Eric V. Snow



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The methods of controlling the slaves and laborers inevitably differed. Since the latter were legally free, they could quit and move elsewhere (excepting the settlement laws' restrictions). But since the slaves were not, corporal punishment was often necessarily employed to compel labor, with additional aid to work discipline provided by the fear of the auction block. The English elite used more indirect, collective legal measures such as enclosure and the poor laws to extract labor power from the farmworkers. Since individual masters and mistresses owned and controlled the slaves both on and the job and off, managing them tended to be correspondingly more direct and individualized, as illustrated by the pass system, after the slave codes had set the basic legal framework in place. The English rural elites, in contrast, had counted on a tilted free market to bring them labor. They rigged the law of supply and demand for labor to favor themselves, such as by using enclosure and the settlement laws to ensure a ready supply of laborers for the peak summer season in arable agriculture. The laborers then semi-freely chose to work for this or that individual local farmer or landowner. But slavery required a stricter system of control, since the bondsmen had no freedom to choose to work for different masters or mistresses legally, but had to work for those that owned or rented them. (Some slaves were permitted to “moonlight” for pay on Sundays, but compensation for that practice existed by permission, not by right). Since slaves had little or no intrinsic self-interest to work for their "employers," their owners had to use much more coercion to keep them in line compared to what their English equals exerted on the farmworkers. Because the slaves were their property, slaveholders had far more legal right to inflict pain and to damage the bodies of their “troublesome property.” They also had the legal power to interfere in and control their human chattels’ off-work lives. The reality of paternalism is examined below, since both elites used this social order’s ideology to justify their ascendency, through proclaiming the existence of a mutual reciprocal system of altruism underlay their rule over the subordinate classes. It is decidedly dubious that these elites established ideological hegemony over the laborers and slaves through paternalism or some other means. Since both these work forces mainly or completely worked for others, and not directly for themselves as in subsistence agriculture (or artisans in their own shops), the elite's machinations for controlling them clearly suffused their work lives.

Dawn to Dusk: Work Hours for Slaves
First of all, two of the conditions of work itself should be examined before analyzing the elite's attempts to enforce compliance. How long did the slaves work each day? Their time at work tended to fill all available daylight hours. Slaves rarely slept past dawn, although more paternalistic masters deviated from this standard. Their lifestyle sharply differed from that for many poor whites around them. The latter had relatively leisurely days since they could get by through hunting, fishing, and/or some subsistence agriculture. Most slaves got up at the crack of dawn or earlier. The overseer's or master's bell or horn aroused them and warned them that they had little time left in the quarters before their presence was required in the fields. John Warren told Drew he had to get up at four o'clock on the Mississippi plantation he lived at. He had just fifteen minutes to eat breakfast in the field before work began. Similarly, Dick Smith, once a slave in Louisiana, told Armstrong he got up at four o'clock in summer, five o'clock in winter, when the latter was two hours before sunrise. Freedman Tines Kendricks of Georgia remembered how the mean old mistress would be up "'Way 'fore day . . . hollering loud enough for to be heared two miles, 'rousing the niggers out for to git in the field ever 'fore light." Freedwoman Jenny Proctor recalled that her mother as a cook had a three o'clock rising time. Olmsted's experience confirmed these accounts about the slaves getting up early. Once he had to feed his own horse at a place he stayed in Louisiana, since all the slaves had left before daybreak. Another time, he found the slaves already at work after he awoke at four o'clock following an awful night's sleep during which insects repeatedly attacked him in a small planter's house in Mississippi.365 Bondsmen clearly routinely started field labor at dawn if not earlier.
Using Force to Get the Slaves into the Fields in the Morning
Since the slaves did not directly benefit from work, but normally got fed and clothed the same regardless of their productivity levels, masters and overseers had to enforce strictly the starting time for work. They often inflicted whippings on the dawdling. As Douglass recalled, although the bondsmen might have been doing housework or cooking late the night before, they had better hear the horn in the morning at dawn. Otherwise, the consequences were often dire: "If they are not awakened by the sense of hearing, they are by the sense of feeling; no age nor sex finds any favor." The overseer, with the Dickensian name of Mr. Severe, stood armed, ready and waiting with a "large hickory stick and heavy cowskin," for anyone not immediately heading off for the fields after morning reveille. Naturally, the overseer or hands-on master arose when his slaves did, as freedman "Old Man Ned" of North Carolina recalled about his owner. Having dispensed with overseers, Bennet Barrow by 1845 had turned over daily operations to his black driver. One day he decided to get up with his slaves at daybreak, which produced (to him) impressive results: "Began at day Light Overseering--Coffee at day Light out 'till 12--negroes worked harder to day than they have done in at Least 5 years." On the other hand, when his slaves got up late one day, he partially blamed himself: "Hands made a Bad beginning this morning got out Late Ploughs &c. Began overseering in Earnest, neglect my business all the year perswuaded it injured my health--negros very much out of Geer." But this kind of mistake was uncommon, as the slave narratives bear witness. One sign of a harsh master was that he made his slaves get up very early daily in order to maximize the work effort extracted from them. Escaped slave Henry Banks described how one of his Virginian masters dealt with slaves who rose up slower than the sun in the morning: "Let daybreak catch me in the house, instead of currying the horses, that was as good for a flogging as any thing else." Henry Gowens suffered under a cruel overseer in Alabama. After receiving "a first-rate English watch to keep his time and blow the horn by," he ordered the slaves to eat nothing before twelve noon. After blowing the horn two hours before daybreak, he said he expected everyone up and at work one hour later at the second horn blowing. He threatened: "If I find any of you lagging back after the last horn blows, I shall whip you up to the spot where the work is to be done." J.W. Terrill, once a slave in Texas, remembered that the overseer awoke the hands at three o'clock. If they got up late, he tied them to a tree at night with nothing to eat, and later gave them thirty-nine lashes from a long, wide belt. The testimony of Aaron Sidles, who for years traveled up and down the Mississippi as a steamboat’s steward, shows how generally force was used near daybreak on the slaves. The first thing in the morning he heard were the bells rung to awaken the slaves on farms or plantations on either side of the river. "The next thing, before it was light enough to see, I heard the crack of the overseer's whip, and the cries of the slaves, 'Oh! pray, Mas'r! Oh! pray, Mas'r!' Every morning I heard it from both sides of the river."366 Clearly, masters and overseers had to apply or threaten to apply a lot of physical force to get the slaves on task around or before sunrise, unlike the English landowners and farmers, who relied mainly on the laborers prodding themselves to get to work on time in the morning since they could be fired or have their pay docked for being late.

The most extreme semi-standard hours slaves had to endure was during grinding season on sugar plantations. Slaves here may have been worked to death literally. Having been a slave in Alabama, Cato felt he had been well treated, but knew that: "Some [of] the niggers hated syrup-making time, 'cause when they had to work till midnight making syrup, it's four o'clock up, just the same. Sunup to sundown was for field niggers." Olmsted found a Louisiana sugar planter whose slaves worked the two- to three-month grinding season around the clock. They worked in relays, each on for eighteen hours and off six, which kept three-fourths of them constantly at work. In contrast to Cato's testimony, the slaves on this plantation actually evidently liked grinding season, since a garrulous house slave’s comments corroborated the master's testimony. Olmsted questioned carefully at length this slave without his appearing guarded or defensive. These long hours were made more tolerable by giving them lots of food and coffee and by encouraging them, "as much as possible, to make a kind of frolic of it." Despite this attempt to paint a human face on obvious exploitation, Olmsted still observed: "No farm, and in no factory, or mine, even when double wages are paid for night-work, did I ever hear of men or women working regularly eighteen hours a day. If ever done, it is only when some accident makes it especially desirable for a few days." Despite (some?) sugar planters tried to make these schedules bearable, somehow even enjoyable, they still could well have extracted a deadly toll. One group of Louisiana sugar planters admitted that working slaves to death and replacing them every seven years was more profitable than driving them less hard, and "maintain[ing] them in diminished efficiency for an indefinite length of time."367 Extreme conditions taxed the bondsmen's health, even when they could be persuaded to tolerate or enjoy long hours which lasted for only two or three months and only after the preceding slack period had given them extra rest.


Finishing Work for the Day--Some Variations
The end of the slaves’ workday varied much more than its start. The task system areas, mainly in the lowland coastal regions of Georgia and South Carolina, allowed the slaves to finish working for their master for the day as soon as they completed their set assignment ("task"). This may explain why the slaves were done by three thirty in the afternoon on Kemble's husband's cotton sea-island estate. On his rice-island estate, the workday was longer and the labor more physically draining. Here the bondsmen worked from daybreak to six in the evening, but they had time off for lunch at noon. But more typically, slaves worked until sunset. Mr. Freeland, a straightforward average master of Maryland, worked his slaves hard, but Douglass thanked him for doing so only between sunrise and sunset. George Johnson of Virginia worked from sunrise "and quit work between sundown and dark." "Aunt" Tilda of Mississippi told Armstrong that she worked from "de daylight to noontime" and after lunch, "wu'k[ed] till de sun go down an' de overseer whoop: 'All in! Day's done!' an' back to de cabins ergain." However, many slaves worked far longer hours. Olmsted knew two plantations in Mississippi that roused up their bondsmen at three thirty in the morning, and they frequently worked until nine at night. Appalled that her children were still enslaved, Mary Younger knew they still labored late at night despite starting work before daylight. William Brown, once a Virginian slave, had worked sometimes as late as ten at night in some seasons. Because the slaves would feed his horse at the place he spent the night at, Olmsted found they generally worked until nightfall after already appeared in the fields when he first looked out early in the morning. On a plantation near Natchez, since the hands worked until nine thirty in the evening after getting up at about five in the morning during summer, the hoe gang members worked about sixteen hours in a day. The plow gang worked less because their break was about two hours long versus (perhaps) a half hour for the hoe gang. On one plantation in Virginia, however, they only worked eleven hours a day because of a two-hour break at noon, which corresponded to the better treatment for which Border Slave States were known. Although undeniable variations in what hours slaves worked appeared among different plantations and farms, Sutch and Ransom have calculated quantitatively that the average slave (male, female, and child) worked approximately 16-22 percent more than the average free laborer, North and South. This figure was based on a comparison of how many hours slaves worked in 1860 with those of the freedmen in 1870. Genovese, as well as Fogel and Engerman, are too optimistic when saying free workers, especially when wives and children are included, normally worked as many and/or more hours than the slaves.368
Hours of Work--Agricultural Workers
When they were employed, the English agricultural laborers and slaves often worked remarkably similar hours. In both cases, the dawn-to-dusk nature of agricultural work during planting, growing, and harvesting season drove their daily schedules. Carters, foggers (cow feeders), and milkers had to tend to their animals seven days a week, arriving early in the morning and later in the afternoon or evening to feed them. Shepherds accompanying flocks in the fields were effectively "on call" for twenty-four hours a day because they had to watch over the flock at night, especially during lambing season. Their job was task-oriented, not time-oriented, so they may be working when others laborers slept and relaxing while others worked. As Jeffries noted about shepherds: "His sheep rule his life, and he has little to do with the artificial divisions of time." During harvest season the laborers' hours grew long and late. But in winter, especially in arable areas, even when they were not underemployed or unemployed, they worked short hours: They would leave the fields by five o'clock at nightfall.369 Since their employers had to pay them for each hour or day they worked, the laborers remained on the job only as needed, excepting farm servants under a one-year (or less) contract. In contrast, since masters and mistresses had to feed, clothe, and otherwise meet the needs of their bondsmen regardless of their output, they had a continual incentive to work their human chattels as many hours as possible. Every moment a farmworker slacked off cost his or her employer also, but only for a mutually agreed upon set period, such as a day, week, or month. When a slaveholder purchased a slave, he had bought all at once all of that slave's potential labor for a lifetime: So, arguably, time was a-wasting every moment that slave was idle, except for meeting the minimum physical requirements of sleep, meal periods, etc. Although on paper the slaves and farmworkers seem to work daily about as many hours because of agricultural labor’s intrinsic diurnal nature, the former often worked fewer many hours overall in a given year than the latter, which was attributable to winter (and general) unemployment.
Were Workdays Shorter for the Farmworkers than the Slaves?
The agricultural workers at times worked dawn to dusk like the slaves. As a young man in a mowing gang during harvest, Arch worked from five in the morning to seven at night. Batchelor in 1808 noted how the hours during harvest grew longer, "extend[ing] . . . from sunrise to sunset, or when carrying the corn, as long as the day-light permits." Somerville encountered three Wiltshire carters, who all got up at four in the morning to attend to their horses. Two of them arrived home for dinner at seven o'clock, and the other left the stable at about half past seven. But normal hours were shorter than these. Some laborers signed an allotment agreement that prohibited them from tending their plots of land between six in the morning and evening without first asking their master's (farmer's) permission. During these hours they presumably worked elsewhere when employed. In confirmation of this surmise, Batchelor described a Bedfordshire farmworker’s typical hours: "Day-labourers are expected to work as long as the light is sufficient in the winter: and from six o'clock in the morning till six at night, in summer. Of this nearly an hour and a half are consumed in meals."370 For the 1867-68 Report on Employment in Agriculture, Culley reported for northeastern Buckingham and Bedfordshire that the hours of work were normally six in the morning to six in the evening in summer, and from dawn to dusk in winter, with one and a half or two hours off for meals. In most of Buckingham, the hours of work were six to five, with one and a half hours off.371 Basing it upon the responses of Oxfordshire farmers to a survey, Andrew Doyle published in 1881 a list of typical working hours for laborers. Many worked from seven to five, six to six, or nine hours altogether, excepting harvest or haymaking seasons. Some worked eight hours or less in total.372 As the nineteenth century passed its mid-point on into the late 1860s, many laborers increasingly wanted a more carefully defined workday, in place of the loose concept of working dawn to dusk. This desire reflects a transition from task-orientation to time-orientation, which the farmworkers used advantageously when bargaining with employers. After having defined the workday more strictly, the laborers could then receive overtime pay if they exceeded normal hours during harvest or some other peak period.
The figures mentioned above show the laborers often stopped work earlier than many slaves in non-task system areas, at least those Olmsted had seen in the Deep South. Interestingly enough, the difference in latitude made "dawn to dusk" vary between England and the subtropical South. The farther north one goes, the shorter the daylight periods are in winter and the longer in summer. One agricultural worker who worked twelve hours a day in summer, told Sommervile that he worked "as long as I have light to see in winter." Since dusk approached by about four thirty, and nearly full darkness arrived by five, for about three months laborers averaged only about eight and a half hours of work per day.373 Excepting harvest and haymaking, the agricultural workers' workday did not expand to fill all available daylight hours during the summer. The slaves then normally worked past six in the evening. England's colder climate and shorter growing season also limited the amount of agricultural work possible for the laborers compared to the slaves.374 For example, wheat harvesting in England normally was finished by late September, but the process of picking, cleaning, and packing cotton might begin in late August and continue into December. Even with the addition of hand threshing, which was increasingly superseded during the nineteenth century despite the intimidating retrogression provoked by the Swing riots, seasonal patterns affected grain harvesting in English arable areas more than the American South’s stereotypical corn/cotton/hog agriculture. The laborers were considered to work only eight or nine hours because one and a half or more hours for meals being factored in. Many slaves lacked this benefit have during their workday, who may have had one fairly short break of (perhaps) one half hour or more to eat near noon, though some had up to two hours off.375 Certainly, the laborers' one and a half hour's worth of breaks seemed to be much more widespread than the slaves having a similar period off. These reasons point to the average Southern slave having a relatively longer workday than the average farmworker on a year-around basis, when excluding work on allotments and gardens.376
The Length of the Workweek and Days Off--Slaves
Since the owner of slaves possessed all their future time in their lives, and at his discretion determined how much of it was to be taken up in work, he always had an incentive to make slaves work as many days as possible. Especially in country of largely unsettled wilderness which positively ached for human labor to transform it into productive farmland from a profit-seeking viewpoint, the slaveholders normally had no end of tasks for their bondsmen to perform. Under these circumstances, that so many slaves had Sundays off and sometimes part or all of Saturdays in the antebellum South may be a little surprising. Here slaveholders' paternalism did bear some practical fruit, since many believed Sundays were reserved for church attendance and rest from work, and applied this to their slaves. Other days off included the Christmas-New Year holiday season and (much more rarely) other holidays such as the Fourth of July. The weather and the growing season played a role in giving days off. A rainy day often canceled all field work for all or part of the day. Sometimes, due to the state of the growing crops and the effectiveness of the hoeing that killed the weeds, there was little work to do on some summer days. So besides the "official" days off such as Sundays or Christmas, some slaves got other days off as well.
Slaves Normally Did Not Work on Sundays
Normally slaves got Sundays off. Perhaps the number of slaves who received all or part of Saturday off was somewhat greater than the number of those who were forced to work on Sundays routinely. On the one hand, there are the cases where the slaves got the whole weekend off. Freedwoman Mom Hester Hunter remembered that: "My old missus was a dear old soul, and she would see to it that all her niggers wash and iron and cook on Saturday 'cause she never allow no work gwine on round where she was when Sunday come, be that she know 'bout it." Giles Smith, once a slave in Alabama, recalled: "Us always have Saturday afternoon and Sunday off." "Aunt" Florida, born a slave on one of Jefferson Davis' plantations in Mississippi, said that all day Saturday was given to the slaves as a day off, as well as Sunday. His Hurricane and Brierfield plantations were the only ones she knew of where the master gave off this much time each week to the slaves. Joseph Sanford, a one-time Kentucky slave, told Drew the overseer his master hired gave his slaves half of Saturdays off. His owner disliked this practice, but had to tolerate it for the time being since he had agreed to give the overseer a free hand in management. On the other hand, cases of slaves involuntarily laboring on Sundays occur, showing the supposedly paternalistic Southern slaveholders were often as profit-motivated as any Northern industrialist or merchant. These cases were not limited to sugar plantations in grinding season, Northrup maintained, but was commonly imposed during the height of the cotton picking season. Isaac Williams, once a slave in Virginia, planned to run away but was handcuffed by his master before he ran away. When this occurred, he told him: "I have done all I could for you, night and day, even carting wood on Sunday morning,--and this is what I get for it." John Holmes knew of one master with two or three farms who did not give Sundays off. He forced his slaves to move from one farm to another on Sundays to be ready for work Mondays. John Warren, once a slave in Tennessee and Mississippi, was happy he did not "have now to drive a wagon Sundays to haul cotton bales."377
In colonial South Carolina, slaves often had to work on Sunday, either directly for their master, or necessarily on plots for the food they ate. Gallay has maintained that due to the rise of paternalism promoted by Whitefield and the Great Awakening in the late 1730s and 1740s, and with the first really widespread and serious attempts to convert the slaves to Christianity, they increasingly received Sundays off in order to attend church. Certainly, by the time of the last generation before the Civil War, Sundays off from forced labor had become standard in the South, as abundant testimony demonstrates.378 However, slaves working voluntarily for pay on Sundays was fairly common, as well as those who tended their plots of land to raise food for themselves or for sale.379 Such labor was not necessarily "voluntary" in that the standard rations of food or clothing did not generally cover necessary household items, as Northrup described:
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