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'Miserable, desolate and discouraging': is this an accurate description of slave life?

Montage of images showing Africans being sold into slavery, adverts for slave auctions and the pursuit of runaway slaves in Barbados.

Montage of images showing Africans being sold into slavery, adverts for slave auctions and the pursuit of runaway slaves in Barbados.

 

Booker T Washington, an American ex-slave who became a leading figure in black education, stated in his autobiography that his life began in "the midst of the most miserable, desolate and discouraging surroundings." Most slaves would not only have agreed with this but gone on to say that all their life could be described in the same way.

Defenders of slavery argued that the slaves had a good standard of life: they were well-fed, clothed, housed and treated well. It did not make financial sense to treat slaves badly as the owners would lose money. This was disputed by those who wanted to end slavery. They pointed out that the average life expectancy of a slave arriving in the West Indies was just seven years. Reports of cruelty and abuse were common and many slaves made complaints against their masters.

How bad was slave life? It is correct to describe it as 'miserable, desolate and discouraging'? It is your job to find out. Use the sources and information to help you in your investigation.

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