Living Style
A group of slaves sitting on front of typical log living quarters.

Slaves usually recieved the bare minimum amount of nutrients and clothing that enabled them to work and survive. They recieved two linen shirts, two trousers, one jacket, one pair of socks, one pair of shoes, an overcoat, and a wool hat. Their meals normally consisted of cornmeal, salted pork, molasses, and sometimes fresh meat or poultry, They were housed in dirt floor log-cabins, called slave quarters, near their master's manner. Their beds consisted of straw or grass and one blanket for covering. One cabin housed about a dozen men, women, and children. There was some medical service provided by their Mistress or a plantation doctor, but usually the the slaves were forced to rely upon the slave-women as healers, midwives, and oftentimes as mothers, in their daily lives. Although a slaves life was horrible, there were a few reasons slaves found to keep on living. Depending on their master, some slaves were allowed to cultivate gardens, marry, and participate in selective religious services.

Work Habits

Slaves worked long and hard days, but they started off with lighter tasks as children, slowly but steadily working their way into the full-day field labors. They mostly ran errands and babysat until the age of eight. A slaves workday, no matter what age or gender, was longest around harvesting time, about 18 hours every day. Both men and women worked in the fields, even women who were pregnate were expected to work until the day of their birth. Women also assumed the crucial chores around the household, such as cooking, cleaning, and child rearing. Black women also found themselves carrying for their children as single mothers and often they took other children seperated from both of their parents into their small families. Women found more authority in the slave world because of this than they would have else where.

A white slave owner beating the child of a slave as a form of punishment to the adult slave. This was one of the many causes why the slave population decreased so quickly.
Health and Mortality Rate

Slaves were, as expected, less healthy than their white owners. To maintain a certain amount of slaves on a plantation, slaves were imported and sold constantly because they died off so quickly. After 1808, however, when importing slaves into the states became illegal, the black population in the Americas declined swiftly so that by 1840, there was one black slave for every five whites. This high death rate was because of the hard work days and poor medical treatment slaves recieved. Although black women had multiple children, with both black and white fathers, most of them died because they recieved little to no medical attention. Also, because of the amount of work required at a younger age, black people were more likely to die at a younger age than white people.

American Slaves
Two slaves carrying crops from the fields.

American slaves were not as poorly treated as others. Their life style was preferable to Caribbean or South American slaves. This was because of the backbreaking work required by non-American slaves and the fact that it remained legal until late into the 19th century to import slaves, so there was less of an incentive to treat the ones they currently owned reasonably. Most American slave masters found it easier to make some effort in preserving the health, and usefullness, of their slaves. As treatment of slaves improved, the mortality rate in America lowered dramatically as did the amount of money that had formerly been put into that form of trade.

Household Slaves

Household slaves were generally nurses, maids, cooks, butlers, and coachmen. They were often taught by the mistress of the household as they lived closer to the master and his family. Sometimes they were considered the other son or daughter of the master and his family. They ate leftovers from their table and often slept in the same house as them. The relationship between slave and master within the house was much more familial, but house slaves resented being seperated from the rest of the slaves and the lack of privacy within the master's house. Female household slaves were especially vulnerable to "affectionate" relationships with their masters who often sexually abused them. These black women then recieved hateful treatment from their jealous mistress. Household slaves, male and female alike, recieved more punishments because it was more obvious when they did something wrong and the master's family could easily dislike them and abuse them for no reason. When emancipation occured after the Civil War, the household slaves were often the first to leave the plantation.

City Slavery

In the city, master's could not easily watch their slaves closely and use them profitably. During the day, city slaves moved about the city alone running various errands. It was much easier for slaves to run away and pretend they were free because it was more accepted in the north and they were alone almost all of the time. City masters often hired out slaves for poor southern farmers who wanted slaves to do ordinary labor, such as mining and lumbering. Other city slaves worked on the docks and on construction sites, drove wagons, and did other skill-less jobs around the city. Slave women and children often were forced to work in the textile mills. If a slave had skills, they were also hired out as blacksmiths or carpenters. White southernors did not consider this slavery and often declared that slavery did not mix with the urban life of the north. Therefore, city masters feared more escape conspiracies and sold off much of the male property they owned. This led to more mulattoes because there were more black women than men. Even though slavery was not as rough in the north, segregation remained a prominent way of social control and discipline of the black population.


A Survey: American History by Alan Brinkley