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The occupations of slaves sold in New Orleans: Missing values, cheap talk, or informative advertising?


  • Jonathan Pritchett

    () (Tulane University)

  • Jessica Hayes

    () (Tulane University)


Although plantation records indicate that many slaves in the southern USA were artisans and craftsmen, relatively few slaves were recorded as such on the New Orleans sales invoices. Fogel (Without consent or contract: the rise and fall of American slavery. W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1989, p. 57, 162) assumes that the slaves without recorded occupations were unskilled workers, concluding that skilled slaves were “less than half as likely to have been sold as were ordinary field hands.” Using data from New Orleans newspapers, we find that most sales advertisements include information about the slave’s occupation. A comparison of the advertisement with the corresponding sales invoice shows that the slave’s occupation was often omitted from the invoice. Because the slave’s market price should reflect all relevant information available at the time of sale, the informational value of the slave’s advertised occupation can be estimated using regression analysis. We find that the advertised occupation affected the slave’s market price, which suggests that newspaper advertisements were informative and not simply “cheap talk.”

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Pritchett & Jessica Hayes, 2016. "The occupations of slaves sold in New Orleans: Missing values, cheap talk, or informative advertising?," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 10(2), pages 181-195, may.
  • Handle: RePEc:afc:cliome:v:10:y:2016:i:2:p:181-195

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    Slavery Slave trade Occupations Human capital Advertisements;

    JEL classification:

    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population


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