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American History: February '00 Letters

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: August 11, 2000 
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SLAVE WAGES

Mark Dunkelman's account of Robert Smalls' escape from slavery ("A Bold Break for Freedom," December 1999) stirred my interest in just how slavery worked. The picture that we are given today is of slaves toiling endlessly in the farm fields and their being beaten and mistreated. Snippets of information, however, indicate that many slaves were hired out by their owners, sort of the way temporary workers are placed by agencies today. I presume that the slave worked wherever he was told to work, and the owner kept the wages, with the slave receiving only his keep. I have heard, though, of cases where a slave bought himself, and perhaps his family, too, so some slaves must have received money for their labor. Indeed, a slave who was hired out to work on the docks couldn't live in a slave cabin (as did plantation slaves), so what sort of arrangements were there? Was the slave paid wages so that he provided his own keep, with the owner taking a "cut," or just how did all this work?

Vernon C. Hales
Merriam, Kansas

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Mark Dunkelman replies: A proportionally small number of slaves were permitted by their masters to find their own work in cities and towns. Such slaves generally remitted two-thirds to three-quarters of their wages to their masters and paid their own living expenses. Many of the slaves who "hired their own time" saved what they could from their wages to purchase freedom for themselves or their loved ones. By the time he and his family sailed aboard the Planter, Robert Smalls had apparently saved $700 toward the $800 purchase price of his wife and daughter set by their owner, Samuel Kingman.

DUDE RANCHER

The photograph of Lyndon B. Johnson on horseback at his ranch, harassing a cow ("American Album," October 1999) was presumably intended to foster an image of him as a gentleman rancher. Observe the way he is (mis)handling his reins. He was a gross amateur at riding and this photo proves it. Johnson was so awkward on a horse that he had to use a Tennessee Walker, a horse trained to such an easy gait that anyone could ride one.

Bruce Marshall
Austin, Texas

EDUCATING
SOLDIERS AFTER WWI

After reading the article, "The Most Contented GIs in Europe" (October 1999), I thought your readers would be interested in information about education for soldiers after World War I.

On March 1, 1919, Headquarters 33rd Division, American Expeditionary Force issued orders for officers and enlisted men to report to the commandant, American School Detachment, at various schools in England and France (the French universities included the Sorbonne, Bordeaux, and Lyon). Among the men assigned to British universities was my father, Sergeant Henry Porter. He was sent to the University of Birmingham, where U.S. students were apparently housed in private homes near the institution.

While attending the universities abroad, soldiers were issued passes that allowed them to travel in the host country (at their own expense).

William L. Porter
Perkasie, Pennsylvania

MONUMENT TO OSCEOLA

I would like to add a footnote to Floyd B. Largent, Jr.'s article on the Second Seminole War ("The Florida Quagmire," October 1999). In 1916 a four-foot masonry column was erected at the place where Osceola was captured in 1837. The site, in Moultrie, Florida, four miles south of St. Augustine, had been identified in 1896 by a 90-year-old army veteran who was present at the capture.

The sand road that once traversed the region was abandoned long ago and has been reclaimed by woodlands. When I photographed the monument in 1985, it stood beside a logging trail in a dense pine forest a mile west of U.S. Route 1. Weatherworn and neglected, the monument no longer bore the bronze plaque that told the story of this lamentable episode in American history.

One correction to Mr. Largent's fine story–the "Dade Massacre" took place at present-day Bushnell, Florida, (not "near present-day St. Petersburg"). This site is now a state park with markers indicating where Major Dade and others of his command met their deaths.

Kenneth F. Tricebock
Venice, Florida

EDUCATION AND ROMANCE

How vividly you brought back memories of World War II in the article "The Most Contented GIs in Europe" (October 1999). My brother, Sherman B. Lans, now deceased, attended Shrivenham American University at the end of the war. He continued his education there until he returned home and was discharged in November 1945.

PFC Lans met his wife in Swindon while he was on a pass, and she was visiting her uncle, the town's mayor. They were married in November 1945. We never knew exactly what Shrivenham University was all about. Thank you for letting us know.

Betty Lans Kahn
Fairfax, Virginia




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