In the South, most slaves worked on cotton, tobacco, and rice plantations. Slaves also worked in Louisiana’s salt mines, rope factories in Kentucky, the iron factories of Virginia, and the North Carolina cotton mills. In the North, the slaves worked in cities, on farms, and on ships.
On plantations, field slaves (or field hands, as they were also known) did the hardest and most physically exhausting work. For fifteen or sixteen hours every day, they raised crops, herded cattle, and slaughtered animals.
On many cotton plantations, slaves were required to pick 250 pounds a day, and were frequently whipped if they picked less. After sundown, the slaves still had to perform other chores, such as cutting wood and feeding the animals, before they could return to their quarters.
On the next level in the slave hierarchy were house slaves and skilled slave laborers, who kept the master’s household running smoothly. They lived in or near the “big house,” where the master’s family lived. Working as a house slave was considered an honor.
House slaves wore uniforms or the white family’s discarded clothing. The most important house slave was the butler, because he supervised all the male house servants. His wife usually supervised all the female house servants.
Other house slaves included waiters, gardeners, and carriage drivers.