American Slave Artisans

Although the majority of slaves during and after the colonial period were agricultural laborers, some slaves practiced crafts. Like other specialized slave workers, slave artisans were more likely to be found on large plantations than small plantations or farms. Many large plantation owners prided themselves on being able to produce everything they needed on their own property, with their own workers. Until the mid-eighteenth century, the vast majority of slave artisans were workers in wood. Slaves cut lumber into boards and built houses and plantation buildings. Another major Southern artisanal profession employing slaves, as well as indentured servants and free people, was coopering. Also found in the North, barrel makers and the containers they made were indispensable for the export of rice, tobacco, wheat, meat, tar, and other Southern products. The work of silversmith Apollus De Revoire and his son, Paul Revere, was among the most prized in colonial Boston. The expanding economy and rise of an economic elite in the eighteenth century created a strong demand for quality craftwork. (Brown Brothers, Sterling, Pennsylvania) In the second half of the eighteenth century, there was a broadening of the work done by slaves, with slaves specializing in brick making, bricklaying, blacksmithing, and many other trades. In both the North and South, slave craftspeople also worked off the farm or plantation in industrial enterprises, as carpenters in shipyards, or as blacksmiths or carpenters in ironworks. Artisanal work was sometimes a life-cycle occupation for slaves, as a slave too debilitated by age or disease to be a productive agricultural worker would be reassigned to a craft by the master or overseer. Other slaves learned their crafts when young, either by being apprenticed to white artisans, or, in areas like the Chesapeake, by being hired out to artisans by their owners. Particularly in the Carolina low country, there was a transition after the mid-eighteenth century, and slaves more often learned their crafts from other slaves. American-born slaves also were more likely to be put into artisanal occupations by their masters than African-born slaves, even though some African-born slaves had been craftspeople in their own country. Most artisanal occupations also were reserved for male slaves; female slave artisans were usually restricted to textile trades. Slaves, lacking control over their own careers, also might be shifted from one craft to another, according to the need or whim of their masters.

Artisans of the Valley – Artisans Educational and Training … Artisans of the Valley – Educational Services – Historic Impressions Dr. May Edward Chinn (4/15/1896 – 12/1/1980) born in Great …

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