Slave Tax Badge

The city of Charleston, South Carolina, mandated that enslaved people wear tax badges like this one when they were hired out by their owners or permitted self-employment. The badges indicated that the owners had paid a tax to the city, relegating human beings to the status of an object and number. The slave tax arose as a means of controlling slave labor, which was thought to be detrimental to the opportunities available to white laborers when left unchecked. This particular copper tag was worn by an enslaved fisherman, emblematic of the far-reaching control of his owner even as the laborer worked on the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean and inland waterways.

 

Slave tax badge, John Joseph Lafar, Charleston, South Carolina; 1819, Copper, Gift of Mrs. Samuel Schwartz 1977.152