« PrécédentContinuer »
tobacco, rice, and indigo fields or were employed about the house at tasks of a more domestic character. In the North they served as household seryants or on the farm, clearing the woods and cultivating lands. Some were coachmen, boatmen, sailors, and porters in shops and warehouses. As many of them became in time skillful shoemakers, coopers, masons, and blacksmiths, they not only did the heavier work incident to these crafts but at the same time became something of a financial asset to their owners, who hired them out to other planters, contractors, and even the Government, and then pocketed the wages themselves. In Newport hired slaves aided in building the Jewish synagogue; in Williamsburg the slaves of Thomas Jones made shoes for people of the town; and in Charleston large numbers of slaves were employed to work on the fortifications. They had their own quarters to live in, both on the plantations and in certain sections of the towns, and even the domestic servants, commonly in the South and occasionally in the North, had shanties of their own. The clothing which the slaves wore was always coarse in texture; their bedding was scanty, merely coarse covers or cheap blankets bought specially for the purpose; and their food consisted
of corn bread, ash cake, rice, beans, bacon, beef on rare occasions, butter, and milk.
The slaves in domestic service were well cared for, and Laurens once said that his negroes were "as happy as slavery will admit of; none run away and the greatest punishment to a defaulter is to sell him.” Van Cortlandt of New York offered for sale a valuable negro woman who had been in his family a number of years and could do all kinds of work. “I would not take two hundred pounds for her," he wrote, “if it were not for her impudence; but she is so intorabel saucy to her mistress.” Thomas Jones once wrote to his wife: “Our family is in as much disorder with our servants as when you left it and worse, Venus being so incorigable in her bad habits and her natural ill disposition that there will be no keeping her"; and later he added: “There is no dependence on negroes without somebody continually to follow them.” Dr. McSparran records in his diary how he was obliged to whip his negroes and how even his wife, "my poor passionate dear,” gave them a lash or two. On the other hand in many instances the devotion of negro servants to their masters, mistresses, and the children of the family is well attested, and many were freed for their continued good service and faithful loyalty.
They had their pleasures, were fond of dancing and music, attained considerable skill as dancing masters and players on the fiddle and French horn and in South Carolina were even allowed to carry guns and hunt provided their masters obtained tickets or licenses for them.
The field hands suffered from their condition more than did those who served on the place or in the house. The work which they had to do was heavier and more exhausting, and the treatment which they received was far less kindly and considerate. For the cruelty to negroes the overseers were largely responsible, though the planters themselves were not exempt from blame. In the case of a master murdered by his slaves, the opinion was widely expressed that, as he had shown no mercy to them, he could expect none himself. Whipping to death was a not uncommon punishment, and in one case an overseer and his assistant in Virginia were hanged for this offense as murder. A South Carolinian who killed a negro “in a sudden heat of passion” was fined fifty pounds, and Quincy reports that in the same colony, though to steal a negro was punishable by death, to kill him was only finable, no matter how wanton the act might be. Many illustrations could be given of cruel treatment-such as suspension over a sharpened peg in the floor as a means of extracting a secret, or scraping the back with a currycomb and rubbing salt into the wounds, a procedure known as “pickling" - but the list is too long and harrowing. It is recorded that a negro who took part in the New York uprising of 1712 was hanged alive in chains. A negro who committed arson or who killed another negro was ordinarily hanged and quartered. One who murdered his master or mistress was burned at the stake, for such murder was construed as petty treason. In Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and the West Indies negroes were burned alive for various crimes. In one South Carolina case, the negro who was burned had set fire to the town on a windy night. Negroes were castrated for rape; one for attempted assault on a white child was whipped around the town at a cart's tail; and another for a lesser crime was sentenced to be “whipped and pickled around Charles Town square.” .
Negroes were almost as frequent runaways as were the convicts and indentured servants. If they resisted when caught, they (in South Carolina at least) might be shot about the breech with
small or swan shot. They were put in jail with felons and debtors or in the workhouse, where they were “corrected” at fifteen shillings a week and returned to their masters. They frequently fled to the back country or attempted to escape to sea by passing themselves off to the captains of ships as free negroes.
Miscegenation was probably very common. Instances of white women giving birth to black children, and of white men living with colored women are rare but nevertheless are occasionally met with. Joseph Pendarvis of Charleston left his property to his children by a negro woman, Parthenia, “who had lived with him for many years,” and the will may be seen today among the records of the probate court of Charleston. Indeed so scandalous did such illicit intercourse become in South Carolina, that the grand jury of 1743 presented the "too common practice of criminal conversation with negro and other slave wenches as an enormity and evil of general ill-consequence," and Quincy bears witness to the prevalence of this practice when he says that it was "far from uncommon to see a gentleman at dinner and his reputed offspring a slave to the master of the table.”