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March 25, 2012


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Thanks for joining in. I really am sorry if I sounded hostile, because that was not my intent. I know that some enslaved people got paid. TJ paid members of the Hemings family. His nail "factory", an experiment in the kind of capitalist enterprise of which you speak, "paid" the young boys who worked there in goods rather than money. But he paid the foreman George Granger, Jr., in money. He paid George's father, who was the overseer at Monticello, in money as well. There were other people, too. And the enslaved people at Monticello sold produce to TJ to stock his kitchen.

There are all kinds of things-you-might-not have- thought-existed-in-slavery- but-did out there. I just thought it overreaching to suggest that being paid "overtime" was part of the life of many enslaved people.

Alfred Brophy

You didn't sound hostile in the least, AGR. Brian wasn't suggesting this, obviously, but I think it's easy to slide from the sense that enslaved people were paid to a sense that slavery wasn't all that bad. "Look, they were paid! Some of their work was voluntary!" The issue of how voluntary this was is really open to question. What I'm now very interested in -- thanks to you and Brian -- is that this seems to have been a strategy to extract yet more labor from enslaved people. See the Ruffin quote above, which contains more insight than I'd realized about the coercion that might lie behind the "pay."

Looking around my office this afternoon for books that might shed some more light on this, I see that Fogel and Engerman discuss this some in Time on the Cross, volume 1 (especially at 40-41). How we interpret "pay" is difficult; did this allow the enslaved more autonomy/freedom/power than we'd previously thought? In some settings -- particularly where we're dealing with skilled workers, like those at Buffalo Forge that Charles Dew writes about -- perhaps so. In other settings -- like those that AGR writes about at Monticello, which is probably closer to the majority of situations enslaved people were in -- it appears as a way of harnessing the market to get more labor from enslaved people and not returning all that much to them in terms of power or improvement in material lives.

Thanks, as always, for commenting.


I hate Capitalisme and Never like A Slavery in the World,We All Borned as A free Humans being.

Brian Sawers

Assigning garden plots shifted part of the cost of feeding slaves from owners to the slaves themselves. While growing a surplus might have been voluntary, working garden plots to feed your family wasn't voluntary. The owner's rations of cornmeal and pork (sometimes molasses, rice, or yams) did not provide enough nutrition. Acknowledging that rations were inadequate, Louisiana in 1795 required owners to provide slaves without garden plots with clothing and more food.

Even if working garden plots wasn't voluntary, the work wasn't supervised and provided a modicum of autonomy, especially to slaves who sold the surplus. Reasonable people can differ, but I think freedom/power grossly overstates the economic and daily autonomy that garden plots (or overtime) provided.

Vernon Palmer in Customs of Slavery reports the practice was widespread elsewhere in the Americas. In Martinique and Guadeloupe, the 1685 Code Noir banned the practice because it reduced sugar output. Palmer reports the ban was impossible to enforce. According to Eleanor Brown (GW), London actually required planters to set aside land for garden plots. Reducing food imports would reduce the military vulnerability of the British West Indies

Fogel & Engerman's methodology and econometrics have received a lot of criticism, but I don't know if those criticisms extend to their estimate (p. 40) that a quarter of slaves were at least semi-skilled workers.

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