After Slavery: Educator Resources

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5. A Husband Shoulders a New, Free-Labor Duty

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Seven: Gender and the Politics of Freedom in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

With planters exhibiting a strong preference for able-bodied male laborers, a population whose experiences in slavery and sometimes in war better prepared them to seek out job possibilities and to drive hard bargains, women frequently called on their husbands and fathers to broker labor agreements for them. Under slavery, it had been freedmen, for example, who had traveled the roads most often on their owners' business, a phenomenon that both they and freedwomen understood better positioned them to know what kind of wage was a good wage, and what kind of boss was a good boss. When the alternative was the same grim scenario faced by Gillie Arrington (see Unit 7, Document 3), freedwomen were rarely reluctant to avail themselves of freedmen's assistance. In the following contract, which was drawn up in the rural cotton belt of southwest Georgia, an area not dissimilar to the cotton plantation districts of upcountry South Carolina, a husband enters into a wage labor agreement on behalf of his wife, Henrietta.

A Husband Shoulders a New, Free-Labor Duty

[Worth County, Georgia], March 12, 1867

Articles of agreement entered into this the twelth day of March 1867. between Fannie E. Lippitt of the County of Worth and state of Georgia - on the first part and Ben Holmes (Freedman) of same county and state of the second part - Witnesseth - that for considerations - hereinafter, mentioned - she the said Fannie E. Lippitt doth promise and agree to pay the said Ben Holmes on the twenty fifth day of December - next - the sum of ten dollars per month from date - for the hire of Henrietta - Freedwoman - his wife, and to furnish - rations to the said Henrietta - for the same period, And he the said Holmes - and - his wife Henrietta - doth promise and agree - that the said Henrietta - shall Cook Wash and Iron and render such other - service - as may be - reasonably required of her. promising to be respectful and obedient; In testimony whereof - both here - hereunto affixed their names - the day and date above mentioned,

[signed with his mark] "X" Ben Holmes

[signed] Fanney E Lippitt

Source: Contract between Fanney E. Lippitt and Ben Holmes, 12 Mar. 1867, Lippitt Papers, Thronateeska Heritage Foundation, Albany, Georgia.


Questions to Consider

  1. What kind of terms does Ben Holmes exact from Fanney Lippitt? In other words, what kind of work will Henrietta be performing, and how and in what amount will she be compensated for that work?

  2. How do the terms of this contract compare to those freedwomen were able to get when they represented themselves? (See, for example, Unit 7, Document 2, and Unit 7, Document 10.)

  3. Who collects the wage at year's end, and how does that complicate our understanding of these new gender relations? What sort of historical circumstance might have prompted Ben and Fanney to include that clause in the contract? In what ways do you see this clause affecting the distribution of power between husband and wife?

  4. Where is Henrietta in this conversation? What does your answer reveal about the relationship between Henrietta and Ben, and especially, how Henrietta seemed to understand that role?

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