Assignment 2

Assignment 2


  • Region of the US: Slaves were located predominantly in the Southern States during the tin period of the Civil War. Slaves were also more common in areas where farming and plantations were more plentiful.
  • All the areas that Jim Allen described were Southern states like Mississippi or Alabama. However, when scrolling through the other slave narratives I saw that there were stories from northern states as well which surprised me.
  • In Bibb’s account he says that he was born in Kentucky and references that he and his brothers were all sold into slavery in markets in the South.



  • Place slaves lived and worked: Slaves were employed mostly on large plantations/farms or factories that were kept in very poor conditions. Their living quarters were usually small, crowded homes that were poorly built and housed many other families.


      1. Allen at one point says that he “slept on the floor” next to other slaves which was an adjustment in the fact that the conditions were even worse than I had assumed for living.


  • Bibb talks about how he worked for several different families and was moved around quite a bit.



  • Type of labor slaves performed: Slaves performed very hard labor in very harsh conditions like cultivating crops or working with plants like cotton, tobacco, or sugar cane.
  • Allen described that he worked in a field with one other girl “working the rows” and that he had to “seed the patyrollers”
  • Bibb described that he worked in the fields when he was younger and even before he was aware what slavery was worked to earn money to support his white friend.



  • Work conditions or rhythms: Slaves worked long days in dirty and unsafe conditions. They worked essentially from sun up to sun down and didn’t have many breaks from the hot sun and harsh temperatures.
  • Allen says that he was woken up by a horn at 4 in the morning and worked until the sun set at night. The thing that surprised me the most is when Allen talked about how on Saturday nights the slaves would get off work and play and drink because they weren’t able to during the week.
  • Bibb talks about how easily slaves were beaten if they disobeyed their owners and recieved no time off.

  • Food, clothing, shelter: Slaves were not given much food to eat and what they did receive had to be divided up equally between many. As for clothing and shelter, homes weren’t very clean and well kept and clothing was very basic.
  • In the slave narrative, Jim Allen describes that his masters gave him “good eatins” and that he was “fed so good”. This really surprised me as I previously assumed that slaves weren’t given much to eat and that it wasn’t very good food. He says that clothes were made on the plantation and that they had “plenty of good ones” because they received new clothes and shoes each year.
  • Bibb describes that he received minimal food and shelter throughout his life



  • Family life: Slaves entire families lived and worked on plantations doing some job or another depending on age and skill level. Often times men and women met while on a certain plantation and began a family there.
  • Allen describes how there were no marriages and that often times that master essentially picked couples and told them they were to be together and that they needed to have kids so that the master wouldn’t need to buy more slaves.
  • Bibb talks about how he initially had no intentions of being married because it would hinder his process to freedom in Canada.


Education or training: Slaves were not offered any formal schooling besides what the could try and teach themselves while working. As for training on their jobs on the plantation, they were expected to learn quick and to completely their jobs effectively immediately.

  • Allen says that he never learned to read or write and that he was taught to be an honest man by his owners. He explains that owners didn’t want to educate their slaves because they did not want to make them capable of living in the “free country”.
  • Bibb talks about how Miss Davis was teaching them to read the Bible and once their owners found out about this, immediately put a stop to it. Other than that Bibb says that the slaves had no schools to go to either.



  • Religion: Slaves were unable to congregate away from plantations to attend religious services so they did so together at home. Religion was most likely carried from wherever specific groups of slaves originated from.
  • Allen describes that there was in fact a community church that both blacks and whites attended and they sat on separate sides to segregate the groups from one another. This surprised me because I assumed that slaves wouldn’t be allowed to leave to go to church.
  • Bibb talks about how the slaves wanted to be able to read the bible and were taught the Sabbath by Miss Davis a poor white woman.



  • Freedoms , liberties, rights: Slaves were very controlled by their owners and weren’t given rights or liberties to go to and from freely as they pleased. They weren’t able to experience the basic rights that were granted to white men.
  • Allen talks about how they were allowed to celebrate holidays like Christmas and the Fourth of July each year. They were also treated very quickly by doctors too which surprised me because I didn’t think the slave owners would care much about their health
  • Bibb talks about how slaves received absolutely no special privileges and talks about this often in his account



  • Slave views of whites: Slaves were forced to view whites as their “owners” and as a superior. Slaves therefore resented whites because of this but had to suffer silently because they would be punished for rebellion.
  • Allen talked about how his master would reward him for carrying water to his store with candy and drinks and said that his master was very good to him several times throughout the narrative. This is different than what I assumed because I thought that slaves would be mostly resentful of their owners.
  • Bibb describes slaveholders as generally rich, aristocratic, and overbearing. He also notes however that slaveholders look down upon anyone who works hard labor, whether or not they are slaves or white.



  • Slaves’ views of slavery and freedom: Slaves saw their imprisonment as the only option to make a living and support a family. They also understood that in some cases their best chance at ever gaining freedom was to work hard for many years in hopes of being released.
  • Allen referred to himself as a “pet” at one point which made me realize that many slaves saw themselves as less than human practically. Allen’s narrative really opened my eyes because he talked about his slave times in an almost positive connotation.
  • Freedom was a huge goal for Bibb and he often dreamed of going to Canada or the “Free North”




  • The source of your understanding of slavery: My source of understanding slavery comes mostly from basic history courses of the years along with general knowledge of large scale historical events and figures from that time such as the Civil War or Abraham Lincoln. Slavery is also commonly associated as a huge factor in African American history.
  • I was very unaware that narratives such as Allen’s existed. I really had never done the research or thought about the fact that slaves were able to tell their stories years after the time.  



After this assignment I have come to realize that slavery was seen differently depending on the person. Before completing this work, I thought I had a pretty comprehensive knowledge base on slavery but was surprised by many of the facts I was completely unaware of. I found it most interesting how some slaves actually didn’t resent their owners and were thankful for what they were given by them. I was truly surprised at how Jim Allen talked about his owners and how highly he spoke of them. I think that from this assignment I realized that no two primary accounts from slaves are likely the same for each slave worked under different conditions, in different geographic locations, and for different people. I was aware that slavery was incredibly oppressive but did not realize that some slaves were moved around like animals and previously thought that for the most part slaves stayed in the same spot for most their lives. Reading the narratives was incredibly interesting because it was raw and unfiltered accounts of how slaves lived and were treated.

8 thoughts on “Assignment 2”

  1. You wrote that Allen said he was well fed. The narrative I read was about a slave named Campbell who also reported having been given plenty of good food and being well taken care of. Their stories contrast with the many stories of slaves being mistreated but I guess that some slave holders were more humane than others and treated their slaves well.

  2. I was also surprised about whites and slaves in the same place of worship but for a different reason. I always thought that the slaves had to worship on the outside of the church in the back with a designated slave approved by a white pastor. I had never heard of whites and slaves under the same roof when it came to worshiping.

  3. I think my experience was very similar to yours, I thought I already had a pretty comprehensive understanding of slavery already but after reading some of these personal accounts of slavery first hand I definitely got a more nuanced understanding. The fact that some slaves actually had harmonious relationships with their masters threw me for a loop, until reading these interviews I had never really considered the possibility that slaves and their masters could actually get along.

  4. Two things you mentioned stuck out to me:

    1. Having slaveholders look down on slaves AND laboring whites shows how ending slavery would not solve the problem of class separation. Even if slaves were freed, they would still lack the education and training required to obtain skilled jobs; therefore, they would continue to be looked down upon by society for their job status.

    2. Having a poor white woman teach the Bible to slaves supports that not all white Southerners objectified blacks. Some whites, to a certain extent, had faith in blacks that they could learn and grow in Christ. It was people like these that resulted in the eventual freeing and better treatment of blacks.

  5. Madelyn,
    I found your comments on family life very interesting. My initial impressions of slaves were that they were very often split up from their family and they would never hear from them again. Your initial view was almost the exact opposite stating that slaves very often lived their whole lives with their whole family on a plantation doing slave labor. Because of such varying experiences between individuals, both our views are correct. Also, the different families who owned the slaves had different ideals of keeping slave families together and slave marriages. You spoke of an owner matchmaking, essentially, two random slaves to be married. I read an account where the slaves proposed their wedding to their owners and they would throw them a wedding with food and a party. This speaks to how families and owners really dictated the type of experience each slave had.

  6. In some sense, it is understandable that some owners treated them relatively nice, but they are still at the lower class in the society which lacked of freedom. Most of people stayed in the same spot for their entire lives which might be caused by the death of those escaping slaves. It was really common that an escaping slave got caught again by the owner and became more tough. Situation could be varied, but still, slavery was the worst part during the US civil war.

  7. I agree with what you said about slavery being a personalized experience. Before this assignment, I too didn’t really think about slavery in this way. I thought that every slave kinda experienced the same harsh conditions and daily beatings, but that’s not exactly the case.

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