What was life like for most African slaves in antebellum America of the Deep South (1820-1860)?

3 Answers | Add Yours

brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

It's a great question, although the assignment you describe can't completely be covered in the short space we have.  Let me get you started.

1)  Most slaves lived in a one room, crowded, dirt floor shack.  Poorly ventilated or heated, diseases such as Typhus, Cholera, Hepatitis and Lockjaw were rampant.

2) Fewer than 4% of slaves lived to the age of 60.

3)  Most slaves entered fieldwork at the age of 12, and work days were commonly twelve hours.  Longer if there was light, or if it was a full moon.

4)  Slaves were legally property, or chattel, and had no legal status.  Killing one, though it was expensive to an owner to do so, was not illegal, nor was any other kind of physical abuse.  The Dred Scott Case had ruled that owners could even take slaves with them into free territory because "A black man had no rights a white man was bound to respect" (Chief Justice Roger B. Taney)

5)  Some slaves were treated fairly by their employers, or as fair as slavery could be, with adequate food and housing, and limited abuse.  It was illegal for slaves to preach or speak to groups, or to become literate or further educated.

larrygates's profile pic

larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

A legal status of a slave slave was that he was first and last the property of his owner, who had the power of life and death over him. He had no freedom of movement, association, or even marriage without the consent of his owner. Many slaves married, often with the Master performing the ceremony; however the marriage had no legal standing, and the master could end the marriage at any time simply by selling one party.

Slaves typically worked six days per week, with Sundays off. They were normally allowed to maintain small gardens, and chickens, pigs, etc. for themselves which they could sell and earn small amounts of money. Charleston, South Carolina maintained a large "slave market" where slave items were bought and sold by the general public.

Slave labor primarily was field work, however some slaves were household servants, blacksmiths, etc. Some actually worked in factories, with all wages earned becoming the property of the master. Field hands worked from dawn to dusk, or in their words, "from kin to kin't." Although beatings and abuse did occur, slaves were an expensive investment, and the wise master did not abuse a slave or "use him up" as implied in Uncle Tom's Cabin

Slave revolts were rare, and almost uniformly unsuccessful. Slaves resisted ill treatment normally by work slowdowns or breaking tools to slow progress of the work. Otherwise, they coped with their situation by extended family relationships; stories of smaller weaker animals managing to trick their way past stronger larger animals (the "Uncle Remus" stories are typical) but more especially by their embrace of Christianity. Their religion offered them solace and hope of freedom in the next world, if not in this one. Many spiritual hymns of the period reflect their hope for solace and freedom in the next life.

 

 

 

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

There is no one way that life was for most slaves in America before the Civil War.  However, you can generally say that life for the slaves was not pleasant.  The worst thing was that the slaves were not in control of their own lives in any way.

Historians typically say that the lack of control was the worst aspect of slavery.  Slaves could marry (usually informally) but were always susceptible to having their marriages broken up by one or the other spouse being sold.  Wives were also susceptible to being raped by their masters.  Similarly, children could be sold away from families.

There are many other things that characterized slave life, but this is said to have been the worst.

We’ve answered 318,982 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question