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The kind of work a slave did depended on where he/she ended up. In the Chesapeake region, for instance, Africans cut and burned brush, split rails, and built fences with axes and hatchets. They cut down trees and squared logs. They were wheelwrights, carpenters, shingle cutters, boat builders, cabinetmakers, and barrel makers. They built wagons, worked as blacksmiths, made saddles and harnesses. In South Carolina they built dugout canoes and boats that carried rice to Charleston. A law there required all slaves to work as ditch diggers when the growing season was over. Slaves built roads and dug waterways. In North Carolina slaves made tar and pitch from pinecones for use on English boats. In Georgia, black slaves wove fishing nets and were shrimpers. In Africa they had killed and eaten crocodiles, so they knew how to deal with alligators in the South. The women worked in the fields and as house servants. They cared for and nursed white children. They did the gardening, cooking, cleaning, washing, mending and all the minutiae of housekeeping.
2. "Why am I a slave? I will run away. I will not stand it. Get caught or get clear. I'll try it.... I have only one life to lose. I had as well be killed running as die standing....It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave." The famous ex-slave Frederick Douglas wrote of thinking this, and probably this was the reasoning of many slaves, whether they tried to run away or not. Running away was an overt and extreme form of resistance. Most slaves who tried to run got caught, and the punishment was severe, sometimes even death.
Most resistance was limited to resistance against the worst, most unendurable aspects of slavery but didn't result in freedom. Frederick Douglas, for instance, resisted slavery by refusing to be whipped. His master, Covey, called other slaves to help, but Douglas fought them all off and won. He wasn't beaten again. Resisting helped the slave to feel he had some control over himself, that he was not a perpetual helpless victim but a human being. Some slaves stole food because they were not given enough to eat. Women sometimes kicked and clawed their sexual abusers. "Besides stealing, they burned gin houses, barns, corncribs, and smokehouses. Some slaves used poison or physical force to kill their masters"(Kelley & Lewis, 2000, p. 193).
The owners were always afraid of rebellion. In fact, their greatest fear was that the slaves would rise up against them. They created slave patrols to guard against slave insurrection. When slaves ran away, the patrols hunted them down with dogs. Slaves needed passes to go anywhere, and the slave patrols checked if they had them. They were brutal because they had permission from the owners to beat any slaves they found, even on little or no pretext. The slaves resisted the patrol system. They got other slaves who knew how to write passes for them. They hid runaways in their cabins, and laid traps for the patrollers' horses. The consequences for resistance could be terrible. A runaway slave who was caught by the patrol, for example, was likely to be attacked by vicious dogs. Aunt Cheyney, a runaway slave in Mississippi, was felled this way. An eye witness said, "The dogs tore her naked and et the breasts plumb off her body"(p. 194). This example sent an ugly message to other women.
Despite the possibility of severe punishment or even death, slaves did run away and sometimes were successful. Some of them were quite creative. Henry "Box" Brown, for instance, mailed himself up north in a box that was three feet long and two feet deep. The trip to Philadelphia lasted twenty-four hours, but then he was free. Harriet Tubman escaped successfully and then came back, not once, but many times to rescue others. The slave owners would like to have caught her. They offered $40,000 for her capture.
Pretending to be sick was a good way to avoid nasty work, especially for women who could claim they had "woman" troubles. Somewomen also practiced truancy. They couldn't leave permanently because they had children they couldn't leave behind. They couldn't take children with them because an escape was impossible with kids along. So they left for temporary periods. They hid in the[continue]
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