Eric V. Snow



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The investigators working for the 1867-68 Report were acutely aware that they should avoid recommending an age limit on children working that would greatly burden the poor. They knew the parents’ earnings, especially when even many men experienced irregular employment, were not enough for them to easily sacrifice the earnings of their children for higher considerations such as education. As Arch noted: "Children were employed till the law compelled them to be sent to school, and when the father was able to earn so little who can wonder at it? Boys, as soon as they were big enough, would be sent out into the fields, just as I was." In Cambridgeshire, low wages encouraged parents to put their children to work as early as possible. If a husband earned twelve shillings per week, ten shillings six pence went towards flour for bread, so children had to work in order for the family to survive. In Northampton, the loss of earnings by those aged eight to ten would only constitute some twenty shillings a year to the parents, but these were much higher elsewhere (four pounds seven shillings a year in Lincoln and Nottingham). In the Thames valley area (and surely elsewhere!), parents under high financial pressure naturally tended to neglect their children's education.208 Ironically, the children of small freeholders in the Humber/Fens area had less education than did the hired laborers'. This curious result stemmed from the small farmers putting their children to work on their farm as soon as possible.209 Because so many families lived so close to bare subsistence, parents had to make their children work early in life, thus prioritizing the immediate earnings needed for financial survival over longterm improvement resulting from their children’s education.
Day Care an Uncommon Experience
Due to the high unemployment rates for men and especially women in many agricultural areas, and the introduction of the scythe in arable districts, which required great strength to use, laborers’ children rarely experienced any kind of day care. The sexual division of labor combined with high unemployment in southern England ensured children received plenty of adult supervision. Even when harvest came, and virtually everyone was put to work (at least as the mid-nineteenth-century mark is passed) in agricultural parishes, children might still directly assist their parents in harvest. The family often worked as a unit, with the husband using a bagging hook to cut down the stalks of wheat, the wife following closely behind, gathering and tying them together, with one or more children pulling and preparing the ties for their mother to use. Many times, after negotiating with the farmer for a given piece work rate, a number of families entered a field at once, each working on its one or two allotted acres. A family of farmworkers also worked together to raise food when given an allotment, since the children and mother would tend the plot during the day while the father was away working for some farmer. The rest of the family could hoe, weed, plant, and pick food from the plot themselves, giving them additional (self)employment and badly-needed food. Some children even used wheelbarrows to gather manure from the public roads for their family’s plot! Then, in the evenings or early mornings, or otherwise when not working for others, the father would work on the family’s allotment also. In this situation, the productive unit was the family. Clearly, a child’s experience while working for his or her father or mother typically differs sharply from the impersonal supervision exercised by a farmer or one of his carters. It’s unlikely that farmers treated even long-term farm servants or apprentices to husbandry nearly as well as their fathers and mothers would. Normally, day care made no appearance in the lives of laborers' children, at least when both the parents were alive. But one older child may end up watching younger brothers and sisters in areas where the women also worked in the fields routinely, such as southern Northumberland. Jeffries idyllically describes how the parents would lock out of the cottage their older child, who then watched her younger brother or sister play out in the beautiful spring countryside. Day care--or paid baby-sitting--might make its appearance in an area such as Yorkshire, where the women also did field work regularly. Here, this practice’s consequences produced various complaints: The women kept their cottages less tidily, they neglected their families, they gave opiates to their children, and they paid "an old woman" daily so much to care or them!210 (Talk about shades of nearby industrial Manchester!) The English agricultural workers’ family still was much more apt to be an active, productive economic unit than the black slaves’ family (excepting some in lowland task system areas) because the latter was much more subordinated to the productive process than the former as masters mostly eliminated the sexual division of labor and created a greater average division of the family unit spatially during the workday by separating mothers and their children more commonly than the farmers in England did with the laborers.
Young Hodge at Play
Although the life of young Hodge was more filled with work and especially education than a young slave’s, the former still had time to play. Getting themselves thoroughly dirty, younger pre-school children might romp about outside their parents' cottage in the fields or perhaps in a nearby farmyard carefully out of sight of the adults. Maybe the oldest sister would watch her younger siblings play around the ditches and hedges, gathering flowers or even acorns which the farmers would pay for. The habit of the parents, if both were gone, was to lock their children outside. Less innocently, two boys in the village of Ridgley that Somerville described were keen at raiding nests, following clearly in their poaching fathers' footsteps. Caleb Bawcombe managed to combine with play routinely while watching his father's flock. He and his brother were playing "on the turf with nine morris-men and the shepherd's puzzle," when their mother suddenly appeared one time. While engaged in crow-scaring, Arch sometimes mischievously looked for trouble by bird-nesting, trespassing, etc., in more idle moments. He favorably compared the outdoors environment he enjoyed to what children in the mines endured: "And I had the trees to look at and climb, hedgerow flowers to pluck, and streams to wade in." Although his mother's home schooling competed against play, he did not mind this regime. As a teenager, working as a stable boy for what were good wages for his age and county, he continued to study, seeing how limited the opportunities for amusement in his village were:
The village lad had two kinds of recreation open to him. He could take his choice between lounging and boozing in the public house, or playing bowls in the bowling alley. That was all. There were no cricket or football clubs, no Forester's meetings.211
The first option led into the wasteful, profligate way of life the middle classes, local farmers, and gentry routinely condemned, which he did not find tempting. Children, as always, will find some way to play, but on balance the farmworkers’ offspring had more work, more schooling, and less playtime than the slave’s children.
The Relative Quality of Life for the Children of Slaves and Laborers
Excepting how masters could subvert parental authority by whippings, sales, etc., and the fear inspired by the same, slaves until about age twelve typically had a more carefree childhood than agricultural workers. Although young farmworkers worked rather irregularly before age twelve or more, they still did more work at younger ages than most young slaves. Furthermore, especially as the nineteenth century advanced, education increasingly became a reality for the offspring of laborers, which meant the school often filled days without work, at least outside agriculture's summer/harvest seasonal peaks. So while young slaves had more playtime, the children of laborers were much more likely to gain some education, as limited or crude as it may have been, and to receive what arguably was useful work experience. Unlike the contemporary United States, where society is wealthy enough to guarantee thirteen years of school to its entire population, the pressures of bare subsistence in the farmworkers’ world often made child labor necessary for a family to survive independently as an economic unit. Slave children also were much more likely to experience day care, at least on the plantations, where the "baby minders" were still young children themselves, often unrelated to their young charges. By contrast, young Hodge enjoyed–-a perhaps problematic term here--much more adult supervision, since women had largely been driven out of the agricultural labor force outside of seasonal peaks by the time the nineteenth century began, limiting them to a more strictly defined homemaking role. The high adult male unemployment rates, at least in southern England, indirectly ensured their children received more supervision from their parents, whose greater experience in life made them better role models. Day care was rare, at least in the south, although an older sister (likely) may have watched younger siblings. While school increasingly did split up the laborers' family during the day, as in contemporary society, they still had adult care and attention. At least at harvest, the laborers' family also sometimes did function as a unit, instead of being separated during the day, unlike for the bondsmen. So outside of the kind of frightening experiences Douglass tells, the slave's childhood likely was more enjoyable to about age twelve on average, but the farmworker's youth likely was more worthwhile, benefiting from the advantages of more education, more family and adult direction and care, and (arguably, if not especially intense or long in hours) useful work experience.
Religion--A Source for Enlightenment, Social Unity, and Social Conflict

To the skeptically inclined, the juxtaposition of religion and the quality of life initially may appear peculiar, but consider the reasons for relating the two. Religion, especially for those peoples who are illiterate or semi-literate, is the main source of an integrated view of existence, by bringing a man’s or woman’s mind above the routine material cares of life. It attempts to explain the unknown, since the (ostensible) purpose of revelation is to bring humanity knowledge that is necessary to live the right kind of life in the here-and-now, but which is unobtainable by reason, philosophy, or science, or cannot be with the same degree of certainty. It is the main source of morality and behavioral restraint above the level of fear of authority or what the neighbors think. As long as the Thrasymachuses of the world would define justice, and morality in general, as "nothing else than the advantage of the stronger," religion's specific precepts and commandments will serve as the main restraining force on people's actions since philosophy is generally perceived at having failed to provide a satisfactory natural law theory as the foundation of right and wrong.212 Religion also supplies a purpose for an individual’s decisions about values in this life through asserting they affect his fate in the afterlife. It elevates the concerns of believers above those which also preoccupy animals to eternal verities which have to be reckoned with, granted the truth of the religion in question.


Organized religion, although first and foremost it concerns man's relationship with God (or the gods), also brings people together in order to worship the divine, through rituals, assemblies, pageants, processions, etc. Here religion becomes contested terrain between a society’s elite and subordinate classes, since nominally all humans have to be concerned about what the supernatural powers-that-be desire of them. Both the rich and poor are destined for the same fate--the grave. Religion can serve instrumental purposes for this present life as well, which the elite may twist to serve their own purposes. When it comes to an upper class imposing hegemony and a subordinate class resisting it, religion is often a central battle ground. The powerholding class in society can bend religion into a system of social control to benefit itself even as the subordinate class may manipulate the same religion to justify its resistance, despite a mutually shared faith may bring the two sides together into the same social settings to serve the same God or gods. Religion can serve simultaneously as a site of social unity and as a setting for social conflict since it provides people with a collective activity outside of work, as well as a means of raising their minds above the purely material to take a broader, more philosophical view of life. It reminds its adherents that something other than self-interest should guide their actions in life.213
Christianity, being the religion shared by both the English farmworkers and converted African-American slaves, contains elements of use to both sides in their power struggle, even as it serves as a means of unifying each side in a common concern about God's purpose for their lives. Christianity emphasizes the need to obey authority, of obeying the powers that be as ordained of God (Rom. 13:1-7), of rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's (Matt. 22:21), and to keep the command of the king (Eccl. 8:2). It tells slaves to obey their masters (Eph. 6:5-6; Col. 3:22), and not to steal from them (Titus 2:9-10). On the other hand, the state is not the ultimate authority for Christians. It presented a theoretical threat to the totalitarians of this past century who wanted the whole heart, mind, and soul of all the citizens of whatever nation they ruled over. Thus, after the Sanhedrin told them to stop preaching about Christ and the resurrection, Peter and the other apostles defiantly replied (Acts 5:29): "We must obey God rather than men." Similarly, during the previous run-in with the Sanhedrin, Peter and John proclaimed (Acts 4:19): "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge." Christianity, even as it tells those of a subordinate class to obey their superiors in this world, it humbles the elite philosophically by saying all persons are equal in His sight (Gal. 3:28): "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." "For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave” (I Cor. 7:22). It condemns giving a rich man precedence in the assembly of believers (James 2:1-4). It states the rich are not favored in God’s sight, at least if they are covetous of their property or oppress the poor (James 5:1-6; Matt. 19:21-26; Amos 4:1-3; Isa. 3:14-15; Eze. 18:12-13; 22:29). Furthermore, and perhaps most ominiously for slaveholders, Jehovah is portrayed as the freer of the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 6:5-7, 20:2). Hence, the Bible presents material susceptible to manipulation by an elite bent on exploiting a subordinate class and for a subordinate class to condemn and--if it denies that Christianity teaches pacifism--resist the powerful. Although it makes for poor hermeneutics and bad systematic theology, each side is apt to use the parts of the raw material of revelation that favors its cause, while conveniently ignoring that which does not.
Slave Religion--The Slaveholders’ Options on Christianizing the Slaves
Because Christianity contains teachings that an elite may not always find to its liking, it can become divided over whether inculcating Biblical precepts to a subordinate class is in its material self-interest. Of course, the elite’s strongly religiously motivated members will evangelize heedless of any negative consequences to their position in this life,214 but normally altruistic idealism cannot be counted on to predominate in the upper class. The elite faces here the same problem it does with disseminating or denying education to the masses. A society’s rulers have to choose between two models of social control: skewed knowledge or ignorance (see above, pp. 107-9). Christianity presents a similar problem theoretically, for those, like Napoleon, who approach religion as an insrument for controlling other people's behavior. On the one hand, after noting all the useful statements about obedience not just to God, but to secular authorities in the Bible, slaveholders could see converting their slaves as advancing their self-interest, over and above any otherworldly benefits. A Machiavellian analysis could conclude teaching them Christianity was valuable. Having been written in an ancient world full of slaves, yet not condemning slavery as an institution, the Bible (usefully) tells slaves to obey their masters. After all, Rome was full of slaves, many ancient Christians were slaves, and some Christians even had slaves (e.g., Philemon) Harriet Jacobs, although overstating the impetus of Turner's rebellion in promoting evangelism among the slaves, expressed this option forcefully: "After the alarm caused by Nat Turner's insurrection had subsided, the slaveholders came to the conclusion that it would be well to give the slaves enough of religious instruction to keep them from murdering their masters."215 On the other hand, the Bible contains many statements about the duties of the rich and powerful towards the poor and weak which an oppressed class could forge into useful ideological weapons for hammering their superiors with. The Old Testament's description of God using Moses to free the childen of Israel from slavery in Egypt surely resonated with American slaves. The New Testament's proclamations about being free in Christ (re: II Cor. 3:17-18; Luke 4:17-21) or all being equal in God’s sight (Col. 3:11) were potentially troublesome to slaveholders.216 Then, pragmatically speaking, large numbers of slaves gathered together for religious assemblies may prove hard to control.
American slaveholders' mainstream response eventually made a compromise between the two models: They evangelized their slaves, but presented a perverted Protestant Christianity which overbearingly emphasized the need to obey while purposely neglecting those parts of the Christian message that might be, well, ah, dangerous. Conveniently cast aside was the Reformation's message that each man must be able to read and interpret the Bible himself as God's Spirit directed him. Evangelization based on selective exegesis was easily carried out, with whatever not serving the slaveowners’ interests edited out, for since they kept their slave population largely illiterate and bookless, the bondsmen were mostly incapable of checking on their masters and mistresses’ teachings by opening and reading the Bible for themselves.217
The Earlier Practice of Not Evangelizing the Slaves
Earlier in Southern slavery's history, the other model--of leaving their slaves in heathenish ignorance–-slaveholders had considered, even practiced. Some still advocated this approach in the 1830s, such as a former long-time overseer turned planter himself that Kemble's husband had employed. Conversions of Africans when they first arrived in the New World have been argued to be exceedingly rare; even their children’s religious status was normally ignored. While visiting South Carolina, evangelist George Whitefield, one of the foremost leaders of the Great Awakening, pointedly condemned the American South for treating its slaves like animals. He urged their Christianization and improved conditions for them. The Great Awakening led slaveholders to abandon the previous policy of neglecting to convert their slaves. As Gallay observes: "Most planters feared their bondspeople would move from religious training to religious rights and perhaps on to civil or to political rights." They feared emancipations would follow conversions: "The few slaves who were permitted religious instruction were required to make a formal statement in which they denied any expectation that baptism would lead to freedom." When the legal status of slaves in early colonial Virginia was still unclear, before the General Assembly passed a law in 1667 that specifically denied that baptizing slaves would liberate them, some gained freedom for this reason. The Great Awakening changed such attitudes significantly, because the spirit of revivalism wants everyone saved now. The itinerate preachers found persuading both lost black and white sheep to repent equally fine works. So from the 1740s on much greater efforts were made to convert the slaves to Christianity, as slaveholders gradually abandoned the policy of leaving slaves pagan to preserve distinctions between whites and Africans which had helped justify the enslavement of the black man.218
The Gospel of Obedience Distorts the Christianity Given to the Slaves
As the slaves came into the churches, the slaveholding class labored mightily to ensure the slaves learned the message of obedience. Clergymen throughout the South had to teach this distorted “Gospel” or else risk losing the slaveholders’ support for evangelizing their slaves.219 One pamphlet on the subject of evangelizing the slaves that Kemble found evidently strongly stressed teaching the lesson of obedience. The bondsmen's newfound religion was not to be allowed to escalate the difficulties of imposing work discipline on them. Slaves repeatedly complained about how often white preachers told them to obey their owners from the pulpit. Lucretia Alexander, once a slave in both Mississippi and Arkansas, summarized a typical sermon:
The preach came and preached to them in their quarters. He'd just say, 'Serve your masters. Don't steal your master's turkey. Don't steal your master's chickens. Don't steal your master's hogs. Don't steal your master's meat. Do whatsomever your master tells you to do.' Same old thing all the time.
Another slave woman refused to go to church, so she got locked up in her master's seedhouse. She complained:
No, I don't want to hear that same old sermon: 'Stay out of your missus' and master's henhouse. Don't steal your missus' and master's chickens. Stay out of your missus' and master's smokehouse. Don't steal your missus' and master's hams.' I don't steal nothing. Don't need to tell me not to.
Using Ephesians 6:5 as his text, Jacobs heard Anglican clergyman Pike teach what must have been a stereotypical message telling slaves to obey their masters and to fear God if they slacked off at work, lied, stole, or otherwise injured their masters' interests. Evidently, his lesson for a slave audience remained largely unchanged from week to week: "I went to the next Sabbath evening, and heard pretty much a repetition of the last discourse." Some black preachers gave similar messages, because either white supervision restricted their choice of material or they "sold out" to the whites. Masters and mistresses in the South clearly wanted a clipped form of Christianity to serve as an ideological underpinning to slavery through emphasizing the message of obedience although the slaves resisted it.220
By making Christianity carry out their instrumental purposes, the slaveholders brought a bent, distorted gospel to the slaves. The Christian message lost much of its authenticity when masters and mistresses harnessed it for imposing work discipline on their bondsmen. Freedman Charley Williams of Louisiana said he largely missed the core of its teachings because what he heard was so twisted:

Course I loves my Lord Jesus same as anybody, but you see I never hear much about Him until I was grown, and it seem like you got to hear about religion when you little to soak it up and put much by it. Nobody could read the Bible when I was a boy . . . We had meetings sometimes, but the nigger preacher just talk about being a good nigger and "doing to please the Master," and I always thought he meant to please Old Master, and I always wanted to do that anyways.

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