Dual Tenure (late 1800s)

Written By North Carolina History Project

In theory, after the Civil War, land ownership was a modest, attainable goal for North Carolina freedpeople. In actuality, racial division and limited finances made land ownership extremely difficult.  

Freedmen, therefore, practiced dual tenure, for it enabled them to minimize financial risk and loss. Historian Sharon Ann Holt defines dual tenure as simultaneously holding two farms via two different tenure arrangements. Dual tenure was often practiced by families such as the Tallys of Oxford; they owned one small parcel of land while sharecropping another.

According to Holt, the extent to which dual tenure was practiced is almost “impossible to know”; the agricultural census generally disregarded a family’s “secondary” land, for the acreage was usually much smaller.  Missing years in the agricultural census also prevents tracking dual tenure trends among freedmen.  Holt nevertheless identifies two historical clues which suggest dual tenure was more widespread than the agricultural census recorded.  First, many freedpeople owned small farms, and small agricultural space necessitated more land use.  Second, landowners and sharecroppers many times lived beside each other, and the proximity fostered dual tenure.

The financial benefits of dual tenure were numerous. If a freedman owned his own draft animal and lived close by his rented property, he could earn a larger share of the harvest from the rented farm by using his own animal. If a freedman did not own a draft horse, he could often enter into agreements with the landowner of the rented property to also rent the draft animal for use on the land that he owned. Many freedmen used the land they owned for growing their family’s food, while growing crops on rented land to pay for taxes and farm expenses. Finally, large families could make the most of their labor capital by renting larger plots of land in addition to farming their own land.