HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
Sort By Author Sort By Title

Sort By Author
Sort By Title


Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc

All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
28 October, 2012
Real Time Analytics
American Negro Slavery
Town Slaves
by Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell

Southern households in town as well as in country were commonly large, and the dwellings and grounds of the well-to-do were spacious. The dearth of gas and plumbing and the lack of electric light and central heating made for heavy chores in the drawing of water, the replenishment of fuel and the care of lamps. The gathering of vegetables from the kitchen garden, the dressing of poultry and the baking of relays' of hot breads at meal times likewise amplified the culinary routine. Maids of all work were therefore seldom employed. Comfortable circumstances required at least a cook and a housemaid, to which might be added as means permitted a laundress, a children's nurse, a seamstress, a milkmaid, a butler, a gardener and a coachman. While few but the rich had such ample staffs as this, none but the poor were devoid of domestics, and the ratio of servitors to the gross population was large. The repugnance of white laborers toward menial employment, furthermore, conspired with the traditional predilection of householders for negroes in a lasting tenure for their intimate services and gave the slaves a virtual monopoly of this calling. A census of Charleston in 1848,[94] for example, enumerated 5272 slave domestics as compared with 113 white and 27 free colored servants. The slaves were more numerous than the free also in the semi-domestic employments of coachmen and porters, and among the dray-men and the coopers and the unskilled laborers in addition.
[Footnote 94: J.L. Dawson and H.W. DeSaussure, Census of Charleston for 1848 (Charleston, 1849), pp. 31-36. The city's population then comprised some 20,000 whites, a like number of slaves, and about 3,500 free persons of color. The statistics of occupations are summarized in the accompanying table.]
                          Slaves  |  Free Negroes| Whites
                         Men | Women Men |Women   Men |Women
Domestic servants      1,888 | 3,384   9 | 28      13 | 100
Cooks and
confectioners              7 | 12     18 | 18     ... | 5
Nurses and midwives       ...| 2     ... | 10     ... | 5
Laundresses               ...| 33    ... | 45     ... | ...
Seamstresses and
mantua makers            ... | 24    ... | 196    ... | 125
Milliners                ... | ...   ... | 7      ... | 44
Fruiterers, hucksters
and pedlers              ... | 18      6 | 5       46 | 18
Gardeners                  3 | ...    ...| ...      5 | 1
Coachmen                  15 | ...     4 | ...      2 | ...
Draymen                   67 | ...    11 | ...     13 | ...
Porters                   35 | ...     5 | ...      8 | ...
Wharfingers and
stevedores                 2 | ...     1 | ...     21 | ...
Pilots and sailors        50 | ...     1 | ...    176 | ...
Fishermen                 11 | ...    14 | ...     10 | ...
Carpenters               120 | ...    27 | ...    119 | ...
Masons and
bricklayers               68 | ...    10 | ...     60 | ...
Painters and
plasterers                16 | ...     4 | ...     18 | ...
Tinners                    3 | ...     1 | ...     10 | ...
Ship carpenters
and joiners               51 | ...     6 | ...     52 | ...
Coopers                   61 | ...     2 | ...     20 | ...
Coach makers and
wheelwrights               3 | ...     1 | ...     26 | ...
Cabinet makers             8 | ...   ... | ...     26 | ...
Upholsterers               1 | ...     1 | ...     10 | ...
Gun, copper and
locksmiths                 2 | ...     1 | ...     16 | ...
Blacksmiths and
horseshoers               40 | ...     4 | ...     51 | ...
Millwrights              ... | ...     5 | ...      4 | ...
Boot and shoemakers        6 | ...    17 | ...     30 | ...
Saddle and harness
makers                     2 | ...     1 | ...     29 | ...
Tailors and cap makers    36 | ...    42 | 6       68 | 6
Butchers                   5 | ...     1 | ...     10 | ...
Millers                  ... | ...     1 | ...     14 | ...
Bakers                    39 | ...     1 | ...     35 | 1
Barbers and hairdressers   4 | ...    14 | ...    ... | 6
Cigarmakers                5 | ...     1 | ...     10 | ...
Bookbinders                3 | ...   ... | ...     10 | ...
Printers                   5 | ...   ... | ...     65 | ...
Other mechanics [A]       45 | ...     2 | ...    182 | ...
Apprentices               43 | 8      14 | 7       55 | 5
Unclassified, unskilled
laborers                 838 | 378    19 | 2      192 | ...
Superannuated             38 | 54      1 | 5      ... | ...
[Footnote A: The slaves and free negroes in this group were designated merely as mechanics. The whites were classified as follows: 3 joiners, 1 plumber, 8 gas fitters, 7 bell hangers, 1 paper hanger, 6 carvers and gilders, 9 sail makers, 5 riggers, 1 bottler, 8 sugar makers, 43 engineers, 10 machinists, 6 boilermakers, 7 stone cutters, 4 piano and organ builders, 23 silversmiths, 15 watchmakers, 3 hair braiders, 1 engraver, 1 cutler, 3 molders, 3 pump and block makers, 2 turners, 2 wigmakers, 1 basketmaker, 1 bleacher, 4 dyers, and 4 journeymen.

In addition there were enumerated of whites in non-mechanical employments in which the negroes did not participate, 7 omnibus drivers and 16 barkeepers.]
On the other hand, although Charleston excelled every other city in the proportion of slaves in its population, free laborers predominated in all the other industrial groups, though but slightly in the cases of the masons and carpenters. The whites, furthermore, heavily outnumbered the free negroes in virtually all the trades but that of barbering which they shunned. Among women workers the free colored ranked first as seamstresses, washerwomen, nurses and cooks, with white women competing strongly in the sewing trades alone. A census of Savannah in the same year shows a similar predominance of whites in all the male trades but that of the barbers, in which there were counted five free negroes, one slave and no whites.[2] From such statistics two conclusions are clear: first, that the repulsion of the whites was not against manual work but against menial service; second, that the presence of the slaves in the town trades was mainly due to the presence of their fellows as domestics.
[Footnote 2: Joseph Bancroft, Census of the City of Savannah (Savannah, 1848).]
Most of the slave mechanics and out-of-door laborers were the husbands and sons of the cooks and chambermaids, dwelling with them on their masters' premises, where the back yard with its crooning women and romping vari-colored children was as characteristic a feature as on the plantations. Town slavery, indeed, had a strong tone of domesticity, and the masters were often paternalistically inclined. It was a townsman, for example, who wrote the following to a neighbor: "As my boy Reuben has formed an attachment to one of your girls and wants her for a wife, this is to let you know that I am perfectly willing that he should, with your consent, marry her. His character is good; he is honest, faithful and industrious." The patriarchal relations of the country, however, which depended much upon the isolation of the groups, could hardly prevail in similar degree where the slaves of many masters intermingled. Even for the care of the sick there was doubtless fairly frequent recourse to such establishments as the "Surgical Infirmary for Negroes" at Augusta which advertised its facilities in 1854,[3] though the more common practice, of course, was for slave patients in town as well as country to be nursed at home. A characteristic note in this connection was written by a young Georgia townswoman: "No one is going to church today but myself, as we have a little negro very sick and Mama deems it necessary to remain at home to attend to him."[4]
[Footnote 3: Southern Business Directory (Charleston, 1854), I, 289, advertisement. The building was described as having accommodations for fifty or sixty patients. The charge for board, lodging and nursing was $10 per month, and for surgical operations and medical attendance "the usual rates of city practice."]

[Footnote 4: Mary E. Harden to Mrs. Howell Cobb, Athens, Ga., Nov. 13, 1853. MS. in possession of Mrs. A.S. Erwin, Athens, Ga.]
The town régime was not so conducive to lifelong adjustments of masters and slaves except as regards domestic service; for whereas a planter could always expand his operations in response to an increase of his field hands and could usually provide employment at home for any artizan he might produce, a lawyer, a banker or a merchant had little choice but to hire out or sell any slave who proved a superfluity or a misfit in his domestic establishment. On the other hand a building contractor with an expanding business could not await the raising of children but must buy or hire masons and carpenters where he could find them.

Some of the master craftsmen owned their staffs. Thus William Elfe, a Charleston cabinet maker at the close of the colonial period, had title to four sawyers, five joiners and a painter, and he managed to keep some of their wives and children in his possession also by having a farm on the further side of the harbor for their residence and employment.[5] William Rouse, a Charleston leather worker who closed his business in 1825 when the supply of tan bark ran short, had for sale four tanners, a currier and seven shoemakers, with, however, no women or children;[6] and the seven slaves of William Brockelbank, a plastering contractor of the same city, sold after his death in 1850, comprised but one woman and no children.[7] Likewise when the rope walk of Smith, Dorsey and Co. at New Orleans was offered for sale in 1820, fourteen slave operatives were included without mention of their families.[8]
[Footnote 5: MS. account book of William Elfe, in the Charleston Library.]

[Footnote 6: Charleston City Gazette, Jan. 5, 1826, advertisement.]

[Footnote 7: Charleston Mercury, quoted in the Augusta Chronicle, Dec. 5, 1850. This news item owed its publication to the "handsome prices" realized. A plasterer 28 years old brought $2,135; another, 30, $1,805; a third, 24, $1775; a fourth, 24, $1,100; and a fifth, 20, $730.]

[Footnote 8: Louisiana Advertiser (New Orleans), May 13, 1820, advertisement.]
Far more frequently such laborers were taken on hire. The following are typical of a multitude of newspaper advertisements: Michael Grantland at Richmond offered "good wages" for the year 1799 by piece or month for six or eight negro coopers.[9] At the same time Edward Rumsey was calling for strong negro men of good character at $100 per year at his iron works in Botetourt County, Virginia, and inviting free laboring men also to take employment with him.[10] In 1808 Daniel Weisinger and Company wanted three or four negro men to work in their factory at Frankfort, Kentucky, saying "they will be taught weaving, and liberal wages will be paid for their services."[11] George W. Evans at Augusta in 1818 "Wanted to hire, eight or ten white or black men for the purpose of cutting wood."[12] A citizen of Charleston in 1821 called for eight good black carpenters on weekly or monthly wages, and in 1825 a blacksmith and wheel-wright of the same city offered to take black apprentices.[13] In many cases whites and blacks worked together in the same employ, as in a boat-building yard on the Flint River in 1836,[14] and in a cotton mill at Athens, Georgia, in 1839.[15]
[Footnote 9: Virginia Gazette (Richmond), Nov. 20, 1798.]

[Footnote 10: Winchester, Va., Gazette, Jan. 30, 1799.]

[Footnote 11: The Palladium (Frankfort, Ky.), Dec. 1, 1808.]

[Footnote 12: Augusta, Ga., Chronicle, Aug. 1, 1818.]

[Footnote 13: Charleston City Gazette, Feb. 22, 1825.]

[Footnote 14: Federal Union (Milledgeville, Ga.), Mch. 18, 1836, reprinted in Plantation and Frontier, II, 356.]

[Footnote 15: J.S. Buckingham, The Slave States of America (London, [1842]), II, 112.]
In some cases the lessor of slaves procured an obligation of complete insurance from the lessee. An instance of this was a contract between James Murray of Wilmington in 1743, when he was departing for a sojourn in Scotland, and his neighbor James Hazel. The latter was to take the three negroes Glasgow, Kelso and Berwick for three years at an annual hire of £21 sterling for the lot. If death or flight among them should prevent Hazel from returning any of the slaves at the end of the term he was to reimburse Murray at full value scheduled in the lease, receiving in turn a bill of sale for any runaway. Furthermore if any of the slaves were permanently injured by willful abuse at the hands of Hazel's overseer, Murray was to be paid for the damage.[16] Leases of this type, however, were exceptional. As a rule the owners appear to have carried all risks except in regard to willful injury, and the courts generally so adjudged it where the contracts of hire had no stipulations in the premises.[17] When the Georgia supreme court awarded the owner a full year's hire of a slave who had died in the midst of his term the decision was complained of as an innovation "signally oppressive to the poorer classes of our citizens--the large majority--who are compelled to hire servants."[18]
[Footnote 16: Nina M. Tiffany ed., Letters of James Murray, Loyalist (Boston, 1901), pp. 67-69.]

[Footnote 17: J.D. Wheeler, The Law of Slavery (New York, 1837), pp. 152-155.]

[Footnote 18: Editorial in the Federal Union (Milledgeville, Ga.), Dec. 12, 1854.]
The main supply of slaves for hire was probably comprised of the husbands and sons, and sometimes the daughters, of the cooks and housemaids of the merchants, lawyers and the like whose need of servants was limited but who in many cases made a point of owning their slaves in families. On the other hand, many townsmen whose capital was scant or whose need was temporary used hired slaves even for their kitchen work; and sometimes the filling of the demand involved the transfer of a slave from one town to another. Thus an innkeeper of Clarkesville, a summer resort in the Georgia mountains, published in the distant newspapers of Athens and Augusta in 1838 his offer of liberal wages for a first rate cook.[19] This hiring of domestics brought periodic embarrassments to those who depended upon them. A Virginia clergyman who found his wife and himself doing their own chores "in the interval between the hegira of the old hirelings and the coming of the new"[20] was not alone in his plight. At the same season, a Richmond editor wrote: "The negro hiring days have come, the most woeful of the year! So housekeepers think who do not own their own servants; and even this class is but a little better off than the rest, for all darkeydom must have holiday this week, and while their masters and mistresses are making fires and cooking victuals or attending to other menial duties the negroes are promenading the streets decked in their finest clothes."[21] Even the tobacco factories, which were constantly among the largest employers of hired slaves, were closed for lack of laborers from Christmas day until well into January.[22]
[Footnote 19: Southern Banner (Athens, Ga.), June 21, 1838, advertisement ordering its own republication in the Augusta Constitutionalist.]

[Footnote 20: T.C. Johnson, Life of Robert L. Dabney (Richmond, 1905), p. 120.]

[Footnote 21: Richmond Whig, quoted in the Atlanta Intelligencer, Jan. 5, 1859.]

[Footnote 22: Robert Russell, North America (Edinburgh, 1857), p. 151.]
That the bargain of hire sometimes involved the consent of more than two parties is suggested by a New Year's colloquy overheard by Robert Russell on a Richmond street: "I was rather amused at the efforts of a market gardener to hire a young woman as a domestic servant. The price her owner put upon her services was not objected to by him, but they could not agree about other terms. The grand obstacle was that she would not consent to work in the garden, even when she had nothing else to do. After taking an hour's walk in another part of town I again met the two at the old bargain. Stepping towards them, I now learned that she was pleading for other privileges--her friends and favourites must be allowed to visit her.[23] At length she agreed to go and visit her proposed home and see how things looked." That the scruples of proprietors occasionally prevented the placing of slaves is indicated by a letter of a Georgia woman anent her girl Betty and a free negro woman, Matilda: "I cannot agree for Betty to be hired to Matilda--her character is too bad. I know her of old; she is a drunkard, and is said to be bad in every respect. I would object her being hired to any colored person no matter what their character was; and if she cannot get into a respectable family I had rather she came home, and if she can't work out put her to spinning and weaving. Her relations here beg she may not be permitted to go to Matilda. She would not be worth a cent at the end of the year."[24]

The coördination of demand and supply was facilitated in some towns by brokers. Thus J. de Bellievre of Baton Rouge maintained throughout 1826 a notice in the local Weekly Messenger of "Servants to hire by the day or month," including both artizans and domestics; and in the Nashville city directory of 1860 Van B. Holman advertised his business as an agent for the hiring of negroes as well as for the sale and rental of real estate.
[Footnote 23: Ibid.]

[Footnote 24: Letter of Mrs. S.R. Cobb, Cowpens, Ga., Jan. 9 1843, to her daughter-in-law at Athens. MS. in the possession of Mrs. A.S. Erwin, Athens, Ga.]
Slave wages, generally quoted for the year and most frequently for unskilled able-bodied hands, ranged materially higher, of course, in the cotton belt than in the upper South. Women usually brought about half the wages of men, though they were sometimes let merely for the keep of themselves and their children. In middle Georgia the wages of prime men ranged about $100 in the first decade of the nineteenth century, dropped to $60 or $75 during the war of 1812, and then rose to near $150 by 1818. The panic of the next year sent them down again; and in the 'twenties they commonly ranged between $100 and $125. Flush times then raised them in such wise that the contractors digging a canal on the Georgia coast found themselves obliged in 1838 to offer $18 per month together with the customary weekly rations of three and a half pounds of bacon and ten quarts of corn and also the services of a staff physician as a sort of substitute for life and health insurance.[25] The beginning of the distressful 'forties eased the market so that the town of Milledgeville could get its street gang on a scale of $125;[26] at the middle of the decade slaveowners were willing to take almost any wages offered; and in its final year the Georgia Railroad paid only $70 to $75 for section hands. In 1850, however, this rate leaped to $100 and $110, and caused a partial substitution of white laborers for the hired slaves;[27] but the brevity of any relief procured by this recourse is suggested by a news item from Chattanooga in 1852 reporting that the commonest labor commanded a dollar a day, that mechanics were all engaged far in advance, that much building was perforce being postponed, and that all persons who might be seeking employment were urged to answer the city's call.[28] By 1854 the continuing advance began to discommode rural employers likewise. A Norfolk newspaper of the time reported that the current wages of $150 for ordinary hands and $225 for the best laborers, together with life insurance for the full value of the slaves, were so high that prudent farmers were curtailing their operations.[29] At the beginning of 1856 the wages in the Virginia tobacco factories advanced some fifteen per cent. over the rates of the preceding year;[30] and shortly afterward several of these establishments took refuge in the employment of white women for their lighter processes.[31] In 1860 there was a culmination of this rise of slave wages throughout the South, contemporaneous with that of their purchase prices. First-rate hands were engaged by the Petersburg tobacco factories at $225;[32] and in northwestern Louisiana the prime field hands in a parcel of slaves hired for the year brought from $300 to $360 each, and a blacksmith $430.[33] The general average then prevalent for prime unskilled slaves, however, was probably not much above two hundred dollars. While the purchase price of slaves was wellnigh quadrupled in the three score years of the nineteenth century, slave wages were little more than doubled, for these were of course controlled not by the fluctuating hopes and fears of what the distant future might bring but by the sober prospect of the work at hand.
[Footnote 25: Advertisement in the Savannah newspapers, reprinted in J.S. Buckingham, Slave States (London, 1842), I, 137.]

[Footnote 26: MS. minutes of the board of aldermen, in the town hall at Milledgeville, Ga. Item dated Feb. 23, 1841.]

[Footnote 27: Georgia Railroad Company Report for 1850, p. 13.]

[Footnote 28: Chattanooga Advertiser, quoted in the Augusta Chronicle, June 6, 1852.]

[Footnote 29: Norfolk Argus, quoted in Southern Banner (Athens, Ga.), Jan. 12, 1854.]

[Footnote 30: Richmond Dispatch, Jan., 1856, quoted in G.M. Weston, Who are and who may be Slaves in the U.S. (caption).]

[Footnote 31: Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, XL, 522.]

[Footnote 32: Petersburg Democrat, quoted by the Atlanta Intelligencer, Jan., 1860.]

[Footnote 33: DeBow's Review, XXIX, 374.]
The proprietors of slaves for hire appear to have been generally as much concerned with questions of their moral and physical welfare as with the wages to be received, for no wage would compensate for the debilitation of the slave or his conversion into an inveterate runaway. The hirers in their turn had the problem, growing more intense with the advance of costs, of procuring full work without resorting to such rigor of discipline as would disquiet the owners of their employees. The tobacco factories found solution in piece work with bonus for excess over the required stint. At Richmond in the middle 'fifties this was commonly yielding the slaves from two to five dollars a month for their own uses; and these establishments, along with all other slave employers, suspended work for more than a week at the Christmas season.[34]
[Footnote 34: Robert Russell, North America, p. 152.]
The hiring of slaves from one citizen to another did not meet all the needs of the town industry, for there were many occupations in which the regular supervision of labor was impracticable. Hucksters must trudge the streets alone; and market women sit solitary in their stalls. If slaves were to follow such callings at all, and if other slaves were to utilize their talents in keeping cobbler and blacksmith shops and the like for public patronage,[35] they must be vested with fairly full control of their own activities. To enable them to compete with whites and free negroes in the trades requiring isolated and occasional work their masters early and increasingly fell into the habit of hiring many slaves to the slaves themselves, granting to each a large degree of industrial freedom in return for a stipulated weekly wage. The rates of hire varied, of course, with the slave's capabilities and the conditions of business in their trades. The practice brought friction sometimes between slaves and owners when wages were in default. An instance of this was published in a Charleston advertisement of 1800 announcing the auction of a young carpenter and saying as the reason of the sale that he had absconded because of a deficit in his wages.[36] Whether the sale was merely by way of punishment or was because the proprietor could not give personal supervision to the carpenter's work the record fails to say. The practice also injured the interests of white competitors in the same trades, who sometimes bitterly complained;[37] it occasionally put pressure upon the slaves to fill out their wages by theft; and it gave rise in some degree to a public apprehension that the liberty of movement might be perverted to purposes of conspiracy. The law came to frown upon it everywhere; but the device was too great a public and private convenience to be suppressed.
[Footnote 35: E. g., "For sale: a strong, healthy Mulatto Man, about 24 years of age, by trade a blacksmith, and has had the management of a blacksmith shop for upwards of two years" Advertisement in the Alexandria, Va., Times and Advertiser, Sept. 26, 1797.]

[Footnote 36: Charleston City Gazette, May 12, 1800.]

[Footnote 37: E. g., Plantation and Frontier, II, 367.]
To procure the enforcement of such laws a vigilance committee was proposed at Natchez in 1824;[38] but if it was created it had no lasting effect. With the same purpose newspaper campaigns were waged from time to time. Thus in the spring of 1859 the Bulletin of Columbia, South Carolina, said editorially: "Despite the laws of the land forbidding under penalty the hiring of their time by slaves, it is much to be regretted that the pernicious practice still exists," and it censured the citizens who were consciously and constantly violating a law enacted in the public interest. The nearby Darlington Flag endorsed this and proposed in remedy that the town police and the rural patrols consider void all tickets issued by masters authorizing their slaves to pass and repass at large, that all slaves found hiring their time be arrested and punished, and that their owners be indicted as by law provided. The editor then ranged further. "There is another evil of no less magnitude," said he, "and perhaps the foundation of the one complained of. It is that of transferring slave labor from its legitimate field, the cultivation of the soil, into that of the mechanic arts.... Negro mechanics are an ebony aristocracy into which slaves seek to enter by teasing their masters for permission to learn a trade. Masters are too often seduced by the prospect of gain to yield their assent, and when their slaves have acquired a trade are forced to the violation of the law to realize their promised gain. We should therefore have a law to prevent slave mechanics going off their masters' premises to work. Let such a law be passed, and ... there will no longer be need of a law to prohibit slaves hiring their own time," The Southern Watchman of Athens, Georgia, reprinted all of this in turn, along with a subscriber's communication entitled "free slaves." There were more negroes enjoying virtual freedom in the town of Athens, this writer said, than there were bona fide free negroes in any ten counties of the district. "Everyone who is at all acquainted with the character of the slave race knows that they have great ideas of liberty, and in order to get the enjoyment of it they make large offers for their time. And everyone who knows anything of the negro knows that he won't work unless he is obliged to.... The negro thus set free, in nine cases out of ten, idles away half of his time or gambles away what he does make, and then relies on his ingenuity in stealing to meet the demands pay day inevitably brings forth; and this is the way our towns are converted into dens of rogues and thieves."[39]
[Footnote 38: Natchez Mississippian, quoted in Le Courrier de la Louisiane (New Orleans), Aug. 25, 1854.]

[Footnote 39: Southern Watchman (Athens, Ga.), Apr. 20, 1859.]
These arguments had been answered long before by a citizen of Charleston. The clamor, said he, was intended not so much to guard the community against theft and insurrection as to diminish the competition of slaves with white mechanics. The strict enforcement of the law would almost wholly deprive the public of the services of jobbing slaves, which were indispensable under existing circumstances. Let the statute therefore be left in the obscurity of the lawyers' bookshelves, he concluded, to be brought forth only in case of an emergency.[40] And so such laws were left to sleep, despite the plaints of self-styled reformers.
[Footnote 40: Letter to the editor in the Charleston City Gazette, Nov. 1, 1825. To similar effect was an editorial in the Augusta Chronicle, Oct. 16, 1851.]
That self-hire may often have led to self-purchase is suggested by an illuminating letter of Billy Procter, a slave at Americus, Georgia, in 1854 to Colonel John B. Lamar of whom something has been seen in a foregoing chapter. The letter, presumably in the slave's own hand, runs as follows: "As my owner, Mr. Chapman, has determined to dispose of all his Painters, I would prefer to have you buy me to any other man. And I am anxious to get you to do so if you will. You know me very well yourself, but as I wish you to be fully satisfied I beg to refer you to Mr. Nathan C. Monroe, Dr. Strohecker and Mr. Bogg. I am in distress at this time, and will be until I hear from you what you will do. I can be bought for $1000--and I think that you might get me for 50 Dolls less if you try, though that is Mr. Chapman's price. Now Mas John, I want to be plain and honest with you. If you will buy me I will pay you $600 per year untill this money is paid, or at any rate will pay for myself in two years.... I am fearfull that if you do not buy me, there is no telling where I may have to go, and Mr. C. wants me to go where I would be satisfied,--I promise to serve you faithfully, and I know that I am as sound and healthy as anyone you could find. You will confer a great favour, sir, by Granting my request, and I would be very glad to hear from you in regard to the matter at your earliest convenience."[41]
[Footnote 41: MS. in the possession of Mrs. A.S. Erwin, Athens, Ga., printed in Plantation and Frontier, II, 41. The writer must have been well advanced in years or else highly optimistic. Otherwise he could not have expected to earn his purchase price within two years.]
The hiring of slaves by one citizen to another prevailed to some extent in country as well as town, and the hiring of them to themselves was particularly notable in the forest labors of gathering turpentine and splitting shingles[42]; but slave hire in both its forms was predominantly an urban resort. On the whole, whereas the plantation system cherished slavery as a wellnigh fundamental condition, town industry could tolerate it only by modifying its features to make labor more flexibly responsive to the sharply distinctive urban needs.
[Footnote 42: Olmsted, Seaboard Slave States, pp. 153-155.]
As to routine control, urban proprietors were less complete masters even of slaves in their own employ than were those in the country. For example, Morgan Brown of Clarksville, Tennessee, had occasion to publish the following notice: "Whereas my negroes have been much in the habit of working at night for such persons as will employ them, to the great injury of their health and morals, I therefore forbid all persons employing them without my special permission in writing. I also forbid trading with them, buying from or selling to them, without my written permit stating the article they may buy or sell. The law will be strictly enforced against transgressors, without respect to persons[43]."
[Footnote 43: Town Gazette and Farmers' Register (Clarksville, Tenn.), Aug. 9, 1819, reprinted in Plantation and Frontier, II, 45, 46.]
When broils occurred in which slaves were involved, the masters were likely to find themselves champions rather than judges. This may be illustrated by two cases tried before the town commissioners of Milledgeville, Georgia, in 1831. In the first of these Edward Gary was ordered to bring before the board his slave Nathan to answer a charge of assault upon Richard Mayhorn, a member of the town patrol, and show why punishment should not be inflicted. On the day set Cary appeared without the negro and made a counter charge supported by testimony that Mayhorn had exceeded his authority under the patrol ordinance. The prosecution of the slave was thereupon dropped, and the patrolman was dismissed from the town's employ. The second case was upon a patrol charge against a negro named Hubbard, whose master or whose master's attorney was one Wiggins, reciting an assault upon Billy Woodliff, a slave apparently of Seaborn Jones. Billy being sworn related that Hubbard had come to the door of his blacksmith shop and "abused and bruised him with a rock." Other evidence revealed that Hubbard's grievance lay in Billy's having taken his wife from him. "The testimony having been concluded, Mr. Wiggins addressed the board in a speech containing some lengthy, strengthy and depthy argument: whereupon the board ordered that the negro man Hubbard receive from the marshall ten lashes, moderately laid on, and be discharged."[44] Even in the maintenance of household discipline masters were fain to apply chastisement vicariously by having the town marshal whip their offending servants for a small fee.
[Footnote 44: MS. archives in the town hall at Milledgeville, Ga., selected items from which are printed in the American Historical Association Report for 1903, I, 468, 469.]
The variety in complexion, status and attainment among town slaves led to a somewhat elaborate gradation of colored society. One stratum comprised the fairly numerous quadroons and mulattoes along with certain exceptional blacks. The men among these had a pride of place as butlers and coachmen, painters and carpenters; the women fitted themselves trimly with the cast-off silks and muslins of their mistresses, walked with mincing tread, and spoke in quiet tones with impressive nicety of grammar. This element was a conscious aristocracy of its kind, but its members were more or less irked by the knowledge that no matter how great their merits they could not cross the boundary into white society. The bulk of the real negroes on the other hand, with an occasional mulatto among them, went their own way, the women frankly indulging a native predilection for gaudy colors, carrying their burdens on their heads, arms akimbo, and laying as great store in their kerchief turbans as their paler cousins did in their beflowered bonnets. The men of this class wore their shreds and patches with an easy swing, doffed their wool hats to white men as they passed, called themselves niggers or darkies as a matter of course, took the joys and sorrows of the day as they came, improvised words to the music of their work, and customarily murdered the Queen's English, all with a true if humble nonchalance and a freedom from carking care.

The differentiation of slave types was nevertheless little more than rudimentary; for most of those who were lowliest on work days assumed a grandiloquence of manner when they donned their holiday clothes. The gayeties of the colored population were most impressive to visitors from afar. Thus Adam Hodgson wrote of a spring Sunday at Charleston in 1820: "I was pleased to see the slaves apparently enjoying themselves on this day in their best attire, and was amused with their manners towards each other. They generally use Sir and Madam in addressing each other, and make the most formal and particular inquiries after each other's families."[45] J.S. Buckingham wrote at Richmond fifteen years afterward: "On Sundays, when the slaves and servants are all at liberty after dinner, they move about in every thoroughfare, and are generally more gaily dressed than the whites. The females wear white muslin and light silk gowns, with caps, bonnets, ribbons and feathers; some carry reticules on the arm and many are seen with parasols, while nearly all of them carry a white pocket-handkerchief before them in the most fashionable style. The young men among the slaves wear white trousers, black stocks, broad-brimmed hats, and carry walking-sticks; and from the bowings, curtseying and greetings in the highway one might almost imagine one's self to be at Hayti and think that the coloured people had got possession of the town and held sway, while the whites were living among them by sufferance."[46] Olmsted in his turn found the holiday dress of the slaves in many cases better than the whites,[47] and said their Christmas festivities were Saturnalia. The town ordinances, while commonly strict in regard to the police of slaves for the rest of the year, frequently gave special countenance to negro dances and other festive assemblies at Christmas tide.
[Footnote 45: Adam Hodgson, Letters from North America, I, 97.]

[Footnote 46: J.S. Buckingham, Slave States, II, 427.]

[Footnote 47: Seaboard Slave States, pp. 101, 103. Cf. also DeBow's Review, XII, 692, and XXVIII, 194-199.]
Even in work-a-day seasons the laxity of control gave rise to occasional complaint. Thus the acting mayor of New Orleans recited in 1813, among matters needing correction, that loitering slaves were thronging the grog shops every evening and that negro dances were lasting far into the night, in spite of the prohibitions of the law.[48] A citizen of Charleston protested in 1835 against another and more characteristic form of dissipation. "There are," said he, "sometimes every evening in the week, funerals of negroes accompanied by three or four hundred negroes ... who disturb all the inhabitants in the neighborhood of burying grounds in Pitt street near Boundary street. It appears to be a jubilee for every slave in the city. They are seen eagerly pressing to the place from all quarters, and such is frequently the crowd and noise made by them that carriages cannot safely be driven that way."[49]
[Footnote 48: Plantation and Frontier, II, 153.]

[Footnote 49: Letter of a citizen in the Southern Patriot, quoted in H.M. Henry, Police Control of the Slave in South Carolina (Emory, Va., 1914), p. 144.]
The operations of urban constables and police courts are exemplified in some official statistics of Charleston. In the year ending September 1, 1837, the slave arrests, numbering 768 in all, were followed in 138 cases by prompt magisterial discharge, by fines in 309 cases, and by punishment in the workhouse or by remandment for trial on criminal charges in 264 of the remainder. The mayor said in summary: "Of the 573 slaves fined or committed to the workhouse nearly the whole were arrested for being out at night without tickets or being found in the dram shops or other unlawful places. The fines imposed did not in general exceed $1, and where corporal punishment was inflicted it was always moderate. It is worthy to remark that of the 460 cases reported by the marshals for prosecution but 22 were prosecuted, the penalties having been voluntarily paid in 303 cases, and in 118 cases having been remitted, thus preventing by a previous examination 421 suits." Arrests of colored freemen in the same period numbered 78, of which 27 were followed by discharge, 36 by fine or whipping, 5 by sentence to the workhouse, and 10 by remandment.

In the second year following, the slave and free negro arrests for being "out after the beating of the tattoo without tickets, fighting and rioting in the streets, following military companies, walking on the battery contrary to law, bathing horses at forbidden places, theft, or other violation of the city and state laws" advanced for some unexplained reason to an aggregate of 1424. Of those taken into custody 274 were discharged after examination, 330 were punished in the workhouse, 33 were prosecuted or delivered to warrant, 26 were fined or committed until the fines were paid, for 398 the penalties were paid by their owners or guardians, 115 were runaways who were duly returned to their masters or otherwise disposed of according to law, and the remaining 252 were delivered on their owners' orders.[50]
[Footnote 50: Official reports quoted in H.M. Henry, The Police Control of Slaves in South Carolina, pp. 49, 50.]
At an earlier period a South Carolina law had required the public whipping of negro offenders at prominent points on the city streets, but complaints of this as distressing to the inhabitants[51] had brought its discontinuance. For the punishment of misdemeanants under sentences to hard labor a treadmill was instituted in the workhouse;[52] and the ensuing substitution of labor for the lash met warm official commendation.[53]
[Footnote 51: Columbian Herald (Charleston), June 26, 1788.]

[Footnote 52: Charleston City Gazette, Feb. 2, 1826.]

[Footnote 53: Grand jury presentments, ibid., May 15, 1826.]
In church affairs the two races adhered to the same faiths, but their worship tended slowly to segregate. A few negroes habitually participated with the whites in the Catholic and Episcopal rituals, or listened to the long and logical sermons of the Presbyterians. Larger numbers occupied the pews appointed for their kind in the churches of the Methodist and Baptist whites, where the more ebullient exercises comported better with their own tastes. But even here there was often a feeling of irksome restraint. The white preacher in fear of committing an indiscretion in the hearing of the negroes must watch his words though that were fatal to his impromptu eloquence; the whites in the congregation must maintain their dignity when dignity was in conflict with exaltation; the blacks must repress their own manifestations the most severely of all, to escape rebuke for unseemly conduct.[54] An obvious means of relief lay in the founding of separate congregations to which the white ministers occasionally preached and in which white laymen often sat, but where the pulpit and pews were commonly filled by blacks alone. There the sable exhorter might indulge his peculiar talent for "'rousements" and the prayer leader might beseech the Almighty in tones to reach His ears though afar off. There the sisters might sway and croon to the cadence of sermon and prayer, and the brethren spur the spokesman to still greater efforts by their well timed ejaculations. There not only would the quaint melody of the negro "spirituals" swell instead of the more sophisticated airs of the hymn book, but every successful sermon would be a symphony and every prayer a masterpiece of concerted rhythm.
[Footnote 54: A Methodist preacher wrote of an episode at Wilmington: "On one occasion I took a summary process with a certain black woman who in their love-feast, with many extravagant gestures, cried out that she was 'young King Jesus,' I bade her take her seat, and then publicly read her out of membership, stating that we would not have such wild fanatics among us, meantime letting them all know that such expressions were even blasphemous. Poor Aunt Katy felt it deeply, repented, and in a month I took her back again. The effect was beneficial, and she became a rational and consistent member of the church." Joseph Travis, Autobiography (Nashville, 1855), pp. 71, 72.]
In some cases the withdrawal of the blacks had the full character of secession. An example in this line had been set in Philadelphia when some of the negroes who had been attending white churches of various denominations were prompted by the antipathy of the whites and by the ambition of the colored leaders to found, in 1791, an African church with a negro minister. In the course of a few years this was divided into congregations of the several sects. Among these the Methodists prospered to such degree that in 1816 they launched the African Methodist Episcopal Church, with congregations in Baltimore and other neighboring cities included within its jurisdiction.[55] Richard Allen as its first bishop soon entered into communication with Morris Brown and other colored Methodists of Charleston who were aggrieved at this time by the loss of their autonomy. In former years the several thousand colored Methodists, who outnumbered by tenfold the whites in the congregations there, had enjoyed a quarterly conference of their own, with the custody of their collections and with control over the church trials of colored members; but on the ground of abuses these privileges were cancelled in 1815. A secret agitation then ensued which led on the one hand to the increase of the negro Methodists by some two thousand souls, and on the other to the visit of two of their leaders to Philadelphia where they were formally ordained for Charleston pastorates. When affairs were thus ripened, a dispute as to the custody of one of their burial grounds precipitated their intended stroke in 1818. Nearly all the colored class leaders gave up their papers simultaneously, and more than three-quarters of their six thousand fellows withdrew their membership from the white Methodist churches. "The galleries, hitherto crowded, were almost completely deserted," wrote a contemporary, "and it was a vacancy that could be felt. The absence of their responses and hearty songs were really felt to be a loss to those so long accustomed to hear them.... The schismatics combined, and after great exertion succeeded in erecting a neat church building.... Their organization was called the African Church," and one of its ministers was constituted bishop. Its career, however, was to be short lived, for the city authorities promptly proceeded against them, first by arresting a number of participants at one of their meetings but dismissing them with a warning that their conduct was violative of a statute of 1800 prohibiting the assemblage of slaves and free negroes for mental instruction without the presence of white persons; next by refusing, on the grounds that both power and willingness were lacking, a plea by the colored preachers for a special dispensation; and finally by the seizure of all the attendants at another of their meetings and the sentencing of the bishop and a dozen exhorters, some to a month's imprisonment or departure from the state, others to ten lashes or ten dollars' fine. The church nevertheless continued in existence until 1822 when in consequence of the discovery of a plot for insurrection among the Charleston negroes the city government had the church building demolished. Morris Brown moved to Philadelphia, where he afterward became bishop of the African Church, and the whole Charleston project was ended.[56] The bulk of the blacks returned to the white congregations, where they soon overflowed the galleries and even the "boxes" which were assigned them at the rear on the main floors. Some of the older negroes by special privilege then took seats forward in the main body of the churches, and others not so esteemed followed their example in such numbers that the whites were cramped for room. After complaints on this score had failed for several years to bring remedy, a crisis came in Bethel Church on a Sunday in 1833 when Dr. Capers was to preach. More whites came than could be seated the forward-sitting negroes refused to vacate their seats for them; and a committee of young white members forcibly ejected these blacks At a "love-feast" shortly afterward one of the preachers criticized the action of the committee thereby giving the younger element of the whites great umbrage. Efforts at reconciliation failing, nine of the young men were expelled from membership, whereupon a hundred and fifty others followed them into a new organization which entered affiliation with the schismatic Methodist Protestant Church.[57] Race relations in the orthodox congregations were doubtless thereafter more placid.
[Footnote 55: E.R. Turner, The Negro in Pennsylvania (Washington, 1911), pp. 134-136.]

[Footnote 56: Charleston Courier, June 9, 1818; Charleston City Gazette, quoted in the Louisiana Gazette (New Orleans), July 10, 1818; J.L.E.W. Shecut, Medical and Philosophical Essays (Charleston, 1819), p. 34; C.F. Deems ed., Annals of Southern Methodism for 1856 (Nashville [1857]), pp. 212-214, 232; H.M. Henry, Police Control of the Slave in South Carolina, p. 142.]

[Footnote 57: C.F. Deems ed., Annals of Southern Methodism for 1856, pp. 215-217.]
In most of the permanent segregations the colored preachers were ordained and their congregations instituted under the patronage of the whites. At Savannah as early as 1802 the freedom of the slave Henry Francis was purchased by subscription, and he was ordained by white ministers at the African Baptist Church. After a sermon by the Reverend Jesse Peter of Augusta, the candidate "underwent a public examination respecting his faith in the leading doctrines of Christianity, his call to the sacred ministry and his ideas of church government. Giving entire satisfaction on these important points, he kneeled down, when the ordination prayer with imposition of hands was made by Andrew Bryant The ordained ministers present then gave the right hand of fellowship to Mr. Francis, who was forthwith presented with a Bible and a solemn charge to faithfulness by Mr. Holcombe."[58] The Methodists were probably not far behind the Baptists in this policy. The Presbyterians and Episcopalians, with much smaller numbers of negro co-religionists to care for, followed the same trend in later decades. Thus the presbytery of Charleston provided in 1850, at a cost of $7,700, a separate house of worship for its negro members, the congregation to be identified officially with the Second Presbyterian Church of the city. The building had a T shape, the transepts appropriated to the use of white persons. The Sunday school of about 180 pupils had twenty or thirty white men and women as its teaching staff.[59]
[Footnote 58: Henry Holcombe ed., The Georgia Analytical Repository (a Baptist magazine of Savannah, 1802), I, 20, 21. For further data concerning Francis and other colored Baptists of his time see the Journal of Negro History, I, 60-92.]

[Footnote 59: J.H. Thornwell, D.D., The Rights and Duties of Masters: a sermon preached at the dedication of a church erected at Charleston, S.C. for the benefit and instruction of the colored population (Charleston, 1850).]
Such arrangements were not free from objection, however, as the Episcopalians of Charleston learned about this time. To relieve the congestion of the negro pews in St. Michael's and St. Philip's, a separate congregation was organized with a few whites included in its membership. While it was yet occupying temporary quarters in Temperance Hall, a mob demolished Calvary Church which was being built for its accommodation. When the proprietor of Temperance Hall refused the further use of his premises the congregation dispersed. The mob's action was said to be in protest against the doings of the "bands" or burial societies among the Calvary negroes.[60]
[Footnote 60: Public Proceedings relating to Calvary Church and the Religious Instruction of Slaves (Charleston, 1850).]
The separate religious integration of the negroes both slave and free was obstructed by the recurrent fear of the whites that it might be perverted to insurrectionary purposes. Thus when at Richmond in 1823 ninety-two free negroes petitioned the Virginia legislature on behalf of themselves and several hundred slaves, reciting that the Baptist churches used by the whites had not enough room to permit their attendance and asking sanction for the creation of a "Baptist African Church," the legislature withheld its permission. In 1841, however, this purpose was in effect accomplished when it was found that a negro church would not be in violation of the law provided it had a white pastor. At that time the First Baptist Church of Richmond, having outgrown its quarters, erected a new building to accommodate its white members and left its old one to the negroes. The latter were thereupon organized as the African Church with a white minister and with the choice of its deacons vested in a white committee. In 1855, when this congregation had grown to three thousand members, the Ebenezer church was established as an offshoot, with a similar plan of government.[61]
[Footnote 61: J.B. Earnest, The Religious Development of the Negro in Virginia (Charlottesville, 1914), pp. 72-83. For the similar trend of church segregation in the Northern cities see J.W. Cromwell, The Negro in American History (Washington, 1914). pp. 61-70.]
At Baltimore there were in 1835 ten colored congregations, with slave and free membership intermingled, several of which had colored ministers;[62] and by 1847 the number of churches had increased to thirteen or more, ten of which were Methodist.[63] In 1860 there were two or more colored congregations at Norfolk; at Savannah three colored churches were paying salaries of $800 to $1000 to their colored ministers,[64] and in Atlanta a subscription was in progress for the enlargement of the negro church building to relieve its congestion.[65] By this time a visitor in virtually any Southern city might have witnessed such a scene as William H. Russell described at Montgomery:[66] "As I was walking ... I perceived a crowd of very well-dressed negroes, men and women, in front of a plain brick building which I was informed was their Baptist meeting-house, into which white people rarely or never intrude. These were domestic servants, or persons employed in stores, and their general appearance indicated much comfort and even luxury. I doubted if they all were slaves. One of my companions went up to a woman in a straw hat, with bright red and green ribbon trimmings and artificial flowers, a gaudy Paisley shawl, and a rainbow-like gown blown out over her yellow boots by a prodigious crinoline, and asked her 'Whom do you belong to?' She replied, 'I b'long to Massa Smith, sar.'"
[Footnote 62: Niles' Register, XLIX, 72.]

[Footnote 63: J.R. Brackett, The Negro in Maryland, p. 206.]

[Footnote 64: D.R. Hundley, Social Relations in our Southern States (New York, 1860), pp. 350, 351.]

[Footnote 65: Atlanta Intelligencer, July 13, 1859, editorial commending the purpose.]

[Footnote 66: W.H. Russell, My Diary North and South (Boston, 1863), p. 167.]


Terms Defined

Referenced Works