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The Way the Slaves Lived
Digital History ID 480

Author:   Jacob Stroyer

Annotation: One of fifteen children, Jacob Stroyer was born on a plantation twenty- eight miles from Columbia, South Carolina, in 1849. After the Civil War he became an African Methodist Episcopal minister, serving in Salem Massachusetts.

Document: Most of the cabins in the time of slavery were built so as to contain two families; some had partitions, while others had none. When there were no partitions each family would fit up its own part as it could; sometimes they got old boards and nailed them up, stuffing the cracks with rags; when they could not get boards they hung up old clothes. When the family increased the children all slept together, both boys and girls, until one got married; then a part of another cabin was assigned to that one, but the rest would have to remain with their mother and father, as in childhood, unless they could get with some of their relatives or friends who had small families, or unless they were sold; but of course the rules of modesty were held in some degrees by the slaves, while it could not be expected that they could entertain the highest degree of it, on account of their condition. A portion of the time the young men slept in the apartment known as the kitchen, and the young women slept in the room with their mother and father. The two families had to use one fireplace. One who was accustomed to the way in which the slaves lived in their cabins could tell as soon as they entered whether they were friendly or not, for when they did not agree the fires of the two families did not meet on the hearth, but there was a vacancy between them, that was a sign of disagreement. In a case of this kind, when either of the families stole a hog, cow or sheep from the master, he had to carry it to some of his family, for fear of being betrayed by the other family. On one occasion a man, who lived with one unfriendly, stole a hog, killed it and carried some of the meat home. He was seen by some one of the other family, who reported him to the overseer, and he gave the man a severe whipping....

No doubt you would like to know how the slaves could sleep in their cabins in summer, when it was so very warm. When it was too warm for them to sleep comfortably, they all slept under trees until it grew too cool, that is along in the month of October. Then they took up their beds and walked.

Source: Jacob Stroyer, My Life in the South (enlarged edition; Salem, Mass., 1898) .

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