Last Updated on September 27, 2007 by Paulette Brown-Hinds


Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D.

The idea behind being a Euro-American slave owner was to see that African American slaves and their children made money for them while they engaged in hunting down peaceful and defenseless animals in such cruel sports as fox hunting and horse racing. Of necessity from their evil and destructive acts they were fearful of slave revolts and of slave runaways (because their affluence in riches was measured by the number of slaves they owned and how much those slaves produced). In hopes of reducing the number and severity of slave revolts, innumerable measures were taken (e.g. no secret slave meetings; rewarding slave “snitchers”). The captors were constantly aware that their safety depended upon both the ignorance of the slaves and a constant surveillance of slave activities (Fry, Night Rider, p3, 44, 103, 157). For these and other reasons, the captors set up mounted patrols all over the South designed to monitor slave movement-and with varying degrees of success, mostly unsuccessful. The slave owners themselves, or professional slave catchers, were the forerunners of the police. Black people called them “paterollers,” “patterollers,” “patter-roses,” “patter-rolls”, “paddy rollers,” or “paddle rollers (because of their use of paddles to whip slaves); or “night riders,” “night-watchers,” and “Night Doctors.”  

Primarily to discourage insurrections and to prevent runaway slaves, a slave could not leave the plantation without a written paper giving his name, identifying marks, and a specific route. Lack of such papers was presumptive evidence that the slave was running away or otherwise up to no good. Since it was often tied into the militia system, theoretically all Whites did rotating service in the patrol. However, the affluent usually paid others a small fee to take their place. In many places this left the dumb overseers as the backbone of patrolling. Elsewhere, the county of a given state hired a regular patrol from among the poor Whites or small farmers, thus giving those young men a special taste for abusing Black people-and which, until well into the 20th century, remained lively in Southern lynch mobs. These ill-disciplined parties of young men — steeped in an inferiority complex and typically passing the bottle freely while on their rounds — may well have been the nucleus for the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the post bellum times. Nevertheless, none of the patrol groups were efficient-partly due to slovenliness; partly due to the South being too sparsely settled and too masked with woods and swamps; and partly due to its roads and paths being too tortuous and vague for anything but a regiment to be successful. Still, the penalties were harsh when a slave had bad luck.

Thus, barring special personal reasons, few slaves could muster the courage to take the risks involved (Furnas, Goodbye to Uncle Tom, p133). They were well aware that if caught they would be used to “make an example” out of them. Then, as now, Whites in authority say: “we will show the world we are not going to tolerate this by making punishment so hard as to deter other Blacks from doing the same thing.” The paterollers, paid a fixed fee for their services, would also go in slave quarters at night to see if any of the slaves were absent. To White policemen the Black male represented an ambiguous figure who arouses the utmost caution and is considered dangerous (Anderson, The Police, p456).This prejudgment went into dealing with any escaped slaves and it continues to the present.


Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D.