Skip to Content

Explore the Constellation

Charleston Freedom Badges



Free Black people were forced to register their free status and wear “freedom badges.”

When the Revolutionary War ended in 1782, many former colonies passed laws to control the growing free Black population. By 1783 Charleston established an ordinance that required free Black people to register their free status with the government. Free Black people were required to wear Freedman Badges featuring the pileus cap, a symbol of freedom.

Many states passed laws that limited manumission – the freeing of enslaved people by their enslavers. Some states, like Virginia, passed laws expelling free Black people. Ohio and other free states required free Black people to pay a registration fee and have a white citizen vouch for their character and free status. Free African Americans endured limited freedom, which was hard manifest and challenging to maintain.