Missouri Bicentennial Minutes: Slavery Before Statehood

May 21, 2020

The issue of slavery delayed statehood until the inclusion of the Missouri Compromise in the bill. How did Missouri develop as a slave state before statehood?

Slavery by the French was initially small scale. Large-scale importation of African slaves began in 1720. Phillippe François Renault brought 500 slaves from Saint-Domingue to lead mines of southeastern Missouri. After the Louisiana Purchase, settlers from North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia brought additional slaves. While many slaves grew crops, hiring out of slaves was common.

As with all property counties taxed slaves. For example, Cape Girardeau County assessed for 312 slaves over age 10 in 1818, 380 in 1819, and 396 in 1820. Slavery dominated in areas conducive to large farms, such as the extreme southeast and the large river bottoms.

Slave policies in French and Spanish times fell under the Code Noir, or “Black Code.” Provisions covered punishment of slaves who assaulted their masters or other free people. The Code prohibited leaving the master’s property without permission, and gun and property ownership. The Black Code mandated humane treatment of slaves and prohibited of breaking up families and miscegenation; although enforcement was lax.

Provisions for free people of color, and re-enslavement as punishment for various offenses were in the Code. The slave code replaced the Code Noir after the Louisiana Purchase, a nd included specific bans on ownership of firearms, selling of alcoholic beverages to other slaves, and participation in unlawful assemblies. Harsh penalties awaited those involved in riots, insurrections, or disobedience.

Mutilation was the punishment for male slaves assaulting white women, while white men assaulting a slave woman usually faced charges of trespassing upon her owner’s property. The code continued in the State Constitution of 1820.