VIRGINIA slaves were introduced into a system of production that was already in working order. The substitution of slaves for servants probably increased the productivity and almost certainly increased the profitability of the plantation system. But slavery required new methods of disciplining the labor force, methods that were linked to racial contempt. If we arc to understand that contempt and the role it played in the history of Virginia—and I think in American history—we must probe not only the differences but also the resemblances between servants and slaves in the plantation system and in the consciousness of those who ran it.
Ideally, from the point of view of the master, slavery should have made it possible to turn the slave's every waking hour to the master's profit. In an industrial society, where it is possible to engage in productive tasks at any time, it is tempting to think of masters thus directing their slaves. But absolute power did not in itself make for continuous employment in a pre-industrial society. We have already seen that sixteenth-century Englishmen were often idle, if only because there were times when nothing could be done. The tobacco plantation probably made fuller use of its workers' time than previous English agricultural enterprises had. But even on a plantation it was simply not possible to employ either servants or slaves usefully every day of the year.
Rain halted work on a Virginia plantation just as it did on any English farm. And for days after a rain the ground might be too heavy to hoe without damage to the soil or the crop. Freezing weather similarly closed down most activities. Sometimes weather that precluded field work might permit cutting wood, building fences, or scouring ditches. But often the workers were left without