Human Trafficking

From Fugitive Slaves (1619-1865):

Reasons for escape. — First, why did the slave seek to escape? However unlike the attending circumstances, we find upon investigation that the negro’s desire to run away may be traced to one of but three or four motives. …

A third and very effective cause was the fear of being sold South, where slave life, spent in toil under the merciless masters of the rice swamps and cotton fields, was seen on its darkest side. Such was the horror with which the slave regarded this change, that the threat of it was constantly used by owners as one of the surest means of reducing their rebellious slaves to submission. In the Virginia Slave Mother’s Farewell to her Daughters who have been sold into Southern bondage, Whittier has well expressed their feelings.

			Gone, gone, — sold and gone
			To the rice swamp dank and lone, —
			Where the slave-whip ceaseless swings,
			Where the noisome insect stings,
			Where the fever demon strews
			Poison with the falling dews,
			Where the sickly sunbeams glare
			Through the hot and misty air,—
				Gone, gone, — sold and gone
				To the rice swamp dank and lone


Many cases of this kind came to light through the examinations at the Underground Railroad stations. Three brothers once learned that the next day they were to be sent South with a slave trader then in the vicinity. Filled with terror at the prospect, they preferred the danger of death in the swamps to the certainty of life in the unknown country. That night they made their escape, but it was only after weeks of wandering in swamps and morasses that they reached a haven.1

Halachah recognizes that advance knowledge of a sale may induce a slave to flee, and therefore instructs the court to refrain from publicizing upcoming slave sales:

אמר אמימר משמיה דרב יוסף בית דין שמכרו בלא הכרזה נעשו כמי שטעו בדבר משנה וחוזרין …

איתיביה רב אשי לאמימר שום הדיינין שפחתו שתות או הותירו שתות מכרן בטל הא שוה בשוה מכרן קיים מאי לאו דלא אכרוז …

אלא לעולם בדלא אכרוז ולא קשיא כאן בדברים שמכריזין עליהן כאן בדברים שאין מכריזין עליהן ואלו הן דברים שאין מכריזין עליהן העבדים והמטלטלין והשטרות

עבדים טעמא מאי שמא ישמעו ויברחו מטלטלין ושטרות שמא יגנבו2

  1. Marion Gleason McDougall and Albert Bushnell Hart, Fugitive Slaves (1619-1865) pp. 54-55, available here. []
  2. כתובות דף ק’ ע”ב, וכן נפסק בשולחן ערוך אה”ע סימן ק”ד סעיף ד’ וחו”מ סימן ק”ט סעיף ג []

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