What was life like for a slave on a plantation?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is an extremely difficult question to answer.  It is like saying “what is life like in an American high school today?”  There are so many different high schools and there are major differences between the way things are in the various high schools.  In addition, there are many different groups of high school students (and individual high school students), all of whom have somewhat (or very) different high school experiences.  The high school experience of a popular kid at a 200 person rural high school is surely almost nothing like the experience of a loner at a big, urban school.  The same is surely true of slaves on plantations.

There were many different plantations with many different masters.  The cultures on the various plantations differed.  There were cruel masters and kind masters.  There were also different groups of slaves.  For one example, there was the difference between “house slaves” and “field slaves.”  The one group had easier lives physically, but was always under the eyes of the whites.  The other group had to do harder physical work, but got to live and work mostly among other blacks.  These differences, and others, would have meant that different slaves had very different experiences.

Of course, all slaves would have lived in some degree of fear.  They would have feared being physically hurt.  Women would have feared sexual assault.  Families would have feared being split up if some members were sold to other plantations.  These fears would have been common to most slaves.  Outside of that, however, it is hard to say that there was one experience that was common to all slaves on plantations.