A time to plant: The economic lives of freedpeople in Granville County, North Carolina, 1865-1900

Sharon Ann Holt, University of Pennsylvania


Black farming families in post-Civil War North Carolina generated significant resources of cash and goods through household production, resources which they used to create community institutions and to improve their prospects as families and as individuals. Based upon research in the 1880 Federal census, in Granville County tax, deed, and mortgage records, and in a variety of manuscript sources, this study reconstructs the household economy of Granville County freedpeople, highlighting especially the work of women, children, and elders. The study traces how the proceeds of home-based production were applied to the creation of schools, the management of debt, and the acquisition of farms. The household economy was the central engine of black advancement in the years after emancipation, fueling community enterprises and the achievements of particular families and individuals. Freedpeople donated goods and effort, created by home production, to sustain black schools. Household production was reflected in farmers' use of instruments of agricultural debt. And finally, household production combined with dual tenure farming--the practice of cultivating two farms under different types of tenure simultaneously--to enable and to support black landholding. Full consideration of household production and of the economic strategies to which it was linked provides a new picture of black aspirations and achievements during the nineteenth century. Freedpeople's contributions, and their independent, black-run schools, shaped both missionary education and public schools. Estimates of black landownership made without consideration of household production, dual tenure, and small landholders, may undercount black landowners by a factor of 2 or 3. Black farmers actively resisted the imposition of debt peonage by using carefully structured credit obligations as well as household production. The seeds of the achievements of freedpeople between 1865 and 1900 lay in household production. Though freedpeople's own efforts could not fully overcome the obstacles placed in their way, a thorough understanding of the importance and character of household production illuminates the lives, talents, and aspirations of the emancipated slaves.

Subject Area

American history|Black history|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Holt, Sharon Ann, "A time to plant: The economic lives of freedpeople in Granville County, North Carolina, 1865-1900" (1991). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9200345.