Last week’s “150 Years Ago…” column noted how freed slaves were returning to the South. The following newspaper column was also found in an 1860 Arkansas newspaper noting some very interesting facts about the freedman in the North and a list of detailed questions that were answered in various Northern states regarding the 1860 economy and specifically the employ of freedmen in the North. The information was transcribed by Viki Betts, whose research in 1860’s American newspapers have shed light on many dark matters!
[LITTLE ROCK] ARKANSAS TRUE DEMOCRAT, March 14, 1860, p. 2, c. 5-6
White Slaves at the North.
The great design of the Helper book, as the object of the Beecher tracts, is to array the non-slaveholders in the South against slave owners. Appealing to the inherent jealously of human nature, they have gone further and asserted that the condition of non-slaveholders at the South would be bettered and their labor better rewarded.—Here, where a forty acre farm can be bought with five dollars and that amount of money earned in less than a week; where labor commands prices double those at the North, and where all white men are equal such a fallacy scarcely needs a refutation. Without now stopping to dwell on the crowded poor-houses at the North; their paupers hired to the lowest bidder; the thousands who beg to be permitted to work, their sewing girls stitching for a few cents a day; the thousands yearly driven to vice and crime to obtain the means to live; in fine, the continual struggle between capital and labor, we wish to show the wages of the laboring man in the “rural districts.” In the cities servant girls obtain from three to eight dollars a month; in the country from two to six dollars. Out of this, they are expected to clothe themselves and pay all doctor’s bills. Moreover, if taken sick, the time lost is deducted and their wages are proportionately less. As to how men are employed and paid we have some evidence to submit to our readers and will let them weigh it and contrast the situation of white men North and South.
Sometime since the New York Tribune asked for answers from all sections to certain questions, five in number, as follows:
“I. What have you paid a day and month to the laborers employed upon your farm during the
present winter, with or without board?
II. What do you propose to pay a month, or a year, for farm laborers for the next season, commencing, say, April 1?
III. Are wages in your section likely to be higher or lower than last season?
IV. Is it your opinion that farmers will employ more or less laborers this year than last, as a general thing?
V. Will farmers generally employ more laborers if wages are, as many expect they will be, considerably lower the next season than they have been in past seasons?”
To these, numerous answers have been received and published. We select a few at random:
New York.—W. B. Sweet of Pompey, Onondaga co., answers: In winter, 37 ½ cents a day, or $8 a month, and board. II. Say $13 and board. III. Wages will be lower. IV. I think less. V. If considerably less, farmers may employ more.
Jos. E. Farr of Big Flats, Chemung co., Jan. 8, answers: I. Per day 62 ½ cents; per month, $8 to $10 and board. II. From $10 to $13, with board and washing; per day, 50 to 62 ½ cents for ordinary farm laborers. III. About the same. IV. As a general thing more, in my opinion. V. If considerably lower, much more, for then they would plant every tillable acre, which of late has not been done, owing to high price of labor.
Loyd, Ulster co., Jan. 17.—Abraham Wicklaw, answers: I. We pay $6 a month for four winter months, with board, washing and mending. By the day, 50 cents and board. II. We have engaged our winter laborer for a year from April 1 for $132, with board, washing and mending, and a boy of 15 years at $6 for eight months, with board. III. Probably a trifle lower, certainly no higher. IV. Ditto. V. If wages were reasonably lower, farmers would hire mire, and make improvements.—Now they are unwilling to undertake any. We live six miles west of New Paltz landing, and land is worth $50 to $85 per acre.
In the answers from all parts of the State of New York, the respondents complain of the present “high prices” for labor.
From Connecticut, Vermont and the other New England States the answers are all alike. The price per day is from 30 to 50 cents in winter and 50 to 75 in summer. Girls get from 50 cents to one dollar a week. The same complaint is made that these exorbitant prices prevent farmers from hiring as many hands as they need.
We now come to the West where we naturally expected a better state of things:
Ohio.—Lucas, Richland co., Jan. 21.—I. Per day, 50 cents and board. Nearly all winter, work is by the day. II. I propose $13 through the summer, and board. III. Likely to advance. IV. We are necessitated to hire more than we could get lat year. V. Farmers would employ more at a moderate reduction of wages, as then laborers are wanted to where there is one here. Farmers do without help, because they cannot afford to pay more than at present. There are seven vacant tenant houses near me, the owners of which want laborers to occupy them. If there are any idle farm laborers in the city, let them come here.—Jas. V. Thompson.
Michigan.—Lakeville, Oakland co., Jan. 23.—I. Per day, 50 cents and board. Per month, by the year, for good hands, $12, and board and washing. II. For do. $13, from March 1, for nine months. By the year, we think good hands will be $10 to $13. III. Same. IV. About as last year. V. Good hands are scarce, and always in demand at these prices, and pay certain.—H. S. Hulick & Co.
Wisconsin.—S. H. Slaymaker, of Rock county, writes from Lancaster Pa., Jan. 9, of wages in Wisconsin. I. I am paying $140 a year and board. II. I will pay after April 1 $10 a month. III. From the number seeking employment, wages are likely to be lower. IV. Farmers will not employ more hands. V. A lower rate would not generally induce farmers to hire more laborers with us.
Illinois.—Joliet, Jan. 18.—I. I furnish house and fuel and pay $14 a month. Per day, 50 cents and board, or 75 cents without. II. Not over $11 per month for eight months. III. Wages will be rather lower. IV. Less than last season. V. If wages were lower, a few farmers would employ more—the majority would not. These answers will apply to the whole west, with slight variations.—H. Rowell.
Momence, Kankakee, Jan. 23—Byron N. McKinstry says: I. Per day 50c per month, $8 to $10 and board, in winter. II. For eight months, $10 to $14, average $12, per year, $120. III. About the same. IV. Ditto. V. Decidedly, yes; many more, if wages were not so high that we can make nothing by employing hands. Our laborers are mostly Germans; good Americans would get more. Women get from $1 to $2 a week.
Plainfield, Hendrirks co.—John C. Walton says: I. Per day, 50c; per month, $10 and board. II. Per winter, $15. III. Likely to be lower. IV. I think more than last year. V. If wages were lower, farmers would employ more than they have for several years.
Enoch N. Adams, of Sterling, Wayne co., Jan. 23, says: I paid last season 62 ½ cents a day, and will pay next summer, for good, faithful men, $12 a month, for eight months.
Jacob R. Heap, Camden, Carroll co., Jan. 22, says: I. Per day, 50 cents; per month, $10 and board in winter. II. I propose to pay $12 to $15 and board during the summer. III. Likely to be the same. IV. I think more. V. Undoubtedly they would. Many of the idle men in your city could fine employment here at reasonable wages—not at the above wages of experienced hands.
These extracts are sufficient for our purpose. It must be borne in mind that very little work is done in winter. During the inclement season and when everything needed by a family costs most, the laborer cannot find employment. Admitting that no sickness prevents him from steady labor and he receives the highest rates, we find that a laboring man can receive from a hundred to a hundred and forty dollars a year. Out of this, if a married man, he has to pay rent, support a family and educate his children. Land is from $50 to $500 an acre, and if he was as saving as Lowes or any other miser, he could not, in a long lifetime save enough to buy himself and family a home. Here, besides the fact that a laborer commands a dollar to a dollar and a half a day, that so far as board is concerned, no difference is made, it is in the power of every man to own a farm. In all neighborhoods it is the custom to help the new comer or settler to raise his house and then a few acres will yield enough corn to supply the family and raise swine. The woods afford game and our streams are full of fish. In Arkansas no man need be poor. In fact, poverty as understood at the North, is almost unknown here. The soil is to be had for a mere pittance, the woods and streams furnish food even to those indisposed to work, while, if the poor man here will work half as hard as the poor white man at the North is compelled to work or starve, he will be surrounded with a home and its comforts, and be an owner of the soil. And this should be the aim of every man. Of our male population, out of the cities, the number is surprisingly small who do not known land. A glance at our tax books will show that a majority of the men in Arkansas are owners of real estate, and of those who do not own it, nine-tenths of them would, in a week own a tract of land. And this independence, these privileges and these prices, the people of the south are asked to give up and assume the places of white slaves at the North, who, working for a mere pittance are called exorbitant and questions propounded as to the best way still further to reduce their wages. Let it not be thought that their labor is as light as their pay. On the contrary, they spring to it from daybreak until dark and toil more severely than any negro in the South.
So it will be ever. There will be two classes—the master and the slave—the employer and the employed. In the South, the lower class is those whom nature intended to be servants. At the North it is those of their own color and very often men and women of superior education and requirements. Their servitude is the more oppressive and the more galling, because it is the debasement of an equal—the servitude of the negro is his normal state and he is happiest when protected and provided for by the superior race.