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The gang system is a system of division of labor within slavery on a plantation. It is the more brutal of two main types of labor systems. The other form, known as the task system, was less harsh and allowed the slaves more self-governance than did the gang system. The gang system allowed continuous work at the same pace throughout the day. The first gang, or great gang, was given the hardest work, for the fittest slaves. The second gang was for less able slaves (teenagers, old people, or the unwell slaves) and this gang was given lighter work. The third gang was given the easiest work.
In the United States, the gang system developed in the nineteenth century and is characteristic of the ante-bellum period (c. 1820-1865). It is especially associated with cotton production in the Deep South. Rice plantations in Carolina, for example, never adopted a gang system of labor. The idea of a gang system is that enslaved workers would work all day (traditionally, from sunrise to sunset) under the supervision of an overseer. Breaks for lunch and dinner were part of the system. This is opposed to the task system, under which the worker is released when his assigned task for the day is completed.