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February 14, 2009

As noted in the earlier post, the diet of slaves varied widely depending on where they lived, the type of plantation they lived on, and even the years they lived. Here are some excerpts from books written by former slaves detailing their diets.

“The food of the slave is this: Every Saturday night they receive two pounds of bacon, and one peck and a half of corn meal, to last the men through the week. The women have one half pound of meat, and one peck of meal, and the children one half peck each. When this is gone, they can have no more till the end of the week. This is very little food for the slaves. They have to beg when they can; when they cannot, they must suffer. They are not allowed to go off the plantation; if they do, and are caught, they are whipped very severely, and what they have begged is taken from them.”
—Peter Randolph, Sketches Of Slave Life: Or,Illustrations
Of The ‘Peculiar Institution.’
Boston: published for the author, 1855.

“Slaves every Monday morning have a certain quantity of Indian corn handed out to them; this they grind with a handmill, and boil or use the meal as they like. The adult slaves have one salt herring allowed for breakfast, during the winter time. The breakfast hour is usually from ten to eleven o’clock. The dinner consists generally of black-eyed peas soup, as it is called. About a quart of peas is boiled in a large pan, and a small piece of meat, just to flavour the soup, is put into the pan. The next day it would be bean soup, and another day it would be Indian meal broth. The dinner hour is about two or three o’clock; the soup being served out to the men and women in bowls; but the children feed like pigs out of troughs, and being supplied sparingly, invariably fight and quarrel with one another over their meals.”
—Francis Fredric, Slave Life in Virginia and Kentucky; or, Fifty Years of Slavery in the Southern States of America. London: Wertheim, Macintosh, and Hunt, 1863.

“The supply of food given out to the slaves, was one peck of corn a week, or some equivalent, and nothing besides. They must grind their own corn, after the work of the day was performed, at a mill which stood on the plantation. We had to eat our coarse bread without meat, or butter, or milk. Severe labor alone gave us an appetite for our scanty and unpalatable fare. Many of the slaves were so hungry after their excessive toil, that they were compelled to steal food in addition to this allowance.
During the planting and harvest season, we had to work early and late. The men and women were called at three o’clock in the morning, and were worked on the plantation till it was dark at night. After that they must prepare their food for supper and for the breakfast of the next day, and attend to other duties of their own dear homes. Parents would often have to work for their children at home, aftereach day’s protracted toil, till the middle of the night, and then snatch a few hours’ sleep, to get strength for the heavy burdens of the next day. “
—Thomas H. Jones, The Experience Of Thomas H. Jones, Who Was A Slave For Forty-three Years. Boston: Bazin & Chandler, 1862.

“The slaves got their allowance every Monday night of molasses, meat, corn meal, and a kind of flour called “dredgings” or “shorts.” Perhaps this allowance would be gone before the next Monday night, in which case the slaves would steal hogs and chickens. Then would come the whipping-post. Master himself never whipped his slaves; this was left to the overseer.

We children had no supper, and only a little piece of bread or something of the kind in the morning. Our dishes consisted of one wooden bowl, and oyster shells were our spoons. This bowl served for about fifteen children, and often the dogs and the ducks and the peafowl had a dip in it. Sometimes we had buttermilk and bread in our bowl, sometimes greens or bones.”
—Annie L. Burton, Memories of Childhood’s Slavery Days. Boston: Ross Publishing Company, 1909.


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