These question and answer have established than even after the abolition of slavery by the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, felons have been sentenced to be "sold as slave" for a given time (typically one or two years) and auctioned at least until 1866:

Richard Harris was convicted to 6 month of slavery.

When was the last occurrence of such a sentence: to be sold as slave ?

NB: A sentence to slavery is different from convict leasing, which ended in 1928, and concerned people condemned to prison. I am not interested in people condemned to prison and somehow forced to work while doing their time, but in sentences that explicitely mention the convict to be sold and/or to become a slave.

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    Don't chain gangs still exist in Arizona? If you do include forms of convict leasing and inmates working from their prison, the answer basically is: it's still happening. Jul 3, 2019 at 14:30
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    The point to my NB was precisely to exclude convict leasing. I will try to make it clearer.
    – Evargalo
    Jul 3, 2019 at 14:43
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    My leads didn't lead anywhere, even the early 1870s didn't pan out (no mention of 'slave'). Peonage (debt slavery) was common in the south and sometimes even inherited despite being outlawed in 1867, with cases reported up until at least the 1920s (see Peon). This is a very frustrating question... Jul 4, 2019 at 14:18
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    I'm having trouble distinguishing between the question and convict leasing, which you've said is not relevant. I've paid my local sheriff for the forced labor of prisoners. The only practical differences seem to be (a) do I provide bed-and-board for the "slave" or the State? and (b) in the old days the prisoner was "sold at auction" where today the prisoner is simply scheduled as-needed. But in both cases the State is paid for forced labor. Are you trying to link this to true slavery (where no law was broken) or uncontrolled overworking (not allowed anymore)?
    – JBH
    Jul 4, 2019 at 16:41
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    @JBH : a judge would not sentence you to "convict leasing". They would sentence you to "prison". On other occurence, at least in the late 1860's, they did prononce a sentence of "being sold as a slave [for a given time]". I am interested in the later, not the former.
    – Evargalo
    Jul 12, 2019 at 9:28

1 Answer 1


As comments have pointed out, the distinction between sentencing someone to slavery and sentencing them to prison under a convict leasing system is in some ways a subtle one. Nonetheless, the document shown in the question does reflect the specific way in which Southern states originally interpreted the Thirteenth Amendment, adopted in late 1865. This continuation of slavery in a new form was a central factor which led to the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and then ultimately the Fourteenth Amendment, adopted in July 1868.

In an NYU Law Review article, James Gray Pope quotes William Higby of California, who began urging passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in February of 1866 specifically because of the Punishment Clause in the Thirteenth.

"Such a provision operates equally upon all classes, but the judge could discriminate, and could say to the white offender, ‘Go to the State prison,’ while he could say to the black man, ‘Go into slavery.’" Higby warned that Southern states were currently engaging in such practices, and that Congress could do nothing about it “because those States are acting under the amendment of the Constitution, and can pass such laws in spite of anything which we may do in this Hall, and you leave slavery sealed upon the Government.”

So while I've not yet pinpointed the answer to the question, this is the historical context. Explicitly sentencing black people to slavery was arguably legal until July 1868. De facto, it continued long after that but was no longer to be called "slavery".

  • This is a good answer but it could use an example of black Americans who were sentenced to sharecropping for debt, and were captured by white police when they tried to escape and returned to their landlords. I've read some stories like that but not sure how long it continued -- 1960s?
    – Avery
    Sep 24, 2021 at 14:05
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    example of story (just a news article, not a historical publication) vice.com/en/article/437573/…
    – Avery
    Sep 24, 2021 at 14:07

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