Slaves in the United States rarely got days off from their work and owners had complete control over their time. However, there were some limited exceptions when slaves might get time off.
Sunday was often treated as a day of rest and religious observance for slaves. Many slave owners allowed their slaves to attend church services, conduct their own religious gatherings, and rest from their labor on Sundays. However, this was not universally observed and some slave owners still required work to be done on Sundays.
Slaves were sometimes given extra food and liquor rations on major holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Day. Some masters would allow their slaves to have large celebrations on these days. However, they were still expected to complete certain tasks and chores even during the holidays.
Recovery from Illness
If slaves fell severely ill, their owners would sometimes allow them to take time to recover before resuming their normal duties. However, the recovery time was often inadequate and slaves were quickly forced back into labor before they had fully healed.
On rare occasions, slave owners rewarded good behavior by granting slaves a day free from work. This was not common though, as most masters aimed to extract as much labor from their slaves as possible.
Slaves who were hired out to work for other masters sometimes negotiated for free days or half-days of work. Their original owners allowed this if it meant the slave agreed to be hired out in the first place.
While exceptions existed, slave owners by and large sought to maximize the labor they could extract from slaves. Days free from work cut into this goal. Sundays and holidays provided some relief in the form of religious worship, rest, and celebrations, but work often continued on a limited basis. Free days functioned as rare rewards or hiring incentives, not regular practices. The common pattern was long hours of arduous work, day after day, with very few days off granted.
Slaves very rarely received days off or extended periods of rest while under the complete control of slave owners. Occasional religious days, holidays, and rewards provided some flexibility, but the vast majority of slaves’ time was filled with demanding labor for their owners. Days off disrupting this labor were an anomaly in the system of slavery in America.