Cost of owning a slave versus free farm worker cost

Wallyfish

Sergeant Major
Honored Fallen Comrade
Joined
Nov 26, 2015
Location
Greensburg, Pa
Has anyone published an annual cost comparison of a farmer owning a slave versus paying a free man to work the farm?

I have always wondered if the decision to be a slave owner was strictly a cost based decision or if other factors such as free man worker availability were the motivating decision factors.
 

infomanpa

Sergeant Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Location
Pennsylvania
Has anyone published an annual cost comparison of a farmer owning a slave versus paying a free man to work the farm?

I have always wondered if the decision to be a slave owner was strictly a cost based decision or if other factors such as free man worker availability were the motivating decision factors.

Great question. I've wondered that myself.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Has anyone published an annual cost comparison of a farmer owning a slave versus paying a free man to work the farm?

I have always wondered if the decision to be a slave owner was strictly a cost based decision or if other factors such as free man worker availability were the motivating decision factors.
I think it has been done.
 

Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
During the 1800's there were endless arguments slave vs free labor. Slaveholders argued that slaves, in effect, had cradle to the grave food, clothing & lodging. This was compared with the degraded lives of workers in free labor states who were chucked out into the gutter when it suited their employers.

It was, in fact, seriously argued by the loudest advocates of slave labor that it is God's intention that a race of masters was required to keep the common folk in good order. God did not want there to be free labor. After all, not a single word in the Bible condemns slavery as a sin, quite the contrary. Slaveholders were, doing their slaves a favor by looking after them.

Of course, the question here is about dollars & cents. Studies have shown that while the invention of the cotton gin fueled a multifold increase in the cash flow of cotton plantations, the economic underpinnings of the slave/plantation model was failing. All across the upper tier of slave states by 1860, slaveholding had ceased to pay. In Tennessee, the 1850 to 1860 census showed a distinct downward trend All you have to do is look at the debt ridden mess that Robert E. Lee was stuck with by his father in law to understand just how desperate the financial condition of many slaveholders really was. The only reason Lee was available to supervise John Brown's capture was his leave of absence from the army to set the family finances aright.

It costs a lot of money to raise a child to a working age. Even with the best of care, the little tykes will just up & die on you. One of my greatgreatgranddads inherited a 1/3 share in a woman & two toddlers. This is an example of one of the economic traps of slaveholding. All your money is tied up in slaves. All the rail roads in America combined were worth considerably less than the 4.000,000 slaves. He also inherited a saddle, $50 & a slave named Moses who had appeared in two previous wills. My ancestor was a school teacher with no money. Moses must have been 80 years old, so had to be provided for. The only way to monitise the woman & toddler was to sell her. That presented a problem.

Toddlers were of course, wort a few hundred dollars. However, if sold separately from their mothers, human nature caused problems. The toddlers tended to pine away. Their mothers, naturally suffered deep depression & tried to run away. None of that was good for business. Stripping her naked, staking her out spread eagle on the ground & beating her with a whip was the common & ordinary way to motivate her to attend to her duties had its own downside. I do not know what happened in my family example. However, there is a probable answer.

"Families Will Be Sold As One Lot." Appears on slave sale hand bills. Commendablely, this sounds humane. Ma, Pa & all the grand chillens going off together. Unfortunately, that is not what the marketing term means. Mothers, babies & toddlers would be sold as lots is the actual meaning. Since my ancestor never personally owned any slaves, Moses must have died, & the little family sold. Exactly how to equate grandpa's monetizing of that one third share with, say the Irish woman whose child became his daughter in law escapes me.

In the rice & Deep South plantations it was the recommended model was to purchase teens & rotate your stock on seven year intervals. There is nothing caring or kind in slaveholding. Household slave women who were too old or whatever to work were set on the public square with a sign reading, "$50.00 or best offer." Hung around their necks.

The northern tier of slave states greatest cash crop was the sale of durplus labor. A regular set of stages moved the surplus southward to the Forks in the Road for sale. So, trying to equate the value of a man day of labor in a slave system is almost impossible to equate with that of a master craftsman, journeyman or laborer. One thing is certain, slavery was a profligate waste of talent. All genius or creativity was utterly & completely wasted. That was the true bankruptcy of slaveholding.
 
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Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
So, trying to equate the value of a man day of labor in a slave system is almost impossible to equate with that of a master craftsman, journeyman or laborer.
Especially since in the border states skilled or craftsman slaves were preferred

"It is important to remember, however, that not all slaves worked on large cotton plantations. African American slaves also worked in many other types of agriculture, including tobacco, hemp (for rope-making), corn, and livestock. Many slaves also worked in Southern cities, working at a variety of skilled trades as well as common laborers. It was not unusual for slaves working in the cities to put away enough money to buy their freedom. Indeed, Southern cities, as well as many in the North, had large so-called free black populations."
 
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Wallyfish

Sergeant Major
Honored Fallen Comrade
Joined
Nov 26, 2015
Location
Greensburg, Pa
Thank you for the replies. But I am still trying to wrap my head around the dollars and cents issue of slave ownership versus prevailing labor cost.

Let's say an 1863 Farm hand going rate was 10 cents per hour. That would put the annual cost for the farmer for a farmhand at $208 per year.

The cost of owning a slave is much more complicated. You would have to prorate the upfront cost of buying the slave. Then you would factor in the cost of housing, feeding and clothing the slave. I am assuming that cost would be less than $208 per year.

This is the type of analysis I am looking for. And does this cost analysis get more complicated if the slaves have children? I simply have a difficult time in rationalizing that once all the cost of slave ownership is calculated, that the cost of owning a slave is more costly than employing a free farm hand.
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
Thank you for the replies. But I am still trying to wrap my head around the dollars and cents issue of slave ownership versus prevailing labor cost.

Let's say an 1863 Farm hand going rate was 10 cents per hour. That would put the annual cost for the farmer for a farmhand at $208 per year.

The cost of owning a slave is much more complicated. You would have to prorate the upfront cost of buying the slave. Then you would factor in the cost of housing, feeding and clothing the slave. I am assuming that cost would be less than $208 per year.

This is the type of analysis I am looking for. And does this cost analysis get more complicated if the slaves have children? I simply have a difficult time in rationalizing that once all the cost of slave ownership is calculated, that the cost of owning a slave is more costly than employing a free farm hand.
Thats part of the problem. many tend to view slavery as just one thing.....it wasnt, their is a large variety in slave status, hierarchy, and types...….you cant really treat them as one. A slave field hand, household slave or a skilled slave aren't going to all have the same profit margins.

Nor was all management the same, some provided bonuses for exceeding quota's or allowed slaves to retain a part of their earning to promote productivity and loyalty, others didn't.....even the business models vary within owners.
 

Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Especially since in the border states skilled or craftsman slaves were preferred

"It is important to remember, however, that not all slaves worked on large cotton plantations. African American slaves also worked in many other types of agriculture, including tobacco, hemp (for rope-making), corn, and livestock. Many slaves also worked in Southern cities, working at a variety of skilled trades as well as common laborers. It was not unusual for slaves working in the cities to put away enough money to buy their freedom. Indeed, Southern cities, as well as many in the North, had large so-called free black populations."
I would very much like to see your references. The 1860 census data from Tennessee is very revealing. Freedmen tended to live in counties with few to no slaves.

What exactly is meant by "so-called" free blacks. One of the most prosperous slaveholders in Rutherford County TN where I live was a black man. I have recently been researching a freed Tennessee slave who founded a dynasty of wealthy, educated descendants in Philadelphia. There was nothing "so-called" about that bunch. I am genuinely interested, please post your references. I assume they go beyond the usual Irish & dogs level of 19th Century prejudices.
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
I would very much like to see your references. The 1860 census data from Tennessee is very revealing. Freedmen tended to live in counties with few to no slaves.

What exactly is meant by "so-called" free blacks. One of the most prosperous slaveholders in Rutherford County TN where I live was a black man. I have recently been researching a freed Tennessee slave who founded a dynasty of wealthy, educated descendants in Philadelphia. There was nothing "so-called" about that bunch. I am genuinely interested, please post your references. I assume they go beyond the usual Irish & dogs level of 19th Century prejudices.
??? I was referring to skilled slaves not free blacks, the quote is from library of congress however. A free black however is one not owned as a slave.......fairly easy definition to grasp for most


In Missouri most slaveowners were small scale and farming regular crops, the time in the fields wouldn't amount to maybe two months a year working side by side with the owner. So skilled slaves were valued, who could be leased out the rest of year, carpentry or stonemasons were fairly common. In my local area stonemasons were preferred, as there always was foundation, chimneys, or even bridge work

If one lived near a city or a major river, they could use nonskilled slaves as woodcutters the rest of the year as Grant did with his three slaves.
 
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Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
??? I was referring to skilled slaves not free blacks, the quote is from library of congress however. A free black however is one not owned as a slave.......fairly easy definition to grasp for most


In Missouri most slaveowners were small scale and farming regular crops, the time in the fields wouldn't amount to maybe two months a year working side by side with the owner. So skilled slaves were valued, who could be leased out the rest of year, carpentry or stonemasons were fairly common. In my local area stonemasons were preferred, as there always was foundation, chimneys, or even bridge work

If one lived near a city or a major river, they could use nonskilled slaves as woodcutters the rest of the year as Grant did with his three slaves.
That is why the 1860 census is so informative. In Kentucky, seventy five families owned the fifty slaves necessary for plantation status. In Tennessee, slaveholding was concentrated in West Tennessee & a cluster of counties around Nashville. Obion, near Memphis was 80 percent slaves & some East Tennessee counties had zero. The majority of slaves in Tennessee were owned by yeoman farmers. If memory serves, the common number was under ten, i.e., a family. Takes a lot of hands to work a farm. Williamson County, southwest of Nashville, was & is a very wealthy area. There was a family of slaves who built the mansions so necessary for status. They worked on their own, paying a percentage to their owner. That family founded what is to this day the largest minority owned construction company in the U.S.
 

Will Carry

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 1, 2015
Location
The Tar Heel State.
I think that slavery was only profitable to the large plantation owners. IF they had hired free men and women and paid them a wage, they would have had money to spend. Leather goods, clothing, foods, seed, hardware, shoes, livestock. Now you have the an economy where everyone gets to share in the rewards. Small businesses pop up, industry! That didn't happen and the North had a thriving economy and the South had a stagnant economy. During reconstruction and the Jim Crow era Southern workers flocked to the North to get jobs and again the South was left with a stagnant economy. Now, the South is rising out of the ashes and people are moving back in to the South. Is that theory too off base?
 

Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I think that slavery was only profitable to the large plantation owners. IF they had hired free men and women and paid them a wage, they would have had money to spend. Leather goods, clothing, foods, seed, hardware, shoes, livestock. Now you have the an economy where everyone gets to share in the rewards. Small businesses pop up, industry! That didn't happen and the North had a thriving economy and the South had a stagnant economy. During reconstruction and the Jim Crow era Southern workers flocked to the North to get jobs and again the South was left with a stagnant economy. Now, the South is rising out of the ashes and people are moving back in to the South. Is that theory too off base?
After the war, Chinese men were brought in to replace slave labor. No Chinese women were imported. That is why so many Southern Blacks have Mongolian genes. Opera Winfry is an example of that genetic legacy.
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
I think that slavery was only profitable to the large plantation owners. IF they had hired free men and women and paid them a wage, they would have had money to spend. Leather goods, clothing, foods, seed, hardware, shoes, livestock. Now you have the an economy where everyone gets to share in the rewards. Small businesses pop up, industry! That didn't happen and the North had a thriving economy and the South had a stagnant economy. During reconstruction and the Jim Crow era Southern workers flocked to the North to get jobs and again the South was left with a stagnant economy. Now, the South is rising out of the ashes and people are moving back in to the South. Is that theory too off base?
Wouldn't think so, I have a multi million dollar farm today that was founded by a small farmer with 2 slaves, plenty of small farms thrived from it as well.

In my GGGF's case having a couple of slaves to help work the farm, allowed him to expand into running small businesses, he ended up with 3 general stores too.

Instead of paying wages out, they bring income in by being leased out when not needed farming.
 
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Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
I think that slavery was only profitable to the large plantation owners. IF they had hired free men and women and paid them a wage, they would have had money to spend. Leather goods, clothing, foods, seed, hardware, shoes, livestock. Now you have the an economy where everyone gets to share in the rewards. Small businesses pop up, industry! That didn't happen and the North had a thriving economy and the South had a stagnant economy. During reconstruction and the Jim Crow era Southern workers flocked to the North to get jobs and again the South was left with a stagnant economy. Now, the South is rising out of the ashes and people are moving back in to the South. Is that theory too off base?
I came across this last nite.

"Most owners in the seven counties owned only a few slaves. While social status might encourage ownership, most residents wanted them because there was hard work to be done, and few free laborers to do it. As in other slave states, free workers were in short supply as they knew they could not compete against cheaper slave labor. The small farmer had plenty of work to be done, but no extra money to spend on wages, that left only the poor white trash to hire. R.S. Cotterill writes of them "occasionally they worked for the farmer, but the work was only done by the day, with the worker apt to quit his job anytime he got a dollar or so in his pockets....Farmer and planter alike disliked him and distrusted him because he set such a bad example for the negro"

A second motive for owning slaves was to improve one's social status. Historian Floyd Shoemaker writes that "everybody who was anybody had at least one or two, it was a social standard that had to be met. Even those without slaves thought they may be able to buy some in the future"

From Slavery north of St Louis.
 

Will Carry

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 1, 2015
Location
The Tar Heel State.
I came across this last nite.

"Most owners in the seven counties owned only a few slaves. While social status might encourage ownership, most residents wanted them because there was hard work to be done, and few free laborers to do it. As in other slave states, free workers were in short supply as they knew they could not compete against cheaper slave labor. The small farmer had plenty of work to be done, but no extra money to spend on wages, that left only the poor white trash to hire. R.S. Cotterill writes of them "occasionally they worked for the farmer, but the work was only done by the day, with the worker apt to quit his job anytime he got a dollar or so in his pockets....Farmer and planter alike disliked him and distrusted him because he set such a bad example for the negro"

A second motive for owning slaves was to improve one's social status. Historian Floyd Shoemaker writes that "everybody who was anybody had at least one or two, it was a social standard that had to be met. Even those without slaves thought they may be able to buy some in the future"

From Slavery north of St Louis.

So what you are saying is that slavery did not stagnate the South's economy. Thanks for your reply.
I would like to learn more about the interrelationships between a farmer and his slave, in the old south. Some would have you believe that slaves were beaten and raped every day and that their lives were one constant hell. If anyone says that the relationship was anything less, in our new society, they are racist.
In studying history you can have an open mind and be surprised at what you find or you can try and make history meet a preconceived agenda and not be surprised.
 
Joined
Aug 25, 2013
Location
Hannover, Germany
The cost of owning a slave is much more complicated. You would have to prorate the upfront cost of buying the slave. Then you would factor in the cost of housing, feeding and clothing the slave. I am assuming that cost would be less than $208 per year.

This is the type of analysis I am looking for.

@Wallyfish, I had found this earlier and since then always waited for an opportunity to post it. But I must warn you, it is no easy read, but a true scientific examination, and it has 25 pages. But I guess it might answer your query, at least in parts.
The title is: A microeconomic analysis of slavery in comparison to free labor economies

1574270549366.png


 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
@Wallyfish, I had found this earlier and since then always waited for an opportunity to post it. But I must warn you, it is no easy read, but a true scientific examination, and it has 25 pages. But I guess it might answer your query, at least in parts.
The title is: A microeconomic analysis of slavery in comparison to free labor economies

View attachment 335170


I did not see anything useful here, unless you are trying to sell a new modeling tool -- lots of formulas, but no answers.
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
So what you are saying is that slavery did not stagnate the South's economy. Thanks for your reply.
I would like to learn more about the interrelationships between a farmer and his slave, in the old south. Some would have you believe that slaves were beaten and raped every day and that their lives were one constant hell. If anyone says that the relationship was anything less, in our new society, they are racist.
In studying history you can have an open mind and be surprised at what you find or you can try and make history meet a preconceived agenda and not be surprised.
That's somewhat catch 22, wouldn't say slavery stagnated a agricultural economy....but the deep South never diversified much from a agricultural economy

Edit-added- But obviously to refer to an economy, that provided the number one export for the entire nation as stagnent, would be unrealistic. Not to mention besides cotton, US production of rice, sugar, and tobacco were also heavily based on the same slave economy, and virtually every other segment of US agriculture used it to varying degrees also.
 
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lurid

Sergeant
Joined
Jan 3, 2019
Thank you for the replies. But I am still trying to wrap my head around the dollars and cents issue of slave ownership versus prevailing labor cost.

Let's say an 1863 Farm hand going rate was 10 cents per hour. That would put the annual cost for the farmer for a farmhand at $208 per year.

The cost of owning a slave is much more complicated. You would have to prorate the upfront cost of buying the slave. Then you would factor in the cost of housing, feeding and clothing the slave. I am assuming that cost would be less than $208 per year.

This is the type of analysis I am looking for. And does this cost analysis get more complicated if the slaves have children? I simply have a difficult time in rationalizing that once all the cost of slave ownership is calculated, that the cost of owning a slave is more costly than employing a free farm hand.

I think what is missing in this thread is how "valuable" of an asset was a certain slave. How much profit did the slave accrue and much cotton production did it yield, like little cells that conglomerated that formed the plantation economy. Even how profitable was a slave on a sugar plantation? Or how valuable was any slave that "supposedly" worked somewhere else other than the plantation? Different variables that factor in that give you an answer, but no the definitive one you are seeking.

Slavery was cost effective on the plantations when the demand for a product was high. This was the case for cotton for about forty years during the antebellum era. Cotton, like any other commodity went through boom and bust cycles which moved the labor demand curve to the right. More output can now be produced by the same amounts of capital and labor, since cotton is more abundant and cheaper. The production function shifts upward, with the marginal products of labor and capital rising. Since the marginal product of labor is higher, so is labor demand. As a result of the shift to the right in the labor demand curve, labor rises, as does the real wage. However, the slave did not get "real wages," and was relegated to 3 hots and a cot, therefore, the cotton plantation owner collects the increase of real wages and arbitrarily doles out necessities.

Keep in mind that slavery was more efficient than hired labor, at least on the cotton plantation it was more efficient. You have to use deduction to make a correct estimation that hired help require breaks, lunch and leisure time. Whereas, the slave did not have leisure time and was worked indefinitely. Therefore, slavery moved the "Efficiency Curve" down because it produced more and more high quality work done in less and less time. Insert the unusual high demand for cotton the 4 decades prior to the CW that increased cotton production by 5,000% in 50 years and increased the labor for it by 300% that compelled the total revenue line to rise above the total cost line in the middle of the diagram, which economic profit was positive.

On the plantation it's hard to narrow it down to dollars and cents for an exact sum, so I would submit to you that on the cotton plantation slavery was way cheaper and way more profitable than hired labor because of the aforementioned reasons. Even if the price of the slave and hired hand hourly rate is exact, the slave has less leisure time and better production because the hired hand has the freedom to quit and seek employment elsewhere. Too many variables to apply this approach to areas outside the plantation that held slaves, the hired hand could have been cheaper but I doubt it, considering no slave holder was going to give much incentives. Slavery could have been the same as hired help in some areas, during the Great Depression some employers didn't have money to pay employees so they offered two meal a day plus a place to sleep. Therefore, my opinion is that slavery was cheaper than hired help on the plantation but the same on non plantation areas. Now, that was during the cotton boom, but cotton was going to bust with or without the war and slavery was not going to be so cheap and profitable. But that's a topic for another thread...
 
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