Compare the lives of slaves in the Chesapeake to the lives of slaves in South Carolina.
As the previous educator has noted, conditions for slaves were harsher in South Carolina, where conditions for them more closely mirrored those in the Caribbean than in other American colonies.
During the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-centuries, the Chesapeake focused on the tobacco trade but changed to cotton due to later difficulties with the cultivation of tobacco and a subsequent drop in profits. The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 made it much easier to cultivate cotton, due to the machine's ability to separate seeds from the cotton. This function eliminated the additional time that slaves spent to perform this step in their labor.
During the nineteenth-century, both the Chesapeake and South Carolina had high populations of slaves. In some counties, the slave population was even higher than that of whites. However, slaves in the Chesapeake enjoyed slightly more freedom than those in South Carolina. They were allowed, for example, to visit neighboring plantations where they may have had a spouse or children. They were also allowed to go to towns, like Richmond, and take part in the learning of a trade. All of this changed after Nat Turner's rebellion, when he and several other slaves killed 62 whites in Northampton County, Virginia. There were increased fears of slave rebellions by the late-eighteenth to early-nineteenth centuries, resulting in harsher restrictions on slaves' lives. For example, groups of slaves were no longer allowed to congregate without the supervision of a master or an overseer, due to fears that such gatherings suggested the creation of rebellion plots.
Slavery in many southern colonies changed drastically with the invention of the cotton gin in 1794. Previously, cotton had to be cleaned by hand, a long and labor-intensive process. The cotton gin simplified and accelerated this process, leading to a boom in cotton production: textile mills that were powering the Industrial Revolution gained an insatiable appetite for cotton and the southern colonies planted huge amounts to provide it. This, in turn, required huge amounts of slaves to work cotton plantations—work that was difficult and strenuous. Cotton can be cleaned by a gin, but it must be harvested by hand, a process that requires pulling out thousands upon thousands of small tufts and avoiding the dried bristles that can cut up your hands.
However, cotton is a relatively delicate crop and doesn't fair well in temperate regions such as the Chesapeake. In this area, the dominant cash crop is tobacco. While nobody would choose to be a slave working in tobacco fields, this plant is more durable, easier to harvest, and easier to process. All told, it was much easier to be a slave working a tobacco field in the Chesapeake than it was to be a slave working a cotton field in South Carolina.
Although life in slavery was not good anywhere, the lives of slaves in the Chesapeake are generally said to have been better than the lives of slaves in South Carolina. This is largely because the working conditions were better in the Chesapeake.
In the Chesapeake, the main crop was tobacco. By contrast, the slaves in South Carolina worked on indigo and rice plantations. These crops were much harder to work than tobacco and the climate in South Carolina was much harsher. Because of that, slaves in South Carolina typically had much shorter lives.
In addition, the Chesapeake was much more densely populated. This meant that there were more people (and more slaves) around. Because of this, slaves in that area had much more of a chance to form communities than did slaves in South Carolina.
Slaves in the Chesapeake had easier working conditions and more of an ability to create a community with other slaves. This made their lives better than the lives of those in South Carolina. This can be seen in the fact that slave populations in the Chesapeake grew by natural increase (more births than deaths) from early on while those in South Carolina did not.