The anguished faces of child slavery: Harrowing images show the
hardship and destitution of young plantation workers even AFTER
they were emancipated
- Images offer an insight into the lives of enslaved toddlers in the US, some of whom were forced to toil in fields
- The collection of photographs show infant children working on the plantations with their fathers and mothers
- By 1860, it is estimated more than 2million slaves in America were under 20 and not considered legal persons
- Tragically, even after the kids were liberated, many of the children’s impoverished lives did not change at all
These harrowing photographs reveal the anguished faces of African American slave children in the 1800s and the hardship they suffered even after they were emancipated.
The images offer an insight into the lives of enslaved children in the United States – some of whom were forced to toil in fields when they were just toddlers.
The collection of photographs show infant children working on the plantations with their fathers and mothers, who would be forced to effectively hand over their newborns to ensure they were back to work within days of giving birth.
Enslaved children can be seen posing in torn clothes for the camera and three African-American boys are seen sat amongst the wreckage of the Civil War.
By 1860, it is estimated that more than two million slaves in America were under the age of 20 and even in infancy, slaves were viewed by their masters and by society as a whole as monetary assets – not legal persons.
Tragically, even after they were liberated, many of the children’s impoverished lives did not change as they continued to carry out the same tasks as they were forced to as slaves – sometimes even on the same plantations – but this time as workers.
Freed African-Americans stand in front of their homes that are still the same slave quarters on a white man’s plantation in Saint Helena Island, South Carolina. The picture, which features a barefoot child in the foreground and a man with a cane in the background, is understood to have been taken in 1863
An undated rare photograph (left) of what is thought to be two children who had been liberated from slavery in around 1870. On the right, another African-American child sits on a chair with an unimpressed expression on her face. It is not known whether or not the girl is a slave, but it is thought the picture was taken in Alabama around 1856
Children and their families – all freed African-Americans – continue to work on a plantation, doing exactly the same work they did as slaves, despite being liberated. This picture was taken in Saint Helena Island, South Carolina around 1863
Two African American boys from North Carolina, circa 1864. The two young boys (left) were photographed in New Berne, a city that was captured early on in the Civil War by Union soldiers. The picture was likely taken by a photographer sympathetic to the Union cause and the children would have been born into slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation and the subsequent 13th amendment banning slavery would have changed the course of these boys lives. Right are a brother and sister, former slaves, holding hands and wearing ripped and torn clothing. They were owned by Thomas White of Mathews County, Virginia, until Captain Riley, 6th USOI, turned them over to the Society of Friends to educate at the Orphan’s Shelter in Philadelphia. The photograph is entitled ‘As we found them’
A family of slaves in a field in Georgia in a picture taken around 1850. By 1860, it is estimated that over two million slaves in America were under the age of twenty. Even in infancy, slaves were viewed by their masters and by society as a whole as monetary assets – not legal people in their own right
Mothers, who gave birth to children on the plantations, were expected to return to work as soon as possible and child slaves would not automatically live with their mothers in their traditional families.
Limited, cramped conditions and the lack of state recognition of slave marriage often led to children being placed with adults other than their parents or being sent to sleep on a mat in the master’s house.
Since slave children were not fully functional workers, they were given smaller rations than adults and sometimes not even given clothes.
It appears not to have been an unusual sight to see naked children on the plantation and even when clothing was provided, it was rarely replaced as they got older.
Ages at which slaves were put to work varied between plantations, but toddlers were known to be sent to the fields alongside their mothers.
A family on Smith’s Plantation in Beaufort, South Carolina, back in 1862. Mothers, like the one pictured left, who gave birth to children on the plantations, were expected to return to work as soon as possible and child slaves were sometimes separated from their families. Limited, cramped conditions and the lack of state recognition of slave marriage often led to children being placed with adults other than their parents or being sent to sleep on a mat in the master’s house
A boy holding two buckets (left) in Florida, USA, in a picture taken circa 1870. Despite slavery being abolished in Florida in 1865, many black people would still have done much the same tasks as before. On the right, two other African-American boys from Hannibal, Missouri, pose in a photographer’s studio around 1865. The two boys would likely have been freed slaves. Missouri, a border state, was split between the Confederacy and the Union during the Civil War
Four child slaves sit amongst the wreckage of Charleston after the American Civil War had ravaged the city in South Carolina, in February 1865. That same month, the Confederate soldiers evacuated Charleston so the children may well be emancipated slaves
Two African American boys facing front in New York, circa 1865. The boys would have been free because of their proximity in New York state but it’s unclear whether they used to be slave
Portrait of Contraband Jackson, left, and Drummer Jackson, right. This picture was circulated by the Union army to encourage African-Americans to enlist. Drummer boy Jackson would have used up to 40 different beats to convey his commander’s orders to assemble for formation. Like many other drummers, he also served as a stretcher bearer
Five former slave children in 1860. Since slave children were not fully functional workers, they were given smaller rations than adults and sometimes not even given clothes. It appears not to have been an unusual sight to see naked children on the plantation and even when clothing was provided, it was rarely replaced as they got older
However more tragically, between 1820 and 1830 approximately 30 percent of all slave children born in the Upper South were immediately taken from their families and sold to the Deep South to work in the harsher climate on plantations.
With the upheaval of the American Civil War, many of these African-American children took the opportunity to escape their masters and travel long distances to be reconnected with their families again.
These images portray the brutal reality they faced from birth.