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Holding on to Loved Ones: A Mother’s Contract

Printed “Domestic Servant’s Agreement” between W.A. Garnwell and Jennie Muse, a freedwomen includes parameters for the time and labors of Muse, but also her “nine or ten year old” daughter, Laura, who is obliged to “perform all services in the family appropriate to a child her age”. The spirit of the agreement resembles the contractual language for agricultural labors at this time, reinforcing the authority and control of white property holders and the subservient and limited freedoms of persons formerly enslaved. In this case, Jennie and Laura Muse are to not only keep the status quo and “perform all work on the house and premises . . . which has heretofore usually been perfomed by the class of servants kept about the manion house and kitchen” but also be obliged to “obey all commands”, day and night, of the Garnwells and only leave the premises or receive visitors without written permission of the Garnwells. In exchange, Muse is paid four dollars per month, room and board, clothing, and shoes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $1.00 in 1860 is equal to about $27.50 in 2015. $110/month by modern standards.

Courtesy of South Carolina Historical Society