Tuesday, November 24, 2015

19C America - Everyday working conditions for American slaves



Mr. Eleazar Powel, Chippewa, Beaver county, Pennsylvania, who lived in Mississippi in 1836 and 1837. "The slaves had to cook and eat their breakfast and be in the field by daylight, and continue there till dark.''


Cutting Timber in Montgomery County, Virginia. 1850s. Lewis Miller, Sketchbook of Landscapes in the State of Virginia, 1853-1867.

Mr. George Westgate, of Quincy, Illinois, who has spent several years in the south western slave states, says: “Their time, after full dark until four o'clock in the morning is their own; this fact alone would seem to say they have sufficient rest, but there are other things to be considered; much of their making, mending and washing of clothes, preparing and cooking food, hauling and chopping wood, fixing and preparing tools, and a variety of little nameless jobs must be done between those hours.”


Driving Cattle in Virginia, Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1854-55), vol. 10, p. 765; also, David Hunter Strother, Virginia Illustrated (New York, 1857; reprinted 1871), p. 132.

Hon. Alenxander Smyth, a slaveholder, and member of Congress from Virginia, in his speech on the "Missouri question,'' Jan. 28, 1820. "Is it not obvious that the way to render their situation more comfortable, is to allow them to be taken where there is not the same motive to force the slave to INCESSANT TOIL that there is in the country where cotton, sugar, and tobacco are raised for exportation. It is proposed to hem in the blacks where they are HARD WORKED, that they may be rendered unproductive and the race be prevented from increasing...The proposed measure would be EXTREME CRUELTY to the blacks...You would...doom them the HARD LABOR.''


Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, vol. 12 (Aug. 1856), p. 310.

W. C. Gildersleeve, Esq., a native of Georgia, an elder of the Presbyterian Church at Wilkesbarre, says: “The corn is ground in a handmill by the slave after his task is done—generally there is but one mill on a plantation, and as but one can grind at a time, the mill is going sometimes very late at night.”


Cultivating Tobacco 1797 Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Sketchbook, III, 33

Mr. Cornelius Johnson, Farmington, Ohio, who lived in Mississippi in the years 1837 and 38, says: “On all the plantations where I was acquainted, the slaves were kept in the field till dark; after which, those who had to grind their own corn, had that to attend to, get their supper, attend to other family affairs of their own and of their master, such as bringing water, washing clothes, &c. &c., and be in the field as soon as it was sufficiently light to commence work in the morning.”


Stacking Wheat in Culpepper, Virginia 1863 drawing made by Edwin Forbes (1839-1895) detail

W. C. Gildersleeve, Esq., Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania, a native of Georgia. "It was customary for the overseers to call out the gangs long before day, say three o'clock, in the winter, while dressing out the crops; such work as could be done by fire light (pitch pine was abundant,) was provided.''


Lewis Miller, Sketchbook of Landscapes in the State of Virginia, 1853-1867

Mr. Asa A. Stone, a theological student, near Natchez, Mississippi, in 1834 and 1835. "Everybody here knows overdriving to be one of the most common occurrences, the planters do not deny it, except, perhaps, to northerners.''


Harper's Weekly (April 13, 1861), p.232.

Philemon Bliss, Esq., a lawyer of Elyria, Ohio, who lived in Florida in 1834 and 1835. "During the cotton-picking season they usually labor in the field during the whole of the daylight, and then spend a good part of the night in ginning and baling. The labor required is very frequently excessive, and speedily impairs the constitution.''


Harper's Weekly (Jan 31, 1863), p 68

Hon. R. J. Turnbull of South Carolina, a slaveholder, speaking of the harvesting of cotton, says: "All the pregnant women even, on the plantation, and weak and sickly negroes incapable of other labor, are then in requisition.''



Asa A Stone, theological student, a classical teacher near Natchez, Mississippi, 1835. "It is a general rule on all regular plantations, that the slaves be in the field as soon as it is light enough for them to see to work, and remain there until it is so dark that they cannot see."


Gathering the Sugar Cane 1850s Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1853), vol. 9, p. 760.

Mr. Cornelius Johnson, of Farmington, Ohio, who lived in Mississippi a part of 1837 and 1838. "It is the common rule for the slaves to be kept at work fifteen hours in the day, and in the time of picking cotton a certain number of pounds is required of each. If this amount is not brought in at night, the slave is whipped, and the number of pounds lacking is added to the next day's job; this course is often repeated from day to day.''


Harper's Weekly (Jan 5, 1867), p 8 2

Mr. Nehemiah Caulkins, Waterford, Connnecticul., a resident in North Carolina eleven winters. "The slaves are obliged to work from daylight till dark, as long as they can see.'' 


Making Turpentine in North Carolina Ballou's Pictorial (May 12, 1855), p. 289

Philemon Bliss, Esq., a lawyer in Elyria, Ohio, who resided in Florida in 1834 and 1835. "The slaves commence labor by daylight in the morning, and do not leave the field till dark in the evening.''



House Slaves 1860s The Illustrated London News (May 23, 1863), vol 42, p 552

Quotes from American Slavery As It Is
Theodore Weld
New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839


For information on Images see: www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. If there are any questions, contact Jerome Handler jh3v@virginia.edu.


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