The iron slave collar is a
rare artifact which has survived as evidence of Americaís reprehensible era
of slavery. If it wasnít for Benís spirited persona, this iron collar would
not have been made. The tangibility of the iron collar is rare, but even
rarer is Benís story because we know his name. He was a human being who was
entitled to freedom and who thirsted for freedom as did all his ancestors
before him. Freedom was within Benís grasp when it was unlawfully snatched
away, a mere eight miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line, just weeks before
his 28th birthday. Benís story is legion, for it is the story of
thousands of African American slaves whose names are not remembered and will
never be known.
In March of
this year, a slaveís iron collar was given to Allison-Antrim Museum by
Courtland C. Kauffman of Florida. It was used in the early 1800s to tame a
slave who had run away three times. The collar had been kept in the Kauffman
family for over 175 years until it was gifted to Allison-Antrim Museum.
slaveís name was Ben. He was about 21 years old. Ben was high spirited and
ran away on three occasions in an effort to seek his freedom. He also
threatened to kill his master, Andrew Kauffman, who owned a farm in the
Kauffmanís Station area.
The ratio of
slaves to free African Americans in Pennsylvania during the early 1800s was
one out of 10, so Ben could have easily blended into the African American
society in a large city, such as Philadelphia, had he made it that far.
captured the third time, Kauffman took him to a blacksmith and had an iron
collar made. The two-piece collar, with a spear-like shape on each side,
was made of three-quarter inch round forged iron. According to Keven Walker,
curator at Antietam National Park, the length of the collar was likely made
for the breadth of his shoulders. When riveted together, the semi-circles
fit around Benís neck with the spear-like shapes resting on his collar bones
Ė which Walker says would have made it bearable for him. The collar
seemingly had its effect, for after it was placed around Benís neck, he
became very obedient. Had he tried to escape a fourth time, the collar would
have certainly marked Ben as a runaway slave. Ben remained at the Kauffman
farm for the next three years, after which he was sold to a neighbor. At the
time of the sale, one of the rivets was removed, and the two-pound,
six-ounce iron collar was loosened from around Benís neck.
(which was his day off), Ben returned to the Kauffman home and repeatedly
asked his former owner to buy him back; but Andrew Kauffman refused.
However, Kauffman did tell Ben that he would hire him as a farm hand in four
years when, under the Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act of 1780, Ben would
become a freeman at the age of 28.
Kauffman never got to keep his promise because just a few weeks before Benís
28th birthday, he was kidnapped by slave raiders and taken
ďsouth,Ē meaning anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line where slavery was
law. Ben was never heard of again.