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Early adolescence for female slaves was often difficult because of the threat of exploitation. For some young women, puberty      marked the beginning of a lifetime of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse from masters and mistresses, overseers, male slaves,      and members of the planter family. For others, work in the planter’s home included close interaction with their owners, which      often led to intimate relationships with white men or friendships with white women. House servants spent time tending to the      needs of their plantation mistresses—dressing them, combing their hair, sewing their clothing or blankets, nursing their infants,      and preparing their meals. They were on call twenty-four hours a day and spent a great deal of time on their feet.   

Agricultural laborers served as the core of the workforce on both rice and cotton plantations.       

Courtesy of Georgia Info, Digital Library of Georgia
Slave Women in Cotton Field

Since planters reserved artisan positions for male slaves, the majority of the field hands were female. Slave women constituted nearly 60 percent of the      field workforce on coastal plantations. Commenting on the work of female slaves on his coastal estate, one planter noted that      “women usually picked more [cotton] than men.” Female slaves often were in the fields before five in the morning, and in the      evening they worked as late as nine in the summer and seven in the winter. They prepared fields, planted seeds, cleaned ditches,      hoed, plowed, picked cotton, and cut and tied rice stalks. Slave women also cleaned, packaged, and prepared the crops for      shipment.   

 

Maintaining family stability was one of the greatest challenges for slaves in all regions. Some owners allowed slaves to court,      marry, and live with one another. Other owners did not recognize marriage among slaves. The lack of legal sanction for such      unions assured the right of owners to sell one spouse away from another or to separate children from their parents. Nothing      lowered morale among slaves more than the uncertainty of family bonds. William and Ellen Craft, fugitive slaves from Georgia, claimed that “the fact that another man had the power to tear from our cradle the new-born      babe and sell it in the shambles like a brute, and then scourge us if we dared to lift a finger to save it from such a fate,      haunted us for years” and ultimately motivated them to escape.

 

Source: Georgia Encyclopedia

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