Life on the plantation

On the plantation, enslaved people continued their harsh existence, as growing sugar was gruelling work. Gangs of enslaved people, consisting of men, women, children and the elderly worked from dawn until dusk under the orders of a white overseer.

Arriving for work at dawn, enslaved people only stopped for rest and food at breakfast and lunchtime, after which they worked until nightfall. After returning to their living quarters, they would often still have chores to do before going to bed.

Enslaved people were whipped if they did not work hard enough. During harvest time, enslaved people worked in shifts of up to 18 hours a day.

Women in slavery

Girls worked on estates from the early age of four. Occupations for girls between the ages of 12 and 19 varied from field work and stock work, to domestic duties. Mature women often worked as midwives, nurses or housekeepers.

In Jamaica, the majority of women between the ages of 19 and 54 were working in the fields.

Housing on the plantation

On the plantations, enslaved people lived in small cottages with thatched roofs. The cottages often had earthen floors and were furnished with only a bed, table and bench.

Mistreatment and punishment of enslaved people

White masters had complete control over the lives of enslaved people and treated them like mere property.

As enslaved people had no rights, plantation owners were free to act as dictators. Enslaved people who disobeyed or resisted even in small ways were violently punished - in Antigua it was not a crime to kill am enslaved people until 1723.

The lawyers and judges of the island were slave owners, so there was little interest in prosecuting for the mistreatment of enslaved people.

The punishments handed out to enslaved people varied in severity. Captured runaways could be hanged or maimed. Enslaved people were often flogged with a whip for any wrongdoing – the number of lashes that they received depended upon the seriousness of their ‘crime’.

Olaudah Equiano - story of an enslaved person

Olaudah Equiano was a formerly enslaved person who published his own life story in 1789. He wrote:

  • It was very common...for slaves to be branded with the initial letter of the master’s name and a load of heavy iron hooks hung about their necks.
  • ...they were loaded with chains and often instruments of torture were added.
  • The iron muzzle, thumb screws etc...were sometimes applied for the slightest fault.

Equiano reported, I have seen a Negro beaten till some of his bones were broken for even letting a pot boil over.