Most plantation slaves dealt with overseers and drivers •Overseers could often be harsh, as their pay was often geared to productivity at harvest time •Drivers and house servants formed an upper class in slave society •The main work organizational systems were the gang system and task system •The gang system organized work gangs under a driver who made sure they kept up the pace and completed their tasks •The task system assigned individual tasks and often let slaves work at their own pace •The gang system dominated cotton and sugar plantations and the task system was most used on rice plantations •Work days were longest and hardest during planting and harvest
SLAVE LIFE •Plantation masters utilized systems of rewards and punishments to encourage slaves to at in desired way (days off, extra food or clothes, countered by whippings and removal of privileges) •Slaves were usually given fresh clothes when seasons changed •Housing varied with some in well-built cabins but many in poor, leaky and cramped quarters •Medical care was provided only when necessary •American slaves had the highest standard of living of slaves in the Western Hemisphere •That was a counterpoint to also being the society where they were least likely to be made free
CONDITION & RESPONSE •Conditions of slaves varied according to where and when they lived, the type of work done, skills they possessed, their sex, the wealth and beliefs of their masters, etc. The experience of a single individual could be vastly different from that of another. This, plus a lack of data on actual living conditions of slaves, makes it almost impossible to give a completely accurate generic picture of slave life. Archeological evidence is currently allowing researchers to gain a better and more accurate picture of "real" slave life somewhere between the examples of horrible oppression and exploitation and the examples of benevolent paternalism. •Slave responses also varied. Frederick Douglass was astounded at meeting slaves who believed in slavery. Some resisted to the death; some ran; some cultivated subtle coping techniques; some worked the system for advantages; etc. Slaves dealt with their condition in ways which reflected their own personalities and experiences. This is also an area still being studied.
URBAN SLAVERY •Slaves in urban settings also upset traditional views of slavery. Many slaves lived in varying degrees of freedom in urban areas, often practicing their trades on conditions worked out with their masters. •This meant some urban slaves had a great deal of control over their own lives. This also bred resentment from laboring whites. •In the 1850's, as Southerners began to devalue being a wage laborer, whites who worked for wages resented an apparent equality with African-Americans.