Work performed on southern plantations included: field work, housework, hospitality, wet nursing, construction, drivers, escorts, and riders. If there was a job to be done on a plantation, Black slaves usually filled the role.
In The Field
When it came to field work, it often depended on several things. First, there was location, then size, the wealth of the owner, and the crop being grown. The big cash crops were tobacco, indigo, and cotton in South. In the Caribbean and South America, there was tobacco, cocoa, and sugarcane. Depending on the season it could be these or any other crop. In addition to this, there was the tending of livestock.
Field work on southern plantations focused on planting and tending in the warm seasons and harvesting in the cooler months. When the fall and winter rolled in, field work rotated out to producing goods from some crops and livestock. Black people on the plantation would also do the year around work of construction, maintenance, and preparation for spring.
Along with field work, there were slave drivers, Black slaves given some degree of authority to act as overseer. Since plantation owners often had other businesses or were community leaders, they were often away from the plantation. This made the role of overseers and drivers very important and made the driver extremely polarizing.
The Big House
Slaves who worked in the big house of southern plantations also worked year around and handled a variety of domestic duties. They served as cooks, food servants, handmaids, attendants, butlers, and wet nurses—a task shared by house and field slaves—for the slaveholder’s children.
In addition to handmaids and wet nurses, Black women also served as babysitters, freeing up the slaveholder and his wife to engage in social activities. These child-rearing duties often took bonding time and care away from the slave’s children. Slaves who were shown to be musically inclined were often used to entertain at social gatherings.
The third main area of duty for slaves on the southern plantations was away from the plantation. Some would accompany the owner as escorts, attendants, and simply riders. When not with the owner, but with a kind of road overseer, they would handle the transport of crops and products from one location to another.
Following the Civil War, some freed Blacks remained working on plantations while others moved to the more industrialized urban centers of states—see Birmingham. Since the South still needed the labor force for these plantations, those were leaving for larger cities or leaving for the northern were often attacked for doing so.
While Black history, in general, doesn’t start with slavery in the Americas, Black people in and coming out of slavery contributed greatly to the cultural fabric of American and Caribbean culture in addition to commerce and infrastructure. From cuisine to entertainment via music and dance to storytelling, Black people have a massive influence on it and in many cases were the parents of aspects of it.
M. Swift primarily writes on moments and important figures in Black history for Your Black World. He also writes heavily on wrestling, comics, gaming, and Black sci-fi and fantasy.
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