Life of Slaves in Antebellum America


Housing- In Slave Housing in the American South, enslaved people usually lived on the plantation where they worked. When the first significant number of African slaves arrived in Maryland in the 17th century, there were many more men than women. The small number female slaves, combined with the relatively few slaves in each farm and great distance between properties, made it difficult for slaves to meet or marry. Some farms that owned slaves continued to provide housing designed to be hold larger groups or by more than one family. There werent houses, they were homes. Each space held the personal marks and characteristics of the enslaved family who lived there.
Housing slaves in the cities was quite different than housing slaves on plantation. Usually on a plantation the slave quarters were a distance from the planter’s residence. Yet during the antebellum period not one plantation lacked a set of racially segregated buildings known as the "slave quarter". By 1860 there was approximately 11,000 plantations located all across the South that were operated with the labor of fifty or more slaves. The city, however, offered a different view amongst housing slaves. It was a much more difficult task than imagined. A master and bondsman would share a space usually not larger than 50ft by 150ft. The comfortable distance which the plantations contained was no longer available.Slave quarters were generally much better than those on plantations, yet problems in overcrowding affected the population, and urban housing changed the way many slaves lived with their master.
external image USAShousing.jpgThis is a picture of a slave house.

Food- In The Food of a Slave, a run away named Frederick Douglass, in 1845 wrote, that the slaves diet, consisted of 8 lbs pork, or the same weight for fish, and a bushel of corn. This was the food for the month. But it all depended on what food was made or produced on the plantation, and the owners income level. Which means how much he makes, which affected the amount of food. Regardless of what they could obtain their diet barely reached the minimum of healthy. The food they ate had a lot of calories to use up. The nutrients needed was barely reached which is one of the main causes of diseases. Field salves lived mostly on a diet or cornmeal, salt herring, and pork. They had two meals a day. There was breakfast at twelve and dinner much later. Solom Northrup, a slave from a Louisiana plantation said when describing his meals given to him by the planter, " All that is allowed them is corn and bacon which is given out in the corn crib and smoke-house every Sunday morning. Each one receives, as his weekly allowance, three and a half pounds of bacon, and corn enough to make a peck of a meal. This is all, no tea, coffee, sugar, and with the exception of a very scanty sprinkling now and then, no salt."

Sometimes, when they were desperate for food the slaves stole animals at a high risk of being caught and punished. They were also allowed to keep small gardens called 'truck patches' to provide a little bit more food. Most slaves went hungry because of their small rations. Many planters allowed the slaves a gun to shoot their own food. They also fished. House slaves were given the leftovers from the big house meals. At Christmas, slaves were sometimes given a couple days off. Some plantations provided extra rations. Some were even lucky enough to receive small valuables or amounts of money. Despite the differences, slaves usually went hungry.

Clothing: In The Clothing of a Slave, there was many different ways people dressed during slavery. Men were given pants to wear and in the winter men were given knee-length coats. Women were given dresses, and in winter were given heavy wraps that they used as shawls. Children were given minimal clothing, they sometimes didn't even wear anything. If they did wear clothing, both boys and girls wore long dress-like shirts until they hit there years when they became men or women. Most field slaves were issued clothes at birth. When they were small, both genders usually wore plain cotton gowns. Right before winter they were issued a jacket and shoes. These must last them all year long. Most clothing was made of a burlap-like material called hemp. This was cheap and easy to find on the market. Slaves who worked in the big house were given hand-me-down clothes from the planter's family.
Slaves would be given one pair of shoes and three items of underwear a year. Although the clothing would be provided by their owner, they were often ill-fitting and made of coarse material.

During slavery, a man was judged not only by the color of his skin, but by his apparel as well. This meant that slaves also had to live up to the reputation of their white families. If the family was high class, its' slaves had to demonstrate it. Domestic slaves were usually better groomed and cared for. Providing slaves with good clothing was essential to the master's position in society as well was to the performance of the slave. Well dressed slaves felt better about themselves and therefor were more productive. It was important to have a well dressed slave for the health benefits. Disease would spread if slaves were not cared for properly. A healthy slave was essential, appropriate cloths made for healthy workers.
external image 2588661789_836163640c.jpg?v=0This is a picture of what slaves usually wore during the slave period.

Punishment: In Slave Punishment and Plantation Effect, slaves were punished for not working fast enough, for being late getting to the fields, for defying authority, for running away, and many more reasons. Punishments included whipping, torture, mutilation, imprisonment, and being sold. Sometimes slaves were even murdered by their masters and their masters would not be punished for it.
Even the gentlest of masters often made use of beating and other physical punishments to keep slaves in line. Punishment is also used as a threat. The types of punishment given to slaves varied considerably. Sometimes slaves were penalized by loss of privileges. House slaves were sent to the fields, private gardens were torn up, or holidays were taken away. Confinement was another option, and many slaves were jailed during their leisure hours. Many punishments were more creative and more cruel. Some were sent out naked the in middle of January to do chores. Some were forced to eat worms they neglected to pick off tobacco leaves. Others were Branded, or the masters would attach an iron ball to a chain and fasten the chain to the slaves ankle. This punishment make quick movements difficult and was often used for runaways.
The most common punishment was whipping. A master would force a slave to bend over or lie down. Then the slave would be repeatedly lashed with a whip. The whip itself was a fearful looking instrument. The purpose of beating was always to hurt. The number and force of the blows varied considerably according to the severity of the offense, the size of the weapon and the anger of the person wielding the whip. Besides pain, scarring and permanent injuries were common results of whippings. Some have been whipped to death. Whippings, for many slaves, were the ultimate in dehumanization, the clearest reminder that they were someone else's property. Sometimes masters and overseers combined whipping with some other form of punishment. Many stripped them naked to humiliate them, some took delight in rubbing salt into open wounds, others tied salves to trees or posts so that their feet barely brushed the ground. Reasons for punishment varied.

external image slave-whipping.jpgThis is a picture of a plantation owner whipping a slave for doing something they were not suppossed to do.