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Slavery in America; Daily lives of Slaves in the Antebellum South
Sculpture of Slaves in America
Houses of Slaves in America
The part of the plantation where slaves lived was known as the slave quarter. The word quarter is used here in the same sense as when we speak of the French Quarter of New Orleans. Individual houses are often referred to as slave quarters (pl). Housing on plantations was varied, with some slave owners providing a relatively decent place for slaves to live while others built hovels that left the occupants exposed to wind and driving rain.
Here is a list of some of the living conditions of the least fortunate slaves:
- Field workers seemed to have been provided the poorest accommodations.
- Often, these shacks were made of sticks, saplings and spare boards arranged vertically and bound together.
- The structure allowed wind and rain into the dwelling.
- Floors were usually dirt.
- Chimneys were made of wood and lined with clay. This made replacement easy and cheap when the chimney caught fire.
- Beds in the poorest of slave homes consisted of a single blanket used on the dirt floor.
Slaves who were more fortunate had some of the following amenities:
- Plank floors
- Siding that kept out weather of all kinds. Examples of siding are logs with chinking between, wood siding with no gaps, brick, stone.
- Brick or stone fireplaces.
- Straw tick mattresses.
In most cases, it seems that there were two families in each dwelling, no matter how many individuals that might amount to. Female slaves were encouraged to begin having babies at young ages, such as thirteen years old and to have large numbers of children. This would mean that a single dwelling, housing two families, could potentially have a very large number of people inhabiting it.
Chairs and tables were usually not provided, but could be constructed by the slaves themselves if they had access to materials from which to make them.
Windows had no glass, but were covered with fabric or whatever the slaves could find to make shutters.
Houses of Slaves in America
Slaves and their Houses
Clothing Worn by Slaves in America
Clothing for slaves was handled in one of two ways.
- Some slave owners would periodically provide fabric which the slaves would use to make their own garments.
- Other masters would provide clothing imported from northern suppliers.
The poorest slaves would often have only the bare basics in terms of clothing.
- One shirt.
- One pair of trousers.
- No coat.
- No shoes.
The more fortunate might have been provide for in the following ways:
- Two or more shirts.
- Two or more pairs of trousers.
- One or two pairs of shoes.
- Heavy coats made from blanket material-Coats were only for those working outside. House servants often were not given coats or shoes.
Food Provided for Slaves in America
Masters usually supplied slaves with at least a basic ration of food. This might consist of a peck of corn per week. The corn would be ground by the slaves themselves and made into cornbread. The meat provided was usually bacon or salt pork when it was available. When meat stores were exhausted the slaves either went without or found their own meat by hunting and fishing. Rabbits, squirrels, raccoons and opossums were popular among slaves. These were sometimes fried, but usually boiled along with whatever vegetables were available.
Families of Slaves in America
Marriage among slaves was not legally recognized in the south. If a man and woman married, they could be split up by selling the husband or wife to a different master. Fathers had no paternal rights regarding their offspring. The children were the property of the master. Mothers likewise had no rights in terms of their children, only responsibilities. They were encouraged to begin having babies young and to have large families. This was a means of the owner acquiring more slaves without purchasing them. Children would begin working as young as possible. Some became “Child minders” as early as age four. If small children accompanied their mothers to the field, they were expected to work as well, although the driver might tolerate periods of play.
Family Life of Slaves
Daily Schedule of Slaves in America
The daily schedule of a field slave would begin before sunrise when the slave driver would blow a horn. Slaves would work throughout the day until sunset. After working all day they,
- Mended clothing.
- Gathered firewood.
- Played games: marbles, jax, tops, running races and jumping contests.
- Attended religious services for prayer and singing.
- Held Parties and dances.
Escaped Slave Living in the Great Dismal Swamp
Runaway Slaves During Slavery in America
If slaves made the decision to run away from their owners , they would normally be pursued by the master or by hired slave catchers. Dogs were commonly used to follow the scent of the runaway. No special breed was used, but the dogs were specially trained for hunting runaway slaves. According to one source, the dogs were kept penned up from the time they were born. These dogs were not allowed to have contact with slaves until the training began. At that time, a slave was forced to start running and the dog turned loose. When the dog chased the slave, it was given meat. The goal was for the dog to chase the slave until it was trapped, for example, in a tree. Modern bloodhounds are trained to not attack, but only to track their query, but dogs used to track runaways, also called negro dogs, were allowed to physically attack and injure the slaves.
Many slaves chose to hide in the many swamps located in the southern states. For much of the year the swamps were flooded, but in times of drought they would dry up and be impacted by wild fires. The slaves who made their homes in the swamps became known as Maroon people These runaways were very skilled at avoiding being caught by their masters and slave catchers. Even dogs were relatively ineffective at finding these people. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, cedar shingles became a very popular roofing material for homes. Cedar trees were plentiful in the swamps. Many Maroon people were able to earn money by harvesting cedars and selling them to builders located on the edges of the swamps. The Dismal Swamp of eastern North Carolina was a very popular place for runaway slaves to hide and live.
The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
The Growth of Slavery in America
The beginning of slavery in America is dated back to 1619. That was the year that a Dutch ship carrying African slaves docked at Port Comfort near Jamestown. The slaves and crew aboard the ship were starving. The crew traded 20 slaves for provisions. In 1625, there were a total of 23 African slaves in the colonies. By December 1865 when slavery was ended by the signing of the Thirteenth Amendment, 12 million slaves had been imported from Africa. The population of living slaves peaked prior to Abolition at 4 million according to the 1860 census.