A slave's housing situation depended on his job and his owner's social situation. Middle-class families with few slaves often let the slaves reside in their houses. On plantations and other large properties, the slaves that worked in the field lived in special slave houses. Cooks and maids often lived inside the same houses as their owners, typically in a back room or attic.
Railroad companies also used slaves to construct railroads. Like the slaves on plantations, these slaves had terrible living conditions. Their beds were nothing more than hard, inclined pine boards with a single blanket. Slave cabins had poorly constructed chimneys and typically were not very clean due to the terrible working hours demanded of slaves. Often slaves were forced to work from the break of dawn until nighttime. Many slaves collapsed due to exhaustion. Their food was usually prepared by a fellow slave, but their rations were slim. Sometimes their food for an entire day would be nothing more than turnips and potatoes.
Owners of slaves often traded their slaves in return for money and goods. Because of this, many slaves, including young children, were separated from their families. Domestic slaves often arranged marriages for the children with other domestic slaves to perpetuate their less onerous social status.