Beyond Racism and Poverty

The Truck System on Louisiana Plantations and Dutch Peateries, 1865-1920


The truck system was a global phenomenon in the period 1865-1920, where workers were paid through the company store. In Beyond Racism and Poverty Karin Lurvink looks at how this system functioned on plantations in Louisiana in comparison with peateries in the Netherlands. In the United States, the system is often viewed as a 'second slavery' and strongly associated with racism. In the Netherlands, however, not racism but poverty has been seen as the main reason for its continued existence. By using a variety of historical sources and by analyzing the perspectives of both employers and workers, Lurvink provides new insights into how the truck system worked and can be explained. She reveals how the system was not only coercive but had advantages for the workers as well, which should not be overlooked.
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Biographical Note

Dr. Karin Lurvink (1987), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, obtained her Ph.D. in 2016 and is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher. She works on the project ‘Slaves, Commodities, and Logistics’, which is looking at the impact of slavery on the Dutch economy.

Table of contents

Preface Acknowledgements List of Illustrations Abbreviations and Conventions Glossary Introduction  The Truck System—A Nineteenth-Century Global Phenomenon  American Historians Discussing the Truck System—Racism  Dutch Historians Discussing the Truck System—Poverty  Selecting the Research Cases  Rational Choice-Approach  Voice from the Past: Source Material  Outline 1 Bayous and Bogs—The Geography of Isolation  The Louisiana Countryside  Louisiana Rivers, Creeks, Lakes, and Bayous  Railroads—An Improved Connection to the Outside World  Dutch Roads and Highways of Water 2 Truck Payments  Fields of Cotton and Sugarcane  Permanent and Seasonal Peat Lands  Truck Payments    Direct Non-Cash—Something to Eat and a Few Rags to Wear?    Indirect Non-Cash—The Company Store    Colorful Tokens and Handwritten Store Notes    Living off Future Income  Piles of Greenbacks, Dollars, and Guilders  Conclusions 3 Abuse? The Effects of the Truck System  Whiskey, Jenever, and Alcoholics  High Price, Low Quality  Usurious Interest Rates  Debt Peonage  Conclusions 4 Costs and Benefits—The Employer’s Perspective  Costs—The Opposite of the Truck System  Economic Forces and Financial Difficulties    Strapped for Cash    Miserable Years and Declining Profits    ‘The Queerest Looking Creatures’—Labor Supply and Productivity  ‘The Misery of this Time’ and Truck Payment Methods  Conclusions 5 Carrots, Cake, and Candy—The Store as a Positive Incentive  Presents ‘Joyfully Accepted’  Facilitating Commerce    Self-sufficient Little Worlds of Their Own?    The Alternative Marketplace –‘A Welcome Sight to the Rural Resident’    Credit Scarcity  Consumerism and the Physical Artifacts of Modern Life    ‘From Something to Eat, to Something to Work, to Something to Wear’    Shopping in the Peat Employer’s Store—‘The More We Take, the More We Have’    Access to Desires  Conclusions 6 Sticks and Strikes—The Store as a Negative Incentive  Debating and Denouncing the Truck System  ‘No Way to Check the Honesty of the Records’  Lack of Freedom  Racist Truck System?  Conclusions 7 The Power of Racism and Class  Increasing Terror  Declining Resistance  Racism and the Truck System  No Truck, No Job  Lowest Class of Society  Conclusions Conclusion  Main Conclusions  Racism and Poverty  Beyond Louisiana and the Netherlands: Suggestions for Future Research Appendices  Appendix 1. Louisiana Database and Method of Analysis    Creating the Database    Method of Analysis  Appendix 2. Dutch Database and Method of Analysis  Appendix 3. Harry Baptiste and Samuel Taylor—Oral History Interview 2011  Appendix 4. Isolation and Infrastructure Sources  Unpublished Sources    Peateries    Plantation Administrations  Photographs  Tokens  Interviews  Printed Sources  Newspapers  Dutch Newspapers  Universiteitsbibliotheek Vrije Universiteit  Government Documents  Dutch Government Documents  Second Chamber Reports  First Chamber Reports  Maps  Miscellaneous  Published sources  Price Data  Travel Accounts  Miscellaneous Bibliography  Literature  Unpublished Studies Index


All interested in the history of the truck system, post-bellum Louisiana, and Dutch peateries.