USA police date to African American slavery because European captors were constantly in terrible fear for their lives. Slave owners themselves or professional “Slave catchers” were the spotlighted forerunners of the police. Primarily to discourage insurrections, there was constant surveillance of Enslaved activities (Fry, Night Rider) + for detecting and finding runaway Slaves. The Enslaved could not leave the plantation without a written paper giving their names, identifying marks, and the specific destination route. A lack of any of these was presumptive evidence of an Enslaved running away or otherwise up to no good. For these and other reasons, the captors set up mounted patrols all over the South, designed to monitor movements of the Enslaved—and most were unsuccessful. Hence, it was tacitly assumed every White man was ipso facto (by the fact itself) a member of the police (as can be subtly seen today). Since policing was often tied into the militia system, theoretically all Whites did rotating service in the patrol. Yet, the affluent usually paid others a small fee to take their place. In many regions this left the dumb and sadistic 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 freely abusing Black People—and which, until well into C20, remained lively in Southern lynch mobs. Black People called all of them “paterollers,” “patterollers,” “patter-roses,” “patter-rolls”, “paddy rollers,” or “paddle rollers–because of their use of paddles for whipping; or “Night Riders,” “Night-Watchers,” and “Night Doctors.” Paterollers, paid a fixed fee for services, would also go into Enslaved quarters at night to see if any Enslaved was absent. These ill-disciplined parties of White hoodlums, 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 policing 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, since penalties were harsh when an Enslaved had bad luck, few could muster the courage to risk in escape attempts (Furnas, Goodbye to Uncle Tom, p133). They were well aware that, if caught, they would be used to “make an example” out of them—i.e. Whites saying: “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”—and this has not changed. Although Indifference/Hate/Evil/Sadism was the theme shown in European captors practices, the antebellum police system of the “New World” South was primarily formed and designed to only control the Enslaved—not Whites, the truly evil—again nothing has changed. A prominent slavery approach involved in the control and domination of Enslaved African Americans—and continuing in full force up to the 1960s–was the use of highly trained so-called “Negro dogs”—bloodhounds, foxhounds, bulldogs, Scotch staghounds, or curs (mongrels)—to track runaway Slaves. Professional “Slave catchers,” providing their own “Negro dogs,” encouraged the dogs to give severe maulings to fugitives—an accepted practice in all Slave states—defended and justified in USA courts. White Patterollers and their dogs–in the spirit of “killing a sub-human Black animal” for sport (like fox hunting)—searched in swamps for fugitives.
Once caught, fugitives were bound, beaten, and bloodied (Brady, The Black Badge) on the spot by the whip. After taken back to the plantation, the slave owner inflicted even worse punishments. Generic training of attack “Negro dogs” had them locked up and “never allowed to see a Negro except while learning to catch one” by being given the scent of a Black person’s shoe or article of clothing and taught to follow. Selected Enslaved were sent out as trainees. When dogs treed the Enslaved, they were given meat as a reward. “Afterwards they learn to follow any particular negro by scent.” Besides the Patterollers’ readiness “with the zest of sport,” their canine “Negro hunters” were fierce, vicious, and fearsome beasts. If the dogs were not constrained at the end of the chase, they would tear a man to pieces (Franklin, Runaway Slaves, p160). jabaileymd.com
Joseph A. Bailey II, MD, FACS