pendant and pin Symbolism
It happened one day when I was in the Maryland Archives in Annapolis. I went there because I had just finished binge-watching the entire first season of John Legend's acclaimed series, Underground. It was the part where Rosalee was attempting to "borrow" the plantation owner's seal and stamp that fascinated me. In order to be able to travel with a prayer of a chance of making it safely (and alive), one had to have "traveling papers" or "free papers" that were shown in order to justify why the person of color was anywhere other than a plantation.
The papers were often times kept in tin boxes like this one, for safekeeping.
Those who saw or read "12 Years a Slave" (book written by Solomon Northup, a free man who was drugged, kidnapped, beaten and sold into slavery while on his travels in Washington, DC), know that those papers were often times ignored or even destroyed. This prompted many to sew them into their clothing to help prevent their destruction.
No words could ever describe the feeling of holding documents in your hand that referred to another human being in the same way that you do with a piece of land. "Deeds of Manumission" are truly a sight to behold, and I held them in my hands during my visit at the Archives in Maryland. (Does your state have them too?)
Freedom papers and requests for them to be issued can also be viewed at the Archives, and indeed I did. Here is one for a woman named "Eliza" who was applying for a certificate of freedom at the courthouse in Kent County, MD. This was a process where a fee was paid to the clerk of the court. What was striking to me about the request was that Eliza was identified in the document as being "free born" twenty years prior!
Here is one done in Petersburg, Virginia, where "Harriet" who is already "free" has to apply and pay for a renewal of her certificate of freedom while turning in her old one to the clerk!
There were also slave badges, though not in Maryland.
It was a system created by state and local governments in order to regulate the labor activities of slaves who were essentially "hired out" by their owners. It had to be worn at all times, and had to be renewed each year at a cost of 5-40 shillings. Here are what two such badges from South Carolina looked like (one for a mechanic, and the other for a fruiterer):
And then I stumbled upon them: the rare and elusive "Free Badge".
These Free Badges, made of copper, did not have a year marked on them but did also have numbers stamped into them (it is speculated that it was "for life"). They were only issued in Charleston, SC for a few years before the Free Badge Law that governed their issuance got repealed in 1789.
The first thought that came to my mind was...
"Oh, well I see the problem... a whole bunch of people were supposed to get free badges that didn't get them." and...
An idea was born.
What could possibly be significant about a safety pin, you ask? A lot, actually!
The safety pin is a critical piece and is highly symbolic for the pendant. Below is a visual that got circulated around social media that can better explain the symbolism of the safety pin. For obvious reasons, it got selected to be used for our pendant.
So even if you don't buy a pendant from this site, go get yourself a safety pin and wear it! (But if you bought the pendant on our site, we'd be sending you TWO of them and something even more symbolic to put on it!)
*See the "history we pulled from" section for a USA Today and New York Times story for more info.
Now you're ready to get yours, right? click HERE to order.