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Divided Mastery

Divided Mastery

Slave Hiring in the American South

Jonathan D. Martin

ISBN 9780674011496

Publication date: 02/27/2004

Divided Mastery explores a curiously neglected aspect of the history of American slavery: the rental of slaves. Though few slaves escaped being rented out at some point in their lives, this is the first book to describe the practice, and its effects on both slaves and the peculiar institution.

Martin reveals how the unique triangularity of slave hiring created slaves with two masters, thus transforming the customary polarity of master-slave relationships. Drawing upon slaveholders' letters, slave narratives, interviews with former slaves, legislative petitions, and court records, Divided Mastery ultimately reveals that slave hiring's significance was paradoxical.

The practice bolstered the system of slavery by facilitating its spread into the western territories, by democratizing access to slave labor, and by promoting both production and speculation with slave capital. But at the same time, slaves used hiring to their advantage, finding in it crucial opportunities to shape their work and family lives, to bring owners and hirers into conflict with each other, and to destabilize the system of bondage. Martin illuminates the importance of the capitalist market as a tool for analyzing slavery and its extended relationships. Through its fresh and complex perspective, Divided Mastery demonstrates that slave hiring is critical to understanding the fundamental nature of American slavery, and its social, political, and economic place in the Old South.


  • In the past three decades, historians of the American South have produced a body of acclaimed literature that has redefined our understanding of slavery and southern culture. Until now, however, there has been no recent in-depth analysis of slave hiring. Jonathan Martin’s Divided Mastery is an important effort to fill this void.

    —Christopher J. Olsen, Georgia Historical Quarterly


  • 2004, Winner of the Bennett H. Wall Award
  • 2004, Winner of the Herbert Feis Award


  • Jonathan D. Martin is an attorney in private practice.

Book Details

  • 256 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press