CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Students and faculty at the College of Charleston (CofC) recently discovered a slave badge dating back to 1853 while excavating an area on campus.
The small, copper, diamond-shaped badges were used up until 1865 to keep track of enslaved people. According to CofC, they were inscribed with the word “Servant” along with the occupation, date, and registration number. They served “as proof that the enslaved person’s owner had approved this person to work for someone else.”
According to CofC, slave badges have not been found in any other city. This leads researchers to believe that “many cities had laws, but Charleston appears to be the only place that made a physical badge.”
Bernard E. Powers, professor emeritus of history and director of CofC’s Center of the Study of Slavery in Charleston, said that “this discovery confirms the idea that Black labor was integrally involved in shaping the contours of the land, erecting the city’s buildings, and providing the human connections that made Charleston the vital center of production and exchange it became and remains today.”
The badge was discovered during the excavation of a 12-square-meter site near Rivers Green and the Phi Kappa Pi Bell Tower. Other artifacts from the 1700-1800s — including a hearth, animal bones, and pottery — were found as well.