Watched the uplifting and depressing movie Harriet last night. Second time I’ve seen it. Fabulous tale about the efforts of Harriet Tubman in liberating herself from slavery, then liberating most of her family, eventually freeing about 70 people from slavery.
In September 1849, Harriet and her two brothers, Ben and Henry, ran away. Eliza Brodess posted a notice dated “Oct 3rd, 1849” offering $300 for the return of the three. The brothers changed their mind and went back to their master, dragging Harriet with them.
For context, a house and barn were built on the Brodess farm in 1820. Edward Brodess owned Tubman. Upon his death, his wife, Eliza took ownership of the slaves and bore the responsibility of running the small family farm.
The house was described in court documents (I won’t go into background on the messy issue) as
“a single story 32 by 20 ft two rooms below with two plank floors and brick chimney, and also a barn of good material.
Another grim aspect of a slave economy is the difference between a “slave for life” and a “term slave.” As a matter of course a slave remained a slave until death unless granted manumission.
An interesting twist is the idea of granting manumission at some point in the future. For example a young adult, say in the twenties, could be granted manumission upon reaching age 35 or 40. Infants or children could be granted manumission upon reaching 20 or 40 or some other age.
I read the book after watching the new movie Harriet. I heartily recommend both the book and the movie. If you want to add another hero to the list of people you admire, check out the life story of Harriet Tubman.
There are lots of reviews of the movie and book. This post will not be a review of either the book or movie. Only direct comment I’ll make on the book is that after self-liberating from slavery, Harriet Tubman made about 13 trips back to the eastern shore of Maryland to help about 70 other slaves escape. She liberated most of her family, missing only her remarried husband and a few nieces and nephews if I recall correctly. She also gave detailed instructions to around 50 other slaves so they could escape on their own (location 154).
Instead this post will focus on one aspect of slavery covered in the book, specifically the price of slaves on the eastern shore of Maryland in the years prior to the civil war.
Previous post estimated the number of warhorses King Solomon owned along with citing the number of chariots in his kingdom.
Here are two of the texts used to make an estimate of some portions of his vast wealth:
2 Chronicles 1:14-17 (emphasis added for attention on specific valuations):
“Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. The king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue—the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price. They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty. They also exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and of the Arameans. (NIV)
What was the price of a Viking sword at the time? How about expressing a price then in some unit of measure we can grasp today? I have looked on the ol’ net but haven’t found any good guesses. Previous post discussed one indicator that I couldn’t process.
Hurstwic website describes one sword that had a reported value. Chapter 13 of Laxdæla saga says a sword given to Höskuldur by King Hákon was worth a half mark of gold.
Charlemagne became king of the Franks in 768 A.D. and expanded his rule until he died in 814, according to Wikipedia. That puts the price in the timeframe of late 700s or very early 800s. This is in contrast to the Lex Rubuaia having first been written in around 630.
I tried to convert that 7 solidi into something we can relate to.
Consider there was no secure way to store wealth in the time of the Vikings. There were no banks, no marketable securities, no way to establish reliable title to land. In essence, there was no store of value other than bullion or coins.
So, if you had a huge amount of wealth beyond your livestock and weapons, it would be in the form of bullion or coins. To keep it safe from theft, you would have to hide it in the ground.
Wealthy people who were killed, captured, never came back from another raid or trading expedition, or merely forgot where they buried their wealth abandoned all of their underground accumulation to be found some later time.
In The Age of the Vikings, Anders Winroth says children on a school outing found one hoard of 1,452 silver coins from the Viking age. Almost the entire hoard was Arabic dirham coins.
Author says there have been over 700 hoards found in Gotland. There was so much silver buried that another find is usually discovered each year.