This chapter focuses on the legal and social status of the “basest” chattel slaves—that is, those performing the basest forms of labor, like working in the mines or mills. Chattel slaves had no legal claims to property, either moveable or unmoveable. They also, in theory, had no power over their labor or movement: they performed the tasks that were assigned to them and engaged in no movement that was not mandated by their master or mistress. In practice, this ideal behavior was not necessarily realized: although specific tasks were assigned to slaves, the ways in which they conducted these tasks were within their control, and many slaves (particularly in households with few slaves) were “multitaskers” who presumably had some degree of control over which tasks they did when, and how. That said, to the extent that they did not choose their occupations, and did not own the means or fruits of their production, slaves, at least ideologically, had no control over their labor.
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