Slavery at South Carolina College, 1801–1865:

The Foundations of the University of South Carolina

Daily Tasks at South Carolina College

Slaves at South Carolina College completed a wide variety of tasks. Surrounded by dozens of students and a handful of professors on the premises, the slaves who lived and worked at the college found themselves in an environment that required versatility. One of the first records of slave tasks at South Carolina College appears in 1815, with a description of slaves who worked for the steward. Six “able men-servants constantly about the dining room and kitchen,” four female slaves in the kitchen, one man in “the bake-house,” and one butcher comprised a large domestic labor force concentrated on keeping students fed. Other slaves worked outside, servicing wagons, cutting wood, and tending to the college gardens. The college’s location near the edge of town meant slaves ran all sorts of errands, including trips to area mills and stores. They also made furniture, dug wells, built fences and outbuildings, and completed plastering and bricklaying work.

Other duties at South Carolina College proved to be unique to a college environment. A bill from 1857 lists slaves’ monthly duties as moving stoves, mending fireplaces, making repairs to the college bell and gymnasium, and scouring the chapel. One of the most important and demanding tasks was cleaning the tenements where students lived, as well as professors’ houses. A group of “tenement boys” regularly scoured these quarters. A deadly outbreak of measles in 1843 led the faculty to instruct the college marshal “to give the most vigilant attention to the state of the apartments and to secure cleanliness in them and throughout the premises, by every means in his power”—a task that would have fallen to slaves. Other tasks were more academic in nature, with one slave regularly cleaning the books and shelves of the library. The first college-owned slave, Jack, had perhaps the most notable job—his unspecified “peculiar qualities” made him an asset to the chemistry department, where he cleaned and cared for laboratory equipment.

“Expenses, Stewards Table,” November 4, 1815, SCL

This list is a calculation of expenses by weight and measure of the Stewards Table detailing the daily labor performed by slaves at Stewards Hall.

“So. Ca. College to Jas. Fuller,” February 24, 1844, SCL

This receipt lists duties performed by slaves, including “mending eight fireplaces, mending wall in college, plastering over fireplace, [and] fixing up curtain in chapel.” James Fuller, the college marshal, also hired additional slaves in February 1844 to plant trees and make beds.