Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore

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JHU Press, Jan 29, 2009 - History - 392 pages

Enslaved mariners, white seamstresses, Irish dockhands, free black domestic servants, and native-born street sweepers all navigated the low-end labor market in post-Revolutionary Baltimore. Seth Rockman considers this diverse workforce, exploring how race, sex, nativity, and legal status determined the economic opportunities and vulnerabilities of working families in the early republic.

In the era of Frederick Douglass, Baltimore's distinctive economy featured many slaves who earned wages and white workers who performed backbreaking labor. By focusing his study on this boomtown, Rockman reassesses the roles of race and region and rewrites the history of class and capitalism in the United States during this time.

Rockman describes the material experiences of low-wage workers—how they found work, translated labor into food, fuel, and rent, and navigated underground economies and social welfare systems. He also explores what happened if they failed to find work or lost their jobs. Rockman argues that the American working class emerged from the everyday struggles of these low-wage workers. Their labor was indispensable to the early republic’s market revolution, and it was central to the transformation of the United States into the wealthiest society in the Western world.

Rockman’s research includes construction site payrolls, employment advertisements, almshouse records, court petitions, and the nation’s first "living wage" campaign. These rich accounts of day laborers and domestic servants illuminate the history of early republic capitalism and its consequences for working families.

 

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User Review  - DarthDeverell - LibraryThing

Seth Rockman’s Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore examines the economics of the working class in early republic Baltimore. The book speaks to economic history, social ... Read full review

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History at its best.

Contents

Introduction
1
1 Coming to Work in the City
16
2 A Job for a Working Man
45
3 Dredging and Drudgery
75
4 A Job for a Working Woman
100
5 The Living Wage
132
6 The Hard Work of Being Poor
158
7 The Consequence of Failure
194
8 The Markets Grasp
231
Conclusion
259
Acknowledgments
263
Abbreviations
267
Notes
269
Essay on Sources
349
Index
355
Copyright

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About the author (2009)

Seth Rockman is an assistant professor of history at Brown University and author of Welfare Reform in the Early Republic.