Thayer Watkins

Gutman's Critique of Fogel and Engerman's Time on the Cross

Herbert G. Gutman in his Slavery and the Numbers Game provides an extensive and detailed critique of Fogel and Engerman's Time on the Cross (TC). Gutman characterizes the thesis of TC as being "Black Achievement Under Adversity." Gutman feels that Fogel and Engerman (F&E) did not prove their case and their "corrections" of the conventional views concerning slavery are not justified. Gutman is not at all impressed with the statistical methodology, called Cliometrics, utilized by F&E.

The thesis of "Black Achievement Under Adversity" while being on one hand complimentary to black people is on the other hand less condemnatory of the institution of slavery. Gutman's concern with denying the black achievement presented by F&E is showing that slavery was so bad no one could have achieved anything of significance under it.

F&E argued that the whippings (negative incentive for work by slaves) were exaggerated and the small rewards (positive incentives) were neglected. To show this F&E utilized a 1840-41 diary of a Louisiana slave-owner, Bennet H. Barrow.

Gutman makes a big deal out of the fact that he believes other statistics would have been more relevant than the ones reported by F&E. Clearly both sets of statistics are relevant.

The Barrow diary indicates that 160 whippings were carried out. F&E wanted to find the average number of whippings per field hand per year. This required an estimate of the number of working slaves on the plantation in 1840-41. F&E used the numbers of slaves recorded in an inventory of Barrow's estate when he died in 1854. The number of slaves owned at that time was 200 of which about 120 were in the labor force. That, as it turned out, was an overestimate of the 1840-41 numbers. F&E reported the number of whippings per field hand was 0.7 per year. Barrow's diary indicates that 110 different slaves were whipped. F&E, using the 200 figure, reported that there were 90 slaves who were not whipped during the two year period.

William Scarborough of the University of Southern Mississippi found from the census of 1840 that the number of slaves owned by Barrow in 1840 was 129 number of slaves owned. Clearly this significantly changes the estimate of the number of slaves who were not whipped from 90 to 10. The average number of whippings per field hand, assuming the same proportion of field hands to slaves as F&E, to 1.03 per year.

Gutman also makes it seems that F&E made an unpardonable error using one estimate of the slave population rather than the more accurate one found from the 1840 census. But qualitatively the figures of 0.7 per year and 1.03 per year indicate that whippings were not a frequent occurence for the average slave, although psychologically the potential of whippings probably weighed heavily on slave life, particularly because whippings were administered for poor work performance as well as infractions of the rules.

Gutman argues for another statistic concerning whippings; i.e., how often was there some slave being whipped. This figure is, on average, some slave was being whipped every 4.56 days. So every week there were usually one or two whippings. It average some male slave being whipped every 7.3 days and some female slave being whipped every 12.2 days. So once a week there would be a whipping of some male slave and about once every two weeks there would be a whipping of some female slave as well as the whipping of the male slave. This suggests that the whippings may have been more of a schedule exhibit to intimidate the slaves than something that was gnerated by the slaves performances.

Gutman quotes from the Barrow diary about the treatment of slaves at Christmas time. He argues that there was no systematic rewards or positive incentives to produce.

Dec. 24 negros went to Town for Christmas

Dec. 26 House Jerry & Isreal chained during Christmas Jerry for general bad conduct - for a year and better - Isreal bad conduct during cotton picking season

Dec. 29 gave the negros a dinner

Dec. 26 negros went to Town
Dec. 29 negros preparing for a dinner

Dec. 31 negros seemed to enjoy Christmas verry much ran two of Uncle Bats negros off last night - for making a disturbance - no pass - broke my sword Cane over one of their skulls

Dec. 24 hands went to Town payed them last night over $500

Dec. 30 the negros behaved badly last night at their supper

Dec. 23 negros went to Town to day Tumbulls Overseer Bailey caught Dennis yesterday
Dec. 24 intend exhibiting Dennis during Christmas on a scaffold in the middle of the Quarter & with a red Flannel Cap on

Dec. 25 negros appeared in fine spirits yesterday. Let Darcas out of Jail - Dennis confined in Jail

Dec. 26 had quit a Dance yesterday -some of the old negros &c.

Dec. 28 negros preparing for a dinner

Dec. 29 negros had quit a fine supper last night

Dec. 24 Gave the negros money last night $700. all went to Town today

Dec. 29 negros preparing for a Dinner

Jan. 3 Gave the negros a verry fine dinner yesterday evening at the House and afterwards inspected their manners in the Ballroom several acted very rude as usual. put them in Jail


Dec. 22 Making up pants for men as Christmas presents

Dec. 26 gave the negros articles purchased for them in N. Orleans


Dec. 28 Gave the negros as much of Evry thing to cat & drink during the Hollidays as they Wanted times so hard no able to give them any thing more

1843 and 1844
[No diary record of any celebration or gift-giving]


Dec. 25 negros seem quite Lively

Dec. 29 getting tired of Hollidays, negros want too much, Human nature

Some additional excerpts from Barrow's diary