African American Workers and Free Labor in Early Maryland
Publication Year: 2011
In Hirelings, Jennifer Dorsey recreates the social and economic milieu of Maryland's Eastern Shore at a time when black slavery and black freedom existed side by side. She follows a generation of manumitted African Americans and their freeborn children and grandchildren through the process of inventing new identities, associations, and communities in the early nineteenth century. Free Africans and their descendants had lived in Maryland since the seventeenth century, but before the American Revolution they were always few in number and lacking in economic resources or political leverage. By contrast, manumitted and freeborn African Americans in the early republic refashioned the Eastern Shore's economy and society, earning their livings as wage laborers while establishing thriving African American communities.
As free workers in a slave society, these African Americans contested the legitimacy of the slave system even while they remained dependent laborers. They limited white planters' authority over their time and labor by reuniting their families in autonomous households, settling into free black neighborhoods, negotiating labor contracts that suited the needs of their households, and worshipping in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Some moved to the cities, but many others migrated between employers as a strategy for meeting their needs and thwarting employers' control. They demonstrated that independent and free African American communities could thrive on their own terms. In all of these actions the free black workers of the Eastern Shore played a pivotal role in ongoing debates about the merits of a free labor system.
Published by: Cornell University Press
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In 1997 historian Wilson J. Moses wished aloud that scholars would fi nd something new to say about nineteenth-century free African Ameri-cans. Moses observed in Reviews in American History that the scholarship had become predictable, adding that there are “layers of data in support of theses that are no longer subject to serious dispute.” The fi eld is ready for ...
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The waterways of the Delmarva Peninsula have shaped the economic and social development of the Eastern Shore of Maryland from settlement to the present. Beginning in the seventeenth century, English merchants who directed transatlantic trade easily accessed the Delmarva Peninsula and its settlers through the Elk, Sassafras, Chester, Miles, and Nanticoke ...
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In January 1814, John Kennard of Talbot County placed an advertise-ment in the Eastern Shore General Advertiser that read: “ ‘Wanted to Hire’: A Negro man who understands the farming business.”1 Kennard may have intended to hire a slave-for-life or a term slave from a neighboring slaveholder. He may have also considered hiring a manumitted African ...
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Eastern Shore planters shamelessly sold slaves for profi t, and then com-plained bitterly when free African Americans picked up and moved for their own economic gain. As early as 1797 some white residents of Talbot County urged the Maryland legislature to prohibit “manumitted slaves & their descendents to run about from county to county or to leave that in ...
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Slavery broke Elizabeth Jacobs’s family. She was born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, but while still a child she was separated from her par-ents and siblings when a slaveholder took her to Chester, Pennsylvania. Her experience was commonplace for slaves in nineteenth-century Mary-land. Slaveholders gifted, traded, bequeathed, bought, and sold slaves ...
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In the fi rst quarter of the nineteenth century, the Maryland legislature introduced a host of new laws designed to fi x the place of free African Americans in the existing social and racial hierarchies. It was a haphaz-ard process that refl ected little forethought and stands in stark contrast to the gradual emancipation undertaken in Pennsylvania or the British ...
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In 1817 Robert Goodloe Harper, a former U.S. senator from Maryland, observed that “you can manumit a slave, but you cannot make him a white man.” He offered this judgment as explanation for his support of Afri-can colonization. He went on to explain that manumission in Maryland had revealed the true character of the free African American, and it was ...
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In 1826 Isaac Maccary was one of the most economically privileged free African Americans on the Eastern Shore. In 1808, when he was fi fty-two years old, he acquired from Mary Rakes a small farm of 26.5 acres. Over the next twenty-four years, he and his wife, Memory, made several improve-ments to their property. They replaced a dilapidated “Negro hut” with a ...
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Just prior to the Civil War, the Methodist minister John Dixon Long offered his opinion on the status of free African Americans in Maryland:They have to take the raking fi res from three batteries. The slave envies them. The poor white man is jealous of them lest they encroach upon his as-sumed rights and privileges; and the large slaveholder hates them, as their ...
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Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2011