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The execution of black persons in the United States has attracted considerable research interest. The literature on black executions in the United States reveals that not only are black persons sentenced to death in larger numbers than their proportionate representation in the United States population, but black persons are also far more likely to receive the death penalty than white persons for the same offense (Aguirre and Baker, 1990; Free, 1996; Kennedy, 1997; Walker et al., 1996; Mann, 1993; Gross and Mauro, 1989). While the research literature has focused on identifying the structural correlates of racial disparity in the imposition of capital punishment, very little death penalty research has focused on black slave executions in the United States (Hindus, 1987; Fogel and Engerman, 1974; Nash, 1970). Aside from the dearth of definitive information on slave executions, there are severe limitations in the research record. First, the research is highly regionalized. Hindus (1987), for example, focused on the execution of slaves in only South Carolina. Second, the notion that slaves were property and were subject to their owner's caprice, has resulted in the perception that the execution of slaves was not a form of social control. For instance, Marable (1983, p. 109) explains that the greatest barrier to the execution of slaves was the prevailing notion among whites that destroying one's own property willingly was absurd - "the loss of a prime field-hand meant the loss of a capital investment." This idea is premised upon the notion that slaves were executed in response to a white owner's dissatisfaction with their performance, rather than the idea that slaves posed a threat to the slave system. Marable overlooks the jurisdictional authority of local, state, and federal governments to execute slaves to safeguard slavery. Third, a major concern in death penalty research is understanding the social context in which executions take place. Lilly and Thompson (1995, p. 2) called attention to this problem when they noted that "what is missing in capital punishment research is the context of its application." This article contributes to our understanding of slave executions in the United States by using national execution data to construct a descriptive profile of slave executions occurring from 1641 to 1865. An additional objective of this article is to profile slave executions within the socio-historical context in which they occurred.
A CRITICAL PERSPECTIVE ON BLACK SLAVE EXECUTIONS
From a critical perspective, the central dynamic in any societal system of intergroup domination and oppression is social control. In United States society the dominant white population seeks to control the group life of nonwhite minorities through various institutional apparatuses of social control. One institutional apparatus of social control in the United States is the criminal justice system. Quinney (1977) explains that the coercive force of the state, embodied in law and legal repression, is the traditional means of maintaining the social and economic interests of the dominant group. Accordingly, the official tasks of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, juries, and even the state executioner in the United States criminal justice system is to protect dominant group interests. The function of the United States criminal justice system is to maintain the social arrangement of differential power relations between the dominant white population and subordinate nonwhite minority populations. Since the power to define social behavior as criminal resides with the dominant group, any social behavior engaged in by members of subordinate groups that the dominant group perceives as a threat to their interests is criminal (Quinney, 1970; Chambliss and Seidman, 1971; Turk, 1969). Staples (1975, p. 18) explains the arrangement as: "The ruling caste defines those acts as crimes that fit its needs and purposes and characterizes as criminal individuals who commit certain kinds of illegal acts, while similar acts are exempted from prosecution and escape public disapprobation because they are not perceived as criminal or a threat to society." State imposed violence is fundamental to maintaining this social arrangement (Quinney, 1977; Aguirre and Baker, 1991). Benjamin (1991) adds to this notion by arguing that physical violence is integral to the United States system of control, domination, and exploitation. Regarding capital punishment, Kennedy (1997, p. 311) explains that "sentencing a person to death as punishment for crime is a unique flexing of state power." In this regard, the death penalty is used against those whose crimes victimize members, interests, or institutions belonging to the dominant group in society (Bowers and Pierce, 1980).
Slave executions in the United States can be explained from a critical perspective that examines dominant group oppression over powerless groups. Slavery prevailed for more than two centuries because it was legally enforced (Stampp, 1956). The history of punishment during slavery is the history of an extremely efficient institutional means for protecting dominant group interests in the United States (Morris, 1996; Kennedy, 1997). The first African slaves landed in the Chesapeake in 1619, and within just a few short decades the slave status of Africans had become fully institutionalized in regulatory statutes called slave codes. Slave codes became increasingly uncompromising and punishments imposed on slaves became increasingly more severe as slavery expanded beyond the colonies (Reiss, 1997; Nash, 1995; Kennedy, 1997; Morris, 1996). Slave executions conducted under colonial and state authority were also part of this dominion. of control over slavery. Virginia was the first mainland colony to adopt slave codes in 1682, but by 1712, most mainland colonies had developed oppressive codes to regulate slaves (Reich, 1989). Slave codes were the mainstay of the United States slave system, they reflected the attitudes of the master class, and they were specifically instituted to protect the interests of slave masters. Slave codes regulated every aspect of slave life. Slave codes defined slaves as property (without legal standing), they mandated slavery as lifelong and inherited, and they sanctioned harsh and brutal punishment of slaves for castigation for their violation. Most slave codes were implemented to prevent insurrection or in response to past rebellions (Reiss, 1997). Thus, slave codes protected whites against exigencies from slaves, and they ensured that slavery was not to be challenged by imposing the death penalty for anyone concealing slaves for purposes of escape, conspiring with slaves for purposes of insurrection, circulating seditious literature among slaves, and for anyone engaged in slave stealing (Bowers, 1984). For example, it was a capital offense in Louisiana "to use language in any public discourse, from the bar, the bench, the stage, the pulpit, or in any place whatsoever that might produce insubordination among slaves" (Stampp, 1956, p. 211).
This article focuses on a descriptive analysis of the social and historical factors that created a context for slave executions under civil authority in the United States. As a result, we do not account for private executions carried out by masters on their own slaves. The research record is relatively silent about private slave executions; much of the information found in the research record is anecdotal. Social historians have alluded to a handful of private slave executions in their interpretation of the relationship between state and private interests in the administration of criminal justice during slavery - what Genovese (1974) calls "the complimentary system of plantation justice." But an inventory of private slave executions conducted by slave masters has yet to be constructed, and thus, we are precluded from presenting a comprehensive analysis of the social and historical factors effecting private slave executions. The most substantive issue concerning social historians of slavery about the complementary system of plantation justice is the degree of authority society allocated to slave masters and third parties in controlling slaves (Morris, 1996; Friedman, 1993; Kennedy, 1997). For example, Friedman (1993, p. 52) makes it clear that slavery was a prime concern of colonial and state criminal justice systems, and that "masters and overseers had the basic job of controlling the slaves and policing slave society." In fact, slave codes imposed a duty upon slave masters to punish and control their slaves.
However, historians of slavery have limited their discussions on the relationship between state and private interests in controlling slavery to the criminal liability of slave masters and third parties for the death of a slave. Most slave codes decriminalized the use of violence against slaves by masters in the early colonial period. For example, as early as 1705 in Virginia "if anyone with authority correcting a slave killed him in such correction, it shall not be accounted felony, and the killer would be freed as if such accident had never happened" (Morris, 1996, p. 164). In the antebellum period, state governments expanded their control over slavery as the system developed and became more institutionalized and the rights of slave owners to commit violent acts against slaves became far more restrictive. For example, in 1798, Georgia's constitution included the 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 by such slave, and unless such death should happen by accident in giving such slave moderate correction" (Morris, 1996, p. 172). One could argue that the idea behind more restrictive codes limiting the level of violence that could be directed toward slaves by their masters was to maintain and expand the slave system by making it less brutal. However, this argument can only hold if laws against brutality toward slaves were strictly enforced. Morris (1996, p. 181) is not impressed with the record:
Almost all homicides of slaves, from the colonial period to the end of slavery, ended in acquittals, or at most in verdicts of manslaughter, which meant that there had been some legal provocation from the slave. There were also killings that never led to criminal actions. Still, in theory some protection for the lives of slaves existed because people could be punished for their homicides. Occasionally they were. To that limited extent the law mediated or controlled some of the violence created by a social relationship based on the violent control of labor power in a biracial society. But the master-slave relationship was so delicate that it was intruded upon only in extreme or unusual circumstances. Those circumstances could be quite indeterminate and imprecise.
DATA ON SLAVE EXECUTIONS IN THE UNITED STATES
There are several major data sources on executions in the United States (Aguirre and Baker, 1994). Espy's death penalty index, however, remains the most comprehensive list of confirmed executions in the United States (Espy and Smykla, 1991). In May 1970, M. Watt Espy began collecting data on public executions from his home in Headland, Alabama. Espy moved his data collection …