A map of servitude.
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A map of servitude.

The back of a Louisiana slave named Gordon, photographed in 1863 after he escaped to the Union forces. Whipping was the most common form of punishment on plantations, and slaveowners and overseers whipped slaves with frightening regularity. Slaves could be whipped for almost any pretext: for “not picking cotton,” “or not picking as well as he can,” for picking “very trashy cotton,” and so forth. One overseer gave twelve lashes to eight women for “hoeing bad corn.” While punishments were often work related, whipping was also used to humiliate slaves and instill deference, obedience, and servility. Slaves could be whipped for answering back to overseers or appearing in any way “insolent.”

Source: Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.