Origin: America, Southeast, South Carolina, Charleston
2 1/16 in. each side (irregular square)
Acc. No. 1990-226
Irregular slightly domed diamond-shaped piece of copper with clipped corners and punched hole at top, marked *CHARLESTON*/No 1419/SERVANT/1823/I·I·LAFAR." All marks except "1419" are raised; "1419" is incuse.
Label:Before the Civil War it was common for owners to rent their slaves out for tasks ranging from manual labor to skilled trades. While the owner kept the lion’s share of the proceeds, his slave was usually allowed a small percentage. In nineteenth century Charleston, the process was regulated, and each slave-for-hire was issued a copper badge listing his or her registration number, their occupation, and the year the license was good for. Made by J.J. Lafar, this example would have been worn at all times by a now-anonymous enslaved Servant in 1823, a year that an estimated 3440 such badges were issued. Newspapers ads of the period mention these numbered badges as the identifying marker of runaway, and were often discarded by fleeing slaves.
Provenance:This badge was found in about 1980 on Meeting Street in Charleston, after the demolition of a row of late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century buildings. The structures had been demolished and the ground cleared, but as it was not yet paved over, the badge was found lying on top of the ground.