Slave patrols was called patrollers, patterrollers, patter rollers, or paddy rollers was establish in South Carolina in 1704 and spread throughout the colonies and lasted well beyond the American Revolution. As the slave population increase, especially with the invention of cotton gin, so did the fear of slave resistance, revolt, and uprisings. Their biggest concern were slaves on plantation since that is where slave populations were the highest. At first, incentives such as tobacco and money were offered to urge whites to be more vigilant in the capture of runaway slaves. When this approach failed, slave patrols were formally established. Slave patrol were organized groups of white men. Most whites in the slave patrol came from working and middle-class conditions. In some southern states, the militia and army served as slave patrols. In other southern states, slave patrols came about from colonial or state government legislation. Slave patrol typically rode on horseback in groups of four or five, sometimes even in family groups. The slave patrols worked from sun-up to sun-down.


Slave patrols used their chief tools, whips and intimidation to control suspected runaway slaves. Slave patrollers had their own characteristics, duties, and benefits, apart from slave owners and overseers. Slave patrol duties started as breaking up slave meetings. Slaves meeting mostly occurred on holidays, in which some plan revolts and uprisings. Slave patrol expanded to be year round, even on holidays.

Slowly new duties and rights of slave patrollers became permitted, including:

“apprehending runaways, monitoring the rigid pass requirements for traversing the countryside, breaking up large gatherings and assemblies of slaves, visiting and searching slave quarters randomly, inflicting impromptu punishments, and suppressing insurrections”.


Some states, such as South Carolina, required every white man, under consequence of forty shillings, (former British coin) to arrest and chastise any slave found away from their home without proper verification. Many white men encouraged slaves to escape for the sake of being rewarded after the slave had been caught and returned to their master.

In some areas, killing an escape slave was not considered a crime by the courts or the community. Regardless of the power patrollers held, they had limitations. For example, although whippings and beating were permitted, a deterrent also exist. If a whipping or beaten was too severe, the slave was then of no use to their masters and laborers the next day. As a consequence, overly-brutal patrollers could expect revenge from slave owners.

One year after the Civil War began, slave patrols increased. Whites were more in fear and were expecting slave revolts, which inspired white slaveholders to appoint more patrols as fast as they could.

As the war dragged on more and more white men in the south was called upon to serve in the Confederate Army. Some young white men was turned away by the Army, mostly for medical reasons, ended up taking the places within the slave patrols.

As slave owners entered the Confederate Army, some slaves lost the shield that once protected them from the harsh and brutal beatings.


With the war lost, southern whites’ fears of blacks increasing numbers in 1865. even though slavery and patrols were legally ended, the patrol system will survive. Almost immediately in the aftermath of the war, informal patrol sprang into action as police squads, along with the help the help of Union Army Officers, revived patrolling practices among the free blacks. During the Reconstruction, old style patrol methods resurfaced and were enforced by postwar southern officers and also by organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

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