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Urban Slavery

Beyond this tree line, at the rear of the property, is what once was the slave quarters of the Oakleigh Property. Although Oakleigh was not a plantation, there were enslaved peoples here on the property. Slavery in Mobile, and other cities, is what is known today as urban slavery. Urban Slavery is a type of slavery in which enslaved peoples would work in industries other than agriculture. Some were skilled labors such as bricklayers or steamboat workers. Others were unskilled laborers working in factories and on the river docks. There was also a large population of domestic workers in Mobile. The majority of slaves in Mobile were women, working in homes.

About ten percent of enslaved peoples in the South resided in cities. Many of these enslaved peoples did not live on their master’s property. There were communities, often on the edge of cities, where both enslaved peoples and free men lived. They lived together in these communities; therefore, many urban slaves were able to access information plantation slaves could not. The freemen in these communities would tell them about the anti-slave movement and read them pamphlets and sometimes teach them to read and write. They lived in dormitory-like buildings or one-room houses.

Some slaves did live in the home of their owners. This isolated them from the communities of other enslaved peoples and freemen. They were forced to stay on the property, so they would be available to their owners at all times.

As another source of steady income, slave owners would hire out their slaves to other people. This practice was common to widows, left with no other assets. This would allow for them to profit off of their slaves when they did not have work to be done. Sometimes they would be hired out for a day or even an entire season. Hiring out was a primary method of utilizing slave labor. Some slave owners would allow their slaves to hire themselves out. There were special stands set up in Mobile where slaves could meet with potential clients for work. This created tensions between enslaved peoples and working-class whites, as the enslaved peoples were filling the positions that would have been open for working class whites.

Urban slavery played an integral role in Mobile’s growth and development, bringing more skilled laborers and artisans into the city.

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