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African American Workers and Free Labor in Early Maryland

Jennifer Hull Dorsey

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

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

...The exploration in this book into the working lives of manumitted and freeborn African Americans may not revolutionize the field, but it is meant to fi ll an inexplicable gap in African American studies as well as the history of the early republic. It is a history of free African American laborers, their families, and communities, but it is also...

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pp. 1-20

...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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1. Work

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pp. 21-44

...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 American. Any Talbot County freedman who saw or heard of the advertisement knew what Kennard wanted from his new hire. The new hire...

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2. Migration

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pp. 45-60

...Eastern Shore planters shamelessly sold slaves for profi t, and then complained 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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3. Family

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pp. 61-81

...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 parents and siblings when a slaveholder took her to Chester, Pennsylvania. Her experience was commonplace for slaves in nineteenth-century Maryland. Slaveholders gifted, traded, bequeathed, bought, and sold slaves...

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4. Dependency

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pp. 82-99

...In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the Maryland legislature introduced a host of new laws designed to fix the place of free African Americans in the existing social and racial hierarchies. It was a haphazard 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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5. Community

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pp. 100-117

...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 African 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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6. Recession

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pp. 118-144

...In 1826 Isaac Maccary was one of the most economically privileged free African Americans on the Eastern Shore. In 1808, when he was fifty-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 improvements to their property. They replaced a dilapidated “Negro hut” with a...

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pp. 145-160

...Long was an abolitionist and a native of the Lower Eastern Shore. In his narrative he claimed to have traveled throughout the state in the 1840s “in private to bear my testimony to masters against slavery, and in public to labor for the salvation of slaves.” He was satisfi ed with this mission until the 1850s, when anti-abolition sentiment grew to a fever pitch...


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pp. 161-184


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pp. 185-202


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pp. 203-210

E-ISBN-13: 9780801460678
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801447785

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1