Questions about slavery

Mar 2019
This is for all periods of history, not just the Old South.
Some slaves purchased their own freedom. So they must have been paid for their work, right? What if the masters were reluctant or unwilling to accept payment and free the slave?

Some slaves could own their own slaves. How did that work. Is there fiction or non-fiction portraying that? What would it have been like for a slave to go to a slave auction to purchase a slave? And again, how did they get the money?

Slaveowners weren't all wealthy plantation owners. I read one example, a master and slave might be working alongside each other at the same factory job. Is there fiction or non-fiction portraying that situation?

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
The question is too broad--you're covering thousands of years of human existence, and hundreds of different legal systems, many of which changed over time. Wanna narrow it down?


David Vagamundo

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
Atlanta, Georgia USA
Just to take one example from US history, John Randolph of Roanoke worked side by side with his slaves on his tobacco farm and on his death, freed his slaves and asked his executor to use the proceeds of his estate to buy a farm for them in Ohio. The good citizens of Ohio killed some and drove the rest from the farm.

US slavery was different from most others in that in most systems, slaves could purchase their freedom or were freed after a period. The racial component affected US slavery, and not for the better


Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
Slaves did not own slaves. Some free blacks owned slaves and slaves worked as assistant overseers.

Some slave owners owned a few slaves and worked along side them on the farm.

Slaves who did skilled work, worked in factories etc. were usually allowed to keep a portion of their pay.

Some slaves bought there freedom but it was more common for a free relative to buy there freedom.

Most slaves worked in the fields or were servants on large farms or plantations.


Forum Staff
Aug 2016
The promise of eventual freedom is one way that a slave owner could motivate his slaves to behave and to work hard.

A slave did not necessarily have to be paid to purchase his freedom. Slave and owner could enter into an agreement under which for each unit of work the slave performed, the owner granted X amount of credit toward the slave's eventual purchase of himself. It was not a legally binding contract since the slave had no right to sue if the owner changed his mind. Assuming the owner had many slaves and offered the same deal to many of them at different times, then it was to the owner's advantage to keep his word at the end of the contract so that other slaves in the early or middle stages of their contracts would have confidence that the owner would keep their contracts, too.
Mar 2019
Slaves often had small side businesses selling goods or services to other slaves. Almost anything - fish., wild game, produce from a private garden - could be sold at a town market. If course, the slaveholder could confiscate any profits for himself but that did not always happen.

The American institution of slavery was always horribly cruel, often sadistic, and indefensible for a Christian society. However, benign slave ownership was not uncommon.

Then too there were slaves of extraordinary talent - usually musicians - that enjoyed significant earning power.

Notably, the Cherokee also owned numerous black slaves.

Also, the historical record reveals that it was not uncommon for white slave owners to fall in love with their own slaves, even to the point of shunning their white wives.