This daguerreotype (ca.1850s) of a slave woman who served as a family nurse predates the Civil War but is a good example of what a house servant looked like during the war.

Daguerreotype (ca.1850s) of a slave woman

Papers of the Minor Family, #6055

While some scholars have argued that white mistresses were secret abolitionists, this fragment of an 1861 letter from Louisa Davis to Mrs. Alice Saunders illustrates that most mistresses firmly believed in the slave system. "I have not a single doubt about the rightfulness of slavery, so that I believe that we are fighting for our rights, & only our rights."

Davis letter, 1861

Papers of the Irvine, Saunders, Davis and Watts families, #38-33

State laws required free blacks to register their residency. These registers identified each by name, physical description, age, place of residence, and circumstances of manumission. This Washington County, Virginia, register includes several free black women who registered during the first months of the Confederacy: Mary Smith "sometimes called Mary Crow" (entry 122, January 29, 1861), and sisters Fannie and Emely Broddy (entries 124 & 125, February 26, 1861).

Free black register, 1861

Register of Free Blacks, Washington County, #41-A

During the war, masters and mistresses continued to hire out their slaves. This January, 1862 receipt for Betsy Ann "a little negro girl" hired to Jack Shelton outlines what responsibilities a master had to his slave, responsibilities which included clothing Betsy Ann and "treat(ing) her well."

1862 receipt

Papers of the Irvine, Saunders, Davis and Watts families, #38-33

In September of 1862, Betty Saunders found herself in a difficult situation. In this letter to her mother, she describes the work she has been forced to do because so many of her slaves had fallen ill. However, this letter is a better indication of the sort of work slave women were doing since Betty Saunders "great deal to do" consisted of no more than instructing her slaves to fill in for those who were sick.

Saunders letter, 1862

Papers of the Irvine, Saunders, Davis and Watts families, #38-33