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Slave Economics (SECO 101)

Author: Tafari, Monday, May 15th, 2006 at 7:20 AM
Bygbaby.com Mind Spill BlogGrowing up, when I heard about the field work salves did, I only recall hearing about rice, cotton, sugar & not much else. Other than the before mention I new Slaves worked either in the field or the house. I think this is what most of us know/knew. Now that I am reading Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South by Kenneth Stampp, I am finding out much more on the work that Slaves did pre-civil war. For instance, I am now up on the fact Slaves worked on cotton, tobacco, rice, sugar, hemp & indigo plantations spring, summer, fall, winter & spring again.

So now that I know this, I am also reading the never ending work schedule that Slaves endured that started in some cases 1 hour before the sun rose. & they did not retire until dusk (“from day clean to first dark”). When Slaves were not planting cultivated crops in the giving crop season, they were repairing fences, clearing brush &sometimes they found time to take care of their shack (speaking cynically).

Agriculture was of course the money maker for the Ante-Bellum South as if you did not know, but here is breakdown of what was grown where:

  • Cotton – FL, NC, SC, GA, AL, MS, LA, TN, AK, TX OK MO KY, VA (aKa The Cotton Belt): Factoid (Between 1840 and 1860 Louisiana's annual cotton crop rose from about 375,000 bales to nearly 800,000 bales. In 1860 Louisiana produced about one-sixth of all cotton grown in the United States and almost one-third of all cotton exported from the United States, most of which went to Britain and France. Source)
  • Sugar - TX, FL, LA, GA: Factoid (Almost all of the sugar grown in the United States during the antebellum period came from Louisiana. Louisiana produced from one-quarter to one-half of all sugar consumed in the United States. In any given year the combined crop of other sugar-producing states in the South was less than five percent of that of Louisiana. Louisiana's sugar harvest rose from 5,000 hogsheads (a large barrel that held an average of 1,000 pounds of sugar) in 1802 to a high of 449,000 hogsheads in 1853, peaking at an average price of $69 each in 1858, bringing the total value of Louisiana's sugar crop to $25 million. Source
  • Indigo & Rice – SC: Factoid (During the 1700s the American colonists in South Carolina and Georgia discovered that rice would grow well in the moist, semitropical country bordering their coastline. But the American colonists had no experience with the cultivation of rice, and they needed African Slaves who knew how to plant, harvest, and process this difficult crop. The white plantation owners purchased Slaves from various parts of Africa, but they greatly preferred Slaves from what they called the "Rice Coast" or "Windward Coast"—the traditional rice-growing region of West Africa, stretching from Senegal down to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Source)
  • Tobacco - KY, MD, MO, VA, NC: Factoid (Virginia created a legal structure for holding black families in permanent slavery in the 20 years between 1667-1686, and imported a huge quantity of Slaves after 1700 to provide the labor to grow tobacco. Source)
  • Hemp - KY, MO: Factoid (In the nineteenth century, hemp was one of the largest cash crops in Kentucky, creating an economic link between Appalachia and the Deep South through its reliance on slave labor and its importance to the cotton industry. In 1850 the United States boasted a $3.34-million hemp industry including 8,327 hemp plantations of 2,000 acres or more and 417 bagging and cordage factories. Source)

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The US census does have a use:

  • In 1781, the estimated population of the United States was 3.5 million. About 575,000 of these were Slaves. In 1801, the year Thomas Jefferson became president, the population of the United States was 5,308,000, with 900,000 Slaves. In 1830, U.S. population was 12.8 million, with more than 2 million Slaves. SourceThe census of 1790 revealed that 59,000 free blacks lived in the United States -- approximately 27,000 in the North and 32,000 in the South. By
  • 1830, the total number of free blacks had risen to 319,000, with 150,000 living in the North.
  • 1850 Census estimated 2,500,000 Enslaved Africans were involved in US agriculture:

    • 60,000 in hemp production
    • 125,000 in rice production
    • 150,000 in sugar production
    • 350,000 in tobacco production
    • 1,815,000 in cotton production
  • Indigo production was stopped in the US after England discontinued subsidies for the crop - Africans have used indigo for centuries as symbol of wealth and fertility. Indigo-dyed cotton cloth excavated from caves in Mali date to the 11th century and many of the designs are still used by modern West Africans Source.

Please keep in mind that no Slaves were ever paid for their work on plantations!

"One hundred thousand slaves, Black or mulatto, work in sugar mills, indigo and cocoa plantations, sacrificing their lives to gratify our newly acquired appetites for sugar, cocoa, coffee, and tobacco--things unknown to our ancestors."

--Voltaire, Essay on Morals and Customs, 1756
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Question: why come we can't get us no reparation?
The financial aspect of Slave labor was discussed this week in my Black History & Chattel Slavery class & after doing some research online, I stumbled across this estimated financial analysis by Henry Robert Burke.

“Slave children began performing routine labor tasks around 10 years of age. Slave women worked in fields doing the same tasks as slave men, with little or no difference shown for gender. The work schedule for Slaves was from daylight to dark, 6 days per week, with Sunday off under normal circumstances, in order for Slaves to do their personal chores. The living expense for each slave averaged about $38.00 per year. According to the U. S. Census Report there were over 1,000,000 Slaves in the United States between 1810-1820. At the advent of the American Civil War in 1861, there were about 4 million Slaves in the United States. For the period 1800 through 1860 the inflation rate was relatively flat, meaning that the dollar value was stable. From 1861 through 1997, the inflation rate caused the value of the dollar to decrease by a factor of 15 times. The wage rate paid to construction workers,(mainly Irish), working on he Erie Canal Construction Project from 1817 through 1825, was $.80 and found, (food and lodging), per day. This is assumed as the minimum wage rate for that time period.

It would be an almost impossible task to figure an exact dollar amount of wages owed to African Americans who were enslaved in the United States. However this estimate is intended to show that African American did contribute an enormous sum of money to the economy of the United States. Let us figure the lifetime wages owed to a typical 60 year old slave.

Let us say that the slave, He/she, began working in 1811 at age 11 and worked until 1861, giving a total of 50 years labor. For that time, the slave earned $0.80 per day, 6 days per week. This equals $4.80 per week, times 52 weeks per year, which equals pay of $249.60 per year.

Since this slave worked for 50 years, his/her total lifetime earning, at the minimum wage, should have been $12,480. Considering the inflation factor of (x15), today that figure amount to $187,200 .

To make this equation simple, let's assume that an average number of 1,000,000 Slaves lived and worked for the fifty year period from 1811 through 1861. We multiply 1,000,000 times $12,480. This would give us a figure of $12,480,000,000.00 at that period's dollar value, or $187,200,000,000.00 at today's equivalent dollar value, that Slaves should have been paid.”
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OK almost done:


While this post focused only on the agricultural effects of slavery, please note, that Enslaved Africans also had an impact on the industrialization of the north & south during the Ante-Bellum period. More on this later!

I know if I was working my ass off for nothing I would mos def have been diagnosed with “Draptomania”, what about you. All of the above information needs to be considered when some say Black Americans do not deserve reparations for Slavery.

Etymology of Draptomania (drapetes - a runaway (in this case a slave)) (mania – madness or frenzy) - A psychiatric diagnosis manufactured by Samuel A. Cartwright, a Louisiana physician to explain the unknown desire that Enslaved Africans had to flee from their slave conditions.

Primary story source - Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South Chapter 2 section 2 (44-50)


6 Responses to “Slave Economics (SECO 101)”

  1. brunsli Says:

    Thanks! I learned a thing or two!


  2. Bygbaby Says:

    YES, it is all about sharing and or reinforcing knowledge.

    As I try to learn myself, I mos def like to put it out there by any means necessary (through back to Malcolm)


  3. i like liquor and tv Says:

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. This puts a lot into perspective.


  4. Ruminations of a Racial Realist Says:

    Etymology of Draptomania (drapetes – a runaway (in this case a slave)) (mania – madness or frenzy) – A psychiatric diagnosis manufactured by Samuel A. Cartwright, a Louisiana physician to explain the unknown desire that Enslaved Africans had to flee from their slave conditions.

    This reference to “draptomania” is made in a lot of books on race and psychiatry; the point being made is that one can not apply “white” mental illness labels to black people because, as this example illustrates, they can be extremely biased!


  5. Cluizel Says:

    Wow…looks likr I need to go through the mindspill archives too.


  6. Bygbaby Says:

    Yes!!!, I got some good stuff from way back when. I think I may start reposting seeing that I now have just about 300 articles.

    Bygbaby



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