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A Day in the Life of the Powell Family

A photographic essay by 1998 Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute participants

Introduction / Father / Mother / Daughter / Slaves / Summary

The Powell Household Slaves -- Nanny and her children Charles (born 1757) and Jacob (born 1763), Cate and her children Hannah (born 1764) and Jack (born 1767) , and Rose and her children Sarah (born 1767) and Benjamin (born 1765)

  • Perform most of the household drudgery
  • Nanny, as cook, highly skilled and valuable
  • Little, if any, protection under the law
  • Marriage not recognized as legal by Church of England or English law
  • Slaves are held as chattel property

Rose, Cate and Nanny are awakened by Mrs. Powell at dawn. They get up, dress, put their beds away and start the kitchen fire. The children bring in wood and water, while Nanny starts breakfast. Rose goes into the house to help Mrs. Powell and Hannah get dressed. Nanny, Hannah and Mrs. Powell plan dinner -- the main meal of the day. They decide what needs to be purchased at the market this morning, after checking supplies. Mrs. Powell tells Nanny that there will be extra people at dinner, as guests have been invited.

Sleeping pallets stored for the day
Tightening the bed ropes

Rose goes with Mrs. Powell and Hannah to the market. She helps choose beef, oysters, fresh butter and cream, and carries the basket of purchases. Cate serves breakfast to the Powells, with Sarah's help. Mrs. Powell informs Rose that the ropes on the bed need to be tightened. Rose tightens the bed ropes, makes the bed, dusts, sweeps and sweetens the bedchamber, by sprinkling fresh herbs in the room. Cate's Hannah polishes the furniture in the parlor.

The slaves eat their breakfast after the house has been cleaned. Jacob goes about the town with Mr. Powell. Charles, Ben and Jack stack wood, split kindling, and haul water for laundry, dish washing and cooking, and Nanny begins the preparation of dinner.

Getting water
Working in the garden

Cate and Rose's Sarah work in the vegetable and herb garden, under the supervision of Hannah Powell. They pick herbs and tie them into bunches for drying.

Cate starts the laundry by boiling the linens in huge copper kettles. Rose irons Mrs. Powell's and Hannah's sleeve ruffles for the gowns they will be wearing to dinner.

Large copper wash kettles
Food preparation in the kitchen

Nanny continues the preparations for dinner. There will be a number of elaborate dishes served to compliment the ham, roasted chicken and grilled beef.

Rose and Cate's Hannah serve dinner to the Powells and their guests. They clear the table after the first course, and then set up and serve the second course. They listen very carefully to the conversation at table so that they can report any news of interest to the other slaves on the property.

Rose washes the china, glass and silver in the dining room after dinner, when the Powells and their guests have moved into the parlor for tea, conversation, music and dancing. Finally Rose is able to go out to the kitchen for her dinner. The slaves eat their dinner of hominy, salt pork, and vegetables from the garden in the kitchen. They wash the pots, pans and utensils and thoroughly clean and sweep the kitchen, according to Mrs. Powell's specifications. Cate checks the boiling linens, which will be scrubbed, rinsed, dried and ironed over the next three days.

Wash tub and dirty dishes
After hours in the laundry

When the Powells' guests depart, Rose and Sarah put the rooms at rest, and go back out to the kitchen/laundry where the slaves are getting ready for a walk about the town, visiting friends and relatives, enjoying music, dance and story telling.