Not all slaves were downgraded to the fields. There were many homes, docks, bridges, gates, and other items that needed to be constructed and built. For these purposes, skilled artisans were developed among the African slaves, especially those in urban communities.
It became custom for plantation owners to hire out bondsmen to others. Many masters encouraged the learning of a skilled trade since the wages of the slave would come back to them. Therefore, numerous slaves became expert brick masons, carpenters, and workers in iron.
When railroads were developed, there were thousands of African slaves employed to lay the roadbeds. The first firemen on the first locomotive built in 1830 was a slave. When the Muscle Shoals Canal was being constructed, contractors gave special compensation to the masters of slaves who were injured or killed by explosions or cave-ins. White workers at that time were not covered by any type of accident insurance.
It was not long before the competition between slave labor controlled by the slaveowners and free white labor developed to bitterness that sometimes led to violence against the slaves who had no part in the creation of the system. White workers began protesting against the hiring out slaves as artisans as a way to keep the wages for themselves. Later, a law was passed in 1784, limiting the number of slaves in each ship’s crew.