Plantation Life

Plantation Life for Slaves

Plantation Life

Plantation life for slaves in the United States was not pleasant. Plantation life for slaves was consistent from plantation to plantation. The only difference was how large or what type of crop the plantation produced.

Plantation life for slaves fell into different categories too. Some slaves worked as house servants while others worked the fields. Plantations were self-sufficient and included slaves that worked as carpenters, blacksmiths, and making pottery.

There were roughly 400,000 slaves working in urban areas in the South in 1850. Three million other slaves worked on plantations producing agricultural products. It is estimated that more than half of all slaves lived on plantations, which had 20 slaves. In addition, one-quarter of all slaves lived on larger plantations with 50 or more slaves.

Plantation Life for Slaves Facts for Kids

  • Plantation life for slaves in the United States was brutal and filled with harsh punishments.
  • Most female slaves living on a plantation worked in the household performing chores like cooking, sewing, child care, and cleaning.
  • Most male slaves living on a plantation worked in the agricultural fields. The plantation owners hired an overseer to watch the slaves or a driver who was a slave.
  • Some male slaves on the plantation worked as a carpenter, blacksmith, or made pottery.
  • Slave codes included strict and specific punishments for breaking the rules.
  • Children often worked in the fields. They were often traded or sold because they were the property of the plantation owner.
  • Plantation life did not include education for slaves, and slaves were punished for learning how to read and write.
  • Plantation life for slaves included activities to help cope with the stress of work and punishments. Religion helped the slaves on the plantation. Their religions were a mixture of Christianity and West Africa traditions.


Women that worked on plantations spent their time working in the household or doing household chores. The household was generally controlled by the wife of the plantation owner.

Slaves in the household cooked, sewed, took care of children, and did laundry. Plantation life for women working in the house was easier than those working in the fields. The women slaves working the fields toiled in the fields or were in charge of feeding the male slaves working the fields.


Although some male slaves worked in the household, some male slaves exhibited skills and blacksmiths, carpenters, or made pottery. Most male slaves living on a plantation worked in the agricultural fields.

The male slaves were controlled by either an overseer or a driver. The overseer was a person hired by the plantation owner to keep the slaves working. A driver was a slave in control of slaves. The driver was more often than not disliked by his fellow slaves. He controlled in the fields.

Male slaves working the fields worked 18 to 20 hour days six days a week. While working, the slaves would chant songs to keep their spirits up. Slaves working the fields planted, harvested, and cleared land.

The slaves worked in a gang-labor system. Sometimes slaves would use acts of defiance in the fields like breaking shovels or tools that then prohibited them from working. These acts of defiance were met with harsh punishments by the overseer or driver.


A child’s plantation life was hard. When slaves gave birth to children on the plantation, the child became a slave and the property of the plantation owner. Plantation owners traded and sold children willing.

Children were not taught to learn but to work. Some children would learn skills based on the parent’s skills. Others went to work in the fields alongside male and female slaves.

Domestic versus field slaves

There was a stark difference in how domestic slaves and field slaves were treated. In general, the domestic slaves working in the household were treated better.

The domestic slaves also tried to arrange marriages between children of domestic slaves. This helped form a class system within plantation life for slaves.

Religious plantation life

Plantation life for slaves included many types of things to help the slaves cope with their miserable life. Religion was used to help lift their spirits in harsh times.

Slaves mixed a combination of Christianity and West African traditions in their religious views. This included singing, dancing, and celebrating on Sundays or of worship.

Slave Codes

Plantation life included slave codes. These codes specified how a plantation owner could treat his or her slaves. Codes varied from state to state in the South.

For instance, a person could not do business with a slave without the slave owner’s permission. Slaves could be wagered to satisfy gambling debts; they were used as collateral for loans, and could be gifted from one person to another.

Other codes prohibited slaves from having guns, being educated, and marriage was never legal under the eyes of the plantation owner.


  1. What percentage of slaves lived on larger plantations that included 50 or more slaves?
  1. What type of work was common for a female slave on a plantation?
    Cooking, cleaning, sewing, and child care
  1. What was the name of laws set forth by states and plantation owners to help control slaves?
    Slave Codes
  1. Children of slaves were the property of whom?
    Plantation owners
  1. Slaves practiced a religion during plantation life that combined what features or ideologies?
    Christianity and West Africa traditions