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were engaged both in urban areas and in the plantations especially in the South which was an agrarian economy and lived and worked under poor conditions. They were also harshly treated by their masters and women subjected to sexual exploitation. However, the experiences of slaves depended on the region, their masters and overseers. In this essay, I will argue that male and female slaves had different experiences in the nineteenth century, south although some aspects were similar depending on the size of the plantation.
The antebellum south was a slave society as it had a high population of slaves and depended on them economically, socially and politically and also allowed masters extensive power over slaves unchecked by law.2 In small plantations, men and women performed similar tasks in the fields but in large plantations, men did different work from women. In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass gives an account of the experiences men went through in large plantations having been born into slavery by a colored women and a white father. According to Douglass, women were not given tasks outside the plantation hence these were performed by men and included such tasks as: manning vessels; gardening; driving carriages comprising of horses and coaches; carpentry; chopping wood and using field hand oxen to carry the load home; ploughing and wheat fanning among other field duties.3 Men were also used to transport crops and supplies and also hired out as artisans and craftsmen. Women on the other hand, did household chores such as cooking and caring after the master’s white children. They also did laundry, sewing, milking, and spinning, knitting, and working in rice, tobacco and cotton fields.
The role of women was clearly highlighted by Deborah Gray White in her book Ar’n’t I a Woman? She argues that women had a very distinct role from that of men in that they bore children.4 These children whether from a white man (mulatto) or black man
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