Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Slaves for Hire: Renting Enslaved Laborers in Antebellum Virginia

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Slaves for Hire: Renting Enslaved Laborers in Antebellum Virginia

Article excerpt

Slaves for Hire: Renting Enslaved Laborers in Antebellum Virginia. By John J. Zaborney. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012. Pp. [xiv], 218. $42.50, ISBN 978-0-8071-4512-8.)

John J. Zaborney concludes in Slaves for Hire: Renting Enslaved Laborers in Antebellum Virginia that "[s]lave hiring in Virginia involved all types of slaves in all settings, became a pervasive and routine practice that offered slaves to all groups of whites, and strengthened Virginia slavery during the years just before the Civil War" (p. 163). His research certainly supports each point in this conclusion, and his study is particularly notable for its emphasis on the hiring of slave women and children as well as men. He gives appropriate attention to the impact of hiring on the slaves as individuals and as family members and on white society. The role of hired labor in Virginia's towns and fledgling industries is analyzed as well. The case for the pervasiveness and popularity of hiring slaves could have been made even clearer had Zaborney collected data on the costs of hires and presented them in a systematic manner. A steady increase in hire rates over the antebellum years, which is likely, would be another indication of the strong support for the so-called peculiar institution in a key state of the upper South.

Zaborney's study, appearing less than a decade after Jonathan D. Martin's Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South (Cambridge, Mass., 2004), reflects the increasing recognition by historians that hiring remained a neglected subject for too long. The two books tell essentially the same story, of course, but disagree on at least two points of interpretation concerning the impact of hiring on whites and on blacks--and ultimately on slavery itself. …

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