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The task system is a reference within slavery to a division of labor established on the plantation. It is the less brutal of the two main types of labor systems. The other form, known as the gang system, was harsher.[1] The difference between the task labor system and the gang labor system was characterized by the amount of work time required by the slave and also the amount of freedom given to the slave. Some plantation owners allowed their slaves to produce goods for sale in task systems. The gang systems forced the slaves to work until the owner said they were finished and allowed them almost no freedom. [2]

Early rice task system

Evidence suggests that the task system was gender oriented. The women laborers were the predominant work force for rice cultivations within the task system of the Southeastern United States. This was a cultural influence that transferred directly from West African cultures. [3]

The task system was an offshoot of the division of labor that was already in place in the African tribal systems before the Atlantic slave trade brought the slaves over to the American colonies. It marked an assemblage or melting pot of skills and abilities from traditional rice cultivation. The slaves used this knowledge to bargain with the plantation owners to gain more control over their work. It gave the plantation owners a greater knowledge of this new and non-indigenous form of farming.[4]

"Planters knew that slaves grew rice; they also know which ethnic groups specialized in its cultivation. This knowledge came from their sustained contact with slaves in shaping the Carolina frontier and growing food staples for mutual survival."[5]

The highly developed and knowledgeable skills concerning rice planting possessed by slaves, led to their successful ability to use these skills as a bargaining chip in determing the length and conditions of their bondage in the Americas. [6]

See also

Gang system


  1. Judith Carney, Black Rice, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001): 98-101
  2. Black Rice : 99
  3. Judith Carney, Black Rice, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001): 108
  4. Judith Carney, Black Rice, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001) : 78-106
  5. Black Rice : 89
  6. Judith Carney, "Black Rice", (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001): 68
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