New Year’s Day Was Known By Enslaved People As ‘Hiring Day’ or ‘Heartbreak Day’: Many enslaved people waited to see if they would be rented out to another family or household
To enslaved people New Year’s Day were referred to as “Hiring Day” or “Heartbreak Day.” On Jan. 1st some enslaved people waited to find out if they were going to be rented out to another family or household. This practice was an alternative to selling a enslaved person, was often practiced during slavery in the United States. The transcactions usually took place on courthouse steps, on side of country roads and town squares according to TIME.
The enslaved people would be rented under contracts for various prices. The contract would often start on New Years Day and lasted for up to a year. TIME reported that enslaved people who resisted this practice would faced whippings or jail time. “Hiring Day” was part of the economic cycle where most debts were collected and settled on New Year’s Day, Historian Alexis McCrossen said.
A few enslaved people documented the fear around the 1st of the year. “On New Year’s Day, we went to the auctioneer’s block, to be hired to the highest bidder for one year,” Israel Campbell wrote in an 1861 memoir.
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An enslaved man, Lewis Clarke said, “Of all days in the year, the slaves dread New Year’s Day the worst of any.” While some of the enslaved people were rented, there were still some who were sold on New Years Day.
Harriet Jacobs, the first Black woman to write a “slave narrative,” wrote in her autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, about a woman who went to the auction block with all seven of her children.
“A mother leads seven children to the auction block. She knew that some of them would be taken from her; but they took all,” Jacobs wrote.
Jacobs explained that one by one, all of the woman’s children were auctioned off, which made her to voice her pain, “gone! All gone! Why don’t…