Pictures of Slaves Working



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When the wretched Africans are conveyed to the plantations, they are considered as beasts of labour, and are put to their respective work. Having led, in their own country, a life of indolence and ease, where the earth brings forth spontaneously the comforts of life, and spares frequently the toil and trouble of cultivation, they can hardly be expected to endure the drudgeries of servitude. Calculations are accordingly made upon their lives. It is conjectured, that if three in four survive what is called the seasoning, the bargain is highly favourable. This seasoning is said to expire, when the two first years of their servitude are completed: It is the time which an African must take to be so accustomed to the colony, as to be able to endure the common labour of a plantation, and to be put into the gang. At the end of this period the calculations become verified, twenty thousand of those, who are annually imported, dying before the seasoning is over. This is surely an horrid and awful consideration: and thus does it appear, (and let it be remembered, that it is the lowest calculation that has been ever made upon the subject) that out of every annual supply that is shipped from the coast of Africa, forty thousand lives are regularly expended, even before it can be said, that there is really any additional stock for the colonies.



Pictures of slaves working
Slaves Working a Sugar Field, c.1860

Slaves Working a Sugar Field, c.1860
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Pictures of slaves working

When the seasoning is over, and the survivors are thus enabled to endure the usual task of slaves, they are considered as real and substantial supplies. From this period therefore we shall describe their situation.

They are summoned at five in the morning to begin their work. This work may be divided into two kinds, the culture of the fields, and the collection of grass for cattle. The last is the most laborious and intolerable employment; as the grass can only be collected blade by blade, and is to be fetched frequently twice a day at a considerable distance from the plantation. In these two occupations they are jointly taken up, with no other intermission than that of taking their subsistence twice, till nine at night. They then separate for their respective huts, when they gather sticks, prepare their supper, and attend their families. This employs them till midnight, when they go to rest. Such is their daily way of life for rather more than half the year. They are sixteen hours, including two intervals at meals, in the service of their masters: they are employed three afterwards in their own necessary concerns; five only remain for sleep, and their day is finished.

Pictures of slaves working
Copper : Slaves Working in an Ancient Phoenician Copper Mine

Copper : Slaves Working in an Ancient Phoenician Copper Mine
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Pictures of slaves working

During the remaining portion of the year, or the time of crop, the nature, as well as the time of their employment, is considerably changed. The whole gang is generally divided into two or three bodies. One of these, besides the ordinary labour of the day, is kept in turn at the mills, that are constantly going, during the whole of the night. This is a dreadful encroachment upon their time of rest, which was before too short to permit them perfectly to refresh their wearied limbs, and actually reduces their sleep, as long as this season lasts, to about three hours and an half a night, upon a moderate computation. Those who can keep their eyes open during their nightly labour, and are willing to resist the drowsiness that is continually coming upon them, are presently worn out; while some of those, who are overcome, and who feed the mill between asleep and awake, suffer, for thus obeying the calls of nature, by the loss of a limb. In this manner they go on, with little or no respite from their work, till the crop season is over, when the year (from the time of our first description) is completed.

Pictures of slaves working
Enslaved Mother and Child Urged to Work by Slave Driver

Enslaved Mother and Child Urged to Work by Slave Driver
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Pictures of slaves working

To support a life of such unparalleled drudgery, we should at least expect: to find, that they were comfortably clothed, and plentifully fed. But sad reverse! they have scarcely a covering to defend themselves against the inclemency of the night. Their provisions are frequently bad, and are always dealt out to them with such a sparing hand, that the means of a bare livelihood are not placed within the reach of four out of five of these unhappy people. It is a fact, that many of the disorders of slaves are contracted from eating the vegetables, which their little spots produce, before they are sufficiently ripe: a clear indication, that the calls of hunger are frequently so pressing, as not to suffer them to wait, till they can really enjoy them.

Pictures of slaves working

Slaves Working in a Sugar Mill Jamaica West Indies

Slaves Working in a Sugar Mill Jamaica West Indies
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Pictures of slaves working

This, situation, of a want of the common necessaries of life, added to that of hard and continual labour, must be sufficiently painful of itself. How then must the pain be sharpened, if it be accompanied with severity! if an unfortunate slave does not come into the field exactly at the appointed time, if, drooping with sickness or fatigue, he appears to work unwillingly, or if the bundle of grass that he has been collecting, appears too small in the eye of the overseer, he is equally sure of experiencing the whip. This instrument erases the skin, and cuts out small portions of the flesh at almost every stroke; and is so frequently applied, that the smack of it is all day long in the ears of those, who are in the vicinity of the plantations. This severity of masters, or managers, to their slaves, which is considered only as common discipline, is attended with bad effects. It enables them to behold instances of cruelty without commiseration, and to be guilty of them without remorse. Hence those many acts of deliberate mutilation, that have taken place on the slightest occasions: hence those many acts of inferiour, though shocking, barbarity, that have taken place without any occasion at all: the very slitting of ears has been considered as an operation, so perfectly devoid of pain, as to have been performed for no other reason than that for which a brand is set upon cattle, as a mark of property.

Pictures of slaves working

Slaves Working on a Sugar Plantation Jamaica West Indies

Slaves Working on a Sugar Plantation Jamaica West Indies
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Pictures of slaves working

But this is not the only effect, which this severity produces: for while it hardens their hearts, and makes them insensible of the misery of their fellow-creatures, it begets a turn for wanton cruelty. As a proof of this, we shall mention one, among the many instances that occur, where ingenuity has been exerted in contriving modes of torture. "An iron coffin, with holes in it, was kept by a certain colonist, as an auxiliary to the lash. In this the poor victim of the master's resentment was inclosed, and placed sufficiently near a fire, to occasion extreme pain, and consequently shrieks and groans, until the revenge of the master was satiated, without any other inconvenience on his part, than a temporary suspension of the slave's labour. Had he been flogged to death, or his limbs mutilated, the interest of the brutal tyrant would have suffered a more irreparable loss.

Pictures of slaves working

Roman Centurion Supervises Gaul Slaves Chained Together and Forced to Work in the Coal Mines

Roman Centurion Supervises Gaul Slaves Chained Together and Forced to Work in the Coal Mines
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Pictures of slaves working

"In mentioning, this instance, we do not mean to insinuate, that it is common. We know that it was reprobated by many. All that we would infer from it is, that where men are habituated to a system of severity, they become wantonly cruel, and that the mere toleration of such an instrument of torture, in any country, is a clear indication, that this wretched class of men do not there enjoy the protection of any laws, that may be pretended to have been enacted in their favour."

Pictures of slaves working

Slave Labor Children Peer From Behind a Textile Loom Where They Work

Slave Labor Children Peer From Behind a Textile Loom Where They Work
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Pictures of slaves working

Such then is the general situation of the unfortunate Africans. They are beaten and tortured at discretion. They are badly clothed. They are miserably fed. Their drudgery is intense and incessant and their rest short. For scarcely are their heads reclined, scarcely have their bodies a respite from the labour of the day, or the cruel hand of the overseer, but they are summoned to renew their sorrows. In this manner they go on from year to year, in a state of the lowest degradation, without a single law to protect them, without the possibility of redress, without a hope that their situation will be changed, unless death should terminate the scene.

Having described the general situation of these unfortunate people, we shall now take notice of the common consequences that are found to attend it, and relate them separately, as they result either from long and painful labour, a want of the common necessaries of life, or continual severity.

Oppressed by a daily task of such immoderate labour as human nature is utterly unable to perform, many of them run away from their masters. They fly to the recesses of the mountains, where they choose rather to live upon any thing that the soil affords them, nay, the very soil itself, than return to that happy situation, which is represented by the receivers, as the condition of a slave.

It sometimes happens, that the manager of a mountain plantation, falls in with one of these; he immediately seizes him, and threatens to carry him to his former master, unless he will consent to live on the mountain and cultivate his ground. When his plantation is put in order, he carries the delinquent home, abandons him to all the suggestions of despotick rage, and accepts a reward for his honesty. The unhappy wretch is chained, scourged, tortured; and all this, because he obeyed the dictates of nature, and wanted to be free. And who is there, that would not have done the same thing, in the same situation? Who is there, that has once known the charms of liberty; that would not fly from despotism? And yet, by the impious laws of the receivers, the absence of six months from the lash of tyranny is-death.

Pictures of slaves working

Elderly African Americans Who Were Once Slaves Work Together in a Rural Setting in 1920

Elderly African Americans Who Were Once Slaves Work Together in a Rural Setting in 1920
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Pictures of slaves working

But this law is even mild, when compared with another against the same offence, which was in force sometime ago, and which we fear is even now in force, in some of those colonies which this account of the treatment comprehends. "Advertisements have frequently appeared there, offering a reward for the apprehending of fugitive slaves either alive or dead. The following instance was given us by a person of unquestionable veracity, under whose own observation it fell. As he was travelling in one of the colonies alluded to, he observed some people in pursuit of a poor wretch, who was seeking in the wilderness an asylum from his labours. He heard the discharge of a gun, and soon afterwards stopping at an house for refreshment, the head of the fugitive, still reeking with blood, was brought in and laid upon a table with exultation. The production of such a trophy was the proof required by law to entitle the heroes to their reward." Now reader determine if you can, who were the most execrable; the rulers of the state in authorizing murder, or the people in being bribed to commit it.



Excerpt from AN ESSAY ON THE SLAVERY and COMMERCE

OF THE HUMAN SPECIES, UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE,1785

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