The act of setting free, or liberating a slave is referred to as Emancipation
Buying Freedom from Slavery: Emancipation
Sometimes it was not necessary for slaves to undertake the long arduous task of trying to buy their own freedom. Occasionally a slave owner would free (emancipate) a slave on their own volition. A slave might by freed by emancipation which meant their owner legally documented that the slave had been given their freedom. The reasons a slave owner would free a slave might be for loyal service, which was usually given on the death of the owner as a provision in a will, or as a result of war service (e.g. the War of Independence) or other heroic acts. But the most common method of escaping a life of bondage was buying freedom from slavery.
Buying Freedom from Slavery: How did slaves earn money?
The main question that must be answered is how did slaves acquire or earn money to buy their freedom? Slaves were not normally paid wages for the work they did for owners and technically everything a slaved owned belonged to owner. But in practice slaves were often allowed to earn money 'on the side'. Slaves were a considerable investment and the owner would fix the amount of revenue that each slave was expected to bring in. Any small pittance earned above this amount the slave was allowed to keep
- By law and custom, slaves were not required to work on Sunday. If a slave chose to work for their owner or for someone else, they would be paid
- Bonus Payments: Some slaves were paid paid a 'piece-rate' and earned a bonus or "over-wages" for exceeding the quota, especially those who worked in forestry and mining or in factories
- Bonus Payments: Some slaves working in agriculture were paid a bonus during the harvest time when more work was required
- Craftsmen: Slaves that were skilled in a particular craft such as carpentry or as blacksmiths were allowed to undertake jobs after they finished their own work, and keep the money
- Garden Produce: Some slaves were given garden plots outside their cabins and allowed to sell the produce they had grown
- Leasing: Slaves were often leased (rented) to 'hirers' under the Hiring-out System and allowed to keep a small part of the payment for their services
Buying Freedom from Slavery: The Hiring-out System
The Hiring-out System was a common practice of Southern slave owners by which they generated revenue from the labor of their slaves, rather than taking the permanent option of selling them. It is estimated that 5%-15% of the slave population was hired for outside work every year. To put this into perspective, less than 4% of slaves permanently exchanged hands each year. However, the Hiring-out system provided an opportunity for a slave to earn a little money. Slaves could also, by arrangement with their owners, also hire themselves out. The largest portion of money earned via the 'Hiring-out system' went straight into the owner's pocket, but the slave managed to keep some for themselves to put towards their savings for buying freedom from slavery. The most famous example of the 'Hiring-out system' is highlighted in the story of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' by Harriet Beecher Stowe in which Tom's wife goes to work for a baker in order to raise the money to buy Uncle Tom back.
Buying Freedom from Slavery: Why did slave owners allow slaves earn money?
The motives and purpose of the slave owners who allowed their slaves to earn some money was the notion that such rewards motivated and appeased their slaves by encouraging the belief that slaves could eventually save enough money to purchase their own freedom, and even that of their families. The goal of buying freedom from slavery was a long, arduous task, taking tremendous effort, hard work and determination. The ability of slaves to earn the money required to buy their freedom took many, many years and required strict financial discipline.
Buying Freedom from Slavery: Slave Owners had the Right of Refusal
Even when the slave had saved enough money to enable them to approach their owner about the subject of buying freedom from slavery it was the sole decision of the owner whether to allow this transaction. Such requests to buy their freedom were refused by many owners, the most famous example of this is highlighted in the story of the slave called Dred Scott.
Buying Freedom from Slavery for kids
The history of the slavery of African and African-American people in North America lasted for 157 years under the Colonial rule of the English and a further 89 years under the rule of the United States Government, a total of 246 years of slavery in North America which had led to the establishment of the Abolitionist Movement and the Civil War. Slavery was eventually abolished by the 13th Amendment that was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865 and ratified on December 6, 1865.
Buying Freedom from Slavery - Racial Discrimination and Segregation
For additional facts about racial discrimination and segregation refer to detailed information on Black Segregation History and for brief, fast facts refer to the Segregation History Timeline.
Black History for kids: Important People and Events
For visitors interested in African American History refer to Black History - People and Events. A useful resource for teachers, kids, schools and colleges undertaking projects for the Black History Month.