Made of solid iron with a simple twist lock, these chains were used to restrain the feet or ankles of slaves, allowing walking but preventing running or kicking. This set of leg irons is from an Underground Railroad house in Bucyrus, Ohio. The lock appears to be broken.
Leg irons are also known as fetters, shackles or foot cuffs.
The U.S. Census of 1860 showed a sizeable slave population in the Trans-Mississippi states, and therefore a large number of potential recruits for the Union army and Navy. Numerous slaves ran away from their masters and joined the Union forces. In other cases, those masters loyal to the federal government could be compensated up to $300 for allowing a slave to enlist or up to $100 if the slave was drafted. Either way, these men escaped the chains and leg irons of slavery for weapons to fight for their freedom.
Image Courtesy Wilsonâ€™s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 30004