of Enslaved Women
These are copyrighted documents from the
electronic archive for Wilma A. Dunaway. Women, Work and Family in the Antebellum
Mountain South (Cambridge University Press, 2008).
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and Free Blacks in Commerce and Travel
in Industry & Manufacturing
& Forced Labor Migrations
Health & Ecological Risks
to Family Stability
& Slave Resistance
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1The house of Cherokee slaveholder John Ross was typical of Appalachian small
2 A slave chambermaid in an Abingdon, Virginia hotel. More than one-third
of all Appalachian slaveholders and one-fifth of the slaves were engaged in such
3 Monticello, the Blue Ridge plantation of Thomas Jefferson, typified Appalachia=s wealthiest slaveholding elites.
Appalachian masters invested in commercial stage and wagon lines, and they allocated slave
labor to such ventures much more frequently than Lower South large plantations.
5 The gender division of field labor is seen in this Botetourt County, Virginia wheat
harvest. Two males are collecting the cut grain from the field and operating an oxcart to
haul it to centralized spots where two women are stacking the grain. Subsequently, the
same males would haul the grain to the barn where other women were threshing.
6 This small plantation was maximizing labor through an organized cotton ginning party
to which adjacent masters sent their slaves. When the work was complete, slave women
served everyone a large dinner, and they danced when permitted.
7 Appalachian slave women were disproportionately represented among field laborers
while men had more opportunities for elite artisan occupations. Women were considered by
northern Alabama masters to be especially efficient at cotton harvesting. One of the
dangers to pregnant women was the handling of 125 pound harvest baskets or large bags
strapped over the shoulder.
Slaves & Free
Blacks in Commerce & Travel
8 This free black woman operated a small inn that served rafts and boats on the
Tennessee River outside Chattanooga.
9 Free blacks washwomen were a common sight in towns, for there were few
nonagricultural employment opportunities for these impoverished households.
10 Slaves provided much of the labor for Appalachia=s antebellum travel enterprises, comprised of resorts, hotels, inns,
transportation companies, and the livestock drover trade. During the summers, Appalachian
slaves were regularly hired to work at 134 mineral spas, such as these workers at White
Sulphur Springs in West Virginia.
Industry & Manufacturing
11 Some plantations processed their own tobacco for export. These slaves are
dipping tobacco to prepare it for pressing and formation into plugs. This type of work
exposed slaves, including children and pregnant women, to dangerous chemicals that caused
lung infections and intestinal ailments.
Slave Trading & Forced Labor Migrations
12 This east Kentucky slaveholder was migrating westward, so he sold off 23 slaves at
public auction in Lexington. Only one of the adults is being sold with her child. Note
that 17 children younger than twenty are being sold separate from their parents. When they
were interviewed in the 1930s, many of the Appalachian ex-slaves said they had been sold
away from parents during childhood. Source: Coleman Papers, University of Kentucky
13 The Southern Mountains lay at the geographical heart of the domestic slave
trade, so slave coffles were a common sight in Appalachian counties. This coffle had
camped for the night, waiting to cross the New River in southwest Virginia.
14 Because they profited less from their field labor, Appalachian masters hired out a
higher proportion of their slaves than did Lower South plantations. For example, mountain
Virginia masters hired out surplus slaves to tobacco manufactories, like this one in
15 In the 1850s, western North Carolina slaves were bought and hired for railroad
construction. Source: Asheville News, 10 February 1859
Malnutrition, Health &
16 This Page County, Virginia slave cabin was typical of the dwellings supplied for
black Appalachians on small plantations. Note the leaning wood chimney chinked with mud.
This couple is attired in clothing that indicates their higher status as servants in their
17 This slave quarter had a well, avoiding the scarcity of safe water that placed so
many black Appalachians at risk. Several depicted sanitation problems caused higher
mortality rates among slaves on small mountain plantations. Children crawled and played
barefoot in the same yard where pigs, dogs, and chickens wandered. In the absence of
privies, human excrement was used to fertilize slave gardens. These cabins, like most
mountain slave dwellings, had dirt floors, a single window, and root cellars. The cabins
were constructed close together, facilitating the rapid spread of infectious diseases.
18 Appalachian masters allocated weekly rations of fat pork and cornmeal to slaves.
However, these supplies were nutritionally inadequate. A majority of mountain masters
required their slaves to produce much of their own food supply.
19 This Randolph County, West Virginia woman baked her master=s daily wheat bread in a brick oven.
However, most Appalachian small plantations rarely supplied flour or white bread to
slaves. Dependent on weekly corn meal rations, mountain slaves consumed a breakfast of
less nutritious ash cakes or spoon bread prepared in their fireplaces.
20 Until old enough to fish, as these boys are doing on the northern Georgia=s Chattahoochee River, Appalachian slave
children received little meat and inadequate protein in their diets. Malnutrition and the
resultant chronic illnesses accounted for high child mortality rates on small Appalachian
to Family Stability
21 Through several forced labor migration strategies, such as sales and hireouts,
Appalachian masters structured the absence of adult males from slave households, as is
depicted in this sale of a husband away from his family. After emancipation, almost none
of the spouses separated by such sales were able to reunite.
22 Appalachian masters exported slaves to the Lower South by using the services
of auction houses at trading hubs, such as this one in Richmond. Such interstate sales
broke two of every five slave marriages.
23 Until they were old enough for field work, youngsters were put to work at all kinds
of unskilled tasks on small plantations. Working in the Big House kept children away from
their families much of the time and denied them the parental discipline and support of
24 On this small plantation on the Tennessee River outside Knoxville, this slave woman
and her children occupied a cabin attached to the back of the master=s house. Such proximity to the owner and his
sons increased the likelihood that women and girls would be sexually exploited.
25 Due to attenuated breastfeeding, malnutrition, and inadequate child care, one-half
of all Appalachian slave children died before age ten. Elderly slaves, like this
Rockbridge County, Virginia woman, tended large groups of children while mothers worked in
the fields or were hired out.
26 Until they were old enough to work in the fields, young Appalachian slave girls
worked in the master=s house. Their
exposure to white males led to a high incidence of pre-teen sexual abuse by whites. In
addition, some girls were trained to be nursemaids or wet nurses. In those adult roles,
they would spend their lives tending white children, weaning their own offspring too young
and leaving them without adequate child care.
27 Small Appalachian plantations provided little medical care for their slaves, so
women received little prenatal care. Black herb doctors, like western Maryland=s John Cupid, collected, prepared and
administered a majority of the herbal treatments that mountain slaves received.
28 To produce surplus slave laborers for export to the Lower South, Appalachian
slaveholders engaged in reproductive exploitation in several forms. In addition to a high
child mortality rate, mothers endured the horrors of having one of every three of their
children sold away before age fifteen.
Slave Household Subsistence
29 These West Virginia slaves were lucky enough to be employed at an elite slave
occupation that was not available to females. Appalachian slave women were
disproportionately represented among field laborers on small plantations, and they rarely
were able to earn extra cash, as this blacksmith did.
30 While taking turns spinning, women passed on songs and stories to their children
who played on the floor. They also used such occasions to engage in illicit night-time
31 In addition to their field work, Appalachian slave women were required to spin,
weave, and sew every night. Women produced all the clothing and bedding used by slaves on
small plantations and much of the requirements of their white owners. Source: WPA Slave
Narrative Collection, National Archives
Repression & Slave Resistance
32 Poor white patrollers regulated the movements of Appalachian slaves, and regional
slave narratives include numerous instances of resistance against patrollers. More often
than they punished any other offense, patrollers whipped male black Appalachians for being
away without leave to visit their nearby abroad families.
33 These Loudoun County, Virginia slaves were very aggressive in their escape to the
North. Women were included among this group, but most such runaways were males aged 18 to
34 Slaves escaping by boat from a small plantation on the Tennessee River outside
35 The celebration of a slave wedding in the yard of a Franklin County, Virginia
plantation. Such social gatherings offered opportunities for Appalachian slaves to reach
beyond the confines of small plantations to engage in community building and cultural
36 Following the African tradition of the griot, older Appalachian slaves told
stories that preserved distinctive slave culture, mocked white character flaws, and
idealized the black resistant spirit. These slaves are attired in ASunday clothes@ that they would have purchased from their
37 There are no women at this Fauquier County, Virginia corn husking, a labor
maximizing strategy at harvest time. On many small plantations, men processed corn while
slave women quilted winter bedding. About midnight, food would be served, and the singing
and dancing could begin.
38 Funerals were a public exhibition of the persistent family ties and community bonds
among Appalachian slaves. At this northern Alabama death, the master (left tophat) and the
slave preacher (right tophat) walk on opposite sides of the wagon that bore the deceased
laborer to the burial plot. Following African tradition, the funeral procession set the
pace with songs and wails.
39 Summer and harvest dances were significant mechanisms for community building by
Appalachian slaves on small plantations. In this Fauquier County, Virginia scene, the
group is preserving African dance traditions. The mid-ground slave is Apatting juba@ to set the pace for the other two. Notice
the observation platform in the tree. Slaves used such perches to light their night work
in their subsistence parcels.
40 Like this Rabun County, Georgia gathering, Appalachian slaves participated
illegally in night-time religious services. Because they were assigned textiles production
at night, women combined that required labor with unauthorized prayer meetings and
singings. Thus, black females were punished for such resistance more often than men.