What do you do with your freed slaves? (4)


Not only have you managed to compose the sentence:

All men are created equal …….endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But you have understood it.

And then you have decided to act upon it. Unless you do this, there’s very little point in expressing these fine sentiments anyway:


But in practical terms, just what do you do with all these people who are, at a stroke, suddenly given their liberty ? The only figure I have been able to find on the Internet comes from the History Channel, who say that there were four million or more slaves suddenly granted their freedom. And the USA wasn’t the only country to have this problem to deal with.

Tsarist Russia called them “serfs” but they were to all intents and purposes no better off than the slaves in America. In this photograph, lucky Russian women are doing the work of an English horse, pulling a coal barge up a river, probably the Volga:


The serfs were all freed in 1861 but were then discouraged from moving away from their owner’s  estates. Indeed, they had to stay and work for the landlord in the normal way for two years.

The land, too, was divided up. The nobility were allocated almost all the meadows and the forests. The state paid all their debts.

The poor old serfs, though, they had to pay over the odds for the land they were allocated. On average, it was 34% extra. In the north, it was 90% over the odds and it was 20% more in some of the so-called black earth regions in present day Ukraine and southern Russia.  In what is now Poland, the Tsar wanted to harm the Polish landowning classes, so the peasants paid nothing extra for their land.
None of this worked, of course. The poor old serf farmed his land but saddled with huge debts, he couldn’t make ends meet. He only received 50% of his total income from his own usually tiny farm. The rest he got by continuing to slave away on his landlord’s farm. As a result of this stupid, short sighted iniquity, many of the serfs moved to the cities to work in the factories there. And that process did end in tears:


In England, slaves were kept but really only as domestic servants. It was too cold to grow cotton. Within the British Empire, though, slaves were used in very, very large numbers to cut sugar cane in the West Indies:

west injdies plantation

Britain, of course, was a country owned and run by the extremely rich, for their own benefit, and in a way which would ensure that they remained extremely rich. Many of them were large scale slave owners. How could they possibly be made to free their slaves and impoverish themselves?


In the next article, all will be revealed.




Filed under History, Politics

22 responses to “What do you do with your freed slaves? (4)

  1. Communism. Nice theory, but inevitably, there are always those who seek power, abuse it and the poor suffer. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    • It would be difficult to think of any ruler who has done their job without thought of his own welfare. It is as if all the good things done by rulers are just accidental spin offs from their real aim which is to have a palace with golden taps.

      • I agree John. I think fundamentally, human beings need a ruler, be it a monarch, an elected representative, an oligarch, or dare I say it, even a dictator, otherwise there would just be chaos. There will never be an ideal solution to social cohesion as long as human beings are part of the equation.

  2. “Britain, a country owned and run by the extremely rich, for their own benefit” gosh that rings a bell somewhere …

  3. Excellent article with good comparisons, John. That picture of the women pulling the barge is horrific

    • I’m no expert on old ballads, but I think that the act of pulling barges along the river was what gave rise to the old ‘Song of the Volga Boatmen’. You can hear it at

      Overall, the Russian Revolution produced excellent improvements for the average Russian serf but they weren’t particularly spectacular ones for most English or American people.

  4. Interesting post. Interesting subject. I once looked up the 1901 Census for Sawmills in Derbyshire and found a man listed as born in USA (freed slave). One day I will follow it up, as it must be quite a story.

    • Thank you for your kind words. If you’re interested in this subject, I am currently reading “Black and British: A Forgotten History” by David Olusoga. It’s based on his BBC2 series and is a fantastic book, detailing a history that we need to remember and in parts can be proud of. At only £7 new and nearly 500 well written pages, what is there not to like ?

  5. The same thing has happened here also. There were bonded labourers. It is really very sad and slavery in one for or the other continues. Regards.

    • We are actually having cases of slavery here in Britain for the first time in well over a century. They are almost exclusively carried out by foreign nationals from the eastern countries of the EC. It’s a great pity that the United Nations can’t take the decision to stamp out slavery in the entire world for ever.

    • The more I’ve gone into this, the more I’ve realised that nobody has. At last it’s in the past, unlike so many Moslem countries such as Saudi Arabia and Mauretania to name but two. And England. Our local news last night said there had been 148 cases of slavery in the East Midlands in the last five years. Even the Police Inspector said though, as I remarked in another reply, that they were Eastern Europeans for the most part. That’ll be another advantage of Brexit, but one the PC people don’t ever mention.

  6. Wow, John, very informative post which got me to thinking in a way I never thought before. I never thought about what did all those slaves do once freed? Looking forward to more posts. 🌸

    • For the most part, I think that many slaves were just kept where they lived, whether they were British slaves, Russian or whatever, and they then carried on working. There are a few more posts about the British slaves to come and I’m glad you’re enjoying them.

  7. Chris Waller

    To my mind Britain still remains essentially feudal, especially so with regard to land tenure in Scotland. We still have an aristocracy which owns 2/3 of the United Kingdom. Why? What purpose does it serve? I have often had occasion to call for a plumber, an electrician, a roofer or a motor mechanic, but I have never found a need to call for a duke or an earl. Other than parading around in silly hats, what do they do? And why are we expected to sell our houses to finance our geriatric care when the Duke of Westminster can inherit his family’s £11.5 billion estate and pay no tax? I have my tumbril and pitchfork at the ready.

  8. GLM

    What does this mean? — “The poor old serfs, though, they had to pay over the odds for the land they were allocated.” A bad translation?

    • It is not a translation and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this sentence. I don’t really see what the problem is. A shorter version might be “the serfs, however, had to pay inflated prices for the land they were given to farm.” I hope that helps.

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