Tenancy and African American Marriage in the Postbellum South

The pervasiveness of tenancy in the postbellum South had countervailing effects on marriage between African Americans. Tenancy placed severe constraints on African American women's ability to find independent agricultural work. Freedwomen confronted not only planters' reluctance to contract directly with women but also whites' refusal to sell land to African Americans. Marriage consequently became one of African American women's few viable routes into the agricultural labor market. We find that the more counties relied on tenant farming, the more common was marriage among their youngest and oldest African American residents. However, many freedwomen resented their subordinate status within tenant marriages. Thus, we find that tenancy contributed to union dissolution as well as union formation among freedpeople. Microdata tracing individuals' marital transitions are consistent with these county-level results.