A Slaves Life




Imagine, if you will, rising earlier than the sun, eating a mere “snack”- lacking essentially all nutritional value - and trekking miles to toil in the unforgiving climate of the southern states, and laboring until the sun once again slipped under the horizon. Clad only in the rags your master provided (perhaps years ago), you begin walking in the dark the miles to your “home.” As described by the writers Jacob Stroyer and Josiah Henson, this “home” was actually a mere thatched roof, that you built with your own hands, held up by pathetic walls, over a dirt floor and you shared this tiny space with another family. Upon return to “home,” once again you eat the meager rations you were provided, and fall into bed only to begin again the next day. Day in and day out you faced brutality by your master, unbearable labor, and slow starvation, and watched your family do the same. Such was the life of a slave in the antebellum south: relentless, unforgiving, and tragic.
The life of a slave was one plagued by shifting loyalties, struggle for survival, and prayers for a brighter future, if not for oneself at least for children and grandchildren. So, exactly what was it to be a slave? It was exactly that, to be property of another, treated as a commodity that could be replaced if needed, thrown out on a whim, and neglected without a care. Living and breathing creatures, humans, were herded like cattle in and out of the fields and boarded in similar conditions, if not poorer, than the livestock. Slaves had no rights to express their feelings (for their conditions or each other), or even be “alive.”
Slaves faced the total shattering of their culture (for those brought from Africa to the Americas) as well as their families. Slaves finding themselves the victim of the slave raids to the West African Coast were packed onto ships as human cargo. As seen in the writings of countless authors such as John Barbot and James Barbot, Jr., slaves faced unbearable living conditions in disease infested ships and often starved to death or died during their transatlantic voyage. Slaves were surrounded by the unfamiliar skin of the white man, as well as a dialect unknown to their ears. Unable to communicate, he suffered from not only the reality of his situation, but also the uncertainty of the future. Unable to cope, many slaves committed suicide in hopes of returning to their home, at least in spirit. Once, and if, they finally made it to the Americas, they were sold at auction and forever separated from any kin they may have had. As life continued, many slaves did adapt to the language, but few were ever able to fully embrace the culture – a culture that seemed to thrive on their demise and suffering.
Once a slave acculturated himself to his “new home,” he found himself unable to re-establish his family ties. Even if a slave was lucky enough to find a significant other, often times they were separated by sale, as can be seen in the account of Laura Spicer and her lost love. Moreover, couples often found their children sold off to other masters never to be seen or heard from again, at ages as young as eight years old. Therefore, a slave’s life was full of perpetual uncertainty, and fear of abandonment and neglect. Their bonds of love were never enough to out-weigh the voice of cold, hard money…and many slaves found themselves miles away from their loved ones.
In addition, masters went to great lengths to keep their property stupid and submissive, and did so in the name of humanity – slaves were just like animals, too dumb to understand what was good for them. Slaves found themselves in a situation where their only provider, although I use that term liberally, was also their greatest fear. Unable to escape their bonds, slaves had little choice but to submit to their masters’ orders, or face corporal punishment, torture, or death at his hands. Often times slaves were subjected not only to the abusiveness of their back breaking labor, but abuses both physical and sexual by their “Christian” masters. Which left them in somewhat of a