top of page

Treatment of Slaves: Labor Conditions


                 According to abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld, Lemuel Sapington had been born in Maryland and was a slave trader in southern Virginia. He had since given up the slave trading business and moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Weld was quoting from a letter from Sapington dated January 21, 1839.





                 I was born in Maryland, afterwards moved to Virginia, where I commenced the business of farming and trafficking in slaves. . . .


                 Pursuing my assumed right of driving souls, I went to the Southern part of Virginia for the purpose of trafficking in slaves. In that part of the state, the cruelties practised upon the slaves, are far greater than where I lived. The punishments there often resulted in death to the slave. There was no law for the negro, but that of the overseer's whip. In that part of the country, the slaves receive nothing for food, but corn in the ear, which has to be prepared for baking after working hours, by grinding it with a hand-mill. This they take to the fields with them, and prepare it for eating, by holding it on their hoes, over a fire made by a stump. Among the gangs, are often young women, who bring their children to the fields, and lay them in a fence corner, while they are at work, only being permitted to nurse them at the option of the overseer. When a child is three weeks old, a woman is considered in working order. I have seen a woman, with her young child strapped to her back, laboring the whole day, beside a man, perhaps the father of the child, and he not being permitted to give her any assistance, himself being under the whip. The uncommon humanity of the driver allowing her the comfort of doing so.



From Theodore Dwight Weld, American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (New York: American Antislavery Society, 1839), 49.


bottom of page