This is from the book “12 Years as a slave” by Solomon Northup, describing how cotton picking was managed on the plantation.
“An ordinary day’s work is two hundred pounds. A slave who is accustomed to picking, is punished, if he or she brings in a less quantity than that.
There is a great difference among them as regards this kind of labor. Some of them seem to have a natural knack, or quickness, which enables them to pick with great celerity, and with both hands, while others, with whatever practice or industry, are utterly unable to come up to the ordinary standard. Such hands are taken from the cotton field and employed in other business.
Patsey, of whom I shall have more to say, was known as the most remarkable cotton picker on Bayou Boeuf. She picked with both hands and with such surprising rapidity, that five hundred pounds a day was not unusual for her.
Each one is tasked, therefore, according to his picking abilities, none, however, to come short of two hundred weight.
I, being unskillful always in that business, would have satisfied my master by bringing in the latter quantity, while on the other hand, Patsey would surely have been beaten it she failed to produce twice as much.
The day’s work over in the field, the baskets are “toted,” or in other words, carried to the gin-house, where the cotton is weighed.
No matter how fatigued and weary he may be—no matter how much he longs for sleep and rest—a slave never approaches the gin-house with his basket of cotton but with fear.
If it falls short in weight—if he has not performed the full task appointed him, he knows that he must suffer. And if he has exceeded it by ten or twenty pounds, in all probability his master will measure the next day’s task accordingly.
So, whether he has too little or too much, his approach to the gin-house is always with fear and trembling. Most frequently they have too little, and therefore it is they are not anxious to leave the field.”