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American Slavery As It Is
Digital History ID 284



I. Food

We begin with the food of the slaves, because if they are ill treated in this respect we may be sure that they will be ill treated in other respects, and generally in a greater degree. For a man habitually to stint his dependents in their food, is the extreme of meanness and cruelty, and the greatest evidence he can give of utter indifference to their comfort....

Hon. Robert Turnbull, a slaveholder of Charleston, South Carolina: "The subsistence of the slaves consists, from March until August, of corn ground into grits, or meal, made into what is called hominy, or baked into corn bread. The other six months they are fed upon the sweet potato. Meat, when given, is only by way of indulgence or favor...."

The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, May 30, 1788: "A single peck of corn a week, or the like measure of rice, is the ordinary quantity of provision for a hard-working slave; to which a small quantity of meat is occasionally, though rarely, added...."

"The common allowance of food in the penitentiaries, is equivalent to one pound of meat, one pound of bread, and one pound of vegetables per day. It varies a little from this in some of them, but it is generally equivalent to it." First Report of the American Prison Discipline Society....

II. Labor.

Philemon Bliss, Esq., a lawyer of Elyria, Ohio, who lived in Florida in 1834 and 1835. "During the cotton-picking season they usually labor in the field during the whole of the daylight, and then spend a good part of the night in ginning and baling. The labor required is very frequently excessive, and speedily impairs the constitution."

Mr. Cornelius Johnson, of Farmington, Ohio, who lived in Mississippi a part of 1837 and 1838. "It is the common rule for the slaves to be kept at work fifteen hours of the day, and in the time of picking cotton a certain number of pounds is required of each. If this amount is not brought in at night, the slave is whipped, and the number of pounds lacking is added to the next day's job.....

III. Clothing.

Wm. Ladd, Esq. of Minot, Maine, recently a slaveholder in Florida. "They were allowed two suits of clothes a year, viz. one pair of trowsers with a shirt...for summer, and for winters, one pair of trowsers, and a jacket of Negro cloth, with a beige shirt and a pair of shoes. Some allowed hats, and some did not; and they were generally, I believe, allowed one blanket in two years. Garments of similar materials were allowed the women."

Mr. Lemuel Sapington, of Lancaster, Pa., a native of Maryland, and formerly a slaveholder. "Their clothing is often made by themselves after night, though sometimes assisted by the old women, who are no longer able to do out-door work; consequently it is harsh and uncomfortable. And I have very frequently seen those who had not attained the age of twelve years go naked."

IV. Dwellings.

Mr. George W. Westgate, member of the Congregational Church in Quincy, Illinois, who has spent a number of years in slave states. "On old plantations, the Negro quarters are of frame and clapboards, seldom affording a comfortable shelter from wind or rain; their size varies from 8 to 10, to 10 by 12, feet, and six or eight feet high; sometimes there is a hole cut for a window, but I never saw a sash, or glass in any. In the new country, and in the woods, the quarters are generally built of logs, of similar dimensions."

Mr. Cornelius Johnson, a member of the Christian Church in Farmington, Ohio. Mr. J. lived in Mississippi in 1837-8. "Their houses were commonly built of logs, sometimes they were framed, often they had no floor, some of them have two apartments, commonly but one; each of these apartments contains a family. Sometimes these families consisted of a man and his wife and children, while in other instances persons of both sexes, were thrown together without any regard to family relationship."

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Theodore Dwight Weld, ed., American Slavery As It Is, 35-36, 40-41, 43

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