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The Price of Freedom

The Price of Freedom: Slavery and Manumission in Baltimore and Early National Maryland

T. Stephen Whitman
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 254
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130hn8f
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  • Book Info
    The Price of Freedom
    Book Description:

    A stereotypical image of manumission is that of a benign plantation owner freeing his slaves on his deathbed. But as Stephen Whitman demonstrates, the truth was far more complex, especially in border states where manumission was much more common.

    Whitman analyzes the economic and social history of Baltimore to show how the vigorous growth of the city required the exploitation of rural slaves. To prevent them from escaping and to spur higher production, owners entered into arrangements with their slaves, promising eventual freedom in return for many years' hard work.The Price of Freedomreveals how blacks played a critical role in freeing themselves from slavery. Yet it was an imperfect victory. Once Baltimore's economic growth began to slow, freed blacks were virtually excluded from craft apprenticeships, and European immigrants supplanted them as a trained labor force.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6509-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-7)

    During the first half century of American independence, Baltimore’s population multiplied to make it the nation’s third largest city. Within a single life span the mid–eighteenth-century village at the mouth of Jones’ Falls Creek swelled to a city of eighty thousand souls, spreading northeastward from the Patapsco River to Fells’ Point in a crescent-shaped swarm of houses, shops, mills, and shipyards. In this vibrant and tumultuous environment, with spurts of virtually volcanic growth punctuated by short but prostrating slumps, workers of all statuses, whether free, apprenticed, indentured, or enslaved, were sought out by merchants, manufacturers, and craftsmen. Until the...

  7. 1 SLAVERY IN EARLY NATIONAL BALTIMORE AND RURAL MARYLAND
    (pp. 8-32)

    The story of blacks gaining freedom in Baltimore begins with the arrival of slaves from the countryside and their employment in craft work and manufacturing. Those slaves, either owned or hired from their owners, found that their masters valued and rewarded their willingness to come to the city and their productive service even to the point of granting their freedom.

    Understanding how and why blacks came or were brought to Baltimore and how that process led to freedom requires an examination of the ebbs and flows of the economy and the society both in the city and in the countryside....

  8. 2 INDUSTRIAL SLAVERY IN BALTIMORE
    (pp. 33-60)

    Chemical manufacturing began in Maryland around 1810, with local producers of alum, pigments, and dyes springing up to supply Baltimore’s first cotton and woolen mills. When, in the mid-1820s, the firm of J.K. McKim and Sons decided to enter the chemical business, they erected a new factory and purchased slaves as operatives. The records of the McKim-led Maryland Chemical Works provide a rare, in-depth portrait of the operations of industrial slavery in Baltimore and of the importance of prospective manumission in making and keeping slave workers productive.

    More than twenty years ago, Robert S. Starobin in his path breakingIndustrial...

  9. 3 THE BLACK DRIVE FOR AUTONOMY AND MASTERS’ RESPONSES
    (pp. 61-92)

    When James Gunn advertised for the return of a runaway slave, twenty-four-year-old John Scott, he advised that if Scott “returns before my departure for Georgia I will give him his freedom at age 31.” Whether Scott took Gunn’s offer is unknown, but this ad neatly brings together three powerful influences on the operations of slavery in Maryland: the master’s power to remove the slave from home and family by sale or migration, the slave’s ability to counteract this threat by running off, and the possibility of resolving conflict by concessions of autonomy.¹

    Although the threat of sale was hardly a...

  10. 4 MANUMISSION AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF SLAVERY
    (pp. 93-118)

    Manumission in many societies coexisted with perpetual bondage, frequently in the shape of self-purchase by slave artisans and sometimes monitored through recognition of the slave’s legal personality as a contracting party.¹ But manumission played a comparatively minor role in North American slavery, with debatable exceptions in the mid-Atlantic region; historians of slavery there have portrayed manumitters as individuals of conscience or economic maximizers, or both at the same time, seeking profitable exits from a locally declining labor institution.² This contrast was first noted by Frank Tannenbaum, who cited slaves’ greater access to freedom in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking America as a...

  11. 5 FREE BLACK FAMILY STRATEGIES FOR GAINING FREEDOM
    (pp. 119-139)

    In early America families worked together to maintain themselves. By pooling their labor, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters could hope to gain a “competency,” that is, enough wealth to live comfortably and to stake the children to a start in life through inheritance of land, tools, livestock, fishing boats, or money with which to acquire craft training or attract a suitor. Although this view of family economics derives primarily from whites in New England or the mid-Atlantic region, blacks, too, strove to unite their families’ productive capacities.¹

    In order to do so, people of color had first to create the...

  12. 6 POLITICAL-ECONOMIC THOUGHT AND FREE BLACKS
    (pp. 140-157)

    By 1830 some fourteen thousand free African Americans made up almost one-fifth of Baltimore’s residents, outnumbering slaves nearly four to one. The commercial outlook of Marylanders had strongly shaped the emergence of this black community over the preceding forty years. Self-purchase or delayed manumission contingent on hard work were the modes by which people of color became free; migration to Baltimore was often part of the process of liberation.

    In this setting discussions of emancipation shifted away from the abstract antislavery of the Revolutionary era and slavery’s moral impact on whites, to pragmatic estimates of the capacities of freed people...

  13. CONCLUSIONS
    (pp. 158-166)

    On July 4, 1828, an “immense throng of spectators … filled every window … and the pavement below … on Baltimore Street … for a distance of about two miles.” A crowd of seventy thousand, “placed as closely as they could be stowed,” assembled to view an enormous parade celebrating the ground breaking of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The city’s drive for western markets in place of its stagnating oceanic trade was symbolized by a float bearing a fully rigged ship,The Union,which led a lengthy procession of artisans with floats displaying their crafts. Crewed by leading merchants...

  14. APPENDIX A: BALTIMORE SLAVEHOLDERS, 1790-1820: CRAFT AND TRADESPEOPLE, NUMBER OF SLAVEHOLDERS AND PROPORTION OF ALL PRACTITIONERS
    (pp. 167-169)
  15. APPENDIX B: OCCUPATIONAL CATEGORIES: CRAFT WORKERS AND OTHERS
    (pp. 170-174)
  16. APPENDIX C: SALE PRICES OF TERM SLAVES AND SLAVES FOR LIFE
    (pp. 175-177)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 178-215)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 216-232)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 233-238)