Crab Rattle Shackle
ca. early 19th century
19.05 x 11.4 x 6.4 cm
The Collection of Oak Alley Foundation
“Big House” exhibit
American slavery was an institution that dehumanized Africans and their descendants. Those enslaved often sought to take back their freedom. However, should their attempt at freedom fail and they were caught, they were returned to their owner or resold, now labeled a “maroon” or “runaway”. Such slaves were put in restraints in order to prevent future freedom-seeking attempts.
This crab rattle shackle was one of many different devices used to track a person’s movements via sound. The shackle is formed by two oblong “pockets” on either side that are filled with small metal balls that create sound when moved. The shackle would have been wrapped around a person’s ankle then attached to either to a post via a chain or closed with a lock. The length of time a person was shackled was indefinite and infinite. In addition to constant noise with each movement, the person wearing the shackle could also suffer rash, blisters, broken skin, burns, and bruises.