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Scraping By

Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore

Seth Rockman

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Co-winner, 2010 Merle Curti Award, Organization of American Historians

Winner, 2010 Philip Taft Labor History Book Award, ILR School at Cornell University and the Labor and Working-Class History Association

Winner, 2010 H. L. Mitchell Award, Southern Historical Association

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...

Co-winner, 2010 Merle Curti Award, Organization of American Historians

Winner, 2010 Philip Taft Labor History Book Award, ILR School at Cornell University and the Labor and Working-Class History Association

Winner, 2010 H. L. Mitchell Award, Southern Historical Association

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.

Reviews

Reviews

Graceful, engaging work.

Scraping By is an impressive, eloquently written study that provides a seminal history of Baltimore's working class, and makes a fine addition to the already outstanding list of titles in the Studies in Early American Economy and Society series.

Scraping By is about breaking new ground: the often nasty, unhealthy labor essential to Baltimore's growth as a boomtown from the 1790s to 1830s. Rockman breaks new ground himself in studying 'low-end laborers': slaves, free blacks, European immigrants, and the native-born who struggled to cobble together a few days' ill-paid toil... Highly recommended.

Seth Rockman has written a powerful book... Scraping By is an ambitious, impressive, and fully realized piece of work that will engage and educate scholars, teachers, citizens, and activists. The book will take its place on the shelf beside the classics of early American labor history, written by Ira Berlin, William B. Morris, Gary B. Nash, Billy G. Smith, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and Alfred F. Young.

Seth Rockman has written a book to be reckoned with... This is a terrific book, at times abrasive, which deserves a wide audience. That would include undergraduates, for whom Rockman’s vivid writing and clear argument should resonate, especially within an economic climate that is forcing millions more to scrape by.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
392
ISBN
9780801890079
Illustration Description
8 halftones, 4 line drawings
Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables
Series Editor's Foreword
Introduction
1. Coming to Work in the City
2. A Job for a Working Man
3. Dredging and Drudgery
4. A Job for a Working Woman
5. The Living Wage
6. The Hard

List of Figures and Tables
Series Editor's Foreword
Introduction
1. Coming to Work in the City
2. A Job for a Working Man
3. Dredging and Drudgery
4. A Job for a Working Woman
5. The Living Wage
6. The Hard Work of Being Poor
7. The Consequence of Failure
8. The Market's Grasp
Conclusion
Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Notes
Essay on Sources
Index

Author Bio
Seth Rockman
Featured Contributor

Seth Rockman

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