Slavery In US
Cruelty can be defined as an inhumane action done to an individual or
group of people that causes either physical or mental harm. Slavery, at its very
core, was a cruel and inhumane institution. From the idea behind it to the way
that it was enforced, it degraded the lives of human beings and forbade the
basic liberties that every man deserves under the Constitution of the United

States. Three major areas where cruelty was especially prevalent were in the
slaves working conditions, living conditions, and loss of fundamental freedoms.

Working conditions for slaves were about as bad as can possibly be imagined.

Slaves worked from dawn till dusk and sometimes even longer. Solomon Northrup
describes his experience as a slave on his Louisiana plantation: The hands are
required to be in the cotton field as soon as it is light in the morning and
with the exception of ten or fifteen minutes, which is given them at noon to
swallow their allowance of cold bacon, they are not permitted a moment idle
until it is too dark to see, and when the moon is full, they often times labor
till the middle of the night (Northrup 15). The slaves lived in constant fear of
punishment while at work, and it was that fear that drove them to obey. Northrup
continues to say that, "No matter how fatigued and weary he may be...a slave
never approaches the gin-house with his basket of cotton but with fear. If it
falls short in weight—if he has not performed the full task appointed him, he
knows he must suffer" (10). He goes on to explain that after weighing,

"follow the whippings" (10). This was not the end of the workday for a
common slave though. Each slave had his or her own respective chores to do.

"One feeds the mules, another the swine—another cuts the wood, and so forth
(Northrop 11). Then there were jobs to do in the slaves’ quarters, jobs that
were necessary for their basic needs and survival: Finally, at a late hour, they
reach the quarters, sleepy and overcome with the long day’s toil. Then a fire
must be kindled in the cabin, the corn ground in the small hand-mill, and
supper, and dinner for the next day in the field prepared (Northrup 12). The
slaves got very little sleep because, "an hour before day light the horn is
blown," and it was "an offense invariably followed by flogging, to be found
at the quarters after daybreak" (Northrup 14). "Then the fears and labors of
another day begin; and until its close there is no such thing as rest..." (Northrup

14). After an extremely difficult day of labor, the cruelty continued when the
slaves returned to housing that could be described as "inadequate" at best.

Jacob Stroyer, one of fifteen children, was born on a plantation in South

Carolina in 1849. He relates the conditions that his family lived in: Most of
the cabins in the time of slavery were built so as to contain two families; some
had partitions, while others had none. When there were no partitions each family
would fit up its own part as it could; sometimes they got old boards and nailed
them up, stuffing the cracks with rags; when they could not get boards they hung
up old clothes (Stroyer 14). Families were forced to live under less than ideal
conditions, and sleeping was a challenge: When the family increased the children
all slept together, both boys and girls, until one got married; then a part of
another cabin was assigned to that one, but the rest would have to remain with
their mother and father, as in childhood, unless they could get with some of
their relatives or friends who had small families, or unless they were sold (Stroyer

14). The hot summer months made it impossible to sleep indoors so, "when it
was too warm for them to sleep comfortably, they all slept under trees until it
grew too cold" (Stroyer 16). Francis Henderson was another slave who, after
escaping from a slave plantation outside of Washington, D.C. at the age of 19,
described living conditions on his plantation: Our houses were but log huts- -
the tops partly open- - ground floor- - rain would come through. My aunt was
quite an old woman, and had been sick several years; in rains I have seen her
moving from one part of the house to the other, and rolling her bedclothes about
to try to keep dry- - everything would be dirty