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In the antebellum American South, by law slaves had no say in what task they were required to do, as by legal definition they were considered property and afforded none of the constitution, civil, or criminal legal protections afforded to any citizen of the United States.

They also had no control over the length of their working day, which was usually from sun-up in the morning to sunset in the evening (“can see to can’t see” in the slaves’ language). As such, slaves work was whatever their owner required of them. They labored mostly in menial agricultural work, but really in whatever task that was not so totally unnecessary that a machine could not do it for a fraction of the price. Since the South was lightly industrialized at this time, few tasks fit this criteria.


Although slaves were used in the northern states in factories to produce manufactured goods, at least prior to those states abolishing slavery, most slaves worked on plantations in the southern states.

Slaves were used on plantations for a variety of tasks:

slaves work
Picking cotton

Harvesting Sugar Cane

Planting and Harvesting Rice
Harvesting Tobacco Growing and Harvesting Coffee Building Railroads
Working in the Dairy Weaving Carpentry
It was usually young girls that churned the milk into butter. “My mammy was a fine weaver and she work for both white and colored.” “He used to make spinning wheels and parts of looms. He was a very valuable man.”
Washing Clothes Cooking Butchering and Preserving
‘I used battling blocks and battling sticks to help clean the clothes when we was washing’ ‘The cooking was done in the kitchen in the yard.’ Meat was butchered by the slaves, then preserved in the smokehouse


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