The life of a “typical” woman plantation slave was one that is somewhat troubling to think about. These women were forced to leave their homes and their families to become the property of a plantation owner who, for the rest of their lives, dictated what these women were to do. These women had to adjust to many different and new things. When a new slave woman arrived, she spent the majority of her time learning the native tongue, learning the new agriculture, and adjusting to the difference in the climate. (Berkin, p. 62). In learning these new things, they also had to learn to be totally submissive to their masters in body and mind or they suffered abuse and this abuse included sexual abuse as well. In order to fully understand the life of a “typical” woman plantation slave, it is important to know where she came from, the type of work she does, what her relationships are, and how she copes with her lifestyle.
In the late seventeenth century, the importation of Africans from the coastal regions of Africa begins. (Evans p. 27) This proves to be an asset for plantation owners as African women were known for their abilities in agriculture and, therefore, their expertise at planting and cultivating could be put to use
Plantation masters dictated to enslaved women how their time was to be spent. In spite of the refusal of southern law to recognize the legality of slave marriages, most slaves married and lived with the same spouse until death, and most slave children grew up in two-parent households. Men and women were both put to work in the fields at the discretion of their masters. Despite the frequent breakup of families by sale, slaves managed to forge strong and durable family ties. Slave marriages and family ties were not recognized by American law. 90) This was known as forced breeding and another form of sexual abuse. Women plantation slaves worked in various jobs under various conditions. This could be viewed as resistance to enslavement but the more easily seen resistance to enslavement were things such as rebellion, suicide, murder, escape, self-mutilation, disobedience, arson, feigned illnesses, and feigned stupidity. Later on when plantation owners began using the plow instead of the hoe, the men were responsible for doing the more skilled labor such as plowing and the women were left in the fields to hoe what could not be done with the plow or to transport harvested grain from the fields to the barns on their backs. Some slave women were fortunate enough to work in the house where the work demands were just as heavy as those in the fields but the work itself was not as strenuous. Of all the threats to slave family life, one of the most terrible was the sexual abuse of slave women. Any owner was free to sell husbands from wives, parents from children, and brothers from sisters. Since enslaved women were not protected by the law because the rape of a slave wasn"tmt recognized legally as rape, these women had no access to legal recourse in the event of a rape.