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Thread: The cost of a slave in 1860's???

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Posts
    13

    Default The cost of a slave in 1860's???

    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

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Location
    warwick,RI
    Posts
    221

    Default Slave policy

    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.
    Aaron Bolis
    1st CO. Richmond Howitzers

  3. #3

    Default

    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.
    Robert Collett
    8th FL / 13th IN
    Armory Guards
    WIG
    Common Ground forum http://www.thecommonground.proboards.com

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    Gilbert, AZ
    Posts
    391

    Default Slave Prices 1722-1809

    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/...senbloom.shtml
    Last edited by MBond057; 08-16-2007 at 03:30 PM.

  5. #5

    Question

    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
    In gleichem Schritt und Tritt, Curt Schmidt

    Not a real Civil War reenactor, I only portray one on boards and fora.
    I do not portray a Civil War soldier, I merely interpret one.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Posts
    435

    Default

    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

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Northern Virginia
    Posts
    962

    Default

    "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.
    Noah Briggs

  8. #8

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by NoahBriggs
    "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

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Conn & Mass
    Posts
    343

    Default

    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.

    Bryan O'Keefe
    Associate Member SUVCW
    Conn. Vol. Infantry, Independent

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Location
    Easton, PA
    Posts
    5,145

    Default

    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.
    Thomas H. Pritchett
    Moderator, Military & Other Business Conferences
    www.campgeiger.org

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