Slavery caused equal distress to both black women and men. It did not only separate them from the comfort of their loved ones, but also exposed them to physical as well as mental abuse by the slave masters. They were mercilessly roughed up by their owners and denied some of the very basic human rights. It was as though they were not humans to deserve some humane treatment. In spite of these challenges, there were certain slight differences in their roles that they were assigned by their slave masters. Initially, they only brought male slaves to British colonies, especially in North America due to their perceived strength and ability to perservere. However, they later on brought in female slaves to provide company given that male slaves have began to look lonely and distraught. It was necessary that women be brought to give them comfort eve as they undertook the challenge of slavery. In addition, female slaves were also brought in to reproduce and give birth to more slaves. According to literature, the advent of the sugar culture in the Caribbean significantly increased slave trade as the size of sugar plantations increased.
Domestic and Field Slaves
Women were mostly employed as domestic slaves while men served as field slaves. Domestic slaves would stay in the slave owner’s house to perform duties like cleaning, caring for children and cooking. On the other hand, field slaves were mostly men who did tough jobs. In American South, slave masters preferred young energetic slaves, most of who had been shipped from West Indies, to work as field slaves. At the moment, sugar crops had gained international prominence and were fetching high rates in the global market. Thus, they needed strong labor force that would ensure that all field operations were completed on time. This considerably reduced the value of female slaves. However, those who took advantage of the low value of female slaves later reaped heavily from their investment. With specialization of labor through carpentry and artistry, most male slaves were slowly freed from the field service. This meant that women had to replace them in preparing the fields for agricultural activities. In this regard, both genders ended up working in the fields, albeit with slightly different roles. For instance, men would do the digging while women do the hoeing, which required less energy.
In the French and British Caribbean, attempts to encourage reproduction and marital relationships among slaves turned futile. Instead, they found that it was more economical to continue purchasing slaves from Africa. At the age of 4 years, girls were expected to start serving in the plantations. As they grew older, some of them would go back into domestic slavery where they would perform domestic work for their slave masters. However, mature women were left to do jobs like midwifery as well as housekeeping considering that they did not have much strength. It should be noted that British slave masters preferred their female slaves to work in the field instead of taking up domestic jobs. This way, they would help with digging holes for sugarcane cuttings and hoeing the fields. Meanwhile, they would perform odd jobs like prostitution to raise food for their families because their masters did not pay them well.
Among field slaves, social statuses began to emerge with slaves being grouped into gangs depending on their relative strength. The first gang, which was composed of muscular men with immense physical strength, did most of the plowing. The second gang, on the other hand, was composed of women and did most of the hoeing. The third gang was basically composed of young children and old people. They were given the responsibility of weeding and collecting trash and piling them up into compost pits. In terms of social class, domestic slaves were ranked higher. They served as drivers to the slave masters, giving them the privilege to use these machines. As for women slaves, they worked mostly as maids to cook and take care of slave masters’ children. They also enjoyed certain privileges like getting food from their slave master’s houses. It is worth noting that during harvesting periods, field slaves were exposed to harsh conditions given that their masters had their eyes set on the projected profits. They wanted to sell a particular quantity of sugar over a given period of time, causing them to exert pressure on slaves to work harder. Slaves who acquired higher social status were assigned more dignifying jobs like overseers and supervisors. However, they were also supervised and often subjected to inhuman treatment.
Slavery almost ruined gender roles that were well defined in their original homes in Africa. Back home, they had been given the role of a mother to care for the children and cook for their husbands. However, this was completely erased in slavery. In fact, the joy that came with giving birth was transferred from women to slave masters as they got more slaves. At the age of 19, female slaves were encouraged to give birth and thereafter another child after every two and half years. This meant that women who proved reproductive would not be sold off for whatever reasons as they were a big asset to the slave owners. Eventually, women felt no joy of giving birth because they knew the pain of slavery that their children would have to face. In fact, they would resume work in the fields as soon as they gave birth.
In conclusion, slavery did not only separate them from the comfort of their loved ones, but also exposed them to physical as well as mental abuse by the slave masters. It was a painful experience that caused them to dread giving birth; knowing too well that their children would face the same fate.