Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Peculiar Quarantines: The Seamen Acts and Regulatory Authority in the Antebellum South


In 1824, the American schooner Fox sailed into Charleston harbor with seasoned mariner and Rhode Island native Amos Daley on board. When officials boarded the ship, they interrogated the captain and crew before cuffing Daley and hauling him off to the Charleston jail, where he remained until the Fox was set to leave harbor. Daley's detainment occurred because 16 months earlier the South Carolina General Assembly had enacted a statute barring the entrance of all free people of color into the state. Unlike other antebellum state statutes limiting black immigration, this law extended further, stretching to include in its prohibition maritime laborers aboard temporarily docked, commercial vessels. This particular section of the law was passed on the assumption that such sailors inspired slave insurrection and thereby posed a direct threat to the safety and welfare of the citizenry. Over the course of the next four decades, the states of North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas would join South Carolina in passing statutes, commonly referred to as the “Seamen Acts,” which limited the ingress of free black mariners. Amos Daley was only one of ~10,000 sailors directly affected by these particularly Southern regulations.

Corresponding author
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

David Golove, “Treaty-Making and the Nation: The Historical Foundations of the Nationalist Conception of the Treaty Power,” Michigan Law Review 98 (2000): 1075–319

Gerald Neuman, “The Lost Century of American Immigration Law (1776–1875),” Columbia Law Review 93 (1993): 1833–901

Philip Hamer, “Great Britain, the United States, and the Negro Seamen Acts, 1822–1848,” Journal of Southern History 1 (1935): 328

Philip Hamer, “British Consuls and the Negro Seamen Acts, 1850–1860,” Journal of Southern History 1 (1935): 138–68

Martin Pernick, “Contagion and Culture,” American Literary History 14 (2002): 858–65

Hasan Crocket, “The Incendiary Pamphlet: David Walker's Appeal in Georgia,” Journal of Negro History 86 (2001): 305–18

Bertram Wyatt-Brown, “The Abolitionists' Postal Campaign of 1835,” Journal of Negro History 50 (1965), 227–38

Michael Kent Curtis, Free Speech, “The People's Darling Privilege”: Struggles for Freedom of Expression in American History (Durham, 2000)

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *