Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South


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Though few slaves escaped being rented out at some point in their lives, this is the first book to describe the practice, and its effects on both slaves and the peculiar institution. Jonathan D. Martin reveals how the unique triangularity of slave hiring created slaves with two masters, thus transforming the customary polarity of master—slave relationships.

Jonathan D. Martin. Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South.

The practice bolstered the system of slavery by facilitating its spread into the western territories, by democratizing access to slave labor, and by promoting both production and speculation with slave capital. But at the same time, slaves used hiring to their advantage, finding in it crucial opportunities to shape their work and family lives, to bring owners and hirers into conflict with each other, and to destabilize the system of bondage. Martin illuminates the importance of the capitalist market as a tool for analyzing slavery and its extended relationships.

Bramlette, opens a window on two relatively unknown aspects of slavery in Kentucky: slave hiring and slave marriages.

Slave hiring was a common practice across the commonwealth of Kentucky, throughout the larger Border South, and in many other slave states. While plantations did not comprise the majority of farms across Kentucky, slavery lay at the foundation of every aspect of the economy, society, and culture of the state.

Many farmers, from small farmers to the urban businessmen, hired or hired out the enslaved on contract.


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Little is known about slave hiring across Kentucky, both in the urban and rural setting. We still do not know enough about the prevalence of slave marriages and unions in Kentucky.


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Yet, while not supported by Kentucky law, marriages were often recognized by slave-owners on the same plantation or farm, or across property boundaries. Slaveowners engaged in this practice for several reasons, as a method to sustain the institution of slavery, as a means to increase their personal value, and as an avenue for increased connectivity of the slave economy.

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In short, more slaves, more slaveowner capital, more interconnectedness —the more sustained and entrenched the slave economy in Kentucky. This document suggests several questions for future research on slavery in Kentucky: How common were cross-plantation or cross-farm marriages in Kentucky?

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What structures and networks sustained slave communities? What kinship ties existed among nuclear families and larger kinship networks, including enslaved women, and perhaps free blacks as well? Were enslaved men and women allowed to negotiate their own hiring out, or was this a relatively isolated incident that occurred within the context of black enlistment and the ultimate destruction of slavery? To answer questions like these, many more documents of this type will need to be found!

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Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South
Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South
Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South
Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South
Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South

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