Cover image for Divided mastery : slave hiring in the American South
Divided mastery : slave hiring in the American South
Martin, Jonathan D.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2004.
Physical Description:
237 pages ; 24 cm
Introduction : slaves with two masters -- Slave hiring in the evolution of slavery -- A blessing and a curse -- Risks and returns -- Compromised mastery -- Resistance and abuse -- Working alone.
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E443 .M38 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Divided Mastery explores a curiously neglected aspect of the history of American slavery: the rental of slaves. Though few slaves escaped being rented out at some point in their lives, this is the first book to describe the practice, and its effects on both slaves and the peculiar institution.

Martin reveals how the unique triangularity of slave hiring created slaves with two masters, thus transforming the customary polarity of master-slave relationships. Drawing upon slaveholders' letters, slave narratives, interviews with former slaves, legislative petitions, and court records, Divided Mastery ultimately reveals that slave hiring's significance was paradoxical.

The practice bolstered the system of slavery by facilitating its spread into the western territories, by democratizing access to slave labor, and by promoting both production and speculation with slave capital. But at the same time, slaves used hiring to their advantage, finding in it crucial opportunities to shape their work and family lives, to bring owners and hirers into conflict with each other, and to destabilize the system of bondage. Martin illuminates the importance of the capitalist market as a tool for analyzing slavery and its extended relationships. Through its fresh and complex perspective, Divided Mastery demonstrates that slave hiring is critical to understanding the fundamental nature of American slavery, and its social, political, and economic place in the Old South.

Author Notes

Jonathan D. Martin received his Ph.D. in History and J.D. from New York University

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Martin, who holds a Ph.D. in history and is currently a law student at NYU, has written the first book-length analysis of slave hiring and its impact on master-slave and white relations in the Old South. Drawing on slave letters, narratives, interviews, and family papers, he examines the social, economic, and legal aspects of the slave owners' ubiquitous practice of leasing their slaves. Most contracts were long term (a year or more), but short-term contracts also existed, in addition to self-hiring, wherein slaves were responsible for finding their own work and returning with a designated amount of money. Hirers included small farmers, craftsmen, tavern keepers, and builders as well as the railroad companies and tobacco factories, among other industrial enterprises. This use of slaves for both capital and labor led to personal and legal conflicts about property rights, rights of protection, and rights of absolute mastery. This groundbreaking text alters the widely held perception of plantation life as the dominant slave experience; for large history collections, primarily in academic libraries.-Sherri Barnes, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Historians have long recognized that slave hiring afforded masters various degrees of elasticity, adaptability, and flexibility in managing, ordering, and utilizing their bondsmen. Examining closely the rental of slaves from the perspectives of masters, slaves, and hirers, Martin underscores the ubiquity of slave hiring and how the practice both fostered and undermined slaveholding in the Old South. Slave rental facilitated the spread of slavery westward, democratizing the use of slaves by making chattel labor available for short-term use by those who lacked the capital necessary to purchase slaves. Slave hiring also promoted both the production and speculation of slave capital by providing masters short-term utilization of bondsmen for seasonal labor and in specialized industries. In this sense, masters were "both managers of capital and managers of slaves." Slaves, however, grasped the leverages that slave hiring afforded them. Reporting cases of abuse by hirers to their owners enabled slaves to play masters off against each other. Some slaves also carved out degrees of freedom by deciding where they worked, how long they labored, and at what price. This well-researched study fills an important niche in slave historiography. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. For college and university collections. J. D. Smith University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Table of Contents

Introduction: Slaves with Two Mastersp. 1
1 Slave Hiring in the Evolution of Slaveryp. 17
2 A Blessing and a Cursep. 44
3 Risks and Returnsp. 72
4 Compromised Masteryp. 105
5 Resistance and Abusep. 138
6 Working Alonep. 161
Epiloguep. 188
Abbreviationsp. 197
Notesp. 199
Acknowledgmentsp. 229
Indexp. 231