The obscure ordinance of the savannah demanded that free and enslaved people conform

Our obscure August ordinance gives us a glimpse into the living conditions of free people of color in Savannah before the Civil War. City ordinances like this regulated where people of color could walk, what they could sell, what trades they could engage in, and how they could behave, often criminalizing many aspects of life that were commonplace. for white citizens.

In 1834, this ordinance was passed requiring all free people of color living within the city limits to register annually with the clerk of the council (a practice that dates back to at least 1817 in Savannah). Free persons were required to register their name, family number, place of residence, profession and possessions, as well as the name of a white “guardian” who was responsible for them. Even free men were not really free.

At the same time, slaves in Savannah who engaged in activities outside their slaveholder’s property were required to wear a badge indicating that they were allowed to be alone.

Register of Free People of Color, 1863, page 8. Record series 5600CL-130, volume 5.

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Five volumes of the “Registers of free colored people” are kept at the municipal archives and made available to researchers. While these volumes are clear evidence of the inhuman and unfair treatment of people of color, the stories that are subliminally woven through their entries are also evidence of how they overcame obstacles. These volumes paint an invaluable picture of life – what occupations were available and common to free people, what they were allowed and able to own, where they lived in Savannah – all of this allows descendants and researchers to connect too. often voices of the past under-documented and silenced.

Free Negroes, Section 8. Wilson, Edward G. A Digest of all the Ordinances of the City of Savannah… (Savannah: John M. Cooper & Co., 1858).  Page 174.

To learn more about the ordinances that governed 19th-century savannah life, visit:

City of Savannah Municipal Archives, [email protected], Discover the archives:

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