TeacherServe Essays

The Varieties of Slave Labor

Author: Littlefield, Daniel (NHC Fellow, 1988–89)

Slave labor differed according to period and location. In the 1700s plantation owners tried to maintain self-sufficiency based on the varied skills of their slaves. A slave’s skill level and value to the master often determined how he/she was treated. Lock-step, highly supervised gang labor, replaced traditional patterns of individual work. Race may have influenced the development of gang labor. Growing rice was more difficult and dangerous than raising other crops. Rice plantations in the low country of South Carolina and Georgia operated on the task system which allowed slaves free time when their work was done. Black slave drivers were critical to work on some plantations.

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Subjects: History; Education Studies; Slavery; Labor; Enslaved Persons; African American History; Plantations; Agriculture