What was it like to live in bondage? The experiences of slaves in captivity varied greatly. Indeed, Puritan merchants and Southern planters have as much in common as their slaves. The type of life slaves could expect to live depended first and foremost on whether they lived on farms or in towns.
The first image that comes to mind when considering chattel slavery is plantation life. Of course the cultivation of the planter's crop was the priority. Beyond these duties, slaves might also be expected to clear land, build a fence, or perform other odd jobs as the circumstances might dictate. Larger plantations usually brought harsher working conditions. Overseers might be assigned to monitor the work. As they had little connection to the slave, they tended to treat the slaves more brutally. Sometimes a slave, called a driver, would be enticed into holding this position. Accordingly, drivers were hated in the slave community. Living quarters were small and spartan, and food usually consisted of a few morsels of meat and bread.
Large plantations might also have household slaves. These domestic servants would prepare the master's meals, tend the house, prepare for guests, and sometimes look after the master's children. Household slaves often were treated better than plantation slaves. They usually ate better and were in some cases considered part of the extended family.
Slaves that lived on smaller farms often enjoyed closer relations with their masters than plantation slaves. It stands to reason that a farmer working side by side with four slaves might develop closer bonds than a planter who owns four hundred. This sometimes, but not always, led to kinder treatment.
Some urban merchants and artisans employed slave labor in their shops. This enabled slaves to acquire marketable skills. In fact, white craftsmen often displayed strong resentment, believing the price of their labor would suffer. Generally, slaves that lived in towns had greater freedom than those that lived on the farm. They met more people and became more worldly. Daring individuals sometimes took the opportunity to escape.