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‘Such Servant so Wrong’d’
Lash Laws in Plantation Maryland

“…many people were transported to America for seven or fourteen years or for life after they were convicted of crimes in England or if, like destitute children, beggars, vagabonds, and political and religious non-conformists, they were considered undesirables for some other reasons.”

-C. Ashley Ellefson, The Private Punishment of Servants and Slaves In Eighteenth-Century Maryland

The following is sourced from C. Ellefson’s Private Punishments and Seven Hangmen.

Penalties for Excessively [1] Beating Servants

Until 1715:

1st Offense = fine, in tobacco, not to exceed 1,000 pounds

2nd Offense = the same fine

3rd Offense = the servant may be freed [2]


1. This was undefined, but, by 1700, all were in agreement in the plantations of America that burning was needlessly cruel.

2. All offenses accumulated only against the same servant. Masters got around this by beating servants in rotation, by restricting servant access to the courts and by keeping private burial plots for servants slain.

-The Council of Trade and Plantations demanded action from the Governor and/or Maryland Assembly in 1691, 1692. 1693, 1698, 1699, 1703, 1704, 173 and 1714, with the colonial officials resisting legislation against brutality to servants until 1715. Those colonial attitude extended throughout the 18th century, and in this researcher’s opinion, was one often motivating factors [slavery being another] in the revolution of 1776. Indeed, Father Joseph Mosely, writing in 1772 declared the masters treatment of servants in Maryland to be “…cruel, barbarous and unmerciful.”

Lash Laws from 1715

-A master could whip any servant with ten lashes or fewer.

-If he thought that the servant deserved more than ten lashes he had to take his complaint before a magistrate.

-The magistrate could order the servant whipped with no more than thirty-nine lashes.

-The new law said nothing about limiting the master’s punishment of his own slave, only his servants.

-The fire director of Annapolis could order any servant who refused to obey orders in fighting a fire whipped up to thirty-nine lashes.

“. . . if any Master or Mistress of any Servant whatsoever or overseer by order or consent of any such Master or Mistress shall deny and not provide Sufficient Meat drink lodging and Clothing or shall unreasonably burthen them beyond their strength with labour or debarr them of their necessary rest and sleep or excessively beat and abuse them [**] the same being sufficiently proved before the Justices of the County Courts the said Justices have hereby full power and Authority for the first and second offence to levy such ffine upon such Offender as to them shall seem meet not exceeding one thousand

pounds of Tobacco to the use of her Majesty her heires and Successors for the Support of Government and for their third. Offence to sett such Servant so wrong’d at liberty and free from Servitude.”

-1704, c. 23, Md. Arch., XXVI, 259.

Despite the above law, servants such as Elizabeth Sprig and James Revel [he being held in Virginia] were explicate in their complaints that they ate nothing but corn and slept on the barn floor.

Stillbirth of a Nation: Caucasian Slavery in Plantation America: Part One

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