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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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.
List of Illustrations
Abbreviations and Conventions
 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
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
3 Abuse? The Effects of the Truck System
 Whiskey, Jenever, and Alcoholics
 High Price, Low Quality
 Usurious Interest Rates
 Debt Peonage
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
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
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?
7 The Power of Racism and Class
 Increasing Terror
 Declining Resistance
 Racism and the Truck System
 No Truck, No Job
 Lowest Class of Society
 Main Conclusions
 Racism and Poverty
 Beyond Louisiana and the Netherlands: Suggestions for Future Research
 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
 Unpublished Sources
  Plantation Administrations
 Printed Sources
 Dutch Newspapers
 Universiteitsbibliotheek Vrije Universiteit
 Government Documents
 Dutch Government Documents
 Second Chamber Reports
 First Chamber Reports
 Published sources
 Price Data
 Travel Accounts
 Unpublished Studies
All interested in the history of the truck system, post-bellum Louisiana, and Dutch peateries.
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