Slave life on Southern plantations

Life in the Southern plantations was often terrible. The treatment of slaves could be very harsh.

  • slaves were not regarded as people but as property
  • some slaves were treated well by their owners but many were abused and treated badly
  • some worked in the homes of their owners but most worked outside in the fields cultivating crops like sugar, cotton and tobacco
Hand-colored woodcut of a 19th-century illustration showing Afroamerican slaves picking cotton in the South
Slaves picking cotton in the South
  • they were the property of the owner to do with as he wished. Slaves could be killed or raped
  • they worked long hours in the fields often in very high temperatures
  • accommodation was very basic. Simple wooden huts with earth floors
  • very harsh punishments: neck rings, beatings, amputation of feet if caught running away, tread mills
  • slaves could be sold away from their families
  • no leaving the plantations without a pass
  • basic food rations

In 1853 Harriet Beecher Stowe published the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It clearly described how slaves were treated and many people in the North were shocked. Many joined or supported Abolitionist groups that tried to help runaway slaves and campaigned to abolish slavery.

Life on a plantation