Tuesday, November 24, 2015

19C Dwellings of American Slaves before & after the Civil War


Depictions of slave cabins before the end of the Civil War

While some houses were raised off the ground, not all slaves were so fortunate. Sylvia Cannon describes living conditions during her time as a slave in an area near Florence: "There were about twenty other colored people house there in the quarter. The ground been us floor and us fireplace been down on the ground. Take sticks and make chimney, 'cause there won't no bricks and won't no sawmills to make lumber when I come along." 


Another ex-slave, Zack Herndon, explained the lack of furniture that was typical of all slave houses: "Us never had a chair in the house. My pa made benches for us to site by the fire on .... We had a large plank table that Pa made. Never had no mirrors. Went to the spring to see ourselves on a Sunday morning. Never had no such things as dressers in them days. All us had was a table, benches, and beds. And my pa made them." 

Slave Houses, Mulberry Plantation, South Carolina, ca. 1800


Slave Houses on a Rice Plantation, U.S. South, 1859 Harper's Monthly Magazine (1859), vol. 19, p. 730; accompanies article by T. Addison Richards, The Rice Lands of the South (pp. 721-38).


Slave Quarters, Louisiana, 1861-65  Adolf Carlsson Warberg, Skizzer fran Nord-Amerikanska Kriget, 1861-1865. Bref och anteckningar under en fyraarig vistelse i Forenta staterna af en i detta krig deltagande svensk officer (Stockholm, 1867-71), facing p. 308.


Plantation Village mid 1800s. Edmund Ollier, Cassell's History of the United States (London, 1874-77), Vol. 3, p. 193.


Slave Cabin on a Rice Plantation, U.S. South, 1859 Harper's Monthly Magazine, vol. 19 (1859), p. 724; accompanies article by T. Addison Richards, The Rice Lands of the South (pp. 721-38).


Slave house or cabin, 1862-65 Edwin Forbes, Life Studies of the Great Army. A historical work of art, .illustrating the life of the Union Armies during the years 1862-'3-'4'-5 (New York, E. Forbes, 1876), plate 23


Slave house or cabin, 1862-65 Edwin Forbes, Life Studies of the Great Army...life of the Union Armies during the years 1862-'3-'4'-5 (New York, E. Forbes, 1876),  1862-'3-'4'-5 plate 10


Plantation Slaves, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862 Library of Congress

The following paintings were painted after the Civil War ended in 1865:


William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Cabin Scene

The dwellings of African Americans did not change dramatically after the Civil War, except that families usually occupied one cabin.  Before freedom, slaves usually slept in community cabins.  Theodore Weld collected descriptions of slave dwellings in the 1830s.  Genre painter William Aiken Walker painted many scenes of African American homes after the Civil War.


William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Board and Batten Northern South Carolina Cabin 1886

Stephen E. Malthy, Inspector of provisions, Skaneateles, N. Y. who has lived in Alabama. "The huts where the slaves slept, generally contained but one apartment, and that without floor.''


William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Cabin in the South

George A. Avery, elder of the 4th Presbyterian Church, Rochester, N. Y. who lived four years in Virginia. "Amongst all the negro cabins which I saw in Va., I can not call to mind one in which there was any other floor than the earth; anything that a northern laborer, or mechanic, white or colored, would call a bed, nor a solitary partition, to separate the sexes.''


William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Cabin

William Ladd, Esq., Minot, Maine. President of the American Peace Society, formerly a slaveholder in Florida. "The dwellings of the slaves were palmetto huts, built by themselves of stakes and poles, thatched with the palmetto leaf. The door, when they had any, was generally of the same materials, sometimes boards found on the beach. They had no floors, no separate apartments, except the guinea negroes had sometimes a small inclosure for their 'god house.' These huts the slaves built themselves after task and on Sundays.''


 William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Cabin Scene

Rev. Joseph M. Sadd, Pastor Pres. Church, Castile, Greene Co., N. Y., who lived in Missouri five years previous to 1837. "The slaves live generally in miserable huts, which are without floors, and have a single apartment only, where both sexes are herded promiscuously together.''



William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Cabin Scene

George W. Westgate, member of the Congregational Church in Quincy, Illinois, who has spent a number of years in slave states. "On old plantations, the negro quarters are of frame and clapboards, seldom affording a comfortable shelter from wind or rain; their size varies from 8 by 10, to 10 by 12, feet, and six or eight feet high; sometimes there is a hole cut for a window, but I never saw a sash, or glass in any. In the new country, and in the woods, the quarters are generally built of logs, of similar dimensions.''


 William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Cabin

Cornelius Johnson, a member of a Christian Church in Farmington, Ohio. Mr. J. lived in Mississippi in 1837-8. "Their houses were commonly built of logs, sometimes they were framed, often they had no floor, some of them have two apartments, commonly but one; each of those apartments contained a family. Sometimes these families consisted of a man and his wife and children, while in other instances persons of both sexes, were thrown together without any regard to family relationship.''


 William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Log Cabin with Stretched Hide on Wall

The Western Medical Reformer, in an article on the Cachexia Africana by a Kentucky physician, thus speaks of the huts of the slaves. "They are crowded together in a small hut, and sometimes having an imperfect, and sometimes no floor, and seldom raised from the ground, ill ventilated, and surrounded with filth.''


William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Louisiana Cabin Scene with Stretched Hide on Weatherboard and Stock Chimney Covered with Clay 1878

William Leftwich, a native of Virginia, but has resided most of his life in Madison, Co. Alabama. "The dwellings of the slaves are log huts, from 10 to 12 feet square, often without windows, doors, or floors, they have neither chairs, table, or bedstead.''


 William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Negro Cabin by a Palm Tree

Reuben L. Macy of Hudson, N. Y. a member of the Religious Society of Friends. He lived in South Carolina in 1818-19. "The houses for the field slaves were about 14 feet square, built in the coarsest manner, with one room, without any chimney or flooring, with a hole in the roof to let the smoke out.''


William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Cabin in the South

Lemuel Sapington of Lancaster, Pa. a native of Maryland, formerly a slaveholder. "The descriptions generally given of negro quarters, are correct; the quarters are without floors, and not sufficient to keep off the inclemency of the weather; they are uncomfortable both in summer and winter.''


William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Negro Cabin with Palm Tree

Rev. John Rankin, a native of Tennessee. "When they return to their miserable huts at night, they find not there the means of comfortable rest; but on the cold ground they must lie without covering, and shiver while they slumber."


William Aiken Walker (American painter, 1839-1921) Negro Cabin with Two-Pole Chimney

Philemon Bliss, Esq. Elyria, Ohio., who lived in Forida, in 1835. "The dwellings of the slaves are usually small open log huts, with but one apartment and very generally without floors.''  Mr. W. C. Gildersleeve, Wilkesbarre, Pa., a native of Georgia. "Their huts were generally put up without a nail, frequently without floors, and with a single apartment.''  Hon. R. J. Turnbull, of South Carolina, a slaveholder. "The slaves live in clay cabins.''


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

Images of slave cabins before the Civil War mostly from 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 on the images before the end of the Civil War, contact Jerome Handler jh3v@virginia.edu.


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