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Antebellum, Chancery, Empirical, Family separation, Ideology, Quantitative, Sheriffs, Slave auctions, Slavery, South Carolina, Systemic racism, Trial courts

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Sturm College of Law


This article presents the original finding that South Carolina's legal system conducted a majority of the state's slave auctions during the antebellum years.Courts conducted slave auctions in several circumstances. Sheriffs sold the property of debtors; and courts also conducted or supervised sales in order to divide estates. Drawing upon extensive empirical analysis of primary sources in various South Carolina archives, this article compares the total number of slaves sold at court-ordered or court-supervised sales with the best empirical estimates for private slave sales - whether at auction or not. The conclusion is that the courts acted as the state's greatest slave auctioneering firm.

South Carolina's role with regard to the sales of slaves was no different than other slave jurisdictions, although the article does not present empirical work from other states. The principal role of the state in the auction sales of slaves puts the legal system at the center of the American domestic slave market.

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