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View Full Version : The cost of a slave in 1860's???



J Goza
08-16-2007, 01:57 PM
I was recently at a reenactment, and over heard a confederate civilian telling a spectator that a single slave would "cost" the equivalent of $1.36million in today's economical society. The conversation then went on to how slave were treated so well, with them asking if they would really mistreat something that cost that much? Also, that since a slave would cost that much, that only the very rich owned slaves. We all know this isn't true. In researching our geneology, I have come across people with the same last name owning slaves on farms in rural Missouri, and none of them appear to be people of many means.

We all know that not everybody had slaves, but I have been wondering about the economics part of this statement. I felt it was an outrageous remark at the time, and haven't really been able to find anything to back it up.

If anybody has some information, or hard numbers, I would really love to hear it.

Thanks for your help.

Joan Goza
Confederate by marriage ;)

reb4lee
08-16-2007, 02:06 PM
Hello,
As I do not have the amount paid for the actual slave, I do have the insurence amount and how much money paid for it.
Premium:$17.40
Policy fee:$2.00
Total:19.40
The amount insured on the slave was $1000.

toptimlrd
08-16-2007, 03:17 PM
According to a documented essay I found by Jim Jones in 1997, (Plantation agriculture in Southeast USA ) the cost of a slave in 1860 was approximately $1658 with an expected return of just over 10%. According to measuringworth.com that $1685 would be worth the following in 2006 (based on different models):

In 2006, $1,658.00 from 1860 is worth:

$41,470.57 using the Consumer Price Index
$32,319.91 using the GDP deflator
using the value of consumer bundle *
$264,915.24 using the unskilled wage
$533,017.12 using the nominal GDP per capita
$5,064,076.99 using the relative share of GDP


Probably the most accurate model to use is the consumer price index.

Amazing what you can find in 3 minutes with a basic search instead of pulling it out of thin air. Of course one could research this further to get a more accurate picture but like I said this was a quick look.

MBond057
08-16-2007, 03:27 PM
Here is an article titled “Slave Prices and The Economy of the Lower South, 1722-1809”. The article was written by three authors from the University of Kansas.

The article doesn’t cover the time frames of the Civil War but does give a good snap shot of the economy of slavery prior to the war.

http://eh.net/Clio/Conferences/ASSA/Jan_00/rosenbloom.shtml

Curt-Heinrich Schmidt
08-16-2007, 04:25 PM
Hallo!

Slaves prices can be found to vary on sale notices, bills of sale, etc., depending upon age, sex, skills, health, etc., etc.
I have seen children sold for as low as $2.50 or $3.00, and adults for anywhere from $275 to over $1800.

Trying to convert modern U.S. Dollars to "Civil War" dollars seems to be complicated, and different conversion tables like to give a wide range of values.
IMHO, I like to put it into perspective by thinking that an unskilled laborer earned about $1.00 a day versus the $2.00 plus a day earned by a skilled craftsman. (Without getting into 12-16 hour work days, six days a week, etc., etc., ). And then thinking if I were a skilled craftsman making $12 a week, or roughly $50 a month... Or a working class lad making roughly $25 a month...

Curt-Heinrich Schmidt

jda3rd
08-16-2007, 07:46 PM
From a bill of sale dated at Grand Gulf, Miss., Feb. 3rd, 1852:

[sic] "We have this day bargained, sold, and delivered to Ensley D. Brower one negroe boy named Fielding aged about 17 years old for the sum of nine hundred & twenty five dollars to us in hand paid.
The receipt we here by acknowledge the above named boy we warrant sound and healthy and a slave for life we also warrant this title against all claims whatsoever. given under our hand this day and date above written.
Gunter, Murphy, and Talbott"

Frank Brower

NoahBriggs
08-17-2007, 06:04 AM
"The conversation then went on to how slave were treated so well, with them asking if they would really mistreat something that cost that much?"

Not to dehumanize, but slaves were often treated just like your average appliance/vehicle. When needed they were used. A slave could (and often was) an investment to a slaveowner; the same way we invest in a car. We pay for fixing/healing it when broken/sick, we insure it, we fuel/feed it, and we expect it to function well for a long time in return.

"Also, that since a slave would cost that much, that only the very rich owned slaves. We all know this isn't true."

Right you is. Slaves cost money, and it was a lot or a little (depending on your earnings and the value of the slave in question). Specialist slaves cost more. Slaves in good health raised the price, likewise no evidence of physical maltreatment, &c., which segues into Curt's discussion above. If I recall correctly the market prices fluctuated just like any other commodity. That sentence is not gospel, though.

The interesting thing is that when one purchased a slave one could find themself in a unique, unwritten socio-economic class - a slaveowner. One may be a yeoman farmer who wears a beat up hat and overalls instead of a silk cravat and fine broadcloth frock, who does not own a huge plantation, but now he is at the same economic level as the plantation owner that he, like them, can afford to invest in at least one slave.

hanktrent
08-17-2007, 06:48 AM
"The conversation then went on to how slave were treated so well, with them asking if they would really mistreat something that cost that much?"

Not to dehumanize, but slaves were often treated just like your average appliance/vehicle. When needed they were used. A slave could (and often was) an investment to a slaveowner; the same way we invest in a car. We pay for fixing/healing it when broken/sick, we insure it, we fuel/feed it, and we expect it to function well for a long time in return.

I agree, and the other thing to consider is that slaves didn't always hold their value at their prime. Do people treat their rusty old broken appliances with the same care as their new ones? Nope. Yet slaves who were old or sick were of course still people, needing as much if not more care.

The other argument against value causing good treatment is human nature. Behavior isn't always determined by logic. People generally don't need to own dogs today, so having a pet is a choice. Logically, then, no one would mistreat something they chose to acquire. Yet cases of animal cruelty are common.

Same for a spouse. In this day of relatively easy divorce and social support, why would anyone stay married to someone they didn't love? Yet spousal abuse is common.

Same for children. Human beings are even programmed to care for children, or the species wouldn't have survived, yet all of society's pressure and legal requirements can't prevent some parents from abusing their children.

Slave owners could come from all categories of human beings, not just the kind or logical. Sadists, control freaks, violent drunkards, the angry and frustrated, could bid at the auction block like anyone else.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@voyager.net

WoodenNutmeg
08-17-2007, 10:41 AM
toptimlrd's assumptions with the Consumer Price Index are probably the most relative data one could speculate with. Let us remember, we're talking about human beings, wages not considered.

tompritchett
08-19-2007, 09:30 PM
Several years ago when I was at the Civil War Museum at Harrisburg, I saw two bills of sale for field hand slaves from the 1860's time frame that ranged in the $700 - $900 price range. When I converted those 1860's dollars to 2000 dollars the price was in the $1600 - $2000 price range (I apologize for the inexact ranges but my data is still on my old computer and I have not transferred over the files). Basically, I like to compare the cost of an adult slave then to the approximate range of a new economy to luxury car today depending upon whatever special skills the slave may have had at the time of the sale. It is a crude approximation but it gets the relative value across to the a modern civilian, especially during school Living Histories.

As far as the treatment of the slaves, I would agree that it ranged from fairly benign to absolutely brutal depending upon the nature of the owner (someone who beats their wife or children would have definitely beaten their slaves regardless of the price), the number of slaves, and whether or not there was a hired overseer. But then, there really is no such thing as "benign" slavery, as a slave could always be permanently separated from his family without his say even by the most gentle owner. One of the major labor issues in the deep South during the early reconstruction was the large number of slaves who left their former "homes" in an attempt to find and re-unite with their former family members.

J Goza
08-20-2007, 12:13 PM
Ok, time for some crazy wacky math, not my best subject, but I think I have it right.

So if the average skilled laborer made, $600 a year. With the price of a slave averaging around $1000 in the 1860's, That is app. 60% more than what he makes a year. (1000-600=400)

To convert that to our times, the average construction worker makes around $51k.+/- so if I times that by .6, I get $30,600 + $51000 totaling $81,600. Is that correct? Basing it on how much was made by the laborer, at todays prices?

This seems really extreme to me. No wonder I can't afford the big luxury car.

Next time they pipe up about how great slaves were treated, I will bring up several of your points too. This is something I'll do a lot more research on.

I'd like to say thanks to everybody who put an input into this, and the research you've done. I really appreciate it.

Joan Goza

EmmanuelDabney
08-20-2007, 01:17 PM
Ms. Goza,

The prices of enslaved people are going to vary by market, skill (or lack thereof), age (child, prime, or later years), and who is doing the purchasing.

Examples from the life and times of a planter I have immersed myself in researching, Richard Eppes (1824-1896) who had plantations in Prince George, Charles City, and Chesterfield Counties in Virginia. His unpublished diary is in the collection of the Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia.

His widowed cousin, Martha Cocke, faced with some financial woes in late in 1855 and early 1856 asked Dr. Eppes what she should do. She wished to sell him a slave, Edward Bland. Eppes noted he didn't need another hand but he wished to assist her. He noted that Edward was the "son of old John Bland the former carriage driver of my uncle Thomas Cocke & thereby associated with my earliest recollections I thought it would be a charity to take him off her hands, especially as my man Davy who stole corn, stands a good change to be sold it the act is repeated.” (December 1st 1855)

He bought Edward after a trial run to see if he would like him or not for $1000. He was in 1856 22 years old. However, Eppes noted "The value of the above slave Bland according to the present prices at which negroes are selling is from $750 to $800, my object in paying some $200 or $250 above his value was to assist my cousin Mrs Cocke & keep the boy to whom she was attached in the County." (January 31st 1856)

FYI: Edward Bland illustrated that if he was so unneeded in 1856 then he would take control of his own destiny in 1862. He was picked up by Union ships as he escaped the Bermuda Hundred farm of the Eppes family. He enlisted for one year of service serving aboard the USS Morse in 1863.

Eppes purchased another slave, Sandy (last name unknown) in the spring of 1858 for $900. Eppes noted that the price was "very...high having a small tumor on his left arm suffering occasionally from rheumatism actual value $650." Eppes recorded his reasoning for spending the extra money as he being "Induced to make the purhcase from the annoyance constantly experienced about my garden, the wretched order of our grounds & wanting Robert [another slave] services as carpenter our buildings being in wretched order as well as the fences." (April 1st 1858)

Skilled slaves sold for much more than a generic field hand. The Petersburg Daily Express on March 4, 1856, page 2, column 1 noted a blacksmith sold in Richmond for $1550.

The total price for 17 enslaved people who were a part of the estate of Col. George O. Rogers was $11,627.50. (See Petersburg Daily Democrat June 19, 1856, page 2, column 4.)

As far as treatment (which should be really another thread): In brief it has been summed up by several previous posters so no need to reecho that. However varying treatments can be described at one place or as slaves are sold. Frederick Douglass for a well-known example experienced both sides of the coin. In his 1855 narrative Douglass has this to say [please note that Aunt Katy is a slave]:

"I HAVE nothing cruel or shocking to relate of my own personal experience, while I remained on Col. Lloyd's plantation, at the home of my old master. An occasional cuff from Aunt Katy, and a regular whipping from old master, such as any heedless and mischievous boy might get from his father, is all that I can mention of this sort. I was not old enough to work in the field, and, there being little else than field work to perform, I had much leisure."

He goes on to describe his treatment by Lucretia Auld. "Miss Lucretia--as we all continued to call her long after her marriage--had bestowed upon me such words and looks as taught me that she pitied me, if she did not love me. In addition to words and looks, she sometimes gave me a piece of bread and butter; a thing not set down in the bill of fare, and which must have been an extra ration, planned aside from either Aunt Katy or old master, solely out of the tender regard and friendship she had for me."

However, just the same when Covey (the man to whom Douglass had been attached) attempted to whip Douglass after he had broken away from the property, Douglass retaliated in attacking his attacker. A slave owned by Covey, Caroline, refused to assist her master in putting down Frederick and he noted that she received "several sharp blows" for her disobedience.

Slave treatment ranged from people recognizing their mixed race children (like Vice President Richard Johnson of Kentucky) to the well-known knocking out of Harriett Tubman.

Each human property owner varied their treatment of the men, women, and children they owned. Beyond the whippings well known about, slaveholders frequently used the threat of sale to force the behavior they wished from a slave (example again, Dr. Eppes brought Bland to see a slave who had been born on the Eppes' estate, Davy. Eppes told Davy if he didn't correct his behavior he would sell him and replace his position with Bland), reduced rations to force "good conduct", locked slaves in outbuildings or cellars, and of course did sell husband from wife, parents from children, aunts & uncles from nieces and nephews, and friends from friends.

There can be no one way that all slaves even on the same property were treated and specifics in one's research will determine that.

tompritchett
08-20-2007, 02:49 PM
$1600 - $2000 price range

Whoops, missed a zero. I meant to say around $16,000 to $20,000 price range.

As far as the "labor costs" went, essentially there was no competition between slaves and labor, at least in terms of farm work. I am not at home now, but I also remember that $600/year was well beyond the range of pay paid to freed slaves during the reconstruction - that is when they were paid hourly wages and not shares of the profits from the crop. At least from an agricultural point of view, the whole Southern economy was built around the idea of cheap, year-round labor that would be locked in for the duration of the crop. Again, during the Reconstruction, it took many different gyrations to recreate this labor environment until the sharecropper system evolved.

Pvt Schnapps
10-31-2013, 04:39 PM
I know this is an old thread, but I just came across this article today and think it may be of some interest and value: http://www.measuringworth.com/slavery.php

Spinster
10-31-2013, 09:52 PM
What an interesting analysis! I was especially taken with equivalency of the average price of a slave in 1850 also being the average price of a home in 1850.

mmescher
10-31-2013, 09:55 PM
Sorry I missed this when it first came up. In 2001, my wife, Virginia, prepared a combination book/cd looking at store ledgers. One of the appendices in the book was directions to convert period currency to modern currency. She referenced the publication "How Much is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States" by John J. McCusker. Without going into all of his calculations, the multiplier from 1859 to 1999 was 19.91. Interestingly, we have heard about price inflation in the Confederacy during the war but there was also inflation in the North to the extent that an 1865 price would use a multiplier of only 10.12 to convert to 1999 -- almost 100 percent inflation in six years.

Now using the federal currency conversion, if a slave was sold for $1,000, a 1999 value of about $20,000 would result. However, if we look at the inflation of prices in the Confederacy, Virginia has observed inflation rates of certain items that would blow your mind. For example, from 1860 - 1865, flour increased in price about 16,000 percent. If the same inflation rate were applied to the slave, that would make its price somewhere in the neighborhood of more than $300,000. That isn't approaching the more than $1 million mentioned earlier but still a pretty sizable sum. To get an even higher number, if you look at the inflation on corn, that was more than 50,000 percent. Well, at that rate we have just approached $1 million. And if you use the inflation rate for molasses of 65,000 percent, we have now boosted the price of a slave to the range of $1.3 million which is close to the value the reenactor came up with! On May 1, 1865, which may have been the last day of active trading, the exchange rate was $1,200 confederate per $1 US. However, I doubt the reenactor who made the statement came up with the same calculation but was probably just repeating something they had been told without questioning it. If they had really calculated the inflation rates, one would hope they would have explained how they calculated such a seemingly unbelievable value.

These percentages are from my wife's booklet "Price Comparisons, Price Increases, and Salaries of Jobs in the South during the Civil War". And to let you see that there weren't any slippage in decimal points, an example of inflation is calico fabric. In Richmond before the war it was $.09 per yard. In 1865 it was $25 - $35 per yard. That works out to more than 25,000 - 35,000 percent.

Pvt Schnapps
10-31-2013, 11:01 PM
Sorry I missed this when it first came up. In 2001, my wife, Virginia, prepared a combination book/cd looking at store ledgers. One of the appendices in the book was directions to convert period currency to modern currency. She referenced the publication "How Much is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States" by John J. McCusker. Without going into all of his calculations, the multiplier from 1859 to 1999 was 19.91. Interestingly, we have heard about price inflation in the Confederacy during the war but there was also inflation in the North to the extent that an 1865 price would use a multiplier of only 10.12 to convert to 1999 -- almost 100 percent inflation in six years.

Now using the federal currency conversion, if a slave was sold for $1,000, a 1999 value of about $20,000 would result. However, if we look at the inflation of prices in the Confederacy, Virginia has observed inflation rates of certain items that would blow your mind. For example, from 1860 - 1865, flour increased in price about 16,000 percent. If the same inflation rate were applied to the slave, that would make its price somewhere in the neighborhood of more than $300,000. That isn't approaching the more than $1 million mentioned earlier but still a pretty sizable sum. To get an even higher number, if you look at the inflation on corn, that was more than 50,000 percent. Well, at that rate we have just approached $1 million. And if you use the inflation rate for molasses of 65,000 percent, we have now boosted the price of a slave to the range of $1.3 million which is close to the value the reenactor came up with! On May 1, 1865, which may have been the last day of active trading, the exchange rate was $1,200 confederate per $1 US. However, I doubt the reenactor who made the statement came up with the same calculation but was probably just repeating something they had been told without questioning it. If they had really calculated the inflation rates, one would hope they would have explained how they calculated such a seemingly unbelievable value.

These percentages are from my wife's booklet "Price Comparisons, Price Increases, and Salaries of Jobs in the South during the Civil War". And to let you see that there weren't any slippage in decimal points, an example of inflation is calico fabric. In Richmond before the war it was $.09 per yard. In 1865 it was $25 - $35 per yard. That works out to more than 25,000 - 35,000 percent.

I suggest considering the different measures discussed on the site, and sticking with the US dollar: http://www.measuringworth.com/uscompare/# While the CPI measure, for example, from 1860 to 2013 would suggest a ratio of 28:1 in 1860 to 2013 dollars, an unskilled wage comparison would result in a ratio of about 178:1. Stuff was relatively more expensive than labor in those days, which explains why wardrobes were smaller and an unlined sack coat cost less despite the increased labor required to produce it. There's more discussion here: http://www.measuringworth.com/uscompare/relativevalue.php

Inflation rates in the Confederacy are a less reliable guide to "value" because the currency had no backing and, after the twin disasters of Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation, went into a precipitous and practically uninterrupted decline. Interestingly, the decisiveness of Antietam was one point on which both Karl Marx and international capital were in pretty complete agreement.

hanktrent
11-01-2013, 07:55 AM
Stuff was relatively more expensive than labor in those days, which explains why wardrobes were smaller and an unlined sack coat cost less despite the increased labor required to produce it.

That's an important point. There simply isn't a single multiplier that will be realistic, because things took more labor to make and labor was cheaper. A person traveling back to the 1860s with money he'd earned in 2013 would be in a much better position than a person with a period skill ready to earn money in 1860.

To take an obvious example: A woman works at McDonalds for a day at $8 an hour (http://www.glassdoor.com/Hourly-Pay/McDonald-s-Hourly-Pay-E432.htm), earns say $50 after taxes for an eight-hour day, steps in a time machine, changes that at a rate of 20:1 and gets $2.50 in period money to spend.

Another woman steps in a time machine with no money and applies for a job as a cook in 1860. To earn that same $2.50, she would need to work 55 hours at 4.5 cents per hour (http://books.google.com/books?id=8CUZAAAAYAAJ&pg=PR13).

Each could buy $2.50 worth of stuff in 1860, but one worked eight hours for it and the other worked 55 hours. What it takes to earn money is just as important a multiplier in real life as what it takes to buy things with money, because everyone has to earn money before they can spend it, and 1:20 doesn't work for earning.

On the topic of slaves and wartime inflation, the other factor one needs to consider is the greater risk. In 1830, one could confidently buy a slave expecting to get his full lifetime of labor. In 1865 with the Union army approaching, not so much, though some people were either eternally hopeful or in denial. Rewards seemed to be in the $500 to $1000 range at the end, up maybe by a factor of 10 from the antebellum period.

For example, slave trader Robert Lumpkin of Richmond, advertising March 14, 1865 (http://dlxs.richmond.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ddr;cc=ddr;type=simple;rgn=div3;q1=reward;vi ew=text;subview=detail;sort=occur;idno=ddr1350.002 8.061;node=ddr1350.0028.061%3A13.4.2) as if the world wasn't ending:


Five Hundred Dollars Reward
Ran away from Greensboro', North Carolina, on the 15th of this month, a negro man, named Lewis. Said negro is about twenty-four years old, five feet ten or eleven inches high, black complexion, and weighs one hundred and ninety-two pounds. He was bought on the 3d of February from Dr. R. H. Christian. I will pay the above reward for his delivery to me.
Robert Lumpkin,
Richmond, Virginia.


Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com

Quickstep
11-01-2013, 09:11 AM
The following is attributed to Yale history professor David W. Blight, lecturing about the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction Era:

“I refused a girl 20-years-old at $700.00 yesterday,” one trader wrote to another in 1853. “If you think best to take her at 700, I can still get her. She is very badly whipped but has good teeth.” “Bought a cook yesterday,” wrote another trader, “Bought a cook yesterday that was to go out of the state. She just made the people mad, that was all.” “I have bought a boy named Isaac,” wrote another trader, “for $1100.00.” He writes this in 1854 to his partner. “Bought a boy named Isaac. I think him very prime. He is a house-servant, first-rate cook, and splendid carriage driver. He is also a fine painter and varnisher, and says he can make a fine panel door. Also, he performs well on the violin. He is a genius. And strange to say, I think he’s smarter than I am.”