* slave and serf boys

Forced Labor: Slavery and Serfdom

Figure 1.--There are not very many photographic images of slaves before the American Civil War. Slave owners were not all that interested in spending money to photograph their slaves. The first large number of slave images comes with the Civil War. This Matthew Brady photograph was od laves on the Aiken's plantation, probably about 1862. Aiken's Landings was on the James River. The Penknsular Campaign was fought here (1862). This woukd have been before the Emacipation Proclamation (1863). We are not sure what the building in the background was. The Aiken's plantation mansion was alarge brick building.

While child laborers were paid very low wages, they did receive wages. They also had some alternatives, although poverty often restricted those option. There were many children many children that had no options at all. There were the slave children in America and other countries and the serf children in Russia. Both slavey and serfdom were institutions that lasted into the 19th century and the consequences of these institution still persist today. Disgracefully, child slavery still exists in the 20th century.


In our modern world there are few human practices that inspire such profound outrage as the practice of one human being enslaving another. This is, however, a very modern sentiment. The institution of slavery probably predates civilization itself. Slvery was an accepted institution and central to the economies of most major world civilization. The onset of Christianity meant and end to widespread slavery in Europe, although feudal serfs were only slightly more elevated than slaves. The European countries which conquered native American civilizations in the 16th century enslaved millions in Brazil and South America to work in mines and the tremendously profitable sugar plantations. The conditions were so brutal and European disesases so virlulent that native American populations were descimated. The Spanish and Portuguese turned Africans. Millions of Africans were transported across the Atlantic and sold into slavery in the Americas. Slavery in earlier epochs had no racial connotations. With the growth of the African slave trade, slavery in the Western mind became associated with race as with the collapse of Native American populations, it was Africans who were enslaved in huge numbers. European Christian who would not have tolerated the enslavement of other Europeans found little objecting to enslaving black Africans.


Roman slavery evolved into feudal serfdom. Here Christianity played an important role. Serfsee not slaves, but they were tied to the land and lived under many restrictions and obligations. As Western Europe emerged from the medieval era ans serfdom gradually disappeared, it grew in importance in the east. Serfdom ame to play a major role in Russian life through the 19th century when it was finlly abolished. Serfdom was more humane than American race-based chattle slavery, but serfdom as also a brutal system which tied millions of Russians to the land. Even freed slaves were descriminated against. The influence continued into the 20th century. An assessment of Russian boys' clothing would thus be incomplete withoutan assessment of serfdom. Some Russian boys even in the 19th century look much like European boys. Other Russian boys, especially serf boys and rural village boys dressed very destinctly.


Sharecropping is an agricultural system which developed in the Southern states during the Civil War. It was a farm tenancy system in which families worked a farm or section of land in return for a share of the crop rather than wages. Sharecropping replaced the plantation system destroyed by the Civil War. The victorious Federal authorities which occupied the South did not seize plantations, but empancipation meant that the owners no longer had a captive laor force. The former planters, even those activly engged in rebellion, for the most part still had their land, but no slaves or money to pay wages. The former slaves on the other hand did not have jobs or land and because they had been denied education, had few options. Sharecropping developed because the former slaves and planters needed each other. The principal crop continued to be cotton. And the planters under the sharecropping system contnued to a large degree to control the lives of the blacks working their land. While the system at first developed to obtain black labor, eventually poor whites also entered the sharecropping system. The system varied, but in many cases all the cropper brouht to the arrangement was his labor. The planter provided the land, but also commonly animals, equipment, seeds and other items. The land owners also commonly advanced credits for the family's living expences until the crop was harvested. After World War II, migrtion to the North, farm mechinization, education, other employment options, and the Civil Rights movement brought the system to an end.


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Created: May 25, 2002
Last updated: 4:09 PM 2/19/2009