In 1700 to 1740 and estimated number of 43,000 Blacks was imported into Virginia, and almost all but 4,000 were imported directly from Africa.
For most of the seventeenth and part of the eighteenth centuries, male slaves outnumbered female slaves. Making the two groups’ experiences in the colonies distinct. Working in a wide range of circumstances and regions, Black American women and men encountered diverse experiences of enslavement.
The Igbo people (ethnic group of southern Nigeria) represented one group of people brought to Chesapeake, Virginia, but in general Africans came from an extremely diverse range of cultural backgrounds. All came from worlds where women’s communities were strong.
Living both female and black , enslaved women faced racism, variety of chores, and sexism.
Early on, slaves in the South worked primarily in agriculture, on farms and plantations growing indigo, rice, and tobacco; cotton became a major crop after the 1790s. Female slaves worked in a wide variety of capacities. They were expected to do field work as well as have children. Although field work was traditionally considered to be “men work” different estimates conclude that between 63-80 percent of enslaved women worked in the fields.
Enslaved women were given to European white American women as gifts from their husbands, as wedding and Christmas gifts
Enslaved women provided labor in the fields, planting, but they worked mainly do menial and servile task: in the kitchen cooking and baking, polishing the white family silver and furniture, helping with clothes and hair, getting the bath ready, barbered the men, sweeping, emptying chamber pot, carrying a gallon of water a day, washing dishes, brewing, looking after the young children as well as their own, nursing, caring for the elderly, milking the cows, feeding the chickens, Knitting, carding, sewing, and laundering.
Young enslaved girls generally started working well before boys, with many working before the age seven. Little girls were frequently sold away from their mothers. The mother and daughter relationship was often the most enduring and cherished within the Black American complex of relationship.
In the Antebellum period:
“In Marion County, north of St. Louis, a slave trader bought three young children from an owner, but the children mother killed them all and herself rather than let them be taken away. A St. Louis trader took a crying baby from its mother, both on their way to be sold, and made a gift of it to a white woman standing nearby because its noise was brothering him.”
Young slave girls often worked within the domestic sphere, providing household help. European American families sought the help of young slave girl as an all purpose tool in their family life.
In 1854 Georgia was the first and only state to pass a law that put condition of sales that separated mothers and their children. Children under five could not be sold away from their mothers, “unless such division cannot in anywise be effected without such separation.”
Many enslaved women were object of severe sexual exploitation on slave plantations. European American men typically characterized all black women as passionately sexual, and portrayed as Jezebel characters, to justify their sexual abuse and miscegenation. Female slaves were force by their masters into sexual relationships with enslaved men for the purpose of force breeding. It was also not uncommon for enslaved women to be raped and in some cases impregnated by their masters.
Enslaved black women often bearing the child of their European American masters, their master’s sons, or the overseers. Black women were prohibited from defending themselves against any type of abuse, including sexual, at the hands of European American men. If a slave attempted to defend herself, she was often subjected to further beatings from the master or even the mistress.
The black female woman or child, was forced into sexual relationships for the European American slave master’s pleasure and profit; attempted to keep the slave population growing by his own doing , and not by importing more Blacks from Africa.
Some European American mistress did not approval in their husbands having sex with enslaved women and having an illegitimate child, having an mulatto child on the plantation often showed adultery. European American women would sell the mix-race child away from his/her mother, or kill the illegitimate child. Black women would endure harsh treatment after the mistress find out what her husband had done.
Even Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826),United States 3rd president and a founding father, is believed to have fathered six mix-race children (four survived to adulthood) with one of his female slaves, Sarah “Sally” Hemings (c. 1773 – 1835). Hemings served as Jefferson concubine for more than two decades.
Enslaved Black women worked hard under poor living conditions and malnutrition. As a result of heavy work, poor housing conditions, and inadequate diet, the average black woman did not live past forty.