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The whole commerce between master
and slave is a perpetual exercise of the...most unremitting
despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the
other.....Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that
God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.
Thomas Jefferson, 1782
An hour before day light the
horn is blown. Then the slaves arouse, prepare their breakfast,
fill a gourd with water, in another deposit their dinner of
cold bacon and corn cake, and hurry to the field again. It is
an offense invariably followed by a flogging, to be found at
the quarters after daybreak....
The hands are required to be
in the cotton field as soon as it is light in the morning, and,
with the exception of ten or fifteen minutes, which is given
them at noon to swallow their allowance of cold bacon, they
are not permitted to be a moment idle until it is too dark to
see, and when the moon is full, they often times labor till
the middle of the night. They do not dare to stop even at dinner
time, nor return to the quarters, however late it be, until
the order to halt is given by the driver....
Finally, at a late hour, they
reach the quarters, sleepy and overcome with the long day's
toil. All that is allowed them is corn and bacon, which is given
out at the corn-crib and smoke-house every Sunday morning. Each
one receives, as his weekly allowance, three and a half pounds
of bacon, and corn enough to make a peck of meal. That is all.
The laborers begin work at six
o'clock in the morning, have an hour's rest at nine for breakfast,
and many have finished their assigned task by two o'clock, all
of them by three o'clock. In summer, they divide their work
differently, going to bed in the middle of the day, then rising
to finish their task, and afterward spending a great part of
the night in chatting, merry-making, preaching, and psalm-singing....
The laborers are allowed Indian
meal, rice, and milk, and occasionally pork and soup. As their
rations are more than they can eat, they either return part
of it at the end of the week, or they keep it to feed their
fowls, which they usually sell, as well as their eggs, for cash,
to buy molasses, tobacco, and other luxuries....
The sight of the whip was painful
to me as a mark of degradation, reminding me that the lower
orders of slaves are kept to their work by mere bodily fear,
and that their treatment must depend on the individual character
of the owner or overseer.
Sir Charles Lyell
The Negro slaves of the South
are the happiest, and, in some sense, the freest people in the
world. The children and the aged and infirm work not at all,
and yet have all the comforts and necessaries of life provided
for them. They enjoy liberty, because they are oppressed neither
by care nor labor. The women do little hard work, and are protected
from the despotism of their husbands by their masters. The Negro
men and stout boys work, on the average, in good weather, not
more than nine hours a day....Besides they have their Sabbaths
The free laborer must work or starve. He is more of a slave
than the Negro, because he works longer and harder for less
allowance than the slave, and has no holiday, because the cares
of life with him begin when its labor end. He has no liberty,
and not a single right.
George Fitzhugh, Cannibals
All or Slaves Without Masters, 1857
On the 12th of May, 1828, I
heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly
appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ
had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of Men, and
that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for
the time was fast approaching when the first should be last
and the last should be first.
Question: Do you not find yourself mistaken now?
Answer: Was not Christ crucified?
Since 1830, I had been living with Mr. Joseph Travis, who was
a kind master who had placed great trust in me. On Saturday
evening, August 20th  we decided to meet the next day
for a meal and to work out our plan of attack....It was quickly
agreed we should start at home (Mr. J. Travis') on that night.
I took my station in the rear, and, as it was my object to carry
terror and destruction wherever we went, I placed fifteen or
twenty of the best armed and most to be relied on in front,
who generally approached the houses as fast as their horses
could run. This was for two purposes--to prevent their escape
and strike terror to the inhabitants.
Confessions of Nat Turner, 1831
Follow the Drinking Gourd
When the sun comes back and the first quail calls,
Follow the drinking gourd.
for the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom,
If you follow the drinking gourd
The river bank will make a very good road,
The dead trees show you the way.
Left foot, peg foot traveling on,
Follow the drinking gourd.
account offers the most accurate description of slavery?
2. On what
grounds did apologists defend slavery?
3. Why does
Nat Turner say he led a revolt against slavery? What does his
account tell us about the radical potential of slave religion?
Slaves and Slaveholdings
|| 6.6 percent
Distribution of Slaves
of slaves held
Percent of white families
Percent of slaves held
of the African American Population
|| 1.77 million
|| 13 percent free
|| 2.33 million
|| 14 percent free
|| 2.87 million
|| 13 percent free
|| 3.69 million
|| 12 percent free
|| 4.44 million
|| 11 percent free
1. How many
slaves did a typical white Southerner own?
2. On what
size farm or plantation did a typical slave live? How many slave
families might have lived on such a plantation? How likely was
it that a slave could find a spouse on a plantation of that
3. How rapidly
was the slave population growing? Why do you think the U.S.
slave population grew while the slave populations elsewhere
in the New World failed to naturally reproduce their numbers?