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Document Type


Organizational Units

Sturm College of Law


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


This legal history article presents the empirical finding that the risk of family separation at slave auctions was higher at court-ordered and court-supervised sales as compared with private sales of capitalist auctioneers. The article also examines legal and ideological justification for the destruction of slave families. Law served to disguise human agency in the breakup of slave families.

This article builds upon the author’s earlier finding that a majority of slave auctions in South Carolina were conducted by the courts. 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

Originally published as 1996 UTAH L. REV. 1161 (1996).

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