Reconstruction and Indentured Servants Research Paper

Pages: 5 (1704 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Black Studies

Indentured Servants After the Civil War

"The most important less of Reconstruction…is that white workers need to fight for the interests of Black workers -- not simply in the interest of justice, but also because they must do so in order to advance their own cause. A divided class is a defeated class, as the history of Reconstruction so tragically shows" (Maclean, 2012).

How did Indentured Servants fare during Reconstruction?

A Contract for two Indentured Servants

Information from a library in Edgefield County, South Carolina (in 1868) shows a formal agreement for Eliza and Ella Cramer as indentured servants. The agreement covers the behavior expected of the girls -- nine-year-old Eliza and Ella, who was seven. Young children from poor families could be (and were) turned over to families and businesses after the Civil War, not as slaves but as indentured servants. The contract for this indentured servant work is signed by the mother of these two girls; "by my own free will" and "voluntarily," the mother wrote. The girls are to "apprentice" and to "…learn to do all kinds of house work and labor in the farm of the Simpson Mathias." They are both to serve "said Simpson Mathias from this date until they attain the age of eighteen years" (Genealogy Adventures).

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Moreover, the children "Eliza and Ella shall faithfully serve the said Simpson Mathias, keep his command and obey in all things everywhere…nor shall they waste the goods nor lend them unlawfully to any person, nor contract…nor absent themselves or either of them from the services of the said Simpson Mathias, without the leave or permission of him or his agent but in all things behave themselves as faithful apprentices ought to do" (Genealogy Adventures).

Research Paper on Reconstruction and Indentured Servants Assignment

So, clearly, after the Civil War there were jobs for indentured servants, in this case, mostly household and farm-related duties. In addition to the rules that the girls should follow obediently, the letter of agreement (contract) between the mother and Mathias, the contract also states that Mathias "shall use the utmost of his endeavors to teach each of them or cause it done the necessary duties of house and field servants." It was also Mathias' duty under this agreement to teach the girls to "read and spell in the English language before they attain the respective ages of eighteen years" (Genealogy Adventures).

It is also Mathias' responsibility to provide for the girls "sufficient meat and drink and lodging and clothing during said term"; the "true performance of all" is expected through "this covenant…" (signed on June 3rd, 1868) (Genealogy Adventures).

The writer for Genealogy Adventures explains that "Historically speaking, parents and guardians were paid a sum of money for any children" who were sent into indentured apprenticeship. This agreement featured above does not state how much money is involved, but historically a parent could in effect "sell" a child to another person or family and either be paid in a "lump sum" or in "smaller amounts annually." The father of these children, Watts Cramer, is not mentioned in terms of how much he will be paid, but since his daughters are basically working for an education and technically learning a trade, that could have been considered payment enough from Mathias.

Domestic Servants after the Reconstruction -- Indentured?

Rich McKay writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that following the Civil War, an African-American male would be arrested in Atlanta for "…being outside after sunset," or speaking too loudly or "looking at a white woman in 'the wrong way'" (McKay, 2011). After the arrest, according to McKay's research, that black man would be put into a kind of indentured servitude -- even "auctioned off for pennies by the state for hard labor" the benefit businesses in Atlanta (McKay, p. 1). This is interesting because it sounds like an alternative kind of slavery.

Being arrested in Atlanta -- the Deep South -- after the Civil War and during Reconstruction resulted in a $75 fine, which McKay reports could take "…a decade of back-breaking work to pay off."

"Involuntary servitude, slavery under a different name, built a large part of Atlanta," said Professor Richard Becherer of the Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, whose research on indentured servants brought in a different aspect of post Civil-War dynamics.

During Reconstruction most freed slaves that lived in Southern cities worked as "unskilled laboring jobs or as domestic servants" (Campbell, et al., 2008). A researcher has to assume that working as a servant for a business or a family certainly qualities as "indentured servant" because you are being paid yet you are not enslaved so you can move on if you wish. That said, the servants who worked during Reconstruction were not the same as the indentured servants that were brought over from Europe and worked for a number of years until they had paid off their debts. Still, these were servants during Reconstruction and they were In New Orleans in 1880 about 44% of the 15,000 laborers in that urban area were African-American males, but as to domestic servants, "black women dominated this profession" (Campbell, 56).

The unskilled labor that blacks were offered very poor living conditions; they were "discriminated against by whites" and were "forced to purchase to rent cheap accommodations" (Campbell, 58).

One of the issues that surrounded both freed slaves and indentured servants during Reconstruction was how servants should be paid. One issue brought up by history Professor James D. Schmidt (Northern Illinois University) is how a worker would receive his or her wages after voluntarily leaving employment. That was just one issue in a time where there were many issues to be confronted regarding indentured servants. The principles of labor law were confronted by northerners because of course labor was quite different once the War was over and slaves had been emancipated. What were the legal principles that government the employment of indentured servants?

There were "competing models" on the rule of law as regards capitalist labor contracts. In the south, a culture existed even after Reconstruction that had "diluted the sanctity of contract and the right to security without establishing the right to quit" (Schmidt, 1998). Some legal scholars in the north believed in "strict enforcement of labor contracts" -- which resulted from the position that capitalists were still the "exploiting class" (in other words, even after slavery was abolished employers could exploit their workers to some degree) (Schmidt, 8).

Other legal scholars viewed contract law during Reconstruction as a kind of "feudalism" -- which was in response to "the decline of indentured servitude" -- which meant that free labor was the legal standard but employers could still hold a great deal of power over workers, including indentured servants (Schmidt, 8).

In fact according to Becherer and Atlanta architect Daniel Scott, the practice in the late 1800s and early 1900s was that the state of Georgia could "rent convicts to companies" basically putting them in "forced labor, especially blacks were "rented" to the Chattahoochee Brick Company, which owned a factory near where the Six Flags Over Georgia theme park is located today (McKay, p. 1).

After the Civil War, in 1868, the state of Georgia "virtually handed over its criminal justice system to commercial, for-profit interests that wanted virtually free labor" (McKay, p. 1). The indentured servants reportedly were good workers because Scott reported that the amount of bricks they made was "unbelievable"; that is, these men were producing "200,000 bricks in one day, all made in these old beehive [shaped] kilns" (McKay, p. 2). The practice of selling arrested black men to private businesses went on "almost" until World War II, which might surprise a lot of people but the resentment in the Deep South over the outcome of the Civil War was manifested in many ways, and the mistreatment of freed African-Americans was certainly one of those ways.

Another source backs up what McKay printed about indentured servitude in the South after the Civil War. Yes, the slaves had been freed, but southern businesses and politicians wanted to control those freed people and keep them in the labor force at as low a pay scale as possible. How could the government tolerate this quasi-slavery policy? According to Douglas Blackmon, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution did abolish slavery but it allowed "involuntary servitude" as punishment when a black man was accused of a crime (Blackmon, 2013).

Due to the "vigorous enforcement of laws and discriminatory sentencing" practices -- which were alluded to earlier in this paper -- law enforcement could basically make up charges against freed African-Americans, and then those "convicts" could be "rented" to companies to work for almost nothing.

Blackmon writes that it was "a form of bondage" different from slavery but on the other hand, it was a kind of slavery through indentured servitude. These men rebuilt much of the city of Atlanta, which was largely destroyed on Sherman's famous march through Georgia. The indentured servitude did not last "a lifetime" and did not "automatically extend from one generation to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Reconstruction and Indentured Servants.  (2014, April 29).  Retrieved October 1, 2020, from

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"Reconstruction and Indentured Servants."  April 29, 2014.  Accessed October 1, 2020.