The life of a slave in the cotton plantation economy of North America

Term Paper 2014 16 Pages

History - America



1 Introduction

2 Definition of the terms slavery and slave

3 The life of a slave in the cotton plantation economy in North America
3.1 Field of work
3.2 Culture
3.2.1 Religion
3.2.2 Customs and traditions
3.3 Social life
3.3.1 Partnership and marriage
3.3.2 Community life and childhood
3.4 Resistance movements
3.4.1 Day-to-day resistance
3.4.2 Theft
3.4.3 Escape
3.4.4 Organized resistance Rescue attempts Revolts

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography

1 Introduction

Slavery is a phenomenon which had already been common practice in ancient times and has influenced human history up till today. Historian and author Stanley Elkins compared the practice of slavery in the southern states of the U.S. to 'national socialist concentration camps' (Meißner, Mücke, Weber 120). Unfortunately, it was the sad truth. Slaves were imported from Africa and sold against their will like goods. The sole objective was effective economic exploitation of work force.

The purpose of this term paper is to take a closer look and especially illustrate every day hardships of a slave's life on a North American cotton plantation. In this regard, the books Schwarzes Amerika from Meißner, Mücke and Weber, Out of Many from Farager, Buhle, Czitrom and Armitage as well as The Enduring Vision from Boyer, Clark and McNair Hawley serve as a basis for statistics and detailed information.

The life of slaves was subject to constantly changing factors which leads to the conclusion that the standard of life was significantly worse on a big plantation than on a small manageable cotton farm. Furthermore, wealth and the plantation owner’s character influenced a slave's everyday life as well. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that not all circumstances and factors applied to every plantation.

2 Definition of the terms slavery and slave

From an objective point of view, slavery is described as the complete legal and economic dependence of a human as being the property of someone else (Meyers großes Taschenlexikon). Hence, a slave is a human who has been deprived of his liberty, is treated like an object and is considered the property of someone else. Though both definitions are generally correct, one part is missing in order for it to resemble the full meaning of slavery and slave in the U.S. In the United States slavery was only determined by race.. Only black Africans and Indians were enslaved because they were considered an inferior and underdeveloped race.

3 The life of a slave in the cotton plantation economy of North America

Besides sugar cane, cotton was the most cultivated product which resulted in 2 million slaves working on over 74000 cotton plantations by the middle of the 19th century. The warm and humid climate in the southern U.S. was perfect to create a cotton monopoly. However, latter was only possible by introducing slavery to all the other states.

It is therefore not surprising that the number of slaves in the south sky-rocketed between 1810 and 1830. Historians refer to it as the starting signal for the so-called "large-scale cotton cultivation" (Meißner, Mücke, Weber 108). Small farms quickly evolved into plantations which caused the demand for slaves to increase immensely.

In 1830, already three-fourth of all southern slaves worked on cotton plantations. This unlimited production of cotton even made the slave population reach more than 50% of all inhabitants in some regions of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

3.1 Field of work

The field of work of a slave was quite diverse. It is common belief that they only worked out on the fields. In fact, slaves did any kind of work related to the plantation like repairing carriages or cleaning. Especially on small cotton farms this was rather a necessity than a choice.

However, a typical slave did work on a big plantation together with at least 10 others. A usual day started with a wakeup call by the overseers. After a small breakfast the slaves were sent out on the fields for work. A traveler in Mississippi described that scene as follows:

“First came, led by an old driver carrying a whip, forty of the largest and strongest women I ever saw together; they were all in simple uniform dress […]; they carried themselves loftily, each having a hoe over the shoulder, and walking with a free, powerful swing” (Boyer, Clark, McNair Hawley 235).

Generally, slaves were kept under control or, as some would say, motivated either by various incentives like rewards or also punishments. The plantation owners considered this necessary for they assumed that no slave would voluntarily work at his or her best. It is thus not surprising that a slave's day consisted of non-stop competition. By promising appealing rewards for those reporting any proven violation against the rules, the owner could be sure of the slaves' loyalty. However, those circumstances clearly did not contribute to a productive workday.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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444 KB
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Institution / College
University of Heidelberg – Institut für Übersetzen und Dolmetschen
Life Slave Slavery North America Cotton Plantation US Economy



Title: The life of a slave in the cotton plantation economy of North America