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Database: Plantation Life

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Life on the Saint-Domingue plantations was harsh. Slaves were tortured, violated, starved, made to live in shacks, and exhausted of all their energy. Everywhere, on all plantations, domestic slaves catered to every need of their masters and overseers, and worked when they were told, despite what the Code Noir dictated.

The lash–both its image and sound–was perhaps the most common memory of plantation life. Lashing was a very common form of punishment, used to force and threaten slaves into doing work. They were also cajoled with food, clothing and rest, as incentives, and were sometimes given the freedom to raise their own livestock and crops. That being said, the conditions on the sugar plantations were brutal. During the eight-month sugar harvest, slaves were expected to work long hours until all the work was done, including on Sundays, which the Code Noir specifically set aside as a day of rest. Slaves collapsed from exhaustion regularly and sometimes got into horrible accidents with the primitive machinery used on the plantations. Slaves were considered to be pieces of property, and were generally labeled as 'unskilled', though many slaves were skilled masons, metalworkers, coopers, cooks, seamstresses, and nurses.

Personal violations were also used as a method of control. Slaves were often relocated to other plantations without warning and were separated from friends, family members, and children. Many slaves were also raped.

None of this stopped the enslaved people from starting families and having social lives on the plantations. Friends and family units were created in the barracks, and children were reared and taught the dangers and risks of the harsh life they were brought into. These barracks were the focal point for developing slave communities. Religion also played a major part. Faith offered the slaves a form of escapism from their harsh lives and masters. Sometimes religious scripture was used as a code among its followers, sparking more hope and sometimes rebellion. As dark as these times were, there was still a spark of hope among the people.

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