History of Free Frank: Chapter Two: The Formative Years
“For a Valuable Consideration”
|After working for his master for a number of years, [Free Frank] hired his time, agreeing to pay a certain amount per annum. He then engaged in the manufacture of salt-peter, which he sold for good prices, and in that way, by hard work and strict economy for a number of years, he saved enough money, after paying his master for hire, to purchase his freedom.'
In the early years of the nineteenth century, George McWhorter hired Free Frank out as a farm laborer and jack-of-all-trades. Sheer raw labor was required to develop the new wilderness land, and agricultural work and farm life were neither simple nor easy. A white settler who had spent his young life on the early Pennyroyal recalled, “Everything was done by main strength. The heavy lifting made men stoop-shouldered and old at forty and fifty. . . . [and] there seemed to be no ingenuity to lessen or lighten labor.”2 Labor resources were shared on that sparsely populated frontier, but access to a more permanent labor supply was essential for farmers who wished to move quickly beyond self-sufficiency. As Francois Michaux observed early in the nineteenth century, Pennyroyal farmers “never have more than the twentieth, thirtieth, or even the fortieth of what they might produce.” Moving west with limited cash reserves left many first settlers unable to meet even minimal installment payments for their new landholdings, much less to pay the hired labor so desperately needed to work it. Others, however, carefully planned their move west. They had anticipated that hired labor, specifically hired slave labor, would be an initial step required for the development of their new holdings, for Michaux also noted in his commentaries that even in the early years, “Some [farmers] who are in more easy circumstances employ negro-slaves in the cultivation of their ground.”3 With the energies of most early Pennyroyal farmers spent in attempting to move beyond subsistence and to develop their farm homesteads, hired slave labor, an almost indispensable investment, was crucial, especially during the first years of settlement.
While a competitive market existed for hired slaves on the Pennyroyal, few slaves were available for hire on Pulaski County's newly developing fron-tier (see Table 2).…
The war ended in 1815, but the impact on saltpeter production for military purposes would not be felt until the following year. Free Frank intensified his saltpeter production efforts after 1815, however. His owner died that year without making any provisions for Free Frank's manumission, While manumission was not encouraged, Kentucky imposed no legal encumbrance that either restricted or prevented a slaveowner from freeing his slaves. The law of manumission was quite clear, stipulating only that I; shall be lawful for any person by his last will and testament, or by any other instrument in writing