"Good Cooks and Washers": Slave Hiring, Domestic Labor, and the Market in Bourbon County, Kentucky

by Keith C. Barton
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Title:
"Good Cooks and Washers": Slave Hiring, Domestic Labor, and the Market in Bourbon County, Kentucky
Author:
Keith C. Barton
Year: 
1997
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The Journal of American History
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84
Issue: 
2
Start Page: 
436
End Page: 
460
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English
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Abstract:

"Good Cooks and Washers": Slave Hiring, Domestic Labor, and the Market in Bourbon County, Kentucky

Keith C. Barton

Bourbon County, Kentucky, provides a unique vantage point from which to ex- amine the relationships among slavery, market-oriented economic relations, and the transformation of domestic labor in the antebellum United States. Combin- ing cultural and economic characteristics of North and South, Bourbon County con- stituted a distinct "middle ground" in the decades before the Civil War. Thatdis- tinctiveness was especially apparent in the hiring of slaves, a widespread institution in this rural, agricultural county. As an impersonal, market-driven practice, hiring provided owners a means of adapting slavery to the demands of a mixed agricul- tural economy while simultaneously enabling the families of small farmers and craftsmen to live up to new expectations for household work. In hiring slaves, residents of Bourbon County employed a uniquely southern institution for pur- poses more commonly associated with the economic and cultural patterns of the North.

Bourbon County more closely resembled the plantation districts of the Deep South than did most areas of Kentucky. Farmers in the state typically engaged in a diversified agriculture that emphasized food crops and livestock, and they rarely grew the staple crops best suited to plantations with large forces of slaves. As a re- sult, slaveholding was much less concentrated than in areas farther south; only seven residents of Kentucky, for example, owned more than a hundred slaves in 1860, and no region of the state qualified as a clear "plantation district." Yet Bourbon County from 1840 to 1860 was less egalitarian, more dominated by a wealthy class, and more integrated into the market economy than other areas of Kentucky. The county had substantial access to the internal improvements that made production for the market profitable, and local agriculturalists were enthu- siastic boosters of new transportation ventures. Although livestock breeding was the

Keith C. Barton is associate professor in the School of Education, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights. He wishes to thank Theda Perdue for her continued support and encouragement in this research and Matthew G. Shoenbachler for his information on Bourbon County wills and economic statistics.

The Journal of American History September 1997

most important source of agricultural exports, the county ranked at or near the top

of Kentucky counties in all measures of agricultural production.'

In Bourbon County during this period, ownership of both land and slaves be- came increasingly concentrated. Population decreased dramatically during the 1830s as large cattle breeders turned the county's farmland into pasturage, and the exodus of small farmers continued throughout the late antebellum years. The number of farms in Bourbon County decreased by 8 percent during the 1850s, and by 1860 only 5 percent of the farms in the county were smaller than fifty acres, compared to 41 percent statewide; only 18 percent were smaller than one hundred acres, com- pared to 70 percent statewide. Like landownership, slaveholding was more concen- trated than in the rest of the state and became increasingly so during the 1850s. Bourbon County contained one of the largest populations of slaves in the state from 1830 to 1860, and slaves constituted nearly half the county's population in both 1850 and 1860. By 1860 those who owned fewer than 10 slaves constituted less than 72 percent of slaveholders in Bourbon County (compared to 82 percent statewide), and the portion who held more than 20 slaves was a third greater than the state average; the total number of slaveholders in the county had decreased by over 13 percent in the preceding decade. Despite its reliance on mixed agriculture, then, the county's concentrations of landownership and slaveholding were among the state's highest, and much of the agricultural production was geared toward an ex- ternal market. Bourbon thus came as close as any area in Kentucky to resembling the plantation districts of the Deep South.2

Yet the frequency of slave hiring in Bourbon County points to significant differ- ences from those plantation districts. As in the rest of the South, slaves were hired from the estates of deceased slaveholders, particularly when guardians adminis- tered the estate for the support of children or other dependents. But Bourbon County agriculturalist Brutus J. Clay, one of the two largest slave owners in the state, also hired out dozens of his own slaves each year from the mid-1830s through the end of the Civil War, and court records and newspaper advertisements indicate

Paul W. Gates, The Economic History ofthe UnitedStates, vol. 111: The Aner's Age: Agriculture, 1811-1860 (New York, 1960), 162, 171, 203-6, 219, 270; U.S. Department of State, Compendium of the Enumeration of the Inhabitants and Statistics of the United States as Obtained at the Department of State, from the Returns of the Sixth Census (Washington, 1841), 264-65; J. D. B. DeBow, Statisticd View of the United States Embracing Its Territory, Population -White, Free, Colored, and Slave -Moral and Social Condition, Industry, Property, aand Revenue; The Detailed Statistics of Cities, Towns, and Counties; Being a Compendzum of the Seventh Census (Washington, 1854), 240-45; Joseph C. G. Kennedy, Agricultlrre of the United States in 1860; Compiledfiom the Original Returns of the Eighth Census (Washington, 1864), 58-65, 228-29.

U.S. Census Office, Agriculture of the UnitedStates in 1860, 201, 228-29; Secretary of the Interior, Statistics of the UnitedStates in 1860; Compiledfiom the OnginalReturns andBeing the FinalExbibit of the Eighth Census (Washington, 1866), 343-44; DeBow, Statistical View of the UnitedStates, 95; Manuscript Population Schedules, Bourbon County, Kentucky, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, vol. IV: Agriculture (microfilm: reel Agri- culture, Kentucky: Adair-Carter, M-2) (Special Collections, King Library, University of Kentucky, Lexington); Manuscript Population Schedules, Bourbon County, Kentucky, Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, vol. IV Agriculture (microfilm: reel Agriculture, Kentucky: Adair-Breathitt, M-2), ibia! ;Manuscript Population Sched- ules, Bourbon County, Kentucky, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, vol. 11: Slave Schedules (microfilm: reel 223, M-2), ibia! ;Manuscript Population Schedules, Bourbon County, Kentucky, Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, vol. 11: Slave Schedules (microfilm: reel 401, M-2), ibid On slavery in Kentucky, see Marion Brunson Lucas, A History of Blachs in Kentuchy, vol. I: From Slavery to Segregation, 1760-1891 (Frankfort, 1992); and Richard L. Troutman, "The Social and Economic Structure of Kentucky Agriculture, 1850-1860" (Ph.D. diss., Uni- versity of Kentucky, 1958).

The Journal of American History September 1997

Bourbon County Agricultural Society Fair, 1852. Brutus J. Clay is at the far left; third
from the left is Winfield Scott, Whig candidate for president. Bourbon County led
Kentucky in nearly all categories of agricultural production and was
extensively integrated into the market economy by the 1840s.
Courtesy R. Berle Clay.

that he was far from alone in the practice. Such records make it clear that slave hir- ing was widespread in Bourbon County. Between 1835 and 1861, for example, guardians hired out an average of 81 slaves annually from the estates they oversaw, while Clay hired out an average of 23 adult slaves each year from 1845 to 1861. In addition, both guardians and Clay hired out several slaves each year for only the cost of their "victuals and clothes," and Clay's records indicate that each adult female slave took with her an average of 2.5 children each year.,

Taking into account the slaves hired from estates and from Clay, as well as the indeterminate number who were hired out for food and clothes, who went with their mothers, and who were hired from other slaveholders, 120 represents an extremely conservative estimate of the average number of slaves hired out each year

3 BrutusJ. Clay Account Book, box 36, Clay Family Papers (Special Collections, King Library); Brutus J. Clay, "Slaves Hired, 1847-1852," folder 47, box 7, ibid ; Guardian Books C-G, County Clerk, Bourbon County (Bour- bon County Courthouse, Paris, Ky.). Advertisements in which estates or other owners offer slaves for hire appeared every December in the local newspaper in every year from 1808 to 1861 for which copies of the paper survive. See, for example, Paris Western Citizen, Dec. 7, 1838, Dec. 17, 1841, Dec. 15, 1854, Dec. 17, 1858.

in Bourbon County (at least from 1845 to 1861, the years for which Clay's records are most complete). The frequency of court cases involving slave hiring suggests that the number of hired slaves was even higher, perhaps dramatically so. And while changes in the frequency of slave hiring are more difficult to assess, the num- ber of slaves hired from the two largest sources -estates administered by guardians and Clay-was relatively consistent throughout the period.*

Although the 120 slaves hired yearly constitute a small portion of a slave popula- tion that numbered over 7,000 in 1850, hiring assumes greater significance when the number of hirers is compared to the total number of owners in the county. Guardians' records indicate that only 6 percent of hirers employed more than 1 slave each year (and those rarely hired more than 2); with 120 slaves hired each year in the county, the number of individuals who hired annually can thus be set at no fewer than 100.5 That is, about 100 families-or the equivalent of over 11 percent of all the slaveholders in the county in 1860 -had increased access to slaves each year through hiring. Since records indicate many new hirers each year, the aggregate percentage of families with increased access to slaves through hiring dur- ing the period would have been even higher. (Similarly, although the typical ex- perience of a slave in the county in any given year did not include being hired, many slaves may have been hired out at some point in their lives.)

Several historians have suggested that the obligations of a "social economy" -in which productive relations were determined by social obligations rather than the single-minded quest for monetary gain through market-oriented production- motivated planters to hire out their slaves and that doing so strengthened their ties with small farmers. Slave hiring in Bourbon County, however- although it spread access to slave labor far beyond the large slaveholders who increasingly dominated ownership of productive resources-depended, not on social obligations, but on market relations. Owners and hirers sold and bought slave labor in an impersonal market where their dealings had the characteristics of any market transaction. From Clay's perspective, the quest for profit was clearly the prime motive in hiring out slaves. In spite of the diversified nature of his farm-and the lack of need for a large slave force- Clay owned 88 slaves in 1850 (and 132 in 1860); of those 88 slaves, only 18 were males fifteen or older, while 55 were under fifteen, and 41 were under ten. Although Clay no doubt profited from the use of slaves on his farm, he prob- ably had trouble employing more than 40 children, despite slavery's ability to make use of even the most marginal hands. If he could not profitably employ so many slaves on his own farm, he could best maximize his income by hiring them out. Southern apologists for slavery pointed to maintenance of economically unproduc- tive slaves as evidence of the humaneness of the institution, but Clay could main- tain no such pretense. Instead of taking care of his excess slaves, he hired them out for cash: he got someone else to take care of them and usually to pay for the privi-

4 Ewalt v. Fisher, June 15, 1842, file 1017, box 218, Case Files, Bourbon County Circuit Court, Local Govern- ment and Judicial Records (Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort); Crouch v. Reynolds, April 2, 1845, file 1098, box 237, ibia!; Richardson v. Brown andBowLes, July 15, 1858, file 1369, box 302, ibia!; Logan

v. Moore, March 5, 1860, file 1367, ibid 5 Guardian Books C-G, County Clerk, Bourbon County.

lege of doing so. As in other agricultural areas of the upper South, slave hiring

allowed owners such as Clay to adapt slavery to an economic system lacking large

plantations geared toward staple crop production.6

By hiring out slaves who exceeded his own farm's requirements for labor, Clay

made a substantial profit. From 1847 to 1852 (the years for which the most detailed

financial records remain), Clay earned an average annual income of $924 from slave

hiring-an average of $31 per slave and over $89 for adult males. He even profited

from those whom he hired out only for food and clothing, for he thereby signifi-

cantly reduced his own operating expenses. Clay used the healthy adult males -the

prime field hands most productive for market-oriented agriculture-on his own

land; in 1850, for example, he owned 18 males who were fifteen or older and hired

out only 4. Of 13 adult females, however, he hired out 7; and of 58 children and

adolescents, 41 were hired out or went with their mothers. Clay must have con-

sidered this one of the most profitable aspects of his market in labor: Not only did

he earn a cash income from hiring out the many slaves whose labor he did not need

on his farm; they often took along the least productive members of his slave popu-

lation, the small children. In 1850, he relieved himself of the burden of maintain-

ing 52 of his 88 slaves- and received $1,032 in the bargain.'

The hiring arrangements made by both slave owners and estates further demon- strate the market orientation of the practice. Seasonal slave hiring attuned to the needs of small farmers would have accorded well with a social economy, and several historians have suggested that hiring in agricultural areas fit this pattern. Slave hir- ing in Bourbon County, however, was annual, and no evidence suggests that social ties influenced the arrangements. Owners or guardians placed advertisements in the local newspaper each December and specified that slaves would be hired out until the end of the next year. In 1852, for example, Clay advertised "25 or 30 Negroes to hire, for the year 1853, consisting of Men, Boys, Women and Girls. I shall remain at home on the 28th and 29th instant, for the purpose of hiring. All those having Negroes hired of me the present year, will please send them home by Christmas day." Both Clay's records and guardians' accounts suggest that seasonal slave hiring was rare. R. S. Russel acknowledged the difficulty of hiring seasonally when he wrote Clay seeking a wet nurse in May: "I have been endeavoring for sev- eral weeks, to procure a healthy + suitable negro woman to suckle my little boys,

Harry L. Watson, "Conflict and Collaboration: Yeomen, Slaveholders, and Politics in the Antebellum South," Social History (London), 10 (Oct. 1985), 280; Eugene Genovese, "Yeoman Farmers in a Slaveholders' Democracy," Agricultural History, 49 (April 1975), 338; Stephanie McCurry, "Defense of Their World: Gender, Class, and the Yeomanry of the South Carolina Low Country, 1820-1860" (Ph.D. diss., State University of New York, Bingham- ton, 1988), 152-53; Manuscript Population Schedules, Bourbon County, Kentucky, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850 (reel 223, M-2), 519-21; Manuscript Population Schedules, Bourbon County, Kentucky, Eighth Cen- sus of the United States, 1860 (reel 401, M-2), 120-21. On the profitability of slave hiring in the upper South, see Sarah S. Hughes, "Slaves for Hire: The Allocation of Black Labor in Elizabeth City County, Virginia, 1782 to 1810," WiLiam andMary QuarterLy, 35 (April 1978), 260-86; Lynda J. Morgan, EmanciPation in Virginia's Tobacco Belt, 1850-1870 (Athens, Ga., 1992), 63-75; Barbara Jeanne Fields, Slavery and Freedom on the Midde Ground Marylandduhg the Nineteenth Century (New Haven, 1985), 27, 84; John Inscoe, Mountain Masters, Slavery, and the Sectional Cnjis in Western North Carolina (Knoxville, 1989), 76.

7 Brutus J. Clay, "Slaves Hired, 1847-1852," Clay Family Papers; Mary Clay Berry, Voicesfrom the Century Before: The Odysrey of a Nineteenth-Century Kentucky fimily (New York, 1997), 42.

Slave Hiring, Domestic Labor, and the Market

Slave hiring advertisements from the Pans Western Citizen, 1852. Each December, slave
owners, estate administrators, and their agents placed advertisements in the
local newspaper to announce the availability of slaves for hire.

Courtesy Special Coh'ections and Archives, University of Kentucky.

but have been unable to do so. . . . It is difficult at this season of the year to hire at all, the most of persons having them to hire retaining only a sufficiency for their own use."*

Slaves hired from estates or through agents participated in an even more imper- sonal arrangement: the guardian or his agent often hired them to the highest

Clement Eaton, "Slave Hiring in the Upper South: A Step toward Freedom," Mississippi Wey Histon'caf Review, 46 (March 1960), 673-77; Kenneth Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Beffum South (New York, 1956), 70-71; John T. Schlotterbeck, "The 'Social Economy' of an Upper South Community: Orange and Greene Counties, Virginia, 1815-1860," in Class, Conflict, andConsensus: Antebeffum Southern Community Studies, ed. Orville Vernon Burton and Robert C. McMath Jr. (Westport, 1982), 12; Paris Western Citizen, Dec. 17, 1852; R. S. Russel to Brutus J. Clay, May 18, 1847, folder 47, box 6, Clay Family Papers.

The Journal of American History September 1997

bidder at a public auction. George Williams, for example, advertised that "on

Wednesday the 26th inst. I will hire to the highest bidder, the Negroes belonging

to Charles and Robert Innes. . . . Persons indebted for hire are expected to be punc-

tual in payment, and also to have the negroes they hired this year, clothed accord-

ing to contract, at the place of hiring on that day." Another guardian advertised,

"Will be hired to the highest bidder on Monday the first day of January next on

the Public square in Paris, if not hired privately, before that time, seven Negroes,

three Women, two Girls, one Man, and one boy, about 12 years old." The frequency

with which guardians and owners noted that "bond and security will be required"

further indicates the impersonality of hiring arrangements.9

Owners and hirers negotiated the price and terms of hire and haggled over the meeting of contractual obligations. The wide range and variety of prices recorded in guardians' records indicate that hirers finely calculated slaves' potential value and that even those hiring slaves "privately" engaged in extensive negotiation. Na- than Bayles, noting that the two slaves he had hired from Clay were "free" six months of the year, wrote that "I wante them the coming year if i can gete them upon terms that i will be able to pay for them. the pris i have bean pain is too high in my vewe and i have know daute bute you will think with me." Similarly, Estes Marsh wrote Clay, "I paid too much for Jordan; I found him not to be as good an Engineer as he was represented to me to be . . . I will give $125 for another year to work principally in the shingle mill-not as [an] Engineer. I suppose that to be the highest price paid for hands to work on farm," And W. S. Simpson wrote that "Edy seems very anxious to live with us and Is good to my Children +c. but she is Delicate Near sighted and Hard of hearing. Notwith standing I will take her for another Year. Iff You Will take thirty Dollars for Her hire. Servants are Hiring for Considerably Less this Year and I can Get one for Less than $30.00 that Is Lasyer than Edy but as I said she wants to live with me and Is good to My Children."lo

Both guardians and Clay charged interest on the amount of unpaid slave hire. Payments fell due at the end of the year during which hiring took place, and Clay allowed little grace period: he charged no interest in January or February, but pay- ments in March or later generally included interest in the amount of 1 percent per month. James L. Hutchcraft acknowledged this arrangement when he asked Clay to combine two years' hire in one note "at the usual interest." Failure to pay for hired slaves frequently led to civil action, and Bourbon Circuit Court case files are replete with suits over unpaid hire. l1

Contracts clearly specified the obligations of the hirer. In a typical contract with Clay, James Horn agreed to pay $40 for Caroline for the year 1850 "and give her 3 shirts 2 linen 2 linsey dresses 1 underdress 2 pr. stockings + shoes and a good

9 Park Western Citzzen, Dec. 24, 1838, Dec. 22, 1854, Dec. 7, 1838, Dec. 10, 1841, Dec. 7, 1849, Dec. 15, 1854. 10 Nathan Bayles to Brutus J. Clay, Dec. 24, 1841, folder 36, box 6, Clay Family Papers; Estes Marsh to Brutus J. Clay, Dec. 22, 1850, folder 53, box 8, ibid; W. S. Simpson to Brutus J. Clay, Dec. 27, 1861, folder 88, box 13, ibid

Guardian Book E, p. 250, County Clerk, Bourbon County; Guardian Book G, pp. 35, 54, 168, ibid ;BrutusJ. Clay Account Book; James L. Hutchcraft to Brutus J. Clay, Dec. 26, 1852, folder 56, box 8, Clay Family Papers; Anderson v. Alexander, Feb. 4, 1843, file 1015, box 218, Case Files, Bourbon County Circuit Court, Local Government and Judicial Records; Speaks v. Che, March 15, 1842, file 1014, ibid; Bun v. ker, June 20, 1842, file 1007, box 216, ibid

blanket + return her at the end of the year free of charge." Similarly, Joseph Deaver agreed to pay one dollar for Arabela and her three youngest children, to provide her with "three shirts, two linen, 2 linsey dresses, one underdress, two pairs stock- ings and shoes," and to provide the children with "three shirts, two linen, and two linsey dresses." Many early contracts in court files take a less precise form -referring only to the obligation to provide "the usual clothing" or "such clothing as is usually furnished hired servants," as well as the obligation to treat the hired slaves "in a humane manner" -but such imprecise language had largely disappeared by the mid-1840s, and it was never characteristic of Clay's contracts.I2

Owners took these obligations seriously, and hirers had to explain deviations. Estes Marsh wrote Clay that he had not provided Jordan with the clothing required by the contract because he could not find suitable clothes; he assured Clay he would reimburse him for the amount the clothes would have cost. Charles T. Garrard also anticipated questions as to why he had not supplied his hired slaves with all the contracted obligations; he wrote Clay that "Matty has some other clothing &c. for them which she has not given out to them as yet, and has been waiting until1 they need them." And James Boone simply paid Clay $8.25 in 1850 "for clothing not furnished," an act further indicating the extent to which obligations toward slaves had become simply matters for direct cash transaction. Failure to provide the re- quired clothing was likely to result in a lawsuit, as when William Burr sued E. Donelly and James Shropshire for failing to furnish one chemise (out of the three they were required to provide), a pair of stockings (out of the two required), one pair of shoes (of the two required), and one blanket-all of which totaled a six- dollar shortcoming in their contractual obligation. '3

Hirers, however, did not always leave the interpretation of contractual obliga- tions to owners. Thomas M. Taylor, for example, took issue with Clay's apparent claim that he had not lived up to the provisions of the contract. In returning Clarke he noted, "Your complaints in regard to his clothing are unjust and unfounded; as is also the insinuation that favor was shewn me in the cheapness of the terms. Clarke came into my employ very bare of clothing, a cripple and very feeble: noth- ing laborious was imposed upon him. he has much grown strengthened and im- proved in his general health. When he left me he had a suit of new [illegible]; be- sides other good clothing." Dillard Denison, in seeking Clay's approval of the clothes he provided, attempted to shift blame for any deficiencies to the slave him- self; he wrote, "Please examine and see if the Negroes have been clothed according to contract. I gave Dave 2 pairs shoes and 1 pr. four Dollar Boots, and now I see

l2 James Horn, contract to hire slave, Dec. 25, 1849, folder 51, box 8, Clay Family Papers; Joseph Deaver, con- tract to hire slave, Dec. 18, 1849, ibia!; E. Thurston, contract to hire slave, March 9, 1839, Witherspoon v. Thurston,file 1176, box 255, Case Files, Bourbon County Circuit Court, Local Government and Judicial Records; William Alexander, G. D. Merrill, and Henry Leer, contract to hire slave, Jan. 1, 1842, Adams v. Alemndel; file 1015, box 286, ibid; Smzth v. Allen, March 29, 1842, file 1014, box 218, ibia!

13 Marsh to Brutus J. Clay, Dec. 22, 1850, folder 53, box 8, Clay Family Papers; Charles T. Garrard to Brutus J. Clay, Dec. 27, 1852, folder 56, ibia!;BrutusJ. Clay Account Book, Dec. 28, 1850; Burr v. Done& andShropshire, June 17, 1858, file 1327, box 290, Case Files, Bourbon County Circuit Court, Local Government and Judicial Records.

his feet has been frosted from night running, which I intend to stop, he has been

in the habit of staying out until 2 or 3 0. C[lock]."l*

The annual nature of hiring, the negotiation of prices, terms, and obligations, and the payment of interest all point to the market nature of the transaction. Hir- ing in Bourbon County demonstrates just how completely slavery could be adapted to market relations: For everyone except the slaves themselves, slave labor had be- come a freely moving commodity that could be bought and sold as needed. In- deed, slave hiring may have propelled small farmers and craftsmen even further into the market economy. Since they faced scheduled payments at the end of the year, hirers had to enter into the cash economy in order to guarantee their ability to pay. If they came up short, they faced ever greater cash demands because of in- terest charges. By leading them to rely on Clay for labor and on market production to pay for that labor, slave hiring may have subjected small farmers or craftsmen to precisely the dependence they found threatening to their independent way of life. Why, then, were so many of them willing to hire? Several studies have provided enlightening descriptions of the experiences of hired slaves, but despite an increas- ing recognition of the prevalence of slave hiring, few have explored its connection with wider economic or ideological developments. Randolph B. Campbell argues that the most important issue in analyzing slave hiring is determining who hired slaves; I would add that it is also crucial to examine why-what economic or cultural forces influenced the decision to hire slaves? Evidence from Bourbon County pro- vides detailed information on precisely those issues. '5

The most striking characteristic of those who hired from Clay is that most owned few or no slaves and that many had very limited financial resources. Of the 95 persons for whom slaveholding status could be determined, 55 did not own slaves when they first hired from Clay; only 16 owned five or more slaves, and only 5 owned ten or more. Of the hirers, 41 owned no land, and 38 owned neither land nor slaves. Indeed, 34 of those who hired slaves from Clay had total taxable prop- erty of less than one thousand dollars. (See tables 1-3.) Hiring slaves from Clay, then, provided access to slave labor to many people who had not purchased slaves and who probably did not have the financial resources to do so even if they wished it. If those who hired from other sources were similar to Clay's hirers, approximately 65 non-slaveholders gained access to slaves each year through hiring-or nearly 13 percent of the total number of non-slaveholding households in 1860. Again, the aggregate number over the years may have been much higher.16

'*Thomas M. Taylor to Brutus J. Clay, Jan. 19, 1838, folder 31, box 5, Clay Family Papers; Dillard Denison to Brutus J. Clay, Dec. 26, 1859, folder 80, box 12, ibid

I5 Randolph B. Campbell, "Slave Hiring in Texas," American Historical Review, 93 (Feb. 1988), 108. On the experience of hired slaves, see Charles B. Dew, "Disciplining Slave Ironworkers in the Antebellum South: Coercion, Conciliation, and Accommodation," ibid, 79 (April 1974), 393-418; William A. Byrne, "The Hiring of Woodson, Slave Carpenter of Savannah," Georgia Hirtonial Quartedy, 77 (Summer 1993), 245-63; Morgan, Emancipation in Virginia's Tobacco Beh, 63-75; and Robert Starobin, "Disciplining Industrial Slaves in the Old South," Journal of Negro Histoy, 53 (April 1968), 111-28.

l6 Tax Assessment Books, 1844-1861 (microfilm: reels 007882-84) County Clerk, Bourbon County, Local Gov- ernment and Judicial Records; Manuscript Population Schedules, Bourbon County, Kentucky, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850 (reel 192, M-2) (Special Collections, King Library); Manuscript Population Schedules, Bourbon County, Kentucky, Eighth Census of the United States, 1860 (reel 356, M-2), ibid

Table 1
Land Owned by Hirers of Prime Field Hands and of a Variety of Slaves

Hirers of            Hirers of
Prime Field Ha    ndsa    a Variety of sla    vesb
Acres Owned    Nwnber        Portion    Nwnber        Portion
0    5        14%    4 1        46 %
1-49    2        6%    10        11%
50-99    6        17%    8        9%
100-499    19        54 %    29        32 %
500-999    1        3%    2        2%
>lo00    2        6%    0        0%
---                        
SOURCES: Guardian Books C-G, County Clerk, Bourbon County (Bourbon County Courthouse, Paris, Ky.); Brutus J. Clay Account Book, box 36, Clay Family Papers (Special Collections, King Library, University of Kentucky, Lexington); Tax Assessment Books, 1844-1861 (microfilm: reels 007882-007884), County Clerk, Bourbon County, Local Government and Judicial Records (Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort); Manuscript Population Schedules, Bourbon County, Kentucky, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850 (Special Collections, King Library); Manuscript Population Schedules, Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, ibid aNumbers for hirers of prime field hands were taken from the guardian books.

Numbers for hirers of a variety of slaves were taken from ~ru&s J. Clay's account book.

Most of these hirers were farmers. Over two-thirds (66) of those who hired from Clay farmed, and many were very small farmers: 19 (30 percent) owned no land, and 16 owned neither land nor slaves. The remainder of the hirers (25)worked out- side agriculture in skilled and professional occupations; they included five black- smiths, three tailors, three merchants, two physicians, two grocers, a weaver, car- riage maker, publisher, carpenter, jeweler, shoemaker, and one "shoemaker and jeweler." Of these nonfarmers, only 3 owned slaves, and of those, only 1(a physician who also owned a seventy-six acre farm) owned more than one slave. Over half had migrated into Kentucky, 11 from non-slaveholding areas in the United States or abroad. '7

But the question remains why these hirers wantedslaves. At first glance, it may be tempting to conclude that hirers were pursuing material gains while protecting the safety of their livelihoods. Slave hiring seems a clear example of the benefits of expanding market relations: If slave labor moved freely, a non-slaveholder could use slaves even before he could afford one and thereby boost his market produc- tion-perhaps eventually saving enough money to purchase slaves himself. Slave hiring thus might have provided the means by which a small farmer could increase his production for the market (and his financial independence) at minimal risk to the security of his household. He could hire a slave without having saved up the

'7 Tax Assessment Books, 1844-1861 (reels 007882-84), County Clerk, Bourbon County, Local Government and Judicial Records; Manuscript Population Schedules, Bourbon County, Kentucky, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850 (reel 192, M-2) (Special Collections, King Library); Manuscript Population Schedules, Bourbon County, Kentucky, Eighth Census of the United States, 1860 (reel 356, M-2), ibid

Table 2
Slaves Owned by Hirers of Prime Field Hands and of a Variety of Slaves

Hirers of    Hirers of
Shves    Prime Field Handsa    a Variety of slavesb
Owned    Nzlmber    Portion    Nzlmber    Po rtio n
5-9 10 29 Yo 11 12% 10-19 3 9% 3 3% >20 3 9% 2 2%

SOURCES:Guardian Books C-G, County Clerk, Bourbon County (Bourbon County Courthouse, Paris, Ky.); Brutus J. Clay Account Book, box 36, Clay Family Papers (Special Collections, King Library, University of Kentucky, Lexington); Tax Assessment Books, 1844-1861 (microfilm: reels 007882-007884), County Clerk, Bourbon County, Local Government and Judicial Records (Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort); Manuscript Population Schedules, Bourbon County, Kentucky, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850 (Special Collections, King Library); Manuscript Population Schedules, Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, ibid a Numbers for hirers of prime field hands were taken from the guardian books.

Numbers for hirers of a variety of slaves were taken from Brutus J. Clay's account book.

amount needed to purchase one; he incurred minimal risk in regard to the long- term health of the slave; he could either return or retain the slave at the end of the year as circumstances warranted. Small farmers and others with limited access to slaves might very well, in the words of Harry L. Watson, "come to see an expansive capitalist economy as both personally beneficial and consistent with republican traditions."l*

In fact, however, hiring provided no such opportunity, and its popularity cannot be traced to potential market advantages. Hiring provided yeoman families of Bour- bon County little opportunity to enhance their economic positions. Only 5 of the 55 non-slaveholders who hired from Clay had managed to purchase slaves of their own by 1861, and only 4 of the 40 slaveholders increased their holdings; similarly, only 6 of the 41 non-landowners managed to obtain land by 1861. This is hardly surprising, for while slave hiring increased access to slaves, it did not necessarily increase access to the prime field hands who might boost market production. Clay rarely hired out such hands, and estates usually hired out fewer than thirty each year. Moreover, the price of prime hands -generally over one hundred dollars an- nually-put them out of reach for small farmers. Indeed, the farmer with no land and little taxable property may have been as incapable of hiring a slave for a hun- dred dollars or more a year as he was of buying one.19 Only those farmers who had already achieved (or inherited) financial success

I8 Harry L. Watson, Liberty and Power: Tbe Politics ofJacksonian America (New York, 1990), 212.

'9 Adult male slaves were operationally defined as those whose price of hire was greater than the average for all male slaves in a given year. Statistics on the number of slaves hired from guardians is based on a sample of six years spread evenly over the period of this study (1835, 1840, 1845, 1850, 1855, and 1860).

Table 3
Taxable Property of Hirers of Prime Field Hands and of a Variety of Slaves

Hirers of    Hirers of
Property Value    Prime Field Handsa    a Vanity of slavesb
in Dollars    Nzlmber    Portion    Number    Portion
SOURCES:Guardian Books C-G, County Clerk, Bourbon County (Bourbon County Courthouse, Paris, Ky.); Brutus J. Clay Account Book, box 36, Clay Family Papers (Special Collections, King Library, University of Kentucky, Lexington); Tax Assessment Books, 1844-1861 (microfilm: reels 007882-007884), County Clerk, Bourbon County, Local Government and Judicial Records (Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort); Manuscript Population Schedules, Bourbon County, Kentucky, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850 (Special Collections, King Library); Manuscript Population Schedules, Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, ibid a Numbers for hirers of prime field hands were taken from the guardian books.

Numbers for hirers of a variety of slaves were taken from Brutus J. Clay's account book.

were able to hire prime field hands. Clay hired out too few adult males to allow any generalizations about the economic status of those who hired them, but it was possible to identify from guardians' records 35 persons who hired prime hands dur- ing a sample of five years from 1840 to 1860. Of those 35, all but 4 farmed, and the average size of their farms was 771 acres; only 6 of the farmers owned fewer than 100 acres. Of the 35, there were 24 who owned slaves, and these owners held an average of twelve slaves each. Most striking was the amount of their taxable prop- erty. Despite wide fluctuations over the years sampled, hirers of prime field hands always owned an average of over $10,000 in property, and only 2 of the 35 had tax- able property of less than $1,000. (See tables 1-3.) Hirers of prime field hands owned much more land, owned many more slaves, and had much greater taxable property than all hirers of slaves from Clay. Despite the temptation to assume that hiring slaves was a step along the path toward economic success in a market- oriented economy, the practice had few such benefits for typical hirers.20

The evidence from Bourbon County suggests a much more complicated moti- vation for hiring slaves, one involving the interaction of market relations and chang- ing expectations for household work. Rather than hiring prime field hands to in- crease agricultural productivity, most hirers in Bourbon County employed adult women (and their dependent children); 82 percent hired either female slaves or both males and females, while 67 percent hired females exclusively. These women were hired almost exclusively to perform domestic tasks such as laundry, cooking,

20 The list of hirers consisted of all those named individuals who hired prime field hands from estates in the years sampled (1840, 1845, 1850, 1855, and 1860); Guardian Books C-G, County Clerk, Bourbon County.

The Journal of American History September 1997

and child care. Hugh Payne, for example, wrote Clay, "I wish to hire a negro girl, or woman without family, for a cook and washer-my family is small (having only six in number) and four of them children-I want one who can be recommended for Honesty and care." William Samuel wrote that "I have moved to this place for the purpose of trying to make something. I want a Negro woman one that will suit to cook. If will you be so good as to let me know and if its possible let me have one, inform me as soon as you can of your will." And G. Clay Smith wrote, "My wife is very anxious to have a black nurse, and I prefer one myself. Have you one about fifteen or eighteen years old that i can hire the year to come? We want one that is good, neat, and knows something about washing for infants." Other correspondence to Clay mentions washing, cooking, weaving, and general house- keeping. The sole reference to field labor for a female is ambiguous at best: C. Kelly wrote that he wanted a small girl large enough to "keep flies off cattle" and "of course I should for my own convenience teach as much of other things as she was willing to learn."21

Advertisements in the local paper concerning slave hiring noted the same types of tasks for women. V. G. Wheat advertised "Two Women (good cooks and wash- ers)," and Samuel Clay advertised, "I have a negro woman and two negro girls that I wish to hire for the next year. The woman is a good house servant, and the girls are suitable for nurses and accustomed to wait about a house." Those wishing to hire advertised exclusively for female domestic servants. One wanted to hire "a Negro Woman, acquainted with house-work, Cooking, Washing &c.-For whom a high price will be given," while another wanted "a middle aged Woman ac- quainted with cooking, washing, &c." One subscriber advertised for '1Negro Woman without incumbrance, to cook and wash for a small family. Also, a small girl or boy for a nurse," and another noted "I want to hire a Negro servant for next year. She must be a good cook and well recommended in other respects." Not a single advertisement indicated a desire to hire a male slave.22

Bourbon County residents' interest in hiring female slaves reflected the new ex- pectations for household labor that emerged in the first half of the nineteenth cen- tury. The rising market involvement of Americans in this period led to an increasing separation of men's and women's work. Men increasingly worked for wages or other- wise produced for the market, while women worked primarily in the nonwage activ- ities of the domestic sphere. As they found their traditional tasks displaced, women adopted new roles related to domestic work, and "homemaking" became an important task. No longer so clearly involved in proa'zlction for the household econ-

21 Hugh Payne to Brutus J. Clay, Dec. 21, 1839, folder 32, box 5, Clay Family Papers; William Samuel to Brutus J. Clay, Dec. 1838, folder 30, tbid ; G. Clay Smith to Brutus J. Clay, Dec. 27, 1861, folder 88, box 13, ibtd ;

C. Kelly to Brutus J. Clay, Aug. 5, 1854, folder 61, box 9, ibid; Ord to Brutus J. Clay, Sept. 27, 1845, folder 45, box 7, ibid; R. S. Russel to Brutus J. Clay, May 18, 1847, folder 47, ibid; C. E. Williams to Brutus J. Clay, Dec. 7, 1849, folder 51, box 8, ibid;Jonathan Tevebough to Brutus J. Clay, Sept. 12, 1851, folder 54, ibid;

E. Muth to Brutus J. Clay, March 10, 1858, folder 73, box 11, ibid;Joanna Garth to Brutus J. Clay, Dec. 18, 1858, folder 76, tbid

22 Paris Western Citizen, Dec. 17, 1852, Dec. 15, 1854, Jan. 21, 1825, Feb. 26, 1831, Dec. 29, 1848, Dec. 22, 1854.

omy, women took responsibility for organizing consamption and acted as "frugal consumers" in charge of directing and managing the household for greatest effi- ciency and satisfaction. Housework began to take on a "patina of artistry" as well as an aura of rationality and efficiency. At the same time, the family assumed new responsibility for training children for success in the increasingly competitive world of the market. As the home became the "launching pad" for such success, women gained new authority and responsibility for the moral and ethical upbringing of children.23

The prevalence of this image of a frugal housewife and nurturing mother in the advice literature of the North is well established. But understanding the lives of nineteenth-century families requires more evidence than northern advice literature can provide; only studies of the specific experiences of families from diverse back- grounds can establish the influence of these purported domestic expectations. More- over, such studies must consider carefully the economic, ethnic, and geographic positions of the families studied. Although the slaveholding South offers the most obvious contrast to the northern context that nurtured such domestic expectations, broad generalizations about "southern women" or "yeoman families" may obscure more than they clarify. Slave states were neither economically nor culturally uni- form, and only detailed local studies can illuminate the impact of domestic expec- tations or their interactions with the institution of slavery.24

To illuminate change in household work, we must explore at least three inter- secting yet conceptually distinct questions: Were women and men in Bourbon County exposed to significant components of this domestic ideology? Did they ac- cept these norms as reasonable goals for themselves? And to what extent did their patterns of labor reflect -or contradict -those goals? The evidence from Bourbon County sheds light on the lives of families in one particular region of the upper South, and the evidence provides at least partial answers to each of the three questions-the extent of exposure to, acceptance of, and conformity to new do- mestic ideals.

Advice regarding the domestic sphere clearly was meant to reach a wide audience. As Richard L. Bushman notes, advocates of "genteel culture" -who emphasized women's refining role in the home-explicitly directed their appeals to all classes

23 Julie A. Matthaei, An Economic Histoly of Women in Amenca: Women's Work, the Sexual Divicion of Labor, andthe Development of Capitalism (New York, 1982), 34, 112, 114; Mary P. Ryan, Cradle of the Middle Class: The E;zmily in Oneida County, New York, 1790-186s (New York, 1981), 27, 198-99, 231-32; Mary P. Ryan, The Empire of the Mother: American Wnting about Domesticity, 2830-1860 (New York, 1982), 38, 144; Charles Sellers, The MarketRevolution: Jacksonian Amenca, I8IJ-1846 (New York, 1991), 242; Susan Strasser, Never Done: A Histoly of American Housework (New York, 1982), 4.

On the image of the housewife, see Ruth H. Bloch, "American Feminine Ideals in Transition: The Rise of the Moral Mother, 1785-1815," Feminist Studies, 4 (June 1978), 100-126; Ruth Miller Elson, Guardians of Pa- &ion: Amencan Schoolbooks of the Nineteenth Centuly (Lincoln, 1964), 306-7; Mary Beth Norton, "The Evo- lution of White Women's Experience in Early America," American Histon'cal Review, 89 (June 1984), 617-18; Mary P. Ryan, Womanhoodin America: From Colonial Times to the Present (New York, 1975), 147; and Barbara Welter, "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860," Amencan Quarterly, 18 (Summer 1966), 162-65. On the limitations of regional advice literature, see John Mack Faragher, Women and Men on the Overland Tral (New Haven, 1979), 3; Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (Chapel Hill, 1988), 40; and Mary Beth Norton, "The Paradox of Women's Sphere," in Women ofAmerica: A Histoly, ed. Carol Ruth Berkin and Mary Beth Norton (Boston, 1979), 140-41.

and encouraged poor and middling families to lead refined lives in their humble

homes. Most scholars, however, have argued that different images dominated south-

erners' feminine ideal- those of the aristocratic "lady," a delicate woman whose life

was one of leisure and civility, and of the hardworking yeoman "farmwife," whose

productivity contributed to household and regional self-sufficiency. Both images

overlap with that of the northern housewife- that of the lady in its emphasis on

motherhood and women's moral authority, that of the farmwife in its attention to

women's role in the economic functioning of the home -yet both stand in contrast

to roles deriving from the individualism and market relations of the northern

middle class. Southerners saw ladies, for example, as part of a hierarchically orga-

nized, slave society, not as members of a separate women's culture whose empire

was the home. They thought of farmwives as integral components of the material

reproduction of the farm household, laborers who toiled alongside men in produc-

tion, not specialists managing the home's consumption.25

But the agricultural periodicals read by Bourbon Countians- the Cincinnati Western Farmer and Gardener and the Louisville WZey Farmer- promoted a view of women's domestic work that more closely mirrored the ideal of the northern housewife than those of either the lady or the farmwife. These periodicals portrayed women's success in their domestic duties as critical for the success of both husbands and children. They described the home as a refuge from the world of work, "a place of rest, peace, quiet." The responsibility for creating this domestic refuge rested squarely with women; indeed, "almost the whole art of living well, living intelli- gently, living so as to enjoy life, improve ourselves and be useful, is in the hands of women." A woman's expertise had to render the home efficient, neat, and attrac- tive; with "good taste and artful fingers," the skillful housewife "will make a very plain house look cozy and homelike." The kitchen, in particular, "is the counterpart of herself, so clean, so fresh, so orderly," and a new vision of cooking accompanied woman's role as housekeeper: she was advised to invent new recipes, for "cooking with her is an art. It is a science too. She cooks by rule. She has a rule and a season for everything." The Valey Farmer concisely captured the importance of a woman in the home when it referred to her position as "the ordained priestess of the family. She ministers at the altar of horne."26

25 Richard L. Bushman, The Refinement ofAmerica: Persons, Houses, Cities (New York, 1992), 302,421,423,

433. On the image of the lady, see Fox-Gehovese, Within the Plantation Household, 47, 196-97, 289; Anne Good- wyn Jones, Tomorrow Is Another Day: The Woman Wnjer in the South, 18S9-1936 (Baton Rouge, 1981), 4-5; Elizabeth Moss, Domestic Novelists in the OldSouth: Defenders of Southern Culture (Baton Rouge, 1992), 34-36; William R. Taylor, Cavalier and Yankee: The Old South and Amencan National Character (New York, 1961), 125-26, 148-49, 163. On the image of the farmwife, see Keith L. Bryant Jr., "The Role and Status of the Female Yeomanry in the Ante-Bellum South: The Literary View," Southern Quarterly, 18 (Winter 1980). 73-88; D. Harland Hagler, "The Ideal Woman in the Antebellum South: Lady or Farmwife," Journal of Southern Hirtory, 46 (Aug. 1980), 405-18; and Stephanie McCurry, Masters of Small Worl'ds: Yeoman Households, Gender Rela- tions, andthe Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low County (New York, 1995), 72-81. Victoria Bynurn is virtually alone in arguing that the "cult of true womanhood" -along northern lines-was an important force in the South. See Victoria Bynum, Unruly Women: The Politics of Sexual and Social Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill, 1992), 8-9, 21, 47-48, 57.

26 "The Wife," Western Farmer andGardene1; 1 (March 1840), 220; "Domestic Peace," Elley firmer; 10 (June 1858), 192; "Country Girls," ibid ,9 (June 1857), 189; "The Model Housekeeper," ibid , 10 (Jan. 1858), 31-32;

But did women- and men-accept this image as a meaningful or appropriate goal for their own households? Several studies indicate that the ideal of domestic refinement was widely accepted across geographic and class boundaries, and that middling and even poor families attempted to live up to the ideal as a sign of middle-class success. But many scholars portray southerners in a different light. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese argues that elite southern women -although committed to their own version of motherhood and companionate marriage-would have been skeptical of Catharine Beecher's emphasis on scientific management of kitchens. The farmwife image, which rests on the assumption that women's work was less clearly differentiated from men's in the South than in the North, is also at odds with an emphasis on women's work in managing and rationalizing domestic con- sumption. If northern models of womanhood resulted from market-oriented indi- vidualism, then the more organically organized and self-sufficient household econ- omy of southerners would have militated against any embrace of the housewife image.27

Although financial records of slave hiring provide little direct evidence of the acceptance of domestic ideals, Bourbon County divorce records provide unmatched insight into the household expectations of men and women during the antebellum period. Forty-one divorce cases were adjudicated in Bourbon County Circuit Court between 1840 and 1865. Those cases were initiated by both men and women, and they included couples from a wide variety of economic circumstances-wealthy merchants, middle-class professionals, prosperous farmers, skilled craftsmen and unskilled workers, small farmers and tenants. Because divorces were granted only when at least one of the parties was at fault, proceedings revolved around establish- ing blame for the marriage's demise. In petitions for divorce, plaintiffs therefore chronicled- often in great detail -the specific domestic shortcomings of their part- ners. In their formal answers, defendants not only countered those charges but also often suggested the plaintiffs' own inadequacies. Depositions provide even greater evidence of attitudes toward gender roles, for they are among the few sources that

"The Model Housekeeper," ibid (Feb. 1858), 5; H. E. B. S., "To the Ladies," Western Fanner and Gardenel; 2 (Jan. 1840), 89-90; "The Model Housekeeper," Wey Fanner, 12 (April 1860), 122; "Cooking," ibid (Jan. 1860), 31; Mrs. Daily, "Domestic Recipes," Western Fanner and Gardenel; 1 (Nov. 1839), 69-70; "The Times-Home Economy," Valey kizmq 9 (Nov. 1857), 349; "Domestic Habits of Ladies," Western Fanner and Gardener; 1 (Feb. 1840), 165; "Notes by the Way," Valey kiznnel; 9 (Oct. 1857), 348. Evidence of Bourbon County readership can be found in Valley Farmer, 8 (June 1856), 186; ibid, 9 (Feb. 1857), 66; ibid (April 1857), 128; ibid (May 1857), 162; ibid (Oct. 1857), 306; ibid (Nov. 1857), 355; ibid, 10 (Jan. 1858), 37; and in WesternFamerandGardenel; 2 (March 1841), 121-26; ibid (April 1841), 167; ibid (July 1841), 217; ibid, 3 (Nov. 1841), 40-41; ibid (Dec. 1841), 49, 60; ibid (June 1841), 208-9.

27Jeanne Boydston, "To Earn Her Daily Bread: Housework and Antebellum Working Class Subsistence," RadicalHistory Review, 35 (1986), 13; Julie Roy Jeffrey, Frontier Women: The Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-1880 (New York, 1979), 10-11, 26, 32, 38, 73; Faragher, Woomen andMen on the Overland TraiI, 53, 56, 106, 168-70; Robert L. Griswold,kizmilj and Divorce in California, 1850-1890: Victorian Illusions and Everyday Realities (Albany, 1982), 43, 67; Fox-Genovese, Within the Plantation Household, 232, 281, 286, 339; Jean Friedman, The Enclosed Garden: Women and Community in the EvangelicalSouth, 1830-1900 (Chapel Hill, 1985),xiii; McCurry, Masters ofSmall Worlds, 74. For the view that southerners' perspective on women's role closely approximated that of north- erners, see Jane Turner Censer, Nod Carolina Planters and Their Children, 1800-1860 (Baton Rouge, 1984), 44-46, 51; Jane Turner Censer, "'Smiling through Her Tears': Ante-Bellum Southern Women and Divorce," Ametican Journal of Legal History, 25 (Jan. 1982) 38-40; and Bynum, Unruly Women, 9, 47.

The Journal of American History September 1997

record the spoken words of people of the time -and perhaps the only sources that report the words of often illiterate small farmers and craftsmen and their wives.

Bourbon County divorce cases reveal substantial agreement on expectations about women's work in the household. Both sexes, for example, held men respon- sible for supplying material provisions for the family. Most divorces were initiated by women, and they consistently complained that the lack of material support from their husbands forced them to work to supply their families with necessities. Dudly Mitchen, for example, left his wife "destitute of any means of support," so that only "by her own industry" could she support herself and their child. Similarly, Omelia Lindlay's petition noted that her husband "has wholly failed to make any provision for her support but has left her obtain it herself by the uncertain employment and stinted pay which a woman in this county can obtain for her work." Not once in any of the forty-one cases did a woman point to her role in household production as a defense of her character as a wife; every mention of material production by a woman was used as an indictment of her husband.28

Men generally shared the expectation that women should not have to work to earn a living, and they defended themselves by arguing that their wives had not been required to do so. One witness, for example, observed that Major Tapp had sent money and clothing to his wife and child after they moved out, and a local merchant agreed that Tapp's wife had bought goods from him and that "she got such goods as she wanted without restriction by her husband." Similarly, both Leroy and Melville Hughes agreed that their mother, Nancy, could have "obtained any- thing necessary for the support and comfort of the family" on their father's credit. With only rare exceptions, husbands did not argue that their wives did no more work than was reasonable, but rather that they had not been required to work at all-the men themselves supplied the provisions (or the credit) on which their families could subsist.29

But while women were not expected to supply material provisions for their fam- ilies, they were expected to create a peaceful domestic environment and to manage their households efficiently. Wealthy merchants, farmers, and people of middling circumstances all described their expectations in similar terms. Leroy Hughes, for example, agreed with his mother's lawyer that she was "always an industrious pru- dent and economical woman in all her domestic affairs"; but he also was forced to agree with his father's lawyer that she frequently left home for long periods, and that she was "when engaged on those excursions in the habit of leaving her home without leaving at home any one except an old negro woman to take charge of the interest of the family." William Dark complained about the state of his wife's house- keeping: When he returned from a stay in Louisville, he found that his wife not

28 Ann Mitchen, petition for divorce, March 29, 1842, Mttchen u. Mitchen, file 1052, box 227, Case Files, Bour- bon County Circuit Court, Local Government and Judicial Records; Omelia Lindlay, petition for divorce, July 12, 1847, Lindlay v. Ltndlay, file 1158, box 251, tbtd

29 W. W. Wilson, deposition, Aug. 20, 1846, Tapp u. Tapp, file 1131, box 244, ibid; Thomas Dobyns, deposi- tion, Aug. 20, 1846, ibid; Leroy Hughes, deposition, June 4, May 2, 1853, Hughes v. Hzlghes, file 1261, box 275, tbid; Melville Hughes, deposition, May 2, 1853, ibid

only "had been living in adultery with another man," but also "had been keeping

a very disorderly house insomuch that your orator became exceedingly disgusted

and was unwilling to live with her any longer."30

The alleged failure of a wife to live up to this domestic ideal is perhaps best il- lustrated in the divorce proceedings of Mary and Charles Hoon, a craftsman whose only taxable property was a small lot in the town of Paris. When married, "they were in very needy circumstances," with Mary owning no estate and Charles "having little except his trade" as a cabinetmaker. Soon afterward, Charles opened his own business, and he and Mary went to live with her mother, Julia Elgin. Mary later sought a divorce, claiming that Charles had abandoned her and that as a result she and her mother had "no means of support except that of laboring with their needles as seamstresses." But Charles answered that the unacceptable character of their home had forced him to leave. He alleged that his mother-in-law's "insulting language and hypocritical bearing to this respondent was such as to make the house intolerable to him"; she was so abusive, in fact, that Charles "could not live there in peace," and he suggested to his wife that they go to housekeeping on their own so that they could live agreeably. Mary declined, however, and the domestic prob- lems continued.31

One source of discord was Charles's displeasure at the lack of variety in the meals the women prepared. Although he left money for them to buy "fowls or turkey" for dinner and even brought groceries home himself, he found that dinner invari- ably consisted of nothing but meat and bread. Management of the home was an- other source of conflict. Hoon hired a female slave to work in the house, and his mother-in-law, Elgin, took it upon herself to punish her. As an acquaintance swore in a deposition:

Hoon said he had hired the woman for the family and he did not wish [Mrs. Elgin] to whip her or abuse her, and since he did not want her abused, he said his wife Mary could correct her. [Mrs. Elgin] allowed that she was mistress of the house, and when any correction was needed she would do it herself, and not call on him or Mary to do her business.

Eventually, Hoon went bankrupt. His answer to Mary's petition revealed his own understanding of the connection between domestic difficulties and economic for- tune. Referring to Mary's refusal to set up housekeeping with him, he argued:

had she have done so, and have exerted her influence in his favor and have lived with him as she ought to have done, the disasters which followed shortly after would not in all probability have occurred. But she refused and he was obliged with the Mother constantly abusing him in public and in private, to struggle on in the midst of pecuniary embarrassments which took a turn against him and which he could not control1 until finally he became bankrupt and being unable

3O Leroy Hughes, deposition, June 4, 1853,Hughes v. Hughes, file 1261, box 275, ibid ;William Dark, petition for divorce, Jan. 19, 1842, Dark v. Dark, file 1017, box 218, zbid

3' Mary Hoon, petition for divorce, May 18, 1853, Hoon v. Hoon, file 1261, box 275, ibia!;Charles Hoon, answer, July 12, 1853, ibid ; Adolph E. Hoon, deposition, Aug. 27, 1853, ibid

The Journal of American History September 1997

to meet his engagements he surrendered to his creditors all the property he had, and was left in a state of destitution, with health much worn down by distress of mind arising from his domestic difficulties with his mother in law, and with his anxiety to sustain and support his wife and their infant child.32

Authors of advice literature would have been hard-pressed to supply a more con- vincing endorsement of domesticity than the story of Charles Hoon. Once married, he expected to establish a new residence, in which his wife would commence house- keeping, managing the home, cooking varied meals with the groceries he supplied, and providing him a peaceful and comforting refuge. Instead, he found himself living in the home of his mother-in-law-a home in which his wife was not the manager, in which meals were limited to meat and bread, and in which he was continually criticized. The predictable result was bankruptcy. Nor did the women in Charles's family dissent from these ideals: Elgin and her daughter did not take issue with his vision of appropriate domestic life but defended themselves by argu- ing that they had, in fact, provided the comfortable home he had a right to expect. Elgin maintained that she and her daughter "did all we could to please him," and Mary claimed that they "had a comfortable home."33

This evidence suggests that the image of a managerial housewife, removed from material production, was by no means limited to middle-class women of the urban Northeast. But accepting an ideal is very different from putting it into practice. How did families -in Bourbon County and elsewhere -attempt to live up to their image of proper domestic labor, and how successful were they? Certainly women could not assume their new roles as expert parents and household managers with- out giving up something; they already labored at numerous household tasks that did not become easier simply because husbands had become more involved in the market. In order to fulfill their new responsibilities, women had to extricate them- selves from some old ones. The Wey Farmer suggested that "we should laugh at the housewife who makes no effort to improve upon her mother's style of house- keeping." As the magazine's regular contributor Hettie Hayfield noted, "We are sure with women there is often a sad misapplication of labor. To work at all with the hands is sometimes sad management." If the domestic expert was to rule "her kingdom with dignity and urbanity" and strew "comforts along the pathway of all her household," she had to rise above some tasks, particularly those considered "drudgery" -necessary but arduous and time-consuming chores that did not con- tribute to women's fulfillment as household managers. The task from which women most frequently tried to free themselves was laundry, which Hettie Hayfield in the Wey Fa~mer suggested caused "cold dinner and wife's vinegar a~pect."3~

32 Jonathan R. Montgomery, deposition, Aug. 27, 1853, Hoon v. Hoon, ibid; Charles Hoon, answer, July 12, 1853, ibid 33 Mary Hoon, petition for divorce, May 18, 1853, Hoon ZL Hoon, ibid ;Julia Elgin, deposition, Aug. 26, 1853, ibid

34 "Country Girls," Valey Farmet; 9 (June 1857), 189; "The Model Housekeeper," ibid ,10 (Jan. 1858), 31-32; Hettie Hayfield, "The Farmer's Wife," ibid , 12 (May 1860), 156-58; Hettie Hayfield, "The Laundry," ibid , 9 (Oct. 1857), 317. On changes in women's household work, see Ruth Schwartz Cowan, More Workfor Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology fiom the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York, 1983), 28-29; Faye Dudden,

In the North, many women freed themselves from household drudgery by hir- ing domestic workers. As Faye Dudden notes, it was not the phenomenon of hiring that was new, but its nature; whereas formerly women had hired "help" to assist them with their work (including craft production for the market), they now hired domestics to take over labor they had formerly done. Hiring domestics did not lead to a life of leisure, but it did allow women to differentiate household labor by as- signing arduous tasks to servants while reserving for themselves those that required creativity, organization, or experience -responsibilities fit for expert housekeepers. Like urban families, farm families throughout the United States sought servants to reduce women's household drudgery; the agricultural press strongly urged the employment of female domestic laborers, and such help was in great demand throughout the 1840s and 1850s. But demand outstripped supply; servants were always scarce in rural areas, and even when families managed to hire them, they frequently left without notice. Writing in the Valley Farmec Mary Abbott ex- plained some drawbacks of hiring servants: "Some say, have sufficient help; but help is not always to be had for money. They often leave without a moment's warn- ing, and without giving reasons. Leaving the wife and mother (perhaps delicate) to perform the labor of a strong, well woman."35

Slave owners in the South did have access to servants who could "perform the labor of a strong, well woman," and elite women were aware that their life-style depended on the work performed by their slaves. Historians have generally por- trayed less prosperous southern women as hardworking farmers who experienced little relief from material production and who demonstrated few characteristics of northern housewives. In this view, because yeoman farms were not fully integrated into the capitalist market, home manufacture and agricultural production remained essential to household self-sufficiency; in the South even urban homes retained their productive characteristics. With women still performing such ardu- ous labor, there was little opportunity for southern families to assume the domestic roles idealized in the North.36

The divorce cases described above provide ample evidence that Bourbon County families did not inhabit a nonmarket world of self-sufficient farmers. As in much of the South, home manufacture was disappearing quickly by the 1840s, and fam-

Serving Women: Household Service in Nineteenth Century America (Middletown, 1983), 47, 107; Glenna Matthews, "Just a Housewife": The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America (New York, 1987), 11; Ryan, Cradle of the Middle Class, 202; and Strasser, Never Done, 105, 109, 194.

35 Dudden, Serving Women, 12-14, 47, 107; Jeffrey, Frontier Women, 60; Joan M. Jensen, Loosening the Bonds: Mid-Atlantic Farm Women, 17fi0-18J0 (New Haven, 1986), 88-89; Matthews, yust a Housewife," 11; Ryan, Cradle of the Middle Class, 202; David E. Schob, Hired Hands and Plowboys: %rm Labor in the Midwest, 181fi-I860 (Urbana, 1975), 191-208; Hettie Hayfield, "Housecleaning," Valey Farmel; 9 (Nov. 1857), 349; Hay- field, "Farmer's Wife"; "Model Housekeeper," Wy Farmet; 10 (Jan. 1858), 31-32; Mary Abbott, "Woman's Labor,'' Wy Famel; 4 (March 1852), 112.

36 Fox-Genovese, Within the Plantation Household, 47-48; George C. Rable, Civil Wars: Women andthe Crisis of Southern Nationalism (Urbana, 1989), 31-49; Bryant, "Role and Status of the Female Yeomanry in the Ante- Bellum South," 77-78; Friedman, EnclosedGarden, xiii, 21-22; Suzanne Lebsock, The Free Women ofPetersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860 (New York, 1984), 148-52; McCurry, Masters of Small Worlds, 72-85.

Brutus J. Clay, 1864. Clay was Kentucky's second largest slave owner, Union Democratic
member of Congress (1863-1865), and brother of abolitionist Cassius M. Clay.
Clay hired out dozens of slaves-particularly women and small
children-whom he could not use productively on his own farm.

Courtesy R. Berle Clay.

ilies of widely varied economic circumstances had already come to rely on the com- modities they purchased from local merchants-not only clothes but also meat, meal, flour, molasses, and other necessities. In those families, women met their familial responsibilities by becoming skilled consumers. Like buying commodities, hiring slaves was an important means by which women in Bourbon County fulfilled their roles as expert household managers: the principal use of hired slaves was to

Mingo, slave of Brutus J. Clay, about 1865. As a healthy adult male, Mingo was employed
on Clay's farm rather than hired out. Although prime field hands could be hired from
the estates of deceased slave owners, their price-generally over one hundred
dollars annually-was out of reach for all but the most substantial farmers.

Cozlrtery R. Berle Clay.

perform the drudgery that both women and men no longer considered a fit job for housewives. Isabella Clay provided evidence of the indispensability of such female labor -and its importance relative to male labor -when she wrote to Brutus Clay, "Please let me know what you would hire Peggy + Jack for or Maria + Edmund. I want the woman and would hire their husband, rather than do without. I am willing to give what you get for Edmund or what Mr. Hedge gives for Jack."

Similarly, one advertiser simultaneously expressed the desire to hire "a Negro Girl, for the coming year, accustomed to house work," and to hire ozlt "two Negro Men, both farm hands."3'

Like their neighbors in the North and West, families in Bourbon County wanted servants to do much of women's traditional work, and hired slaves provided an ob- vious advantage over free servants: they did not have the option of leaving. The hirer of a slave guaranteed his family a source of domestic labor, and the availability of hired slaves for household work may help explain the support of non-slave owners for the institution. As attention to the lives of yeoman farmers of the South has expanded in recent years, historians increasingly have asked why tbose with little ostensible stake in the slave regime were often its loyal supporters. Randolph B. Campbell concluded that in Texas slave hiring provided non-slaveholders a means of participating in the slave system and thus increased the potential popular sup- port of slavery.38 The evidence from Bourbon County leads to similar conclusions. Among those who hired from Clay, 119 people had increased access to slaves over a seventeen-year period, and over half of those people owned no slaves themselves. Many were small farmers who owned neither land nor slaves, and over a quarter were largely slaveless craftsmen, merchants, and professionals -many from outside the South. Able to hire slaves annually, many Bourbon Countians from diverse backgrounds had good reason to support the institution of slavery even if they owned no slaves.

Southerners recognized that slavery lightened the burden of even non-elite white women. Edmund Ruffin argued that a farmer of moderate means in the North, unlike his southern counterpart, "would be compelled to be one of his own continual laborers. His wife would be the most unceasing drudge on the farm. His sons, and not less his daughters, would be brought up to continued labor in the lowest and most repulsive employments." He noted that even a prosperous farmer in the North still worked, and "his wife is still the most laborious domestic drudge. His daughters have no improving society, and their daily and continuous employ- ments are those of menial servants-whose services it would be too costly to hire." Similarly, Thomas Roderick Dew argued that slavery freed women from the drudg- ery to which they would otherwise be condemned; when surrounded by domestics, Dew noted, a woman ceases to be a mere "beast of burthen" and "becomes the cheering and animating centre of the family circle." And in one of the few proslav- ery tracts aimed directly at non-slaveholding southerners, J. D. B. DeBow explained that non-slave owners strove to acquire slaves, not because of their agricultural pro- ductivity, but because of their usefulness for domestic labor: "The non-slaveholder knows that as soon as his savings will admit, he can become a slaveholder, and thus

37 Isabella Clay to Brutus J. Clay, Jan. 1839, folder 32, box 5, Clay Family Papers: Pani Western Citizen, Dec. 28, 1838. On the declining importance of home manufacture in Bourbon County and the South, see Will Book Q, County Clerk, Bourbon County (microfilm: reel 183139), Local Government and Judicial Records, 1-354; and Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slavehor'ding South in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill, 1996), 45.

Campbell, "Slave Hiring in Texas," 114.

relieve his wife from the necessities of the kitchen and the laundry, and his children from the labors of the field."39

In his 1940 history of slavery in Kentucky, J. Winston Coleman constructed a picture of what he took to be the typical slave hirer and his motivations: "Many a small farmer, mechanic, or country store-keeper, leading away his first hired slave, swelled with pride as he assumed that enviable position in society known as a slave- holder. He was now a member, even though in a small way, of that much respected and influential class who favored the institution." While this portrait may describe the scene reasonably enough, it fails to recognize that the "typical" slave hirer prob- ably hired a female slave. While he may indeed have swelled with pride, his pride likely was the result less of his sudden inclusion in the class of slaveholders per se than of his inclusion in the middle class-an inclusion signaled by his ability to save his wife from household drudgery. The evidence from Bourbon County indi- cates that people from a wide variety of social classes not only accepted the emerg- ing domestic ideals found in the North, but hired slaves in order more fully to live up to those ideals. For the families of small farmers or craftsmen, struggling to suc- ceed (or just survive) in the increasingly competitive world of the market in Bour- bon County, conformity to domestic ideals may have provided one of the few signs of success. Most of Clay's hirers were unable to purchase land or slaves, but they could demonstrate to the world that they had appropriate standards in their home lives: they saved their wives from household drudgery.40

While such observations about the motivations of antebellum families necessarily remain speculative, the evidence presented here provides strong support for the con- clusion that many men and women in Bourbon County encountered and accepted standards for household work similar to those promoted by northern advocates of domesticity. That evidence makes clear not only that slave hiring was a common practice in this agricultural region but also that hired slaves were used primarily to relieve women of household drudgery-precisely the pattern one would expect if families sought to enable women to live up to their "refining" role in the home. While urban families in the North hired immigrant maids and laundresses, and rural families in the West sought in vain to find and retain servants, families in Bourbon County could rely on a plentiful -and securely bound -source of labor to help them enact their domestic ideals. The market economy was indispensable to such an allocation of slave labor, for it was hiring that allowed owners to profit from their excess slaves and non-slaveholders to obtain the labor they wanted.

Bourbon County continued to be a middle ground between North and South as the Civil War approached. Economically and culturally linked to its northern and western neighbors but tied to the South's peculiar institution, Bourbon County

39 Edmund Ruffin, Political Economy of Slavery (n.p., 1857), 26-28; Thomas Roderick Dew, An Essay on Slav- ery (Richmond, 1849), 30-32; [J.D. B. DeBow], The Interest in Slavery of the Southern Non-Slaveholder (Charleston, 1860), 9.

4O J. Winston Coleman, Slavery Times in Kentucky (1940; New York, 1970), 124; Sellers, Market Revolution, 237-39; Matthaei, Economic History of Women in Amenia, 120-21.

found itself torn between loyalties to slavery and to the Union. Despite strong local

support for the Southern Democrats, John Bell's Constitutional Union party

carried the county in 1860, and the pro-Union candidate John J. Crittenden easily

won the race for Congress the next year. With the outbreak of war, many residents

actively supported the Confederacy (the state's provisional Confederate governor

lived in Paris, the county seat), but Union sentiment remained even stronger-

particularly after the selection of Bourbon Countian Garrett Davis to the United

States Senate.41

But Bourbon County was not simply split between those who favored secession and those who opposed it. Rather, its citizens wanted to continue the satisfying middle ground they had always occupied -in the Union but owning (and hiring) slaves. The clearest demonstration of Bourbon County's ambivalent position came in the congressional election of 1863, when the Union Democratic candidate was none other than Brutus J. Clay. Defending himself against charges of being soft on slavery, Clay won a decisive majority in the county by campaigning on a platform of support for the war. Although Clay initially aligned himself with the Republi- cans, he became increasingly bitter with the party's moves toward full emancipa- tion. Remaining firm in his support for both slavery and the Union, Clay explicitly distanced himself from both parties and endured criticism from each. His constitu- ents shared his discordant position: By 1864 Bourbon County consistently voted for opponents of the Union, but in 1865 it easily filled its quota of volunteers for the Union army-one of the few regions of the state to do

The complex interplay of market relations, domestic expectations, and slavery in Bourbon County demonstrates the diversity of attitudes and economic patterns that existed in the antebellum South. Just as northern models of individualism and domesticity cannot be applied automatically to the entire United States, conclu- sions about the self-sufficient and nonbourgeois character of southern households cannot be extended automatically to every region with slaves. Bourbon Countians proved themselves adept at reconciling the institution of bondage with their own cultural and economic circumstances, which differed significantly from those in other regions of the South. Through the market for hired slaves, owners like Clay were able to profit from their excess labor, while the families of small and middling farmers and craftsmen were able to relieve their women of household drudgery. Clay's wife Ann illustrated the importance of this arrangement in a letter written in March of 1865. Following the emancipation of the families of slaves who had enlisted in the Union army, Ann's sister Belle found that her hired slave "left with- out saying a word to them. . . . Belle is in great doubt whether she can stand the white servants or not, but is thinking of trying them." Belle's anxiety over her im- pending dilemma aptly demonstrates the unique advantages of this middle ground between North and South- the ability to use hired slaves for domestic labor.43

H. E. Everman, The History ofBourbon County, 178J-1861, (n.p., 1977), 100-107.

42 Berry, Voices from the Century Before, 257; Everman, History ofBourbon County, 107-13: James Larry Hood, "The Union and Slavery: Congressman Brutus J. Clay of the Bluegrass," Register of the Kentucky HHirnial Society, 75 (July 1977), 214-21.

43 Ann M. Clay to Brutus J. Clay, March 24, 1865, in Berry, Voices from the Century Before, 437.

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