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Daniel C. Slavery was work, often very hard work, sustained by force and the threat of humiliation and separation from family and community. Most commonly, Slave labor differed according to period and location.

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Work on a sugar plantation. Yet plantation labor was not always and everywhere the same. Work on sugar plantations in the West Indies was not the same as that on rice plantations in South Carolina, which was different again from what enslaved laborers did on tobacco farms in the Chesapeake.

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In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when slavery extended to the Middle Colonies and New England, work there was even more different, at least in the variety of tasks and the influence an enslaved person might exercise over his or her work they could sometimes initiate a change of masterthough in other ways, particularly in the element of compulsion, it was much the same. Moreover, labor in all these places changed over time and was dependent upon advances in mechanization, stages of plantation development, and changes in management outlooks.

Everywhere circumstances diverged between those who merely did common labor and those who exercised skills. In the s plantation owners tried to maintain self-sufficiency based on the varied skills of their slaves. In eighteenth-century North America, planters in the Chesapeake expected to have a large of skilled slaves as well as common laborers.

One could not readily dispense with such people. Whether making boats or barrels, building barns or houses, making furniture either fine or just functionalbeing able to make or repair harnesses or do other leatherwork, or various kinds of ironwork, people with artisanal capability were in short supply in the eighteenth century and not everywhere in the nineteenth and expensive where found.

Their very real social distance was mitigated by a mutual awareness of the limitations of force in an inchoate society. Lock-step, highly supervised gang labor replaced traditional patterns of individual work. Most slaves, however, were common laborers. At the earliest stage of plantation development slaves, even common laborers, worked in a traditional fashion, with each being responsible for a multitude of tasks under relatively little supervision.

As plantations developed, gang labor superseded traditional laboring methods. Under this system, the processes of cultivation were divided into simple tasks capable of minute supervision, where field hands worked in lock-step under the eye of a white overseer or black driver foreman.

He carried a whip as an emblem of authority and a means of coercion. Gang labor developed at different times in various places and was perhaps first closely associated with sugar cultivation in Barbados. Historians do not agree on when it first appeared there but associate it with a transition from white indentured servitude to African slavery and development of a new plantation structure that more efficiently and economically produced sugar.

One historian argues that it developed uniquely among the English and because their cultural outlook permitted them to apply so harsh a regimentation only to people as ethnically distinct as Africans, but not everyone accepts this racial interpretation. Race may have influenced the development of gang labor.

Englishmen treated English indentured servants with extreme rigor, certainly more rigorously in America than people in the same condition were treated in England, though legal considerations, however laxly regarded, imposed some limits, as did the realization, at least in North America, that some of the mistreated would eventually command free status and political influence. To the extent that no such restraints applied to Africans, race may be said to have influenced the development of gang labor.

It was common in Barbados by the eighteenth century and served as an example for other English plantation regions. In eighteenth-century Chesapeake, tobacco plantations were divided into various units specializing in growth of the staple crop but also in the production of corn and other foodcrops, the care of livestock, and other products necessary to support the enterprise. The home unit, comprising the plantation mansion and out-buildings housing cooks and craftsmen, also had storage sheds and a dock to receive supplies and send off tobacco.

The region was characterized by gang labor, modified by the stage of plantation development and the task at hand. The master laid claim to the full service of the enslaved who normally worked from sunrise to sunset. Planting, hoeing, harvesting, and preparing the fields before and after these major events could be hard and routine work unrelieved by much variety. They took place under the watchful eye of an overseer who insisted on a set pace and punished those who fell short.

Herding might provide greater freedom and more contrast but also entailed more responsibilities in ensuring the safety of the animals. By the middle of the century some Chesapeake plantations became more diversified, growing wheat and other crops which often required fewer slaves and labor was less gang-like in terms of the of workers supervised, but no less regulated.

Growing rice was more difficult and dangerous than raising other crops. In the eighteenth-century Carolina low country, including coastal Georgia, where planters specialized in rice, work was harder because preparing the land for cultivation usually meant claiming marshlands or swampy regions. One needed to construct dikes to hold water and sluices to let it off. These dikes required considerable effort to build and maintain, in the company of snakes, alligators, and other vermin, Rice culture on the Ogeechee, near Savannah, Georgia.

Slaves had to plant, weed, and harvest in soggy, sickness-inducing fields. Fields of standing water brought mosquitos and the diseases they carried, which the enslaved had to combat, along with hungry rodents that invaded the fields and burrowing ones that attacked the dikes.

These characteristics of rice planting made labor there more taxing than in tobacco fields but labor took place under the task system which permitted a laborer to have time to him- or herself once the task was done. Rice plantations in the low country of South Carolina and Georgia operated on the task system which allowed slaves free time when their work was done. How the task system originated has also been debated because it certainly diverged from the gang labor system that eventually dominated Barbados whence many early South Carolina settlers came, though it apparently had not fully developed before most of them left.

Among the reasons advanced for the task system has been the supposition that the character of rice, being hardy, needing a scattered work force, and not requiring minute supervision, was suitable to the method; another is that wealthy South Carolina planters, inclined towards absenteeism, left work initiatives to their slaves, and they, referring View of a rice field in South Carolina.

None of these explanations entirely satisfies, particularly ones that absolve humans and blame the crop or the environment. The struggle cost more than its value in lost production. Black slave drivers were critical to work on some plantations. Cultivation in the rice country took place under the direction of black drivers who served under white overseers but directly over the field workers. They allocated the tasks and helped to set the pace.

They had less time to themselves than workers who completed their jobs early but the driver was entitled to the help of other workers in his own enterprises. Of course, not all workers finished with time to spare; maybe even most did not but enough to provide hope and impart value to the system. The driver had to be very knowledgeable about the crop: when to flood, when to draw down the water, when to drain, and when to harvest. These decisions could make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful crop and drivers often knew these things better than overseers.

In fact, some planters dispensed with overseers altogether and depended upon their drivers. A respected driver had a great deal of authority and was frequently a leader in the black community before and after slavery. By the nineteenth century the development of a cotton South, stretching from the eastern seaboard all the way to Texas, flattened somewhat the appearance of slavery and increasing mechanization, to which slaves had to adjust, Slaves working in a cotton field.

From Tupelo by John H. A more developed and interconnected countryside, limiting the possibilities, put most slaves into the fields. I repeatedly rode through the lines at a canter. He noted the presence of a black driver, whip in hand, urging them on. Plantations still required artisans, for which more men were trained than women, but for the vast majority of the enslaved, labor was almost certainly duller and less varied than in the colonial period.

Tobacco still grew in the Chesapeake, rice in South Carolina, and sugar in Louisiana, where refining obliged special capabilities and provided opportunities for a few more men, but practically everywhere else slaves labored in cotton. In all of these places, excepting coastal South Carolina and Georgia, they labored in gangs.

Stress the time span and geographic scope of slavery in the United Sates. Most students relate slavery to the cotton South but is important for students to realize that it had a longer and more varied history than that, spanning more years in the colonial period than in the nineteenth century. Equally important is the fact that in this early period it extended to the Middle Colonies and New England.

This recognition will allow teachers along the North Atlantic seaboard to look at areas in their own regions where slaves labored, while still considering the more traditional perspective. In New England and the Middle Colonies slaves worked on dairy farms and aboard ship, in wheat farms and on the docks, in gardens and homes, at printing shops or as personal attendants. They might do all of these things in the South as well but plantation slavery was a southern institution and slave labor there was more important and lasting than in the North. It is also important to note that gang labor and the task system were not mutually exclusive practices but represented extremes within which planters might organize their labor.

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Some jobs might be better performed by task asment than by gangs even in a region where gang labor prevailed and vice versa. In a few places, as in the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia, slaves even worked in factories, and in Richmond and other urban locales they worked as teamsters, stevedores, porters and dockhands, to mention only a few of the urban tasks they performed.

Consequently, the variety of slave labor was greater than students sometimes assume. Students should also realized that slavery was a relationship between human beings and while authority emanated from the top, a wise planter did not make decisions without taking into the reaction of his laborers. Slavery depended upon force but it worked best when slaves cooperated; planters had to compromise as well as command. James Henry Hammond, for example, soundly resented the autonomy provided by the task system and tried with great brutality to impose gang labor on his slaves but ultimately had to accommodate them.

He learned in the nineteenth century what most low country South Carolina planters learned in the eighteenth, that he could not grow crops if he spent more time punishing slaves or hunting them down than in supervising while they worked. Planters succeeded when they provided an environment in which enslaved people labored as willingly as could be expected under the circumstances, and Wise planters tried to get slaves to "buy into the system. More than one planter commented that slaves were less likely to abscond if that involved leaving something they were building or growing for their own use.

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Planters in gang-labor regions had to provide other incentives, maybe extra food or drink, additional clothing or other trinkets, perhaps a little money, for better-than-average performance. What did it mean that field hands obliged an accommodation even though they could not overthrow the system? One might consider that the distinction sometimes made between field hands and house servants, portraying the one as having a much harder lot, can be overdrawn.

Domestics occasionally had better food and clothing but, where they existed, these advantages were offset by the tension of being under more constant Tasks considered unskilled today in slavery times required considerable judgment and discrimination.

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Field hands at least normally had evenings to themselves. Moreover, many types of domestic work, such as washing, which might appear relatively unskilled today, required both strength and discrimination because it was not a simple matter of putting clothes in a machine but of heating water in iron kettles, using dangerous soaps made from lye or other corrosive materials, bringing water and clothes to a boil, Interior of a slave kitchen. At a more primitive level, it might involve pounding clothes in a stream. Ironing was also a cumbersome and dangerous process.

Cooking, successfully done, demanded the art of composition in producing appealing recipes, the benefit of experience in knowing how to move food around in a hearth or on an iron stove or in an oven in such a way as to bake or cook evenly without burning, including the ability to judge temperatures as well as to move heavy implements, and required definite talents not always easily acquired.

Despite the obvious value of accomplished domestics, the conditions of their labor did not inspire harmony and inevitable mistakes could bring unjustifiable wrath from both master and mistress sometimes merely because either or all were having bad days. Opportunities for such contretemps were multiple because slavery everywhere involved a contest of wills. Shifting focus slightly, one might encourage students to consider the psychological affects of slave labor on the master class.

For one thing, there developed a notion associating hard labor with Ask students to consider the effects of slavery on the master class. This idea was scarcely modified by the consideration that various immigrants did similar work because they were stigmatized as a result of its association with blackness and slavery.

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