An Eyewitness Look At Slavery

There are many, many great books in the world about slavery. How it effected the

Three generations of a slave family in North Carolina

economy, the effect it had on the family, and how it tore our nation apart. These are great books that tell incredible and very sad stories. The best look you could ever get though on slavery comes from those who experienced it themselves. The best view on any issue comes from those who were there, those who experienced it.

Slavery was hard in every aspect and every possible way for those held under its sway. There was always a lack of food, clothing, and the normal human comforts that you and I take for granted.

The lack of food was felt by all. Many times slaves would go without a meal and would have to work all day.Mary Ella Grandberry, a slave who labored in Alabama said that “Plenty of times us had to go withouten breakfest, ’cause we didn’t get up in time to get it before the man done come to get us on de way to de field. Us worked until dinner time just de same before we got anything to eat.” Slaves where “property” and the plantation owners knew that. Slaves were valuable and it would often cost up to $1,200.oo for a male slave. Even the most cruel of masters would not completely starve his “property”  The average master did not over-feed any of his slaves by any means though. According to Robert Glenn, a slave in North Carolina “The food was generally common hog meat and corn bread most all the time.”  One slavewoman named Sarah Gudger remembered what she ate as “jus’ a li’l corn bread and a li’l ‘lasses [molasses]. Lord, you can’t know what a time I had.” A woman named Mary Reynolds, who was a small girl during her slavery years, found a way to add more sustinance to her meager diet. She said that “when I could  steal a ‘tater, I used to slip it into the ashes, and when I’d run to the fire I would take it out and eat it on the sly.” “Taters roasted in the ashes was the best tastin’ eatin’ I ever had.” She said.

  Sometimes the master would allow slaves to grow and tend a small garden plot. Mary Reynolds also commented on this saying “Sometimes master let the niggers have a li’l patch. They’d raise ‘taters or goobers. They liked to have them to help fill out the victuals. The niggers had to work the patches at night and dig the ‘taters and goobers at night. Then if they wanted to sell any in town they’d have to get a pass to go. They had to go at night, ’cause they couldn’t ever spare a hand from the fields.”

Another thing that slaves were deprived of is adequate housing.  The master’s and plantation owners around the south generally gave their slaves the same kind of one

A common Civil War era slave cabin.

roomed cabin. Sometimes slave families would have up to 8 children thus making it very difficult to live in a one roomed cabin. John Finnely described the cabin he lived in, “Us have de cabins of logs with one room and one door and one window hole, and bunks for sleepin’.” Fannie Moore described her slave cabin also, “De quarters just long row of cabins daubed with dirt. Everyone in de family live in one big room. In one end was a big fireplace. Dis had to head de cabin and do de cookin’ too.” Living quarters were cramped and often inadequate.

Slavery was an all around hard time for many, many people. These two areas are not the only things that made slavery intollerable to an entire race of men. In part 2 of this post I will discuss the mental anguish caused by the thoughtless seperation of slave families and the physical torture inflicted on slaves by their masters and overseers.

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Published in: on August 28, 2011 at 11:53 pm  Comments (2)  

2 Comments

  1. Anna – really interesting – thanks for posting that.

    • Thank you! I find slavery to be a very interesting issue to study. Especially when you look at it from the slaveholder’s stand point and from the slave’s stand point as well.


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