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Escape to Cities and Towns
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Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division

Slave Hire

With steadily rising prices for slaves and increased demands for temporary workers, owners hired their bondsmen and bondswomen out as laborers, laundresses, artisans, and in other capacities. The typical hiring contract stipulated the length of time, amount of payment, and clothing allowances. Owners could expect a return of between 10 and 20 percent of the slave’s market value per year. In the cities of the Upper South, a substantial portion of the male slave-labor force was hired out, for example, 62 percent in Richmond and 52 percent in Lynchburg. Slaves greatly valued being hired out because they worked away from their owners and sometimes received small overwork payments; but most of their earnings went to their owners. In the cities, fugitives could meld in with a large population of free people and hired slaves.

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