How Enslaved People Created Wealth

enslaved people working on a coffee plantation
Adé Hennis
May 24, 2024

Most people who were enslaved were intentionally kept poor. But at the same time, some enslaved people had the skills, resources, and luck to generate their own income.

#1: Market Women 

 In South Carolina, Charleston’s City Market wouldn’t have existed without its free and enslaved Black vendors and market women. The women grew and sold fruit and vegetables to earn their own money.

#2: Mutual Aid Societies 

 Enslaved people pooled money to buy each other's freedom. The concept of these groups continued for generations after slavery and evolved into mutual aid societies, including the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union, which had 1.2 million formerly enslaved members by 1890.

#3: Hiring Out Services 

 One of slave owners' biggest mistakes was allowing enslaved people to hire or rent out their services. Because many of those enslaved carpenters, blacksmiths, or farmers were able to earn money that they could use to purchase their freedom.

By earning and saving money, our people ensured some self-determination despite enslavement. We all have that power of self-determination to create autonomy amongst ourselves no matter what society does to stop it.