Slave tags were used in Charleston, S.C., as a means of controlling the free and enslaved African population seeking work outside of their homes. Slave owners were required to purchase a tag each year in order to hire out enslaved populations for additional income. John Joseph Lafar was commissioned by the city to produce the copper tags in 1812, and it is estimated that 1,106 were purchased that year. Most records regarding the sale of slave tags no longer exist, thus it is not known who wore this tag.
Charleston first required licensing of enslaved Africans working away from a plantation in the late 17th century. Slave tag regulations were renewed and nullified over the next century. From 1800 until the end of the Civil War, enslaved populations were required to wear their tags anytime they worked away from the plantation. Enslaved individuals without tags could be jailed and resold at slave auctions. Free blacks were also required to purchase and wear the tags at various times and locations before the Civil War. To the enslaved individual, this simple object was a visual reminder of their bondage and a clear sign to others that the wearer was not a free person.