By 1860, almost 1/3 of the population was made up of slaves in the south. Most slaves worked on cotton plantations. The men and women planted, harvested, and removed weeds and other unwanted plants from the land. Teenagers worked in the fields, too. Work for children wasnít too hard. They pulled out weeds, picked insects off of the crops, and took water to other workers.
Slavesí lives didnít matter to anyone. An owner of a slave could do anything to them. They thought of slaves as items you buy instead of human beings. If a slave didnít work hard, their owner usually didnít treat their slave well. Some owners treated their slaves well, so they would do good work because slaves were very expensive.
Some people did not treat slaves well. They sometimes beat slaves, and they also punished them very badly. The main reason for this is because the owners had complete power over their slaves, and they thought their slaves would work harder if they were afraid of being punished by their owners. The slaves worked very hard, but the owners did not pay them. The owners considered them to be property (not people) that they could treat as badly as they wanted.
It was hard to keep a family together for slaves. This was because when slaves got sold, they would most likely get split up and would have to go to different plantations to work. Once a family member was sold away to another plantation, they sometimes would never see their family again. Many slaves wanted to visit their families, but they were too far away or they may not have even known where their family was. Some baby slaves didnít even know their family because some of them were sold right after they were born.
To keep the slaves under control, the people of the south made laws about what slaves could and could not do. The slaves could not do the following:
Enslaved African Americans responded in different ways to punishments. Many slaves tried to run away to the north or even Canada. They were usually caught. One of the most daring things that slaveholders were afraid of was when the slaves fought back with weapons.
Nat Turner was an abolitionist. He killed many white people because they abused slaves. One person he killed was his owner because Turner was a slave, and his owner treated him badly. Turner led a group of people to help him kill some slave owners because he wanted to get back at them for owning and abusing slaves. This was called a revolt.
Nat Turnerís mother strongly hated slavery. He was taught to read by his ownerís son. Because of the hatred of slavery in his family, Turner started to believe that he was the one chosen by god to lead people out of slavery. Shortly after Turner was sold to the Travis family, there was an eclipse. The eclipse convinced Turner that it was a sign from god for him to start a rebellion.
A while after the eclipse, Turner and 60 to 70 other slaves killed 60 white people in Virginia. Turnerís ownerís family was one of the white families that were killed.
More white people were killed during Turnerís rebellion than any other rebellion in history. The Virginia Militia caught 20 of the slaves. They were hanged along with Turner. Angry white people killed over 100 innocent slaves because of their anger over Turnerís rebellion. The rebellion caused the Southerners to pass strict laws about slaves having under control.
Nat Turner is remembered today because he stood up for his individual rights. He believed that other people shouldnít own people. He also thought that everyone should have freedom, not just certain people.
There were many other slaves that succeeded in revolts, but there were also many who did not. The first major slave revolt in the South was led by Gabriel Prosser, a twenty-four year old slave. Prosser wanted to take the city of Richmond, Virginia by force. Prosser also wanted to arm his rebel slaves. Soon, Prosser had thousands of slaves that had joined him, and he had many weapons. On the day of the revolt, everyone was ready to attack Richmond, but a flood in Richmond destroyed the bridges. The next day, the state militia attacked him, and he and his soldiers were hanged.
Slaves had many consequences for trying to rebel. The most common ones were getting killed or thrown into jail. There were many other consequences for trying to rebel that were very painful like getting beaten or whipped.
Racist white people acted as though black slaves were not people and as if they came from a different world. What white people didnít see in black slaves is that they were the same as them. Not all white people used to treat black slaves badly, but slavery was the practice of owning another human. Many slave owners believed that they could treat their slaves worse than farm animals because the slaves were their property to treat however they wished.
Gatell, Frank Otto. "Turner, Nat." The World Book Encyclopedia, 1982.
Gates, Henry Louis Jr. African American Voices of Triumph. Alexandria: Time Life Books, 1993.
Germantown Elementary. A Day in the Life of a Slave. <http://www.germantown.k12.il.us/html/slave.html> Last Visited: December, 2001.