Slavery Life and Conditions as a Result of a Changing Environment

This blog aims to examine the harsh working conditions experienced by workers as a result of their changing environment. This entry in particular will tackle the harsh laboring conditions of slaves, more specifically as it relates to picking cotton in the United States. As well as how these slaves were subjected to such devastating condition as they relate to the ever-changing environment, from a variety of different perspectives.

This blog will also specify the specific timeline for when this change in environment occurred as well as why it came to be. Before I take a deeper look into why these slaves experienced such hardship, we must compartmentalize the factors that directly effect their environment. The environment can be broken down into social and economic factors that act as catalysts for changing the environment. These variables act in a way that negatively impacted many people, but in this case, we will be examining how these factors affected slaves in the southern United States in the 1800’s.

How Slavery Came to be

A good starting point for this analysis would be how these slaves ended up where they did. This answer stems from both economic and social driving forces that created a sense of acceptance among the culture of slavery. African slavery did not make its way over to the United States until the late 17th century. Due to an overpopulation of slaves in the sugarcane region of the Barbados, planters in the newly established colonies of the Americas were able to use the labor. This would only be the beginning of a long journey for African Americans in the New World. Aside from the implementation of slavery, there was a wide range of factors that led to the justification of slavery in the minds of plantation owners.

As the years progressed, continual economic growth and development from implementing slave labor created widespread implementation of slavery in the United States. From an economic standpoint, slavery was the most viable option for labor during this time period. The economy of these plantations were extremely reliant on the use of slave labor to harvest crops. Crops such as tobacco, indigo, and most notably cotton, helped to stimulate the economy. Implementing slavery into the harvesting of these crops only cut down cost and increased productivity, making plantation owners very wealthy.  Along with this enormous growth in profit came with it a growing sense of immorality. That will be detailed in this upcoming section.

From a social perspective, the idea of slavery was not seen as immoral in the eyes of plantation owners, as well as the southern United States. The main driving force for the social acceptance of widespread enslavement was the work of powerful governments. The policies enacted by the federal and local governments degraded the rights of people of color, bringing along with it a collective toleration for these policies, making it seem like the right thing to do. Much like how a child’s upbringing, the American people learn by example and from directly from their environment. Being shown and taught that slavery enacted a credence that much like the analogy of child rearing, will actually be passed down from generation to generation. This upcoming section will aim to take a deeper look into the specific treatment and conditions that African Americans had to endure as a result of the environmental changes previously outlined in this blog.

Moral Priorities: ‘If we free slaves, who will pick cotton in the fields?’ – David McElroy

Living in a World of Hell

When one thinks about slavery, one of the first things that comes to mind is whipping. Whipping was a tactic used in order to curb certain behaviors perpetrated by slaves. If they were not working to full capacity, slaves were taken to the whipping post and given lashes. Lacerations and gashes covered the backs of these slaves as they would bleed. These strikingly noticeable wounds would serve as warnings to the other slaves on the plantation. In addition to whipping, some ancillary punishments from slave owners consisted of shackling, starvation, solitary confinement, and even torture. These methods of punishment were both cruel and inhumane. This picture below is one of the most famous representations of the severity of whipping.

This famous photograph is known as the “Scourged Back”

Aside from the looming possibility of torture, daily conditions for these slaves made their world a living hell. Normally the work day consisted of working from sunrise to sunset, with limited food and limited breaks. Back breaking labor accompanied with a hot and muggy climate brought the comparison of Hell even closer to reality. The Narrative of Frederick Douglass provides a first hand account of the daily life experienced by slaves during the 1800’s. After the long hours of laboring in the fields, the slaves struggled to find time to sleep. Douglass wrote in his narrative that: “Very many of their sleeping hours are consumed in preparing for the field the coming day; and when this is done, old and young, male and female, married and single, drop down side by side, on one common bed, the cold, damp floor, each covering himself or herself with their miserable blankets; and here they sleep till they are summoned to the field by the driver’s horn.” These conditions are not humane by any stretch of the imagination. Slaves had to deal with abusive environments without any free will. This environment was created as a result of political, environmental, and societal factors that created a world in which a group of people were enslaved as a result of the color of their skin. Luckily we live in a world today where no such thing exists, however, we should take a look at the environmental history in order to learn from our previous generations.



  • McElroy, David. Moral Priorities: ‘If we free slaves, who will pick cotton in the fields?’. Blog. David McElroy. Accessed November 16th, 2017.
  • Goodyear III, Frank H. The Scourged Back: How Runaway Slave and Soldier Private Gordon Changed History. Article. America’s Black Holocaust Museum. Accessed November 16th, 2017.
  • Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Book. Library of UNC. Accessed November 16th, 2017.

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