Hirelings: African American Workers and Free Labor in Early Maryland by Jennifer Hull DorseyHirelings: African American Workers and Free Labor in Early Maryland by Jennifer Hull Dorsey

Hirelings: African American Workers and Free Labor in Early Maryland

byJennifer Hull Dorsey

Hardcover | March 25, 2011

Pricing and Purchase Info

$74.25 online 
$82.50 list price save 10%
Earn 371 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


In stock online

Ships free on orders over $25

Not available in stores


In Hirelings, Jennifer Dorsey recreates the social and economic milieu of Maryland's Eastern Shore at a time when black slavery and black freedom existed side by side. She follows a generation of manumitted African Americans and their freeborn children and grandchildren through the process of inventing new identities, associations, and communities in the early nineteenth century. Free Africans and their descendants had lived in Maryland since the seventeenth century, but before the American Revolution they were always few in number and lacking in economic resources or political leverage. By contrast, manumitted and freeborn African Americans in the early republic refashioned the Eastern Shore's economy and society, earning their livings as wage laborers while establishing thriving African American communities.

As free workers in a slave society, these African Americans contested the legitimacy of the slave system even while they remained dependent laborers. They limited white planters' authority over their time and labor by reuniting their families in autonomous households, settling into free black neighborhoods, negotiating labor contracts that suited the needs of their households, and worshipping in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Some moved to the cities, but many others migrated between employers as a strategy for meeting their needs and thwarting employers’ control. They demonstrated that independent and free African American communities could thrive on their own terms. In all of these actions the free black workers of the Eastern Shore played a pivotal role in ongoing debates about the merits of a free labor system.

Jennifer Dorsey is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for Revolutionary Era Studies at Siena College in Albany, New York.
Title:Hirelings: African American Workers and Free Labor in Early MarylandFormat:HardcoverDimensions:224 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.39 inPublished:March 25, 2011Publisher:Cornell University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:080144778X

ISBN - 13:9780801447785

Look for similar items by category:


Table of Contents

1. Work
2. Migration
3. Family
4. Dependency
5. Community
6. Recession


Editorial Reviews

"Jennifer Hull Dorsey has written a wonderful regional history that has much wider implications both for early America in general and for the African American past in particular. Dorsey's book is like a lantern that illuminates how free black people reshaped the larger labor system by adapting, confronting, and negotiating with white Americans who exercised more political power in the new nation. Impressively, Dorsey connects the experiences of black agricultural workers on the eastern shore of Maryland with the lives and struggles of recently emancipated people throughout the Atlantic World."—Billy G. Smith, Professor of History and Distinguished Professor of Letters and Science, Montana State University, author of Ship of Death: The Voyage that Changed the Atlantic World