Parties, Prayers, Passes and Plantation Police, 200-year-old Hit Song about Police Brutality Found in Archives

“License and identification please”, even today those words seem to strike fear into the hearts of the most innocent of people. The dread that comes over you, the way your imagination runs wild, you can’t seem to stop playing the worst case scenarios over and over again in your head. What is the worst that can happen? A warning, a ticket, points on your license or court? Well, imagine you were an enslaved ‘African’ in the 1700-1800’s in the antebellum south. Your pass was equal to your license issued by your master for an allotted time to be off the plantation. Without this little slip of paper, the paddy-rollers as the slaves called them could arrest you, whip you, beat you and or take you to jail.

These slave patrollers worked in concert with the county to serve and protect the ruling classes’ interest and property.  Constant watching, antagonizing and terrorizing of the ‘niggers,’ free and enslaved into submission. Back then the ‘whites’ were terrified that the ‘blacks’ would attempt to escape bondage, go figure on that one.

Mrs. Jane Pyatt a slave born in 1848 said this of the slave’s relationship to the paddy rollers,


“Previous to 1861, there weren’t any policemen, but there were patrollers instead. Their duty was the same as that of the policemen of today. If slaves had a corn shucking party or a prayer meeting, and if they made too much noise, the patrollers would arrest them…sometimes they would beat them…and sometimes they would sell them.”

Parties/Da Club

Yes, slaves did try to create some normalcy outside of the dark cloud of their forced servitude. Kind of like those who hate their job but love the club and turn up every weekend to get ‘lit.’ A simple search of their life in their own words would open up the world where slaves learned to adjust to their harsh conditions, they found reasons and opportunities to laugh, drink, and party.

“Momma useto tell how dey was goin’ to have a party, an’ de paddyrollers heahed o’ it. De talk go somepin lak dis:
“Say! I heah dy goin’ be a big party over at de Follkeses tonight.”
“Um. Huh! But dey bugs in de wheat.”
Dat mean de ole paddyrollers be comin’ by dere dat night an’ sho’ nuff de come.
Mrs. Bird Walton b.1864, Weevils in the Wheat p. 297

Prayer Meetings/Church

No matter the occasion if caught without a pass nine times out of ten that ___ was grass. Because of this constant threat, the slaves had to develop ingenious ways of escaping their tyranny, they developed intricate look-outs systems, putting grape vines across the path to trip horses and putting down big ol’ pots at the doors of their gatherings to “catch the sound.”

In one retelling of the slaves on his plantations attempting to attend prayer meetings, West Turner shared this story,

“ Den dey would rush in and start whippin an’ beating’ de slaves unmerciful. All dis was done to keep you f’om servin’ God and’ do you know some o’ dem devils was mean an’ sinful ‘nough to say, ‘If I ketch upi here servin’ God, I’ll beat you. You ain’t got no time to serve God. We bought you to serve us.”

Visiting Loved Ones on Other Plantations

The peculiar institution of slavery created a culture of ignorance and then mocked and ridiculed people because they were ignorant. Many men had abroad marriages, which means they intentionally married women on other plantations. This gave them some feeling of autonomy as well as an opportunity to travel from time to time.

“John was married to a gal named Sally, who lived ‘bout six miles off from Pamplin. John use to have to git a pass f’om marser ev’y Saddy night to go see his wife. ‘Couse John could’t read an’ marse would always laugh when he gave him de pass. An’ whenever de patterollers stop John dey would always have themselves a good laugh too when dey read his pass. So John got to wonderin’ what was on diss pass dat made ‘em laugh so. So one night he went unto Appomatox ‘stead of going’ straight to Sally’s place an’ got a free nigger man to read it to him. An’ de free nigger read to him.”

This is what the note read.

To my man John I give this pass
Pas an’ repass to Sally’s black [ass],
Ef don’t nobody like dis pass,
Dey can Kiss [Sall’s ass]
Mrs. Fannie Berry b.1841
Weevils in the Wheat, p46

The relationship between ‘blacks’ and ‘law enforcement’ has historically been an antagonistic one. In rare cases, plantation owners would step in-between the law and their property demanding that their ‘niggers’ not be whipped by these slave police. For the majority of the population, the threat of the ‘law’ was very real and present. This climate of fear and terror served as the back drop for the hit song untitled which I will call, The Run Nigger song.

Now without further ado, The Run Nigger song, written by an anonymous source during slavery. The lyrics may have slight variations but  the essence is the same. According to the reports, this song had a hot beat that the musicians would to these lyrics.

Run nigger run
Run nigger run
Don’t let de paddlerollers catch you
Run nigger run
Run nigger run
Keep on runnin’ ‘till daylight come

Alternate Verse
Run nigger run, the Paddy Roll will get you
Run nigger run, it’s almost day
That nigger run, that nigger flew
That nigger tore his shirt into.
Run nigger run, the Paddy Roll will get you
Run nigger run, it’s almost day

Nickle for your thoughts…

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About Author
Emunah Y’srael is an expert in DIY Soul Improvement with over 20 years actively dedicated to her own soul journey. She is the creator of the a myriad of self-improvement projects. Emunah has authored to date four books, all available on amazon.

For question or comments on the contents of this article feel free to reach out:  @emunah_ysrael or

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