The Industrial Slavery in the Old South

The Industrial Slavery in the Old South


The history of the American South includes many different issues, one of them being the problem of slavery. It was connected with the South’s economy which depended on agriculture, in particular, on some commercial crops which included tobacco and hemp. They were cultivated in upper state while sugar, wheat and rice in the east. Corn was cultivated everywhere. To support such extensive agriculture, American government needed a number of slaves. Negro slaves were used as a working force in most states (Starobin 30). They did not have any rights. However, the situation with slavery was becoming worse and worse. The Negro work force was significant, but it had many advantages and disadvantages for the development of the Southern industries. The given work discussed the reasons for refusal from slavery in many industries, the role of Negro slaves in industrial enterprises and rural plantations and the reasons of the Civil war analyzing Industrial Slavery in the Old South written by Robert Starobin.

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Slavery and Industry in the South

The Southern United States had many Negro slaves in the nineteenth century. Nearly every white family had slaves. A typical slave owner was a farmer who owned two-three slave families and had some plantation where they planted crops. Slavery was comfortable for agriculture. In the early eighteenth century, the slavery system was developed enough and white population dominated over black one. Relations between black and white people were strictly forbidden. Negro slaves did not have any rights. Their mobility and communications were restricted. Slaves formed an essential part of urban populations. Urban slaves were involved in commercial occupations or domestic services. Town slaves were typically craftsmen, draymen and artisans. Cities offered slaves better conditions of work. They had some social life, as they had better food, housing and attitude from the side of their owners compared to slaves on rural plantations. There were two basic patterns in slave employment: direct ownership and hiring (Starobin 25). The typical slave was owned by a slave owner, but there were cases when slaves were hired overseas or as drivers. Many industries used slave work force. The production of iron depended greatly on slave force. Tobacco industries paid taxes on having slaves or bondmen. Cotton grinning and pressing were important for the South’s economy. The South mining industry was developing greatly and needed slave force as well. Lead, gold and salt mining industries were highly developed thanks to slaves. The forests of the South supported a lumber industry including cutting the timber. Nearly all South industries depended on slave force. Most of railway lines were built by slaves. Even private companies hired slaves to work on them. Slaves also served as pilots, engineers or mechanics on the steam boards. There was nearly no sphere of life where White people did not use slave force.

Working and Living Conditions

There were many spheres where Negro slaves were involved. They could work in industrial occupations or private plantations. The conditions of living and their existence in industries were much worse than the conditions of those who worked on plantations. Industrial shelters and food were terrible. Slaves suffered from different diseases and did not eat normal. They lived in cold and hazardous conditions compared to those who lived on plantations. The equipment used in industries was at extremely low level of development, and it was easy to be hurt by it. Certainly, the owners of slaves were interested in their health, as it would influence their productivity. Industrial enterprises demanded more hard work and energy from slaves than private owners on plantations. Slaves who worked on steam boats could work all the time during day or night and their working time could last for 30-40 hours without rest. Southern mines operated seven day a week without rest (Starobin 89). The conditions in such places were terrible. Slaves faced a lot of hazards of industrial environments such as wild animals, poisonous reptiles, malarial mosquitoes, and others. Another danger for slaves was fire especially in mines, mills steamboats and factories. The role of slaves was great; that is why the task of legislature was to punish owners in case of Negros’ death. Heavy industries such as mining, and transportation were the most dangerous for slaves. That is why the conditions of life for them were improved and some standards were set for them in industrial occupations. Food and shelters were quite appropriate and met the minimal requirements. Owners began to care about their slaves, because they realized that their productivity would bring better results in industries. However, there were many cases when slaves suffered from the food shortage, because their manufacturers failed to follow the standards set by the legislature of America. A typical slave required also a set of clothes twice every year. Cabin, shanties, shacks were typical shelters for industrial slaves (Starobin 120). There were epidemics sometimes, which showed that companies had to provide ensure slaves with health insurance.

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Pattern of Resistance and Repressions

With some time, a lot of slaves were satisfied with their living and working conditions. There were some arguments regarding where slaves felt better: in industrial areas or on rural plantations. Slaves who had good relations with their masters were more faithful in their work than those who worked hard on plantations. As slaves could not write or read, the information about their resistance or obedience could be gained only from the records of their masters. As it is written in documents, many masters did not have any problem with slaves’ discipline but anyway there were slaves who tried to resist the system and organized rebellions especially in industrial occupations. One kind of slaves’ protest was refusal to work. They could pretend being ill. Some slaved robbed their factories or mines (Starobin 150). The protest and résistance of slaves in cities contradicted the theory that urban slaves were more satisfied with their living and working conditions than rural ones. Many slaves escaped to free lands while they were transporting something. Some slaves even fought with their bondmen or masters if they were not satisfied with their lives. Slave artisans and industrial slaves were the leaders of other groups of slaves who initiated rebellions and protests. Slave repressions and discipline had different forms: from persuasion to coercive measures. The most common disciplinary methods included different control of slaves’ daily life work and religious beliefs. Masters realized that heavy punishments could injury slaves and it could lead to the low productivity, so they tried to use loyal methods such as not allowing slaves to sing while working as it gave them more energy and positive emotions. Industrial slaves were controlled stricter, for instance, when leaving the place of work or living, they wore special badges in order to stop their escaping. It was decided that slaves could enjoy the half of Saturday to relax (Starobin 170). Masters tried to make better conditions for their slaves, but they did not have any intention to liberate them. There were many reasons why employers preferred to use slaves force instead of free labor.

Conversion Hiring and Integration of Work Force

Southern industries represented great dangers to Negros slaves and their property; that is why white employers decided to substitute Negro slaves by white free workforce in some occupations such as stevedoring, ditch digging, levee building and some other. However, it was not wide-spread, as free labor was too expensive for employers, and it was better for them to use slave workforce. The great transition to free labor happened in textile mills, but why it happened should still be analyzed. In the nineteenth century, the general trend was to sell slaves and employ free labor. However, soon it became clear that white workers did not work hard and often even got drunk. Many railways and other companies returned to slave workforce buying or hiring slaves. It was more common to rent slaves from masters than to have their own ones. It caused conflicts between slave owners and employers. Many owners preferred to rent their slaves to one employer for many years, while other owners wanted to rent their slaves in groups to give their “working hands” together and to get them together. Owners wanted their slaves to be in good conditions with good food and clothes. Especially they worried about their slaves in the period of epidemics. There were expensive slaves who were artisans and who cherishes their privileged status. There was labor integration. Some enterprises began to hire white and black workers at the same time, but the responsibilities of white workers were easier than those of black ones (Starobin 200). The conditions of work for black slaves were worse, and it was a discrimination problem. There were great conflicts between white workers and slaves, as the latter were dissatisfied with such a discrimination. Anyway, slave-owners had great political and economic power; that is why they continued to use free workforce for their needs or use “integrated” workforce which consisted of black slaves and white workers. There were many reasons for using free slave work force in the southern industries.

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The Economics of Industrial Slavery

The question of profitability of plantation slavery was very interesting for many scholars and historians for many years and remains such nowadays. It is also a question if slavery could die by itself or the Civil War was necessary to stop it. To analyze this aspect, it is necessary to discuss few important questions. The first question is if slave-employing industries could expect to get a good profit to return their funds paid for slaves. The next one is if industrial slavery was efficient enough as alternative working force. The third question refers to specific competitive advantages of industrial slavery if the use of slaves could help the South to compete with the North and Britain, where the industrialization developed much further (Starobin 240). The last question is connected with capitalizing slave workforce in industries, namely what was the source of money for industries with slave workforce? It was shown in many records of industrial and transportation enterprises that employers got a good profit from the hard work of slaves, as they showed a high level of productivity. The wages for white free workers were much higher than those for black slaves. Moreover, not all white laborers were good workers. Consequently, it was clear that it was better for industrial employers to hire black slaves and pay them less. They could work longer and harder making industries more proficient. However, the situation with the Southern economics was worse than in the North or other highly developed countries. The South had worse climate and technologies of productions. The plantations were connected with ports by transportations lines, but it would be better if they were connected with different corners of the country, as it would enlarge the number of consumers. The main problem of the South was its desire to earn a lot of money easily by selling cotton to other states and by using slave work force. However, this process put the South behind other free highly developed states.

Chapter 6. The Politics of Industrial Slavery

In the period between the American Revolution and the Civil War, slavery was one of the most important issues in politics. In the nineteenth century, it was decided to complement agricultural plantations with industrial enterprises which used slaves as work force. Political problems were very serious, and there was an idea to prohibit slavery at all. Many slave owners and industrial employers argued about the necessity of slave workforce in industries of the South. Northern legislature investigated the condition of purchasing slaves in the South. After this different political organizations started arising the questions about free soils and the sinfulness of slavery oftener. Free craftsmen and artisans tried to exclude black workers from some spheres of work where there were needed special skills. They began to organize the so-called “mechanic organizations, and they had to substitute slaves’ work force. Leaders of Southern industries faced a great dilemma (Starobin 270). If they excluded slaves and poor white workers from industries and agriculture, then they would have to revise their existing political and social structures. The era of slavery was finishing. More and more disputes appeared around the question of slavery (Starobin 280). Many slave owners wanted to keep slave industrialization, as bondsmen and black slaves were better and more productive workers than free white ones. Because of many disputes and rebellions, the Civil War took place to resolve the discussed issue.


To sum up, it is possible to say that that the situation with slavery was difficult, because slaves did not have any rights, but they were a great support for owners of plantations and industries. It was more comfortable and cheaper for owners to hire slaves than to buy them or to hire white workers. Black slaves could work better and harder. The income from cultivating different crops was significant and owners did not want to lose the possibility of black work force, but Negro slaves began to rebel and to demand better conditions of work and living (Starobin 160). Because of some epidemics, employers had to think about slaves’ health insurance; however, despite stricter requirements, employers did not want to refuse from Negro work force. More and more rebellions and protests were organized by the leaders of Negros, and all this led to the Civil War. Slaves demanded freedom and rights to education and property.

Significance of Work

The analyzed book is written in an interesting manner. It was easy to read it, as it shows the essence of the old South and the situation with slavery. The author proved the thesis and discussed different questions very clearly. The book is significant in the history of the USA, as it gives the idea of why slavery was so important for Americans in the South. It becomes clear why black work force was necessary to develop the industries and why employers could not refuse from the usage of slaves completely. The book gives the reason of the Civil War.

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