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Digital Archive: Slavery & Emancipation in the Mountain South: Evidence, Sources, & Methods

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Images of Enslaved Appalachian Children

   Children in Cotton Ginning  This small plantation was maximizing labor through an organized cotton ginning party to which adjacent masters sent their slaves. When the work was complete, slave women served everyone a large dinner, and they danced when permitted. Note the young girl int he right foreground. Children as young as 5 to 8 were used pick seed and debris from the  cotton right before it was dumped into the gin.

  Child Labor at an Inn  This slave woman operated her owner's small inn that served rafts and boats on the Tennessee River outside Chattanooga. Note the young child at the table who is helping to prepare food for the inn's guests.

  Child Labor in Tobacco Processing   Some plantations processed their own tobacco for export. These slaves are dipping tobacco to prepare it for pressing and formation into plugs. This type of work exposed slaves, including children and pregnant women, to dangerous chemicals that caused lung infections and intestinal ailments.  Note the young girl int he left foreground.

  Children being sold away from families  This east Kentucky slaveholder was migrating westward, so he sold off 23 slaves at public auction in Lexington. Only one of the adults is being sold with her child. Note that 17 children younger than twenty are being sold separate from their parents. When they were interviewed in the 1930s, many of the Appalachian ex-slaves said they had been sold away from parents during childhood.  Source: Coleman Papers, University of Kentucky

  Children in a New River Slave Coffle  The Southern Mountains lay at the geographical heart of the domestic slave trade, so slave coffles were a common sight in Appalachian counties. This coffle had camped for the night, waiting to cross the New River in southwest Virginia. Note the great number of children who are being exported away from family and kin.

  Children in a Tobacco Manufactory   Because they profited less from their field labor, Appalachian masters hired out a higher proportion of their slaves than did Lower South plantations. For example, mountain Virginia masters hired out surplus slaves to tobacco manufactories, like this one in Lynchburg. Note that several youngsters are employed at this factory.

  Children exposed to dangerous health risks This slave quarter had a well, avoiding the scarcity of safe water that placed so many black Appalachians at risk. Several depicted sanitation problems caused higher mortality rates among slaves on small mountain plantations. Children crawled and played barefoot in the same yard where pigs, dogs, and chickens wandered. In the absence of privies, human excrement was used to fertilize slave gardens. These cabins, like most mountain slave dwellings, had dirt floors, a single window, and root cellars. The cabins were constructed close together, facilitating the rapid spread of infectious diseases. Note the barefoot children who were being exposed to tapeworms and other parasites. Also note that children are crawling and playing on the ground where dogs, chickens, goats and pigs are roaming loose. Such conditions contributed to the high death rate of Appalachian slave children.

  Boys fishing to secure protein  Until old enough to fish, as these boys are doing on the northern Georgia's Chattahoochee River, Appalachian slave children received little meat and inadequate protein in their diets. Malnutrition and the resultant chronic illnesses accounted for high child mortality rates on small Appalachian plantations.

  Young children at work in the owner's house  Until they were old enough for field work, youngsters were put to work at all kinds of unskilled tasks on small plantations. Working in the Big House kept children away from their families much of the time and denied them the parental discipline and support of their fathers.

  Child care by elderly females  Due to attenuated breastfeeding, malnutrition, and inadequate child care, one-half of all Appalachian slave children died before age ten. Elderly slaves, like this Rockbridge County, Virginia woman, tended large groups of children while mothers worked in the fields or were hired out.

   Young girls at work in the owner's house  Until they were old enough to work in the fields, young Appalachian slave girls worked in the master's house. Their exposure to white males led to a high incidence of pre-teen sexual abuse by whites. In addition, some girls were trained to be nursemaids or wet nurses. In those adult roles, they would spend their lives tending white children, weaning their own offspring too young and leaving them without adequate child care.

  Sale of a slave child  To produce surplus slave laborers for export to the Lower South, Appalachian slaveholders engaged in reproductive exploitation in several forms. In addition to a high child mortality rate, mothers endured the horrors of having one of every three of their children sold away before age fifteen.

  Children learning from the Story Teller  Following the African tradition of the griot, older Appalachian slaves told stories that preserved distinctive slave culture, mocked white character flaws, and idealized the black resistant spirit. Note the presence of youngsters who are learning African cultural traditions and oral histories about the lost members of their families and their community who have been sold or removed by owners.