The Civil War in Missouri

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Iron Ankle Fetter with Key

ca. 1835-1865
MHM Collections

This iron slave shackle is typical of a variety of devices, including collars, helmets, and gags, used to punish slaves and control their mobility. To bring attention to the inhumanity of such implements, the American Anti-Slavery Society included several accounts of their use in its publication American Slavery As It Is (1839). Nehemiah Caulkins recalled, “I saw a slave in shackles or fetters, which were fastened around each ankle firmly riveted, connected together by a chain. To the middle of this chain he [the slave] had fastened a string, so as in a manner to suspend them and keep them from galling his ankles.” Despite similar efforts by other slaveholders, an estimated 24,000 slaves in Missouri had escaped to freedom in Canada by 1860.