Peon (English /ˈpiːɒn/, from the Spanish peón [peˈon]) usually refers to a person subject to peonage: any form of unfree labour or wage labor in which a laborer (peon) has little control over employment conditions. Peon and peonage can refer to the colonial period in Latin America and other countries colonized by Spain as well as the period after U.S. Civil War when "Black Codes" were passed to maintain chattel slavery through other means. The word peon also has a variety of related, less formal uses.

Castigo a peones
Punishment of peons employed by railroad tycoon Henry Meiggs in Chile or Peru, 1862


In English, peon and peonage have meanings related to their Spanish etymology, as well as a variety of other usages.[1] In addition to the meaning of forced labourer, a peon may also be a person with little authority, often assigned unskilled tasks; an underling or any person subjected to capricious or unreasonable oversight. In this sense, peon can be used in either a derogatory or self-effacing context.

However, the term has a historical basis and usage related to much more severe conditions of forced labour.

There are other usages in contemporary cultures:

  • English language varieties spoken in South Asian countries: a peon is an office boy, an attendant, or an orderly, a person kept around for odd jobs (and, historically, a policeman or foot soldier). (In an unrelated South Asian sense, "peon" may also be an alternative spelling for the poon tree (genus Calophyllum) or its wood, especially when used in boat-building.)
  • Shanghai: among native Chinese working in firms where English is spoken, the word has been phonetically reinterpreted as "pee-on" (referencing the purported figurative origin of the term), and refers to a worker with little authority, who suffers indignities from superiors.
  • Financial trading slang: a peon is a market participant who trades in small quantities or a small account.


The Spanish conquest of Mexico and Caribbean islands included peonage; the conquistadors forced natives to work for Spanish planters and mine operators. Peonage was prevalent in Latin America, especially in the countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador and Peru. It remains an important part of social life, as among the Urarina of the Peruvian Amazon.[2]

After the American Civil War of 1861–1865, peonage developed in the Southern United States. Poor white farmers and formerly enslaved African Americans known as freedmen, who could not afford their own land, would farm another person's land, exchanging labor for a share of the crops. This was called sharecropping and initially the benefits were mutual. The land owner would pay for the seeds and tools in exchange for a percentage of the money earned from the crop and a portion of the crop. As time passed, many landowners began to abuse this system. The landowner would force the tenant farmer or sharecropper to buy seeds and tools from the land owner's store, which often had inflated prices. As sharecroppers were often illiterate, they had to depend on the books and accounting by the landowner and his staff. Other tactics included debiting expenses against the sharecropper's profits after the crop was harvested and "miscalculating" the net profit from the harvest, thereby keeping the sharecropper in perpetual debt to the landowner. Since the tenant farmers could not offset the costs, they were forced into involuntary labor due to the debts they owed the landowner. Additionally, unpredictable or disruptive climatic conditions such as droughts or storms, caused disruptions to seasonal plantings or harvests, which in turn, caused the tenant farmers to accrue debts with the landowners.

After the U.S. Civil War, the South passed "Black Codes", laws to control freed black slaves. Vagrancy laws were included in these Black Codes. Homeless or unemployed African Americans who were between jobs, most of whom were former slaves, were arrested and fined as vagrants. Usually lacking the resources to pay the fine, the "vagrant" was sent to county labor or hired out under the convict lease program to a private employer. The authorities also tried to restrict the movement of freedmen between rural areas and cities, to between towns.

Under such laws, local officials arbitrarily arrested tens of thousands of freedmen and charged them with fines and court costs of their cases. White merchants, farmers, and business owners were allowed to pay these debts, and the prisoner had to work off the debt. Prisoners were leased as laborers to owners and operators of coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries, and farm plantations, with the lease revenues for their labor going to the states. The lessors were responsible for room and board of the laborers, and frequently abused them with little oversight by the state. Government officials leased imprisoned blacks and whites to small town entrepreneurs, provincial farmers, and dozens of corporations looking for cheap labor. Their labor was repeatedly bought and sold for decades, well into the 20th century, long after the official abolition of American slavery.[3]

Southern states and private businesses profited by this unpaid labour. It is estimated that at the beginning of the 20th century, up to 40% of blacks in the South were trapped in peonage. Overseers and owners often used severe physical deprivation, beatings, whippings, and other abuse as "discipline" against the workers.[4]

Cartoon of Indictment of US Planters and negro peonage

After the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment prohibited involuntary servitude such as peonage for all but convicted criminals. Congress also passed various laws to protect the constitutional rights of Southern blacks, making those who violated such rights by conspiracy, by trespass, or in disguise, guilty of an offense punishable by ten years in prison and civil disability. Unlawful use of state law to subvert rights under the Federal Constitution was made punishable by fine or a year's imprisonment. But until the involuntary servitude was abolished by president Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 (exact date unknown), sharecroppers in Southern states were forced to continue working to pay off old debts or to pay taxes. Southern states allowed this in order to preserve sharecropping.

In October 1910 Florida sugar cane plantation planter Edgar Watson was shot and killed by his own neighbours. According to legend, he would use Native and Black Americans workers as peons and then would "pay" his workers by killing them.[5] His story was fictionalized by writer Peter Matthiessen in his Lost River Trilogy. He later consolidated it into Shadow Country.

The following reported Court cases involved peonage:

  • 1903, South Dakota, a 17-year-old girl was reported to have been sold into peonage at the age of two by her own father[6]
  • 1904 Alabama, ten persons indicted for holding black and white persons in peonage[7]
  • 1906, John W. Pace of Alabama, the "father" of peonage; pardoned by his friend President Theodore Roosevelt.[8]
  • 1906, Five officials of Jackson Lumber Company sentenced in Pensacola, Florida to seven years in prison.[9]
  • 1916, Edward McCree of Georgia Legislature; owner of 37,000 acres of land; indicted on 13 charges. Pleaded guilty to first charge and paid a $1,000.00 fine.[10]
  • 1916, two men found guilty in Lexington County, South Carolina of trying to force a white man into peonage; each fined $500 and sentenced to a year and day in jail[11]
  • 1921, Hawaiian Sugar Plantation owners try to legalize peonage of Chinese workers.[12]
  • 1921, Georgia farmer John S. Williams and his black overseer Clyde Manning were convicted in the deaths of 11 blacks working as peons at Williams' farm.[13][14] Williams was the only white farmer convicted of killing black peons between April 1, 1877 and August 6, 1966.[15]
  • 1922- Convicted in 1921 for hopping a freight train in Florida without a ticket, Martin Tabert of North Dakota becomes part of Florida State Convict leasing. He died Feb 1, 1922[16] after being whipped for being unable to work due to illness. Reports of his death lead to the prohibition in 1923 of convict leasing in Florida.[17]
  • 1925 Columbia, South Carolina - An African-American youth who had been missing since 1923 escaped from peonage at a work camp.[18]

Because of the Spanish tradition, peonage was still widespread in New Mexico Territory after the American Civil War. New Mexico laws supported peonage. The US Congress passed the Peonage Act of 1867 on March 2, 1867, which said: "Sec 1990. The holding of any person to service or labor under the system known as peonage is abolished and forever prohibited in the territory of New Mexico, or in any other territory or state of the United States; and all acts, laws, … made to establish, maintain, or enforce, directly or indirectly, the voluntary or involuntary service or labour of any persons as peons, in liquidation of any debt or obligation, or otherwise, are declared null and void."[19] The current version of this statute is codified at Chapter 21-I of 42 U.S.C. § 1994 and makes no specific mention of New Mexico.

See also


  1. ^ a b Howe, William Wirt (April 1904). "The Peonage Cases". Columbia Law Review. 4 (4): 656–58. JSTOR 1109963. (Registration required (help)). Cite uses deprecated parameter |registration= (help)
  2. ^ Bartholomew, Dean (2009). Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. ISBN 978-0-8130-3378-5.
  3. ^ Blackmon, Douglas (2008). Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II. Doubleday. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-385-50625-0.
  4. ^ Blackmon (2008), Slavery by Another Name
  5. ^ St. John, Marie (1981). "?page=show "The Woods Were Tossing With Jewels". American Heritage Magazine. 32 (2). Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  6. ^ "The times dispatch. (Richmond, Va.) 1903–1914, August 23, 1903, EDITORIAL SECTION, Image 4". 1903-08-23. ISSN 1941-0700. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  7. ^ "The Ocala banner. (Ocala, Marion County, Fla.) 1883-194?, January 22, 1904, Image 12". 1904-01-22. p. 12. ISSN 1943-8877. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  8. ^ The Nation. J.H. Richards. 1906-01-01.
  9. ^ "The Pensacola journal. (Pensacola, Fla.) 1898–1985, November 24, 1906, Image 1". 1906-11-24. p. 1. ISSN 1941-109X. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  10. ^ "Honolulu star-bulletin. (Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii) 1912–current, August 19, 1916, 3:30 Edition, Image 14". 1916-08-19. p. 14. ISSN 2326-1137. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  11. ^ "The Manning times. (Manning, Clarendon County, S.C.) 1884–current, December 13, 1916, Image 2". 1916-12-13. ISSN 2330-8826. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  12. ^ "The labor world. (Duluth, Minn.) 1896-current, September 03, 1921, Labor Day Edition 1921, Image 27". 1921-09-03. ISSN 0023-6667. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  13. ^ "John S. Williams and Clyde Manning Trials: 1921 – Peonage Outlawed, But Flourishes For 50 Years, Murdering The "evidence" Of Peonage, Southern Peonage Draws National Attention". Retrieved 2013-08-16.
  14. ^ "The Piedmont Chronicles: John Williams Saga (Peonage Murders)". Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  15. ^ Freeman, Gregory A. (1999). Lay This Body Down: The 1921 Murders of Eleven Plantation Slaves, Chicago: Chicago Review Press.
  16. ^ "Martin Tabert ( - 1922)". Find A Grave. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  17. ^ "Timeline: 1921, page 1 – A History of Corrections in Florida". Florida Department of Corrections. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  18. ^ "The Afro American - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  19. ^ Supreme Court Reporter, West Publishing Co, Bailey v. Alabama (1910), p. 151.

Further reading

  • Daniel, Pete (1990). The Shadow of Slavery: Peonage in the South, 1901–1969 (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-519742-9.
  • Reynolds, Aaron, "Inside the Jackson Tract: The Battle Over Peonage Labor Camps in Southern Alabama, 1906," Southern Spaces, 21 January 2013.
  • Whayne, Jeannie M., ed. Shadows over Sunnyside: An Arkansas Plantation in Transition, 1830–1945, Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1993.
  • Woodruff, Nan Elizabeth. American Congo: The African American Freedom Struggle in the Delta, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

External links

Bantrotu Bharya

Bantrotu Bharya (translation:Wife of Peon) is a 1974 Telugu drama film directed by Dasari Narayana Rao and produced by Allu Aravind and Dasari Narayana Murthy under Geetha Arts. The film stars Krishnam Raju, Chalam, Srividya and Vijaya Nirmala in the lead roles. The music was composed by Ramesh Naidu. It is the first film produced by Geetha Arts.

Carole Péon

Carole Péon (born 4 November 1978) is a French triathlete. She competed at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics. She is openly lesbian and in 2005 began a relationship with fellow French triathlete Jessica Harrison.

Colonia Algarín

Colonia Algarín is a very small working class residential neighborhood located south of the historic center of Mexico City. Its border to the north is Eje 3 Sur José Peón Contreras, to the south Viaducto Miguel Alemán, to the east San Antonio Abad Ave (Calzada de Tlalpan) and to the west Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas. Colonia Algarín is located between colonias Buenos Aires (Eje Central), Álamos (Viaducto), Obrera (Eje 3 Sur) and Asturias (San Antonio Abad). On the south border, alongside Viaducto Miguel Alemán, flows the Río de la Piedad. This river, just as in the case as many other rivers of the city, is encased in cement.

Colonia Doctores

Colonia Doctores is an official neighborhood just southwest of the historic center of Mexico City. It is bordered by Avenida Cuauhtémoc to the west, across from Belen Street to the north, Eje Central to the east and Eje 3 Sur José Peón Contreras to the south.

Colonia Paulino Navarro

Colonia Paulino Navarro is a colonia or neighborhood in the Cuauhtémoc borough of Mexico City, just southeast of the city’s historic center. Its boundaries are defined by the following streets: Ventura G. Tena and Hernández y Dávalos to south, Calzada de la Chabacano to the north, Calzada de la Viga to the east and Calzada de San Antonio Abad to the west.The origins of the neighborhood date from 1905, when Iñigo Noriega proposed urbanizing what was then called Colonia La Paz. Plans for the construction of housing subdivisions were approved by the city in 1907, forming streets and blocks, but it did not officially establish the administrative division of colonia. The project then stalled. In 1913, the Agrícola y Colonizadora Mexicana Company proposed a similar project, but this, too, ran into problems. By 1920, there were houses and blocks but only semi-organized, with houses and other properties encroaching on other private properties and colonias. Colonia La Paz was a rather large area with eventually broke off into several smaller colonias. Paulino Navarro broke off by 1920 from the center of La Paz, which is now called Colonia Asturias. Around the same time, the first houses were built on the drying lakebed in this area, as well as the roads of Calzada de San Esteban, known today as Calzada del Chabacano and other major roads such as Eje 3 José Peón Contreras.Today the colonia is still almost entirely residential with mostly working-class families.(delegacion) All of the schools in the colonia are public and include Papaloapan Prescool and several primary schools, all with the name of Quetzalcoatl.


A gofer, go-fer or gopher is an employee who specializes in the delivery of special items to their superior(s). Examples of these special items include a cup of coffee, a tailored suit, and a car. Outside business the term is used to describe a child or young adult who is learning how to do tasks and is sent to fetch items. A similar job is that of peon in Commonwealth countries.

Juan Carlos Peón

Juan Carlos Peón (born 19 April 1963) is a Spanish former field hockey player who competed in the 1984 Summer Olympics and in the 1988 Summer Olympics.

Juan Sánchez-Navarro y Peón

Juan Sánchez-Navarro y Peón (April 24, 1913 – February 12, 2006) was a Mexican businessman, lawyer, philosopher, philanthropist, journalist and professor. For more than 40 years, he served as Executive Vice President of Grupo Modelo. In addition, he led various national business organizations and was a main co-founder of Mexico's National Action Party PAN. Though he himself not a PAN affiliate, he believed in the essential importance of democracy by means of a bi-partisan system that could serve as a contrast to then Mexico's ruling political party PRI (thus his involvement PAN in its inception). Sanchez-Navarro would years later be known as the moral conscience and the single most important ideological figure in Mexico's booming business community.

Juan Sánchez-Navarro was born in downtown Mexico City, descendant of the influential Sánchez Navarro family. He studied law and philosophy in the National Autonomous University of Mexico eventually becoming a professor there for more than 50 years. At some point he was also a teaching assistant to philosopher Antonio Caso.

In 1938, Sánchez-Navarro became a manager at Cervecería Central which then belonged to Cervecería Cuauhtémoc. In 1939 he co-founded the National Action Party (PAN) with Manuel Gómez Morín and Efraín González Luna. In 1942 he was offered a job at then small competitor Cervecería Modelo (now makers of Corona, Pacifico, Victoria amongst others) by the company's founder Pablo Diez, after what was a fair but staunch negotiation with Don Pablo over beer concession rights at a bullfighting arena. He accepted the new job and eventually would become director and vicepresident of the board of Grupo Modelo as well as a controlling shareholder, from 1960 forward. Following the death of Don Pablo, Sanchez-Navarro became the leading face of the company.

Sánchez-Navarro would be active and preside in the many employers' organizations he helped establish in Mexico.

These include CANACINTRA, CONCANACO, CONCAMIN, CCE, CEESP, CEMAI among others. He was a notable supporter of Vicente Fox' Presidential campaign in 2000.

He died in Mexico City at the age of 92, where he was buried in the French cemetery.

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An incomplete list of films produced in Cuba in year order. For an A-Z list of films currently on Wikipedia see Category:Cuban films.

List of Mexican films of the 1930s

A list of the films produced in the Cinema of Mexico ordered by year of release in the 1930s. For an alphabetical list of articles on Mexican films see Category:Mexican films.

Opium (1949 film)

Opium (Spanish: Opio) is a 1949 Mexican crime film directed by Ramón Peón.The film's sets were designed by Ramón Rodríguez Granada.

Peon (slang)

A (figurative) peon (reflecting the former institution of peonage and modern analogs of it) is a person with little authority, often assigned unskilled tasks, or an underling or any person subjected to capricious or unreasonable oversight. In this sense, peon is often used in either a derogatory or self-effacing context.

American English: in a historical and legal sense, peon generally referred to someone working in an unfree labor system (known as peonage). The word often implied debt bondage and/or indentured servitude.There are other usages in contemporary cultures:

English language varieties spoken in South Asian countries: a peon is an office boy, an attendant, or an orderly, a person kept around for odd jobs (and, historically, a policeman or foot soldier). (In an unrelated South Asian sense, "peon" may also be an alternative spelling for the poon tree (genus Calophyllum) or its wood, especially when used in boat-building.)

Shanghai: among native Chinese working in firms where English is spoken, the word has been phonetically reinterpreted as "pee-on" (referencing the purported figurative origin of the term ), and refers to a worker with little authority, who suffers indignities from superiors.

Computing slang: a peon is an "unprivileged user"—a person without special privileges on a computer system (compare luser) The other extreme is "superuser" (compare systems administrator).

Financial trading slang: a peon is a market participant who trades in small quantities or a small account.

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The Great Dalmuti is a card game designed by Richard Garfield, illustrated by Margaret Organ-Kean, and published in 1995 by Wizards of the Coast. It is a variant of the public domain game president, dating back to late Middle-Ages. The game was Awarded Best New Mind Game 1995 by Mensa, and was in Games Magazine's 1996 Games 100. The game fell out of print, but was re-released in 2005.Though based on a public domain game, the Dalmuti deck is non-standard. There is a number of each rank of cards (1 through 12) equal to that rank, so twelve 12s, eleven 11s, and so on. There are also two Jesters, which are wild cards.

The game plays best with 5 to 8 players, though more is possible. The goal is to get rid of your cards by playing grouping of the same rank, such as three 4s. The higher the rank of the card, the worse it is, with the Jester ranked as a 13 (unless played as a wildcard). You can only play a lower rank of the same number of cards as the previous player or you must pass.

The rank of the players is also important. The player in the lead after a particular hand is the "greater dalmuti," and the player to his or her left is the "lesser dalmuti." The player to the Great Dalmuti's right is the "greater peon", and the player to that player's right is the "lesser peon." At "taxation" time before each hand, the Great Dalmuti forces an exchange of two cards from his hand with the greater peon two best cards (lowest numbered cards, always counting the Jester as 13 for this purpose), and the lesser dalmuti swaps one card with the lesser peon in a like manner. These ranks are also enforced for other aspects, such as clearing the cards after a round and sometimes getting drinks or other social aspects. The rank can change every hand, so being particularly mean to one's lessers can come back to haunt a player.

If a player gets both jester cards, he or she may call for an end to taxation (called a "revolution"). A game variant is that a revolution can be called by either peon with a single jester. If the greater peon has both jesters, he/she may call a "greater revolution" which results in all seats being swapped (so the greater peon becomes the greater dalmuti, the Lesser Peon becomes the lesser dalmuti, etc.).

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Xu Beihong (Chinese: 徐悲鴻; Wade–Giles: Hsü Pei-hung; 19 July 1895 – 26 September 1953), also known as Ju Péon, was a Chinese painter. He was primarily known for his Chinese ink paintings of horses and birds and was one of the first Chinese artists to articulate the need for artistic expressions that reflected a modern China at the beginning of the 20th century. He was also regarded as one of the first to create monumental oil paintings with epic Chinese themes – a show of his high proficiency in an essential Western art technique. He was one of the four pioneers of Chinese modern art who earned the title of "The Four Great Academy Presidents".

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