This week we are excited to have Trellace Lawrimore presenting from NYU. Trellace's talk is called "Escape in the Antebellum US South: Incentives of slaves and plantation owners." The abstract is below, and the paper can be accessed here. We will meet on Thursday from 12:30pm to 1:50pm in Room 217. Please feel free to bring your own lunch.
Economic histories of slave labor have revealed that slaves earned material benefits above subsistence levels; theoretical models have supported the rationality of positive incentives in forced labor markets. Particularly skilled slaves in the US South could receive, in addition to monetary payments, larger plots for their own gardens or promotions to jobs off the field. But what levels of incentives were sufficient to deter slaves from escaping the plantation? Although highly skilled slaves earned more than their less-skilled counterparts, their skills could redound to higher wages in the free market. I examine the effects of skill and free-market wages on plantation wages and the slave's decision to escape. I find that rewards on the plantation increase with the costs the owner incurs by chasing a runaway slave and with the wages available to black laborers in the free market. The model highlights the differential conditions for escape according to a slave's skill, and it hints at white Southerners' economic motivations for championing the militarization of the South and pursuing legislation that restricted the activities of free black laborers.