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Sturm College of Law


Empirical, Empiricism, Property, Hohfeld, Blackstone, Warranty, Estates in land, Quantitative, Slave auctions, Sheriffs, Chancery, South Carolina, Antebellum, Trial courts


This legal history article presents a new understanding of the nature of slave property. Slave property was divided and fragmented into many different interests including those with application to real property such life estates, remainders, shifting and spring interests, and leasehold interests. With regard to these interests, the article overlays the first-year, law-school property course onto slaves as property. Property interests in slaves were also divided by credit mechanisms including mortgages and secured credit transactions. Warranties are another example of divided property interests in slaves.

The fragmented, Hohfeldian nature of slave property distributed the stake that southerners had in the institution of slavery.

The article also places this new image of slave property onto the steps of courthouses. Court-ordered and court-supervised sales offered bargain opportunities for southerners to purchase slaves, thereby further extending the investment of southern society in slave property. This article builds upon the author’s earlier findings that a majority of slave auctions in South Carolina were conducted by the courts and that when courts sold slaves, the risk of family separation was higher than when private sellers conducted the sales. The data for this article and the previous study were drawn from antebellum primary sources including trial-court records, the salesbooks of sheriffs, and records of masters in chancery.

Publication Statement

This article originally appeared in 18 CARDOZO L. REV. 473 (1996).

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.