Eric V. Snow

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The Standard Comparison of Factory Workers with Slaves 10

Why Do Such a Comparison? 10

What Exactly Is Compared Out of Each Diverse Group 12

Five Broad Areas for Comparison Purposes 12

Some Theoretical Problems in Comparing Slaves and Laborers'

Standard of Living 14

Diet and the Standard of Living for Slaves 17

Fogel and Engerman's Optimistic Reconstructions of the Slave

Diet 18

The Slave Diet as Crude, Coarse, and Boring 21

Differing Diets for Slaves with Different Positions 23

The Slaves' Role in Providing Themselves with Food on Their

Own 25

Variations in What Food Different Slaveowners Provided Their

Own Slaves With 26

The Diet of English Farmworkers: Regional Variations 28

The Southern English Agricultural Workers' Diet Was Poor,

Often Meatless 30

Grains, Especially Wheat, Dominate the Agricultural Workers'

Diet 32

The Role of Potatoes in the Laborers' Diet, Despite

Prejudices Against Them 33

Did Farmworkers Prefer Coarse or Fine Food? 34

The Monotony of the Farmworkers' Diet in the South of England 36

The Superior Conditions of the Northern English Farmworkers 37

Meat as a Near Luxury for Many Farmworkers 39

The Effects of Enclosure and Allotments on Hodge's Diet 40

Comparing Food Received by English Paupers, Slaves, and Their

Nation's Army 42

Better Bread Versus Little Meat? The Slave Versus Farmworker

Diet 43

Clothing for Slaves 44

Bad Clothing Conditions for Slaves 45

Differences in Clothing Provided for Slaves with Different

Position 46

The Factory Versus Homespun: The Master's Decision 48

Slaves and Shoe Shortages 49

Fogel and Engerman's Optimistic Take on Slaves' Clothing

Rations 51

Clothing and English Agricultural Workers 51

The Low Standards for Farmworkers, Especially in Southern

England 52

Homespun More Common in America than England by C. 1830 53

Special Measures Needed to Buy Their Own Clothes 54

Housing For Slaves: Variations around a Low Average Standard 55

Cases of Good Slave Houses 58

Was Poor White Housing Little Better than the Slaves'? 59

Fogel and Engerman's Optimistic View of Slave Housing 59

Genovese's Overly Optimistic Take on Slave Housing 60

The Moral Hazards of Crowded, One-Room Slave Houses 62

Slave Housing--Sanitation and Cleanliness 63

English Farmworkers' Housing--Quality/Size 64

Poor Housing Leads to Sexual Immorality 66

How the Artist's Eye Can Be Self-Deceiving When Evaluating

Cottages' Quality 68

How Rentals and the Poor and Settlement Laws Made for Poor

Quality Housing 69

The Problem of Cottages Being Distant from Work 70

The Aristocracy's Paternalism in Providing Housing, and Its

Limits 71

Little Difference for Slaves and Farmworkers in the Quality of

Their Housing 73

Agricultural Workers--Sanitation/Cleanliness 74

Slaves--Furniture and Personal Effects 76

English Agricultural Workers: Home Furnishings, Utensils,

etc. 78

Fuel--Sambo's Supply Versus Hodge's 79

Sambo's Medical Care 82

The General Backwardness of Antebellum Medical Care 83

Masters Sought Ways to Reduce Medical Expenses 84

Masters and Overseers as Amateur Healers for Slaves 84

Black Medical Self-Help: Conjurors and Midwives 86

Medical Care for English Agricultural Workers 87

Whose Medical Care Was Better? Hodge's? Or Sambo's? 91

The Overall Material Standard of Living: Was Hodge or Sambo

Better Off? 92

Trickle-Down Economics with a Vengeance: How the Slaves

Benefited 93


The Quality of Life as Opposed to the (Material) Standard of

Living 95

Literacy and Education for African-American Slaves 96

Why Slaveholders Sought to Keep Slaves Illiterate 98

English Farmworkers, Literacy and Education 102

A Brief Sketch of the Development of English Public Education 104

What Age Did Child Labor Begin and Schooling End? 105

Ignorance Versus Skewed Knowledge: Different Models for

Controlling a Subordinate Class 106

Slaves--The Treatment of Elderly "Aunts" and "Uncles" 109

Altruism and Self-Interest Did Not Necessarily Conveniently

Coincide to Protect Elderly Slaves' Lives 110

Did Slavery Provide More Security Against Starvation than

Laissez-Faire? 110

Odd Jobs for Elderly Slaves 112

The Senior Hodge: Cared for, or Fends for Himself? 113

The Effects of the New Poor Law on the Elderly, Non-Working

Poor 115

How the Local Authorities Profited from the Workhouse Test 117

Whose Elderly Were Better Off? The Farmworkers' or the

Slaves'? 118

The Slave Childhood: Full of Fun or Full of Fear? 119

Pastimes for Slave Children 120

Plantation Day Care: How Slave Childhood Was Different 123

Is All Work Bad for Children? 124

The Slave Childhood: Good, Bad, or Indifferent? 125

Hodge's Childhood: More Work, But More Worthwhile? 126

Just How Common Was Child Labor, Especially in the

Countryside 128

The Parental Push for Child Labor 130

Day Care Not a Common Experience 131

Young Hodge at Play 132

The Relative Quality of Life for the Children of Slaves and

Laborers 133

Religion--A Site for Enlightenment, Social Unity, and Social

Conflict 134

Slave Religion--The Slaveholders' Options on Christianizing

the Slaves 135

The Earlier Practice of Not Evangelizing the Slaves 137

The Gospel of Obedience Distorts the Christianity Given to

the Slaves 137

The Slaves Add to the Religion Given Them by Their Masters

and Mistresses 139

No Surprise: The Slaves' Lack of Religious Freedom 141

The Slaves Unbend a Bent Christianity 142

Slave Preachers: Their Role and Power 144

Did Slaveholders Achieve Religious and Ideological Hegemony

Over the Slaves? 145

English Agricultural Workers and Christianity 149

Reasons for the Established Church's Unpopularity with the

Laborers 149

How the Local Elite Can Use Charity to Control the Poor 151

The Laborers’ Turn to Nonconformity and Its Mixed Results 153

Christianity: An Instigator of Laborers' Resistance? 154

Similarities in Southern White and English Lower Class

Religion 155

Somehow Seeking Participation in and Control of One's

Destiny: The Consolations of Faith? 156

The Slave Family: How Well Did It Survive Slavery? 157

The Family Bonds of Slaves Made Conditional Upon the

Stability of the Slaveholders 159

The Routine Destruction of Family Relationships under Slavery 161

Fogel and Engerman's Mistakenly Low Figures on Marriage

Breakup 164

How the Slaves' Fears about Family Breakup Could Make For

Continual Anxiety 165

The Process of Being Bought and Sold as Itself Dehumanizing 166

How Slavery Undermined the Families of Slaves 166

How Slavery Weakened the Father's Role 167

Factors Which Encouraged Slaves to Treat Marriage Bonds

Casually 170

How Slavery Encouraged a Casual Approach to Family

Relationships 171

The Ways Slavery Destroyed Family Relationships 173

How the Master Could Routinely Interfere in Slave Family

Relationships 174

Master-Arranged Marriages 175

Just How Common Was Miscegenation? 176

Despite the Pressures, Slaves Still Maintained Some Form of

Family Life 178

The Key Issues Involved in Examining the Quality of Farm-

worker Family Life 179

The "Weber/Gillis" Thesis Summarized: Was Brutish Family

Life the Norm? 180

The Limits to Snell's Rebuttal Against Seeing Lower Class

Family Life as Harsh 182

How Not Being Independent and Self-Sufficient Could Improve

Family Life 184

The Limits to Applying the Gillis-Weber Thesis to the

English Case 186

Some Evidence Bearing on the Quality of Farmworkers' Family

Life 187

Why the Slave Family was Fundamentally Worse Off than the

Laborer Family 189

Why the Laborers Had a Higher Overall Quality of Life than

the Slaves 190

The Problems of Comparing the Slaves' and Laborers' Quality

of Religious Experience 190

How Elderly Slaves Could Have Been Better Off Than the

Elderly Farmworkers 192

How the Slaves' More Carefree Childhood Was Not Necessarily

a Better One 192

The Hazards of Historical Analysis that Uses the Values of

Those in the Past 194


The Sexual Division of Labor: African-American Slaves 196

Kemble on a Stricter Sexual Division of Labor's Advantages 197

Jobs Female Slaves Had 198

Qualifications about the Generally Weak Sexual Division of

Labor among Slaves 201

Plantation Day Care Revisited 202

The Sexual Division of Labor: English Agricultural Workers 203

Women's Work in Arable Areas at Harvest Time Increased

Later in the Century 204

The Female Dominance of Dairy Work Declines 205

How the Separate Spheres' View on Sex Roles Influenced the

1867-68 Report 206

Why Did Laboring Women Increasingly Fall Out of the Field

Labor Force? 207

Allotments Partially Restore the Family Economy 209

Quality of Life Issues and the Sexual Division of Labor 209

The Division of Labor: Blessing or Curse? 211

Who Was Better Off Depends on the Values One Has 213

The Central Reality of Work and the Elite's Needs for

Controlling Its Workers 213

Dawn to Dusk--Work Hours for Slaves 215

Using Force to Get Slaves into the Fields in the Morning 215

Finishing Work for the Day--Some Variations 217

Hours of Work--Agricultural Workers 218

Were Workdays Shorter for the Farmworkers than the Slaves? 219

The Length of the Workweek and Days off--Slaves 221

Slaves Normally Did Not Work on Sundays 221

Holidays the Slaves Did Not Work On 223

Unplanned Days Off Due to Weather or the State of Crops 224

The Days of Work for Agricultural Workers 225

Those Laborers Who Had to Work Sundays, and Those Who Did Not 226

Seasonal and Other Changes in the Workweek, and Their Effects

on Unemployment 228

How "Voluntarily" Did Slaves Work? The Necessity of Coercion

and Supervision 230

Why the Whip Had to Be Used to Impose Work Discipline on the

Slaves 231

How Commonly Were the Slaves Whipped? The Time on the Cross

Controversy 233

The Deterrence Value of Occasional Killings 235

The Danger of Corporal Punishment Backfiring, Requiring

"Massive Retaliation" 236

How Even Good Masters Could Suddenly Kill a Slave in the

Heat of Passion 237

Miscellaneous Punishments that Masters Inflicted on Slaves 238

Examples of Corporal Punishment Backfiring 239

Did Slaveowners Successfully Implant a Protestant Work Ethic

in the Slaves? 240

The Slaves' Sense of Work Discipline Like that of Other

Pre-Industrial People 242

Genovese's Paternalism: How Successful Were Planters in

Imposing Hegemony? 244

Scott Versus Hegemony 244

Were the Slaveholders Really Believers in Paternalism?: The

Implications of Jacksonian Democracy and Commercial

Capitalism in the American South 247

Counter-Attacks Against Portraying Slaveholders as Bourgeois

Individualists 249

Ignorance as a Control Device Revisited 252

How Masters Would Manipulate the Slaves' Family Ties in Order

to Control Them 253

Positive Incentives Only a Supplementary Method for

Controlling the Bondsmen 255

The Brutal Overseer as a Historical Reality 258

The Task Versus Gang Systems: Different Approaches to Work

Discipline 260

The Infrapolitics of Task (Quota) Setting 261

The Gang System's Advantages 262

The Patrol/Pass System 264

The Slaveowners Who Liberally Granted Passes or Dispensed with

Them Altogether 266

How the Divisions Among White Slaveholders Benefited the

Enslaved 267

How Mistresses and other Family Members Often Restrained Ill-

Treatment 268

The Central Reality of Violence as the Main Tool to Control

the Slaves 269

The High Levels of Violence Between the Slaves and Masters

Compared to England 271

Both Sides committed Far Less Violence During the Swing Riots

in England 272

The Lower Goals and Greater Divisions among Local Elites in

the English Case 273

The Routine Police State Measures in the South 275

Coercion, Not Incentives or Ideology, as the Basic Means of

Enforcing Slavery 276

Basic Differences Between the American and English Elites'

Methods of Control 276

The Freedom of Action Local Government Officials Had in

England 277

The Basic Strategy to Better Control the Farmworkers 278

Enclosure as a Method of Social Control and "Class Robbery" 279

Enclosure: Direct Access to the Means of Production and

Some Food Both Lost 280

Open and Close Parishes: One Dumps Laborers onto the Other 282

The Decline of Service 284

Why Service Declined 285

How Poor Relief Itself Promoted Population Growth 287

Assorted Methods that Deterred Applicants for Relief 288

Why "Make-Work" Jobs Failed to Deter Applicants and

Undermined Work Discipline 289

The New Poor Law: Deterring Applicants for Relief by

Using the Workhouse Test 290

Falling Productivity: One More Consequence of the Old Poor

Law 292

The Workhouse Test as a Tool for Increasing Labor

Productivity 293

The Workhouse Test Was a Tool for Lowering Wages Also 294

Allotments Help Reduce Increases in Rates Caused by Enclosure 296

Why the Rural Elite Still Sometimes Opposed Allotments 297

Miscellaneous Ways Allotments Were Used to Benefit the Rural

Elite 298

Another Positive Mode of Creating Work Discipline: Piecework 300

The Legal System and Its Influence on the Laborers 303

The Justice of the Peace/County Court System Necessarily

Expressed Class Bias 303

The Biases of the Courts Against the Laborers Should Not Be

Exaggerated 304

Ignorance of the Law as a Control Device 305

Examples of How the Contents of the Law Could be Against the

Laborers 306

The Important Differences Between Controlling the Laborers

and Slaves at Work 307

Ideological Hegemony, Paternalism, Class Consciousness, and

Farmworkers 309

Did Some in the Elite Begin to Repudiate Paternalistic,

Communal Values? 309

How the Rural Elite Tried to Have Paternalism and Capitalism

Simultaneously 310

Paternalism Vs. Capitalism: The Trade-Offs between Freedom

and Security 311

How the Waning of Paternalism Made the Laborers' Class

Consciousness Possible 313

The Power of Gifts to Control, and When They Do Not 313

The Failure of Paternalism as an Ideological Control Device

from C. 1795 314

The Laborers' Growing Class Consciousness, C. 1834 to 1850 315

When the Laborers as a Class in Itself Began to Act for

Itself 317

A Comparison of Respective Elite Control Strategies: Slave-

owners and Squires 318

How Much Success Did These Two Elites Have at Hegemony? 322


The Infrapolitics of Daily Life 325

Analytical Problems with "Day-to-Day Resistance"

(Infrapolitics) 325

The Continuum of Resistance from Infrapolitics to Organized

Insurrection 326

The Need for a Subordinate Class to Wear a Mask to Conceal

Their Knowledge 328

Early Training in Mask Wearing 329

The Costs of Being Open and the Mask Falling Off 330

The Subordinate Class's Compulsions to Lie 330

Why the Rituals of Deference Still Had Meaning 332

Elkins's "Sambo" Hypothesis and Its Problems 333

An Act of Routine Resistance: Stealing 338

Various Motives for Theft 338

The Intrinsic Costs of Double-Standards in Morality 339

Evading Work by Claiming Sickness 341

Work: Slowdowns and Carelessness 342

The Strategy of Playing the White Folks Off Against Each

Other 343

Manipulating White Authority for the Slaves' Own Purposes 343

How Pleadings and Petitions Could Restrain Masters and

Mistresses 343

The General Problem of Slaves Running Away 344

Temporary and Local Flight 346

"Negotiating" a Return 347

How Runaways Could Resist Capture 348

Maroons: Settlements of Escaped Slaves 349

The Most Successful Runaways 350

"Strikes" Conducted by Groups of Slaves Running Away 352

Small Scale Open Confrontations and Violence 353

"Nats" or "Sambos"?--Selective Perception by the Master Class 355

The Rarity of Slave Revolts in the United States Compared

to Elsewhere 356

The Factors Militating Against Slave Revolts in the United

States 357

Many Slaves Knew How Much the Deck Was Stacked Against

Successful Revolt 359

Why then, If Revolts Were So Rare, Were the Whites So

Paranoid? 360

Resistance to Slavery in the United States Is Dominated by

Infrapolitics 362

Resident Slaveholders Supervising Small Units of Production

Smother Resistance 363

Resisting Enslavement Is Not the Same as Resisting Slavery

as a Social System 364

Hodge: The Predominance of Daily Infrapolitics Over Outright

Riots 366

Social Crime--The Infrapolitics of Poaching 367

The Laborers' Counter-Ideology Against the Elite's Game Laws 368

The Role of Theft, More Generally Defined, in English

Rural Infrapolitics 369

The Correlation between Poverty and Theft 370

Hodge's Thinner Mask 370

How Farmworkers Could "Run Away"--Resistance Through Migra-

tion 372

The Reluctance of Laborers to Move and Other Obstacles to

Migration 373

The Tamer Confrontations between Hodge and His Masters 375

Food Riots as a Method of Resistance 376

The Swing Riots Generally Considered 378

How the Laborers Did Benefit Some from the Swing Riots 379

The Relative Weakness of the Farmworkers' Unions Compared

to Others in England 380

The Organization of the Agricultural Labours' Union in 1872 381

Comparing Two Subordinate Classes' Methods of Resistance 383

Resistance and the Subordinate Class's Quality of Life 386

Slavery Is on a Continuum of Social Systems of Subordination 388

Selected Bibliography 390

The Standard Yet Problematic Comparison of Factory Workers with Slaves
Mississippi slaveowner and politician John A. Quitman "professed little respect for the northern free-labor system, where 'factory wretches' worked eleven-hour days in 'fetid' conditions while their intellects were destroyed 'watching the interminable whirling of the spinning-jenny.' . . . The Quitman plantations functioned satisfactorily, and his bondsmen were appreciative of their condition. He described his slaves as 'faithful, obedient, and affectionate.'" Quitman's comparison is still made today when debates break out over the standard of living about who was better off: slaves versus [Northern] factory workers, not farm servants. Similarly, while examining general European conditions for workers, Jurgen Kuczynski states: "It is precisely these bad conditions which justify the arguments of the slaveowners of the South, that the slaves are materially better off than the workers in the north. This would in many cases have been true." Despite its frequency, this comparison is actually problematic: It discounts the additional effects of urbanization, crowding, and doing industrial/shop work inside. In the countryside, with its low population density and work in the fields outside, people experience a different way and quality of life. The conditions of urban factory life simply are not tied to the legal status of being free or slave. This common comparison actually contrasts two very different ways of life, urban versus rural, factory versus farm, to which widely varying value judgments can be attached. As E. P. Thompson observes: "In comparing a Suffolk [farm] labourer with his grand-daughter in a cotton-mill we are comparing--not two standards [of living]--but two ways of life."1 By likening some other agricultural labor force to the slaves of the American South before the Civil War, many of the apples/oranges comparison problems are eliminated. This work shows the largely landless English agricultural workers during the general period of the industrial revolution (c. 1750-1875) had a superior quality of life of compared to the black slaves in the American South (c. 1750-1865), but that the latter at times had a material standard of living equal to or greater than the former's, at least in southern England.
Why Do Such a Comparison?
A historical comparison brings into focus features of both subjects under study that might otherwise go unnoticed. New insights may be gained, which might be missed when highly specialized historians devoted to a particular field analyze historical phenomena stay strictly within their area of expertise. Suddenly, through historical comparison and contrast, the pedestrian can become exceptional, and what was deemed unusual becomes part of a pattern. For example, both the agricultural workers and the slaves found ways to resist the powerful in their respective societies, but their forms of resistance differed since their legal statuses differed. In the preface of his study of American slavery and Russian serfdom, Kolchin observes some of the advantages of doing such a comparison. It reduces parochialism in given fields, allows features to be seen as significant that otherwise might be overlooked, makes for the formulation and testing of hypotheses, and helps to distinguish which variables and causal factors had more weight.2 A comparative topic is justified, even when it deals with phenomena long since analyzed by historians, if it wrings new insights out of the same old sources. It may expose assumptions about events or processes experts take for granted or overlook in the fields being compared. One suspects sometimes labor historians and African-American slavery historians may be letting their respective historiographical work pass each other like ships in the night, not knowing the valuable insights one group may have for the study of the other's field.3

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