Slave Life on a Plantation
A Southern plantation in the South during the 1800s was like a large farm usually growing crops such as cotton or tobacco. Unfortunately, slaves were used to work on the plantations and the work was extremely difficult. The slaves were treated harshly because the white plantation owners believed the African-American slaves were inferior to white people.
Each workday began when it was dark and ended when it was dark. In between, the slaves, including children as young as five or six years old worked on the planation. The elderly slaves were forced to work as well. On some of the plantations the slaves would not be fed breakfast until two or three hours of work was completed. There was no lunch, and the next meal would not be eaten until many hours later.
The slaves were only given enough food to keep them alive, which means there were no special snacks or meals. An entire week's ration may include corn, fat, and some bacon. Others may receive bread, flour, some vegetables, and some buttermilk. It was not a nutritious diet and many became sick and died due to malnutrition.
The slaves were not permitted to take breaks and if they did stop and rest, the overseer, who supervised the slaves, would punish them. The overseer carried a whip and would beat the slaves if they stopped working or were not working hard or fast enough. The slaves were afraid of the overseer and hated him.
The day in the fields would end about 12 to 15 hours later when they returned to their cabins, which were usually a single room made from logs, and were not built very well, leaking when it rained or snowed. There was no furniture, the floors were dirt, often turning to mud, and they slept on a pile of rags or straw, often without a blanket.
However, even though they were extremely tired, they still had to prepare evening meals, care for their children, repair and sew clothing, and much more. The slaves slept very little working from dawn to dusk or later every day except Sundays, their only day of rest. Usually two other free days were given to the slaves: Christmas and the 4th of July. On some days off, slaves might plant gardens or go fishing, which may help supplement their diets.
Some of the slaves on larger plantations worked as carpenters, house workers, blacksmiths, and other kinds of craftsmen. The house workers could be male or female, but slave women did the cooking, cleaning clothes washing, milking, child care, and many other chores each day. Slave men may also take care of the horses, drive carriages, and kept gardens, but they worked seven days a week and constantly be on call.
Some of the house slaves were permitted to live inside the planation house, and were often treated better than those who worked on the land. They could also eat the leftovers made for their masters. However, they were treated just as badly as those in the fields if they did something wrong or did not work hard enough.
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