Slavery was a significant system that has impacted America and formed it into what it is today. Slavery influenced the push for American freedom; however, these slaves spent a large portion of their lives suffering. In the early 1800s, the lives of slaves were incredibly different from the lives of ordinary people in terms of the work they were required to do, the way they were disciplined, and their personal lifestyles. Since there were no laws specifying slaves’ tasks, owners could force their slaves to do whatever they wanted them to do. Land was being divided into smaller units that were privately owned. This was called the plantation system and the crops grown on these plantations were tobacco, sugar, cotton, and rice; therefore, slaves became high in demand. Each slave had daily tasks to complete; one’s work depended on his or her gender, if he or she lived in the North or the South, and if he or she was a slave artisan, a house slave, or a field slave.
Horns were blown an hour before daylight to wake up the slaves. The slaves ate breakfast and were put straight to work. Field slaves spent long hours transporting cotton bales, gathering wood, planting and harvesting, picking cotton, and building railroads. The more fortunate slaves became blacksmiths, carpenters, gin operators, cooks, butlers, and dining room attendants. Women that didn’t work in fields cooked, washed dishes, cared for children, and milked cows. Slaves in the North were used in factories to make manufactured goods, drive wagons, load and unload cargo from ships, operate river barges, work in mining and lumbering, and engineer for sawmills or artisans for ironworks; moreover, the women and children worked in the textile industry. The work of slaves was overall grueling and ceaseless.
To control their slaves, masters used various forms of discipline and punishment. With whipping being the most common form of punishment for slaves, other punishments included the following: patrols, dogs, threat of sale, shackling, hanging, burning, mutilation, and imprisonment. Pregnant women were whipped on their backs while lying on the ground. Slaves were also required to wear iron collars to prevent them from fleeing, and to intensify the grip and pain. A slave could be punished for resisting slavery, not working hard enough, talking too much or using their native language, stealing, murdering a white man, or trying to run away. The fear of punishment was widespread among slaves, and the vicious encounters they had with their masters will never be forgotten. Along with the harsh work and discipline slaves faced, they underwent obstacles with their personal lifestyles. Slavery was a challenge to slave families. Despite that some masters encouraged slave marriages, slave families were not acknowledged or protected by laws.
The selling of slaves and their environmental conditions hindered the creation of families. Some masters wouldn’t break apart marriages by sale, but economic hardships forced the separation. Plantations were divided and slaves were distributed among them without regard to marriage ties. Despite all of these obstacles, families lasted fairly long. Married women weren’t protected from sexual demands of her master or of any white person. Also, field work could separate moms from their children. Under slavery, the separation of families was common and this reinforced kinship patterns that made up West African cultures. Slaves created “fictive” kin networks calling their local friends family to protect themselves against the separation of their families. Slaves even developed their own standards of family morality. Southern slaves didn’t find it wrong for a female to have children before marriage, but they were strict on a woman’s loyalty to her spouse. Mortality rates were high among slaves. A lot of slaves died through slave transportation, diseases, and how they were fed and treated.
Due to cholera, dysentery, diarrhea, and other diseases, slaves relieved themselves behind bushes and contaminated their drinking water. Most slaves only survived until their early 20s, and infant slaves often died before the age of 10. Females often miscarried, and they birthed weak infants due to their poor health and diet. Slaves began eating veggies, soups, potatoes, molasses, grits, hominy, and cornbread, and their diets lacked a lot of vitamins and supplements necessary for survival. Slaves generally got a small pinch of cornmeal and 3-4 pounds of fatty pork a week with added vegetables. In conclusion, slaves lived short, miserable lives caused by being separated from their loved ones, starved, and exposed to many diseases. The work slaves were required to perform, the discipline enforced on slaves, and slaves’ personal lifestyles are all things that distinguished them from the lives of ordinary people in their time. Slaves were considered property, and they harshly treated by what was considered the superior race. Despite the brutal lifestyle these slaves endured, slavery formed America and left an influence on America and its people.