@Article{ barton1997,
    author = {Keith C. Barton},
    title = {"Good Cooks and Washers": Slave Hiring, Domestic Labor, and the Market in Bourbon County, Kentucky},
    journal = {Journal of American History},
    volume = 84,
    number = 2,
    month = {September},
    pages = {436-460},
    year = 1997,

p. 436: “As an impersonal, market-driven practice, hiring provided owners a means of adapting slavery to the demands of a mixed agricultural economy while simultaneously enabling the families of small farmers and craftsmen to live up to new expectations for household work.”

p. 437: “As in the rest of the South, slaves were hired from the estates of deceased slaveholders, particularly when guardians administered the estate for the support of children or other dependents.” But it was also a widespread practice even among living slaveholders, particularly Brutus Clay: a conservative estimate would be that 120 slaves in the county were hired out annually (438-439)

p. 439: Clay’s usual practice was to hire out “excess slaves” not needed on his farm in order to “maximize his income,” and by doing so he made a substantial profit, earning an “average annual income of $924 from slave hiring” from 1847 to 1852.

Barton’s analysis shows that most of those who hired slaves “owned few or no slaves” and were generally poor: “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” (p. 444).

Yet the hirers did not gain a clear market advantage by doing so: “Hiring provided yeoman families of Bourbon 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” (p. 446).

Not surprising, because Clay rarely hired out prime male field “hands” and instead typically hired “adult women (and their dependent children) … almost exclusivley to perform domestic tasks such as laundry, cooking, and child care” (p. 447-448). Letters to Clay and advertisements in local papers emphasize these tasks. This reflected “new expectations for household labor that emerged in the first half of the nineteenth century,” which “led to an increasing separation of men’s and women’s work” (p. 448).

p. 450: “… the agricultural periodicals read by Bourbon Countians—the Cincinnati Western Farm and Gardender and the Louisville Valley 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.”

p. 458: “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 obvious 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.” It was a means not only of inclusion in the slaveholding class, but also of “inclusion in the middle class—an inclusion signaled by his ability to save his wife from household drudgery” (p. 459)