12. Daily life often included resistance to enslavement
On the large Virginia plantations the enslaved workers used numerous techniques to resist their situation. Most, but by no means all, of the resistance took place among the field hands and laborers. The artisans, craftsmen, house workers, and others occupied places within the plantation hierarchy which precluded them from the gatherings in which organized resistance was planned among the slaves. Resistance included a refusal to work, or working very slowly. Those in positions in which their production was closely monitored, and who failed to perform to their supervisor’s satisfaction, were quickly replaced. Other means of resistance included the deliberate damaging or destruction of tools. The enslaved laborers who resisted were dealt with first by the overseers, and ultimately by the plantation managers or owners themselves. Punishments could be harsh, and often were.
Whippings of enslaved workers were often performed publicly, with the others of the enslaved community informed of the crime, witnessing the punishment. Crimes against other enslaved workers were also dealt with by the enslavers. Crimes such as theft and assault were relatively common in the enslaved communities, and the punishments were determined by the owners, until some were codified by Virginia law. Murders were resolved by the transgressor being handed over to the local magistrates, and usually resulted in the perpetrator being hanged. Slaveowners dealt with resistant slaves in a variety of ways, including selling them, usually to slaveowners in the expanding states of the Deep South. Running away to escape enslavement was a form of resistance which occurred throughout the antebellum period, and numerous laws regarding the recovery of escaping slaves became one of the many causes of the eventual Civil War.