Slave Life on the Farm and in the Town

The experiences of slaves in captivity varied greatly. The type of life slaves lived depended first and foremost on whether they lived on farms or in towns.

The prominent form of chattel slavery was plantation life. Cultivating the planters’ crops was the priority. Other duties included clearing land, building fences, or performing other odd jobs. Larger plantations had harsher working conditions. Overseers were assigned to monitor the work. They treated the slaves brutally. Sometimes a slave, called a driver, would serve as overseer, making him a hated figure in the slave community. Living quarters were small and food usually consisted of a few morsels of meat and bread.

Large plantations had household slaves. These domestic servants would prepare the master’s meals, tend the house, prepare for guests, and sometimes look after the master’s children. Household slaves ate better and were in some cases considered part of the extended family.

Slaves that lived on smaller farms often enjoyed closer relations with their masters than plantation slaves.

Some urban merchants and artisans employed slave labor in their shops. This enabled slaves to acquire marketable skills. Slaves that lived in towns had greater freedom than those that lived on a farm. They met more people and became more worldly. Daring individuals sometimes took the opportunity to escape.

Source: Slave Life on the Farm and in the Town
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