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I read recently that as many as 400,000 out of about 1.5 million families in the American South owned slaves.

Given that slaves were expensive, I’m wondering what other forms of “ownership” may have existed at the time, i.e., was there anything like a farmers’ cooperative, where several poorer farmers got together and either jointly owned slaves and/or “subcontracted” slave labor thru the local plantation owners, etc.

Thanks in advance—any help or guidance you can afford me is greatly appreciated.

Mike Roberts

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Dear Mr. Roberts:

Among the peculiarities of America’s “Peculiar Institution” was indeed the availability of slaves to farmers outside of the big plantations. Some farmers saved enough of their profits to buy a slave, or two or more might jointly own and use one. Depending on the time of year, plantation owners were also known to rent out slaves to local farmers for temporary use. Race was not necessarily a factor. Some black freedmen with small farm lots were known to acquire or lease slaves. Farmers of the Five Civilized Tribes did the same, and continued to do so in Indian Territory up to the end of the Civil War.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History

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