Living conditions of slaves in America


The living conditions on the plantations in the Southern states were generally very difficult for slaves.


A strong family and community life helped sustain African Americans in slavery. People often chose their own partners, lived under the same roof, raised children together, and protected each other. Brutal treatment at the hands of slaveholders, however, threatened black family life. Enslaved women experienced sexual exploitation at the hands of slaveholders and overseers. Bondspeople lived with the constant fear of being sold away from their loved ones, with no chance of reunion. Historians estimate that most bondspeople were sold at least once in their lives. No event was more traumatic in the lives of enslaved individuals than that of forcible separation from their families. People sometimes fled when they heard of an impending sale.


Cotton cultivation, U.S. South, 1875

Image Source: University of Virginia Library.


You can read about the escape of the slaves William and Ellen Craft here, and the autobiography of John Adams, who was a slave in the late eighteenth century here.


Some runaways - called maroons - created free communities, such as those that existed in Virginia's Great Dismal Swamp or in the Florida Everglades among the Seminole Indians. Techniques such as work slow-downs, sabotage, sickness, self-mutilation, or the destruction of property were also used while working on plantations to protest against their enslavement. Information about the opportunity for run-away slaves can be found here.


A short movie about the conditions on plantations can be found here (click VCD 106.1 MB).


Illustration picture from movie.

Photo source: Coronet Instructional Films.


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Other sources: Nile of the New World.