Did slaves get tattoos?

And how exactly was that done? Here’s the answer – and there are still many of them.

1. Slavery was illegal

This is the major point that is often forgotten as a result of the mainstream history courses. Slavery’s legality dates as far back as 1619, when one of the first American colonies enacted a law prohibiting slavery.

In fact, we can say that slavery was illegal in America up until the end of the Revolutionary War. However, as the US entered the 18th century, the legal status of slaves became more and more complex.


The majority of enslaved people of that time and place were children of indentured servants or servants of the king or of the king’s servants, who were themselves masters.

In this situation, slavery was not illegal in America. The slave laws of the time did not define the legal position, though slaves were legally considered property. In fact, most slave people were indentured servants (i.e., they did not own their freedom with the end of their servitude). They did not have the same rights as the freemen who were subject to taxation, a standing army, or other duties.

Even at this early stage, there were many exceptions to the rights of a slave. There were slaves who were married to others and there were slaves who would be sold off as slaves to a third party. However, the most frequently-heard story of a master and slave is the “peek into the master’s soul”, where a slave will get a peek into the master’s soul before the owner gets to go to hell.

2. There were restrictions on tattoos

It is important to note the difference here between “Tattoo” and “Skin”. Tattoos were usually made out of gold or silver, as a way of keeping it hidden from view (so the poor would not have it tattooed on their bodies). Skins, on the other hand, made out of wood or leather, were made to be worn during the journey.

And finally, tattoos were also commonly done on slaves for other reasons, like making “a badge of courage to stand up to torture”.

3. And sometimes slaves’ eyes were tattooed

Japanese Tattoo Designs- Your name in Japanese Kanji, Japanese ...
This is a huge distinction with some of my readers, and as an avid reader, it was my job to sort out for me why this was the case.

According to the Bible, Cain murdered his brother Abel with his own hands (Genesis 4).