How would you like to work 18 long and painful hours from about 6:00 a.m. to midnight? This is what most slaves had to do. In fact, by the time a slave got back to the slave quarters (where they ate and slept), it was about 2:00 a.m.! That meant three hours of sleep, if they fell asleep.
Some slaves slept in a one-room shack that has no furniture or beds. Ten to twelve people would crowd in the small room with no plumbing or electricity.
In those 18 hours, most slaves worked on cotton plantations. Kids would pull weeds, feed chickens, scare crows away from the cornfields, keep hawks from stealing young chickens, pick insects off the crops, or carry water to other workers. When the child was an adult, he or she would either clear new land, plant, or harvest. Slaves who worked in the fields were called, " Field Hands". Field Hands worked longer then any other kind of slave. They usually worked from sunrise to sunset. Slaves who worked in their owner’s house were called, "House Slaves". House Slaves usually live in their owners house and worked few hours. They also had the right to do things the Field Hands could not do. Other slaves were skilled doing carpeting, cabinetmakers, bricklayers, and more. Some slaves worked in factories. Other slaves became construction workers working on the canals or railroads or worked as dockworkers, lumberjacks, office workers, or riverboat pilots. Some worked in the mines.
One plant they harvested was called hemp. At the end of the summer, the hemp stocks would be ten to twelve feet tall. When the stocks were that tall, slaves would cut the tall stocks down with thick knives and peel off the green leaves. Then they would hang the stocks by the root until the outer layer rotted. Then they would take the insides out and make rope or twine (string).
When it came time for planting, the owners had no problem trying to get slaves to work in the hemp fields especially at harvest time. Sometimes the owners had to say no to the slaves because too many slaves volunteered to work in the hemp fields. Slaves volunteered to work in the hemp field because marijuana (marijuana is another name for hemp) was a medicine. At harvest time, the slaves would take some marijuana and when they got sick, or if they were sick, they would use it to get better.
Those plants the slaves harvested in the west were mainly sold to the northeast in exchange for manufactured goods (stuff made by hand). The south sold agricultural (crops) products to Europe in exchange for manufactured goods.
Fieldwork includes hoeing too. A hoe is a tool with a long handle and a flat blade used for weeding and loosening up the ground. Hoeing season started in April right after the cottonseeds were planted. The days were hot and they worked harder. August was worse. August was picking season. They worked harder, it was hotter, and they were in more pain because the raw cotton made their fingers bloody and sore.
Slaves were also carriage drivers. They drove white people around to different places. When the carriage drivers were not driving the white people around, they would spit polish the carriage as if they were going somewhere extremely important.
Slaves served as slave drivers too. A slave driver made many enemies. They did that job because they were treated well by their owner because they were doing the owner’s job.
Although fewer than 10% of the southerners owned slaves even those who did not own slaves believed in the right to own slaves. During 1850’s, there was a debate on whether slavery should be allowed to spread into the new territories and states.
On Saturdays there were square dances. They would laugh and have fun. It was like a break for the slaves.
Although the invention of the cotton gin allowed one slave to replace many slaves, the number of slaves in The United States actually increased after its invention. Southern plantation owners planted even more cotton in their fields because the cotton gin made it very cheap to clean the cotton of seeds. In 1790 3,000 bales of cotton were grown in The United States. The slave population doubled during this time period.
After the slaves made the cotton, the slave’s owner would usually ship the cotton to Europe. Tobacco and sugar crops were also shipped to Europe.
People think the men did most of the work on the plantation. But actually the women did the more work. Some women taught the children how to read and write other women worked in master house, cooking and sewing for their owner.
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