Lest We Forget - African American Military History by Researcher, 
					Author and Veteran Bennie McRae, Jr.

Slave Wages

by Henry Robert Burke

Revised and updated July 18, 1999


© 1999. Henry Robert Burke - Marietta, Ohio

The enslavement of African people in North America lasted for 157 years under English Colonial rule and 89 years under the rule of the United States Government, giving a total of 246 years of slavery for African Americans in North America. The majority of African slaves were agricultural laborers, while some worked at other occupations.

Slave children began performing routine labor tasks around 10 years of age. Slave women worked in fields doing the same tasks as slave men, with little or no difference shown for gender . The work schedule for slaves was from daylight to dark, 6 days per week, with Sunday off under normal circumstances, in order for slaves to do their personal chores. The living expense for each slave averaged about $38.00 per year. According to the U. S. Census Report there were over 1,000,000 slaves in the United States between 1810-1820. At the advent of the American Civil War in 1861, there were about 4 million slaves in the United States. For the period 1800 through 1860 the inflation rate was relatively flat, meaning that the dollar value was stable. From 1861 through 1997, the inflation rate caused the value of the dollar to decrease by a factor of 15 times. The wage rate paid to construction workers,(mainly Irish), working on he Erie Canal Construction Project from 1817 through 1825, was $.80 and found, (food and lodging), per day. This is assumed as the minimum wage rate for that time period.

It would be an almost impossible task to figure an exact dollar amount of wages owed to African Americans who were enslaved in the United States. However this estimate is intended to show that African American did contribute an enormous sum of money to the economy of the United States. Let us figure the lifetime wages owed to a typical 60 year old slave.

Let us say that the slave, He/she, began working in 1811 at age 11 and worked until 1861, giving a total of 50 years labor. For that time, the slave earned $0.80 per day, 6 days per week. This equals $4.80 per week, times 52 weeks per year, which equals pay of $249.60 per year.

Since this slave worked for 50 years, his/her total lifetime earning, at the minimum wage, should have been $12,480. Considering the inflation factor of (x15), today that figure amount to $187,200 .

To make this equation simple, let's assume that an average number of 1,000,000 slaves lived and worked for the fifty year period from 1811 through 1861. We multiply 1,000,000 times $12,480. This would give us a figure of $12,480,000,000.00 at that period's dollar value, or $187,200,000,000.00 at today's equivalent dollar value, that slaves should have been paid.

I am not claiming that this figure is exact, or even accurate, if anything, it is way too low. However this calculation does demonstrate that African Americans have sacrificed an enormous amount of money to the economy of the United States.

References used in this calculation:

  • U.S. CENSUS data (1800-1860). Number of years = [60].
  • FACTS FOR FARMERS , Published by A.J. Johnson (1867). Typical slave's work schedule = [312 days per year].
  • Erie Canal Construction Project Records. (1817-1825) Daily wage rate = [$.80 per day plus "found".] This figure is used for the minimum wage.

Traditionally the work ethic has been one of the main standards used to judge the worth of individuals in American. The stereotypical view of an African American is:

  • He/she is lazy.
  • Unmotivated
  • Under Educated.
  • Skewed toward crime.
  • Has unstable family habits.

At the very least, every human being comes into the World with his or her labor potential, be it physical or mental. When they are robbed of this labor, they have nothing legitimate to fall back on. When it is apparent that the legal resources of a nation have been directed toward keeping an ethnic group suppressed, in a historical, then it seems obvious that it will take a considerable amount of effort to correct the problems that affect the African American community.

Category: Ohio | Subcategory: Henry Robert Burke | Tags: There are no tags defined for this page
Related Topics / Keywords / Phrases: 1800, 1810, 1811, 1817, 1820, 1825, 1860, 1861, 1867, 1997, 1999, African American, Civil War, Erie, North America, Ohio,