Assignment 2


Ideas about Slavery


  1. At some point or another, slavery existed almost everywhere in the colonial United States. However, by the end of the 18th century, most northern states had gotten rid of it, and it became mostly a southern practice. The slave account I read was from a man in Mississippi so that does fit deep within the Southern United States. After reading  The Life of Henry Bibb, he said that he was from Kentucky. That is right on the edge of the Southern U.S. from my opinion.

2. From my recollection, I believe that a majority of them lived in small homes with only a few other slaves if any. Some worked on larger plantations with many other slaves. The slave whose account I read said that he lived in Alabama first, but was then sold to another owner to pay for a “whiskey debt”. He said that he lived on a plantation that had many slaves. Henry Bibb said that he lived in a home in Kentucky, and that he had a playmate that was the daughter of his owner. He recalled being frequently flogged as a child.

3. Again, from the information that I remember, they mostly helped with household tasks, and other chores. They did work like cooking or cleaning, while some worked out in field doing farm work. A former slave said that he mostly worked fields. He also described himself as a “pet” to his owners. Henry Bibb said that had to do household work such scrubbing floors and cleaning. He also described that he had to rock his owner in a chair while she sat there on pillows. He even said he had to scratch her head for her.

4. From what I think I know, the conditions were not friendly. I believe they were quite harsh; they were often overworked by force, beaten or whipped for inadequate performance, and hardly had days off, even while ill. I also don’t think they had a Union or HR department for recourse either. According to one slaves account, he said he was woken everyday at 4 in the morning and worked all day until sunset. He said that he was never the subject of a whipping but that he witnessed it happen, particularly with the neighbors. Henry Bibb describes the conditions he worked in as quite horrid; he said he would have to work in any weather condition, and that often he would end up blistered and bleeding while working.

5. I really do not know much about what slaves ate back then; I imagine it was probably similar to just whatever leftovers/ poor quality food the masters left over. I think they usually wore lower quality clothing and didn’t have much more than one set to wear; it probably depended on what job the slave performed though. As for shelter, I think they probably stayed away from the owner, and if they were in a large enough household, may have even stayed in a different building. One slave said that he ate well; he ate mostly from the garden and had meals cooked by other slaves.  He said that they wore the woven clothes that were made on the plantation called “Hick’ry Strips”, and that they were given two pairs of shoes.  He also said that he slept on the floor of his owner. On the contrary, Henry Bibb said that he was barely fed enough to work, he said he barely had enough clothes to not be naked and that he often just slept on the dirt ground.

6. From what I remember, often times natural families were split up so they could serve different households. Slaves then just to become close with whoever was around them. I imagine they did treat one another as family, and that they probably had one another’s back. I learned after reading the first hand slave account that slaves were sometimes forced to breed with one another so owners wouldn’t have to buy another one. Henry Bibb said that he was split apart from his mother at an early age so that he could be sold to pay for the education of his former young owner.  

7. I am pretty certain it is fair to say that slaves had a very substandard education compared to whites. I think that some were actually given no education at all, and that it was possibly forbid. According to the first hand account that I read, he was not allowed to read or write and he claims it was because they didn’t want him to be able to be free. According to Bibb, slaves were also not allowed to books, pens, or any other supplies that could be used for learning. He said they weren’t allowed to improve their minds. He also said it was against the law for slaves to read.

8. I believe that most slaves were taught (forced, maybe) to be Christians from their white masters. I do not know how common that was, but I am pretty certain that many were. It is possible that some slaves used religion as a way to cope with their harsh lifestyle. One former slave described his church as one that both whites and slaves attended, although they sat apart from one another. He said that he became a Christian to do better and serve Christ. He also admired Lincoln for getting his ideas from the bible. Bibb said that he was a Christian and was taught the bible on Sundays by a poor white girl. He described the task as fruitless, however, because the law forbade slaves reading, and patrols ended the practice. He also described the gospel he was taught by the slave owners as pro slavery and often preached themes of obedience.

9. I am pretty certain that slaves have absolutely no legal rights or recourse against their master.  They had no civil rights or even liberties, as I would describe them. The only freedoms they had were what they were allowed. One former slave said that he was required to have a pass if he wasn’t where he was supposed to be and that patrols would vigorously check slaves to keep them in line. Henry Bibb definitely describes an environment where he had absolutely no legal rights. He described him self as a “thing” and not a man.

10. This is a pretty tough/weird topic about which to think. I really do not know what they thought of whites. I imagine it depended on what their interaction was like with their own masters though. I’m sure some had a decent view, while many probably had a bad view of whites. One slave said that he was sad when he had to leave his “boss” when the Northern army set him free. He said that he had been treated fairly enough that he had grown affection for his boss. He also said he was treated better than the neighbor slaves were. On the other hand, Henry Bibb said that his treatment by white people was horrible, and as a result, he had a much worse view of them. He described one as a tyrant and completely despised her.

11. I really do not know what slaves felt about their own status or the idea of slavery. I am guessing that they probably yearned for freedom and maybe resented the masters for what they had. Obviously some really wanted freedom that risked their life to runaway and obtain it. From the slave account I read, he had mixed feelings, he said that he agreed with the notion that every man ought to work for himself, but he said that the North was destroying the nation. It was clear to tell from reading that Bibb hated being a slave and yearned for freedom almost constantly. He said that he constantly ran away at a young age, and that even though they would beat him for it, he would still do it again. As he got older, he learned new ways to avoid detection while running away.

12. I gathered most of this knowledge from a wide variety of sources really. I have learned about it in almost every grade growing up in school. I have seen movies, TV show, and documentaries where slavery is the subject. I have seen or heard experts talk about the subject on different programs. I have also done a little reading on the subject. The firsthand slave account that I used for this assignment was that of Jim Allen of Mississippi.  My final source, as per the assignment, is an online version of The Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb: An American Slave.




In summation, I learned quite a bit about the experience of Slavery from doing this assignment. What I found most interesting is how wide the variety of treatment was to slaves. While most people know the horrid stories told about slavery: the beatings, the starving, the degradation, what is often not mention were the “lighter-hearted” slave owners who didn’t treat their slaves so horribly. Obviously thousands and thousands of people were treated cruelly during slavery, and that is horrible and reason enough to end its practice. But it is also fair to say that many slave owners weren’t so cruel to their slaves; many treated their slaves humanely. It was clear to see how bad it could get though through Bibb’s account, the way he describes the conditions in which he had to work are truly unsettling.

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Author: Anthony Morley

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9 thoughts on “Assignment 2”

  1. Wow, it is so saddening to hear how much that slaves were treated as objects. It must have been humiliating to be sent to a new family to make up for a debt, confirming that your slaveholders truly thought of you as property and something to be traded. Your comment about no HR is funny but quite relevant- I had never considered that slaves must work when they are sick and be transferred “departments” no matter if slaves’ families were by their current workplace.

  2. Anthony,
    Don’t you find it quite interesting how education was challenged because of the threat that they envisioned it would have on the slaves ability to escape their enslavement? I find that aspect very interesting, as if the only thing keeping them enslaved was their lack of education. On the other hand, some slave owners really encouraged their slaves education and helped them, seemingly illegally, to learn to read and write. Religion was something they were allowed to be educated about. Your presumption that it was a forced religion was interesting to me, as I had not considered this element before. I had always looked at the slaves as finding hope and solace in religion. Therefore, it is an interesting alternative to consider if it was forced.

  3. I believed as you said in the post, slaves were no social status at that time and no legal rights made them controled by their masters completely. About their thoughts of wihte, they might be angry but dare not speak up. But for that situation in the slavery time, I thought majority of slaves were resigned. They worked hard and obeied their masters’ orders for earning their food and clothes. Or they have no ways to live.

  4. I thought it was interesting to see how the slaves in the firsthand account would make cloth for the entire plantation instead of each family unit making their own, which points out a key difference in how things were run on plantations of different sizes. I would also like to say that just because slaves of one owner were not being beaten nearly to death does not mean that they were being treated humanely. Everything must be taken in context – slaves were, regardless of treatment, chattel not people.

  5. I thought what you said about the slaves opinions of the whites was interesting. I can’t really imagine how they felt either, because I’ve never been in any situation like that. I’m sure that slave owners who treated their slaves fairly were very rare, so those slaves valued their owner more, as they knew conditions could be much worse.

  6. I also found the range of treatement to be an interesting point. We are taught (rightly so) about the horrors of slaveholding and what people like Bibb went through, while there are still accounts of fairer slaveholders who treated their property like hired work. I wonder if this was a holdover mindset from the early days of America where slavery was treated as a necessary evil before it became an issue of racial superiority in order to keep King Cotton’s profits flowing into the South.

  7. This goes to show how severely slavery can range OR its extent of cruelty. When you say he was treated humanely, you note that the person at hand had not been whipped. Is that the extent of humanity? Because he wasn’t whipped and missed his master was he treated humanely OR was he just treated less inhumanely?

  8. I noticed that we had for the most part the same assumptions about what slavery was like. I also think that we read the same slave narrative and I had very similar findings to yours. I think you make a very interesting point in your conclusion that we do often hear just about the horrid ways slaves were treated. Of course the entire institution of slavery is morally wrong and truly sad to think about, it is widely unknown that some slaves actually thought very highly of their owners and were actually treated well. Despite this the idea of slavery is still like you said incredibly unsettling.

  9. I noticed that we had for the most part the same assumptions about what slavery was like. I also think that we read the same slave narrative and I had very similar findings to yours. I think you make a very interesting point in your conclusion that we do often hear just about the horrid ways slaves were treated. Of course the entire institution of slavery is morally wrong and truly sad to think about, it is widely unknown that some slaves actually thought very highly of their owners and were actually treated well. Despite this the idea of slavery is still like you said incredibly unsettling.

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