African American family was central to every aspect of life. They often found comfort in each other. Whites had no respect for their families and would sell a child, parent or spouse, whenever the price was right. But even when slave children remained with parents, owners tended to neglect them and their needs. Henry Bibb, a former slave, wrote that many children die in the field or slave quarters because the mothers had no time to nurse them. On other plantations, elderly slave women took care of children until the age of five or six, when the children began work. By age ten they were working full-time (Time-Life, 33).
"The family must first be supported, and the slaves must be content with the surplus and this, on a poor, old, worn out tobacco plantation, is often very small, and wholly inadequate to the comfortable sustenance of the hands, as they are called. In these wretched hovels were we penned at night, and fed by day; here were the children born and the sick neglected," ex-slave Charles Ball recollects. Eager to cash in on a booming trade business, slave owners pushed their slaves to reproduce after 1787. There became a sharply increased birthrate among slaves in the more settled states, followed years later by a slave increase in the new regions (Time-Life, 32)
Slaves were forced to witness abuse of family members and could not stop it. For slave women, the lack of power often resulted in sexual abuse by white men. They were frequent visitors to the slave quarters. Bearing a white mans child was not unusual among slave women. Although most bi-racial children were not regarded any higher than their mothers were, some sexual relations grew to affection between slave and master. In some rare cases, masters publicly acknowledged their mistresses, and even left estates to them in their wills.
With a proper pass, slaves were allowed to visit friends on nearby plantations on Saturdays. Saturday nights were big social nights with dancing, singing and worship. Christmas time gave field slaves a few days off and greater freedoms, for most slave owners got into the spirit of the season.
African Americans: Voices of Triumph. Perseverance. Time-Life Books, VA. © 1993.
Ball, Charles. Fifty Years in Chains. New York. © 1858.
Drew, Benjamin. A North-Side View of Slavery. Boston. © 1856.
Henson, Josiah. An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson. London. © 1877.
Northrup, Solomon. Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon
Northrup. Auburn, NY. © 1853.
Stampp, Kenneth M. The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Antebellum South. Vintage Books, NY. © 1956.
Works ConsultedBoyer, Paul S. The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People. D.C. Heath and Company, Mass. © 1990
Gutman, Herbert G. Slavery and the Numbers Game: A Critique of Time on the Cross. University of Illinois Press, © 1975
McDuffie, Jerome, Piggrem, Gary, Woodworth, Steven E. Advance Placement Examination in United States History. Research and Education Association, New Jersey © 1994