Southern History Series: Slavery Myths: Southern Slavery and Human Development

In light of Dr. Brittney Cooper’s accusations about racism and the health of black women in Trump’s America, I want to take a look back at what life was like for black women under slavery, which was presumably much more racist than our own times.

The following information comes from Robert Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman’s 1974 book Time on the Cross: The Economics of Negro Slavery:

Life Expectancy

Did you know that the typical slave born on a Southern plantation had a significantly longer life expectancy than the average free laborer in Northern and British cities?

U.S. White – 40
England and Wales, 1838-1856 – 40
Holland, 1850-1860 – 36
France, 1854-58 – 36
U.S. Slave – 36
Italy, 1885 – 35

Austria, 1875 – 31
Chile, 1920 – 31
Manchester, England, 1831 – 24
New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, 1830 – 24

Diet & Nutrition

Did you know that the typical slave on a Southern plantation was less obese and had a diet that was nutritionally superior to the modern African-American diet?

“The slave diet was not only adequate, it actually exceeded modern (1964) recommended levels of the chief nutrients. On average, slaves exceeded the daily recommended levels of proteins by 110 percent, calcium by 20 percent, and iron by 230 percent. Surprisingly, despite the absence of citrus fruits, slaves consumed two and one half times the recommended level of vitamin C. Indeed, because of the large consumption of sweet potatoes, their intake of vitamin A was at the therapeutic level and vitamin C was almost at that level.”


Did you know the typical slave on a Southern plantation lived in better and more hygienic housing that the typical White working class family in New York City in the 1890s?

“Comments of observers suggest that the most typical slave houses of the late antebellum period were cabins about eighteen by twenty feet …

As late as 1893, a survey of the housing of workers in New York City revealed that the median number of square feet of sleeping space per person was just thirty-five. In other words, the “typical” slave cabin of the late antebellum era probably contained more sleeping space per person than was available to most of New York City’s workers half a century later.”

The Family

Did you know that the typical slave on a Southern plantation was significantly more likely to live in a nuclear family than the modern African-American?

“Narratives collected from ex-slaves provide support for the prevalence of prudishness in the conduct of family life. “Dem’s moral times,” recollected Amos Lincoln, who was reared on a plantation in Louisiana. “A gal’s twenty-one before she marry. They didn’t go wanderin’ around all hours. They mammies know where they was. Folks nowadays is wild and weak …

That slave live pivoted around stable, nuclear families does not mean that the black family was merely a copy of the white family. No doubt the African heritage of blacks, as well as particular socioeconomic circumstances, resulted in characteristic which were, if restricted to, at least more frequent among black than white families. For example, various bits of evidence suggest that wives played a stronger role in black than white families.”

Infant Mortality

In 1850, there was little difference in infant morality among Southern slaves and Southern Whites:

“The infant death rate of southern whites in 1850 was 177 per thousand – virtually the same as the infant death rate as slaves.”


Slaves were far less likely to commit suicide than Northern free workers:

“Less than one slave in ten thousand committed suicide in 1850. That was only one third of the suicide rate among the white population.”

The birthrate among the slaves on Southern plantations was significantly higher than the birthrate in much of contemporary Europe. Both the White population and the slave population thrived in the South and multiplied faster than almost any other group in the world. Even though only 5 percent of slaves transported to the New World went to British North America, this is why the Confederacy was the largest slave society in the world in 1861.

The disease environment in the subtropical Deep South, which lacked African levels of malaria and yellow fever, was vastly superior to that of tropical West Africa and Central Africa. Because the slaves in the Southern states were forbidden to own firearms and their access to drugs and alcohol was restricted and whipping was the punishment for adultery and domestic violence, slaves were far less likely to die from homicide than Whites in the early 19th century.

About Hunter Wallace 12374 Articles
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  1. Facts and reason are of no importance as far as Muh 400 years of oppression go. It’s all based on Get Whitey emotionalism, fueled of course by the scheming, malevolent joo.

  2. A Childhood, by Harry Crews, is one of the best autobiographies. Crews grew up in south Georgia and Jacksonville in the 1930s and 40s, with black mammies attending him as an infant and toddler. He later left to join the marines. The book ends when he returns to the farms where his family lives. The conversation he has with them about the land and farming is priceless. You can’t forget it once you’ve read it.

  3. Negro slaves were indeed treated very well in the big plantations. They were very expensive property after all, especially after their prices greatly increased in the 1840s.

  4. It’s true that negro slaves had better living standards than poor Southern whites. But was that a good thing? While negroes in big plantations enjoyed good feeding, clothing and housing, Southern white trash lived in poverty, filth and crime. An Englishwoman who lived in the Old South observed that, “The slaves themselves entertain the very highest contempt for white servants, whom they designate as ‘poor white trash’.”


    The African Slave Trade from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Century Reports and Papers of the Meeting of Experts organized by Unesco at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 31 January to 4 February 1978

    The slave trade and the Atlantic economies, 1451-1870 * Joseph E. Inikori ….at Page 68:

    “Of all the slave-receiving territories in the Americas it was only in the United States that the imported Africans achieved some rate of net natural increase during much of our period.”

    • ABSOLUTELY!!! The question no one ever asks.

      Another issue: If the 5% of Africans who came to the Western Hemisphere are responsible for the greatness of the USA, why didn’t the other 95% who were transported to the Carribbean, Mexico and Latin America create greatness in those countries?

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