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Brokering ServitudeMigration and the Politics of Domestic Labor during the Long Nineteenth Century$
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Andrew Urban

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780814785843

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814785843.001.0001

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Humanitarianism’s Markets

Humanitarianism’s Markets

Brokering the Domestic Labor of Black Refugees, 1861–1872

(p.64) 2 Humanitarianism’s Markets
Brokering Servitude

Andrew Urban

NYU Press

Chapter 2 focuses on the period of the Civil War and Reconstruction, when formerly enslaved persons, classified as “contrabands” and refugees, were placed as domestic workers in northern households. The involvement of the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen’s Bureau) in the placement of refugees as servants prefigured the federal government’s expanded role as a broker of immigrant labor in the decades that followed, yet proved controversial. Designed to reduce government expenditures on the relief of refugees in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, the Freedmen’s Bureau’s financing of black servants’ migration was viewed with skepticism by detractors who claimed that it revived—under the thin veneer of “free” labor—a version of the slave trade. Due to insufficient federal funding, the reluctance of black refugees to relocate to uncertain job situations in the North, and constant questions about its efficacy, the Freedmen’s Bureau—after contracting thousands of women and children to service positions—was ultimately forced to disband this initiative.

Keywords:   refugees, contrabands, Freedmen’s Bureau, Reconstruction, Civil War, relief, Washington D.C, Josephine Griffing

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