Life on the plantation

On the plantation slaves continued their harsh existence, as growing sugar was gruelling work. Gangs of slaves, 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, the slaves 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.

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

Girls 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, slaves 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 slaves

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

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

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

The punishments handed out to slaves varied in severity. Captured runaways could be hanged or maimed. Slaves 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 a slave

Olaudah Equiano was a former slave who published his own life story in 1789. He wrote:

  • It was common for slaves to be branded with the initial letter of the master’s name and for heavy iron hooks to be hung around their necks.
  • Heavy iron chains were added to these hooks for even the most minor of reasons.
  • Iron muzzles and thumbscrews were also used on slaves.

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

The video below gives an overview of slavery and tells the story of a slave who escaped and published an account of her life.