mulatto, or person of colour, as a slave, or to be held to service or labour.” The presumption in the antebellum U.S. would be that an Arab’s slaves were persons of color, no matter how “white” they looked.

The latter, yes. The former, no. The granting of the right of “personal sojourn” (the right to legally transit a free state with slaves in tow) was a matter of state discretion until the Civil War. Congress never mandated that states grant this right, and by the 1850’s most Northern states refused to do so.

I know of only one account of a foreign visitor bringing a slave on a visit to the United States. It dates from long after the Civil War and concerns a Saudi prince:

The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of Saud, by Robert Lacey.

Even at that late date, and in the North, it doesn’t appear that the Prince was “legally harassed” (to use the words of the OP). However, I think that it’s safe to say, that if a court had found itself compelled to rule on Merzouk’s status (say, if he had “escaped” and claimed asylum), that it would not have recognized him as a slave in 1944.

I refuse to predict how a Southern court would have ruled before the Civil War. There are too many variables and no useful precedents.

I’m curious about why the OP’s question was limited specifically to travel in the Old South and not to other slave states. In some territories and states in the North, slavery survived much longer than in much of the Old South.

If my understanding of history is correct, the introduction of slavery into Virginia and Maryland (Southern states) had spread into all of the North American Colonies by the 17th and 18th Centuries. I believe that New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts actually legalized it before Virginia did.

Do not see this as a defense of anything the South did. I just wonder why people forget that all of the states and territories in the early part of our history were slave states.

Harmonious has already responded, but I also had trouble with the phrasing of the OP. It has to do with a shift in tense. Maybe this rewrite would have been clearer:

“Would an Arab traveler with white slaves have been able to travel freely in the Old South?”

Retired elderly school marm slinks back into house smelling faintly of art gum erasers and bottles of bright green hand soap.

To quote Capt Amazing’s quote with emphasis added:

You may have to define what you mean by Northern and Southern states. The Northern states abolished slavery between 1777 and 1804. Northern Emancipation. (And no, I do not consider the border states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri to be Northern, nor would the citizens of those states.)

No Southern state gave up slavery before 1863.

Let’s be clear that there was no law, as far as I know, specifically banning enslaving white people (the definition of who was “white” leads to some confusion but more on that below).

However, anyone attempting to enslave a white person would run afoul of numerous provisions against kidnapping, assault, mayhem, etc.

Tragically, the states that permitted negro slavery specifically exempted those of African descent from protection against these crimes. So, killing a slave was not murder for exactly the same reason that killing a cow was not murder. Slaves were, in the horrifically misguided eyes of the law, consider property, and therefore did not have legal recourse against their masters.

The laws that codified this rule specified that it applied to those of African descent. I do not have a cite ready to hand for this, and I am not going to race around tracking one down. If anyone wants to dispute it, then go find a cite to a statute concerning slavery in the United States that does not specifically reference Negro slavery.

So, to get back to the OP, our hypothetical traveller would have at least two problems. If his “slaves” were deemed to be white, then he would likely be guilty of kidnapping or assault. If his slaves were deemed to be black, then, depending on when he came into the United States, he might have violated the ban on importing slaves (I’m not aware of “personal use” exemption for importing slaves).

Would his slaves be considered “white”? As noted above, at the time the view, sometimes charmingly referred to as the “one drop of blood” rule, was that if you had at least one Great great grandparent of African descent, you were considered black in the eyes of the law. In that case, you could be enslaved (nice, huh?).

They even invented precise words to describe their ancestry! Fun ones like mulatto, qaudroon, and octoroon. While they had different degrees of black, they all meant the same thing: slave.

I have an excuse; my kid had been eating Doritos while noodling around. While typing a brilliant riposte, I realize that I had about 20 grams of Dorito shrapnel wedged in the keyboard, making my post unintelligible. While trying to shake out the offending materiel, I inadvertantly hit the “submit” button.
damned kids.

How do you get past the “sell, or dispose” part of that Act? The Sultan presumably would be doing neither, but taking his slaves back with him when he left. That makes all the difference in the world.

You are, however, quite right about rebuking Zoe, whose statement is unfathomable, but technically the south retained slavery until 1865. If 1863 wasn’t just a typo but a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation, it didn’t free any slaves in areas still under southern control. Only the 13th Amendment truly ended slavery.

But the OP asked if they would be legally harassed. This seems to preclude vigilantism. And while local officials always had some means of enforcing their will, mopery and dopery with intent to loiter could be applied against anybody, anywhere at any time, making it not a very interesting answer. Not that a visiting Sultan was ever likely to be so charged.

The real question is the status of white slaves in the U.S. As I and others have said, there do not seem to be any laws specifically mentioning them. We can speculate all we want, but, unless a real scholar weighs in with some specialized knowledge, we’ve gone as far as we can go.

I don’t know how much clearer I can make it. The Act contains the word “or”. Selling or disposing a slave is on one side of the word “or”. Holding a slave to service or labor is on the other side of the word “or”.

No, 1863 was not a typo. No Southern state gave up slavery before 1863. In 1863, West Virginia split off as a free state* from Virginia.

  • In West Virginia a clause providing gradual emancipation was included in the new state constitution of 1863 in order to fulfill one of the requirements of admission to the Union.

I don’t want to make out that antebellum slavery wasn’t atrocious, but this isn’t true. In legal terms, slaves in the U.S. were considered “property”, and they obviously weren’t free (duh), but they weren’t considered to be of the same legal or moral status as chairs or cows. The 1833 Alabama legal code contains a provision that “Any person who shall maliciously dismember or deprive a slave of life, shall suffer such punishment as would be inflicted in case the like offence had been committed on a free white person, and on the like proof, except in case of insurrection of such slave”. As a practical matter, if a white person in antebellum Alabama killed a slave and claimed it had been done to put down an “insurrection” on that slave’s part, I have grave doubts about whether a white jury in the Deep South before the Civil War would have convicted such a homicide (or even that local authorities would bother to indict such a person). Note that the paragraph before that one states that slaves were also entitled to a jury trial if charged with serious crimes. Of course, that would have been an all-white jury, so it still wouldn’t exactly have been a fair trial. Slaves were also legally subject to corporal punishment (whipping) according to other provisions of the code.

Specifically, the West Virginia constitution provided that after July 4, 1863, all slaves in West Virginia over twenty-one years of age would be freed. Likewise, younger slaves would receive their freedom upon reaching the age of twenty-one.


I hold that “sell, or dispose” is lawyers’ terminology to be inclusive, so that false claims of “but I wasn’t selling slaves, I was giving them away” was to be prohibited.

The final construction is similar. “as a slave, or to be held to service or labour.” Both refer back to sell, or dispose. They are not separate clauses. The comma functions identically,

And again whites are specifically not mentioned.

To consider West Virginia, an area so distinct from the rest of Virgina that it stayed loyal throughout, as “the South” would be as ludicrous as considering

Except more so.

West Virginia occupies roughly the same latitudes as Virginia, and it had slavery until 1863. So yes, both geographically and socially, West Virginia was part of the South.