Free black laborers were members of Hampton’s workforce long before the end of slavery. Some worked at Hampton as part of an effort to purchase freedom for spouses, children, and other family members still in slavery. Some were formerly enslaved persons freed byGovernor Charles Ridgely in 1829 or thereafter who returned to work for pay. Others were members of the larger community, working to survive. Finally, black artisans were hired for specific skilled work by the Ridgelys.
Before 1829, Governor Ridgely began hiring seasonal workers, free blacks, and a mixed labor force that could be easily dismissed or not paid during the lean economic decade of the 1820s. A list of wages paid to free “negroes” between 1825 and 1829 shows that the Governor turned more and more towards hiring seasonal labor, which was far cheaper than maintaining his large and increasingly costly enslaved labor force. As a seasonal and temporary labor force, these free blacks harvested and cradled grains, raked the grounds, bound and mowed the raw wheat, sowed new seeds, and threshed grains. Ridgely paid most of these workers by the job, often with items from his store, including food, whiskey, tools, shoes, and gunpowder.
In all, more than 60 free African Americans earned wages at Hampton between 1829 and 1870. Along with work in the fields, account books and ledgers tell us that these free black laborers slaughtered and salted hogs, cut wood, milked cows, gardened, washed clothes, and acted as house servants.
Last updated: June 25, 2020