We will start with domestic slaves. They usually fared better than the “field hands”. Mostly women, they were allowed to get up later than those working in the field, had better food and clothes. What was worse in their state is that they were all the time exposed to the sight of their white masters. If something was not right, or just at their whim, master could punish any of his slaves to death easily. Furthermore, black women servants were often exposed to sexual harassment by their masters. (HS, FS). As Frederick Douglas wrote in his autobiography: “These servants constituted a sort of black aristocracy on Col. Lloyd’s plantation. They resembled the field hands in nothing, except in color…The hair, too, showed the same advantage. The delicate colored maid rustled in the scarcely worn silk of her young mistress, while the servant men were equally well attired from the over-flowing wardrobe of their young masters…” (Douglas, 2004, p. 71-72).
Field slaves works eighteen hours a day, from dawn to sunset, men and women equally. Even pregnant women were expected to work full-day. According to Frederick Douglas, “With their pork or fish, they had one bushel of Indianmeal – unbolted – of which quite fifteen per cent was fit only to feed pigs…and this was the entire monthly allowance of a full grown slave, working constantly in the open field, from morning until night, every day in the month except Sunday…” (Douglas, 2004, p. 65-66).
As for slaves-artisans, those were very often equal to white artisans (at least in skill if not in status). Masters sent their slaves to acquire needed artisan skills, such as blacksmith or carpenter. Slave artisans were allowed to sell their work to other whites, when their master did not need their services. Sometimes they could even save money to buy their own and their family’s freedom from their master (Gillespie, 2002).
In this paper we described the life and the roles of slaves in American society of XVII-XVIII centuries. In our opinion, slaves-artisans were better off in slaveholding society, because they acquired valuable skills that were always useful. With their work, they could earn enough money, unlike field hands and domestic slaves, to buy their freedom and freedom of their families. After being freed they could work as legal skilled laborers to maintain their families.
Douglas, Frederick. (2004). My Bondage and My Freedom. Pennsylvania State University,Electronic Classics Series. Retrieved from: http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/f-douglas/My-Bondage.pdf
Gillespie, Michele. (2002). Antebellum Artisans. Retrieved from: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-609
House Slaves, Field Slaves. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASdomestic.htm