May 10th, 1740

South Carolina Passes Negro Act of 1740

On May 10, 1740, the South Carolina Assembly enacted the “Bill for the better ordering and governing of Negroes and other slaves in this province,” also known as the Negro Act of 1740. The law prohibited slaves from growing their own food, learning to read, moving freely, assembling in groups, or earning money. It authorized slave owners to whip and kill rebellious slaves.

South Carolina implemented this act after an unsuccessful 1739 slave revolt called the Stono Rebellion, in which approximately fifty slaves killed between twenty and twenty-five whites. In addition to establishing a racial caste and property system in the colony, the assembly sought to prevent any additional slave rebellions by including provisions that mandated a ratio of one white person for every ten slaves on a plantation. The Negro Act rendered slaves human chattel and revoked all civil rights for persons of color.

The law served as a model for future states such as Georgia, which authorized slavery within its borders in 1750 and enacted its own slave code five years later. In 1865, the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment legally abolished slavery in the United States but the effects of the Negro Act of 1740 and similar laws were felt throughout the country for more than two centuries.