St. Paul is one of the few cities of the world whose foundation furnishes the material for their construction. The limestone rock on which it is built is in layers of about a foot in thickness, and very easy to quarry. The blocks require little dressing to fit them for use. Though very soft at first, the stone soon hardens by exposure to the air, and forms a neat and durable wall. In digging a cellar one will obtain more than sufficient stone for the walls of his house.
At the time of my visit the Indian expedition of 1863 had just returned, and was camped near Fort Snelling. This expedition was sent out by General Pope, for the purpose of chastising the Sioux Indians. It was under command of General Sibley, and accomplished a march of nearly six hundred miles. As it lay in camp at Fort Snelling, the men and animals presented the finest appearance I had ever observed in an army just returned from a long campaign.
The Sioux massacres of 1862, and the campaign of General Pope in the autumn of that year, attracted much attention. Nearly all the settlers in the valley of the Minnesota above Fort Snelling were killed or driven off. Other localities suffered to a considerable extent. The murders–like nearly all murders of whites by the Indians–were of the most atrocious character. The history of those massacres is a chronicle of horrors rarely equaled during the present century. Whole counties were made desolate, and the young State, just recovering from its financial misfortunes, received a severe blow to its prosperity.
Various causes were assigned for the outbreak of hostilities on the part of the Sioux Indians. Very few residents of Minnesota, in view of the atrocities committed by the Indians, could speak calmly of the troubles. All were agreed that there could be no peace and security until the white men were the undisputed possessors of the land.
Before the difficulties began, there was for some time a growing discontent on the part of the Indians, on account of repeated grievances. Just previous to the outbreak, these Indians were summoned to one of the Government Agencies to receive their annuities. These annuities had been promised them at a certain time, but were not forthcoming. The agents, as I was informed, had the money (in coin) as it was sent from Washington, but were arranging to pay the Indians in Treasury notes and pocket the premium on the gold. The Indians were kept waiting while the gold was being exchanged for greenbacks. There was a delay in making this exchange, and the Indians were put off from day to day with promises instead of money.
An Indian knows nothing about days of grace, protests, insolvency, expansions, and the other technical terms with which Wall Street is familiar. He can take no explanation of broken promises, especially when those promises are made by individuals who claim to represent the Great Father at Washington. In this case the Sioux lost all confidence in the agents, who had broken their word from day to day. Added to the mental annoyance, there was great physical suffering. The traders at the post would sell nothing without cash payment, and, without money, the Indians were unable to procure what the stores contained in abundance.
The annuities were not paid, and the traders refused to sell on credit. Some of the Indians were actually starving, and one day they forced their way into a store to obtain food. Taking possession, they supplied themselves with what they desired. Among other things, they found whisky, of the worst and most fiery quality. Once intoxicated, all the bad passions of the savages were let loose. In their drunken frenzy, the Indians killed one of the traders. The sight of blood made them furious. Other white men at the Agency were killed, and thus the contagion spread.
From the Agency the murderers spread through the valley of the St. Peter’s, proclaiming war against the whites. They made no distinction of age or sex. The atrocities they committed are among the most fiendish ever recorded.
The outbreak of these troubles was due to the conduct of the agents who were dealing with the Indians. Knowing, as they should have known, the character of the red man everywhere, and aware that the Sioux were at that time discontented, it was the duty of those agents to treat them with the utmost kindness and generosity. I do not believe the Indians, when they plundered the store at the Agency, had any design beyond satisfying their hunger. But with one murder committed, there was no restraint upon their passions.
Many of our transactions with the Indians, in the past twenty years, have not been characterized by the most scrupulous honesty. The Department of the Interior has an interior history that would not bear investigation. It is well known that the furnishing of supplies to the Indians often enriches the agents and their political friends. There is hardly a tribe along our whole frontier that has not been defrauded. Dishonesty in our Indian Department was notorious during Buchanan’s Administration. The retirement of Buchanan and his cabinet did not entirely bring this dishonesty to an end.
An officer of the Hudson Bay Company told me, in St. Paul, that it was the strict order of the British Government, enforced in letter and spirit by the Company, to keep full faith with the Indians. Every stipulation is most scrupulously carried out. The slightest infringement by a white man upon the rights of the Indians is punished with great severity. They are furnished with the best qualities of goods, and the quantity never falls below the stipulations. Consequently the Indian has no cause of complaint, and is kept on the most friendly terms. This officer said, “A white man can travel from one end to the other of our territory, with no fear of molestation. It is forty years since any trouble occurred between us and the Indians, while on your side of the line you have frequent difficulties.”
The autumn of ’62 witnessed the campaign for the chastisement of these Indians. Twenty-five thousand men were sent to Minnesota, under General Pope, and employed against the Sioux. In a wild country, like the interior of Minnesota, infantry cannot be used to advantage. On this account, the punishment of the Indians was not as complete as our authorities desired.
Some of the Indians were captured, some killed, and others surrendered. Thirty-nine of the captives were hanged. A hundred others were sent to prison at Davenport, Iowa, for confinement during life. The coming of Winter caused a suspension of hostilities.
The spring of 1863 opened with the outfitting of two expeditions–one to proceed through Minnesota, under General Sibley, and the other up the Missouri River, under General Sully. These expeditions were designed to unite somewhere on the Missouri River, and, by inclosing the Indians between them, to bring them to battle. If the plan was successful, the Indians would be severely chastised.
General Sibley moved across Minnesota, according to agreement, and General Sully advanced up the Missouri. The march of the latter was delayed on account of the unprecedented low water in the Missouri, which retarded the boats laden with supplies. Although the two columns failed to unite, they were partially successful in their primary object. Each column engaged the Indians and routed them with considerable loss.
After the return of General Sibley’s expedition, a portion of the troops composing it were sent to the Southwest, and attached to the armies operating in Louisiana.
The Indian war in Minnesota dwindled to a fight on the part of politicians respecting its merits in the past, and the best mode of conducting it in the future. General Pope, General Sibley, and General Sully were praised and abused to the satisfaction of every resident of the State. Laudation and denunciation were poured out with equal liberality. The contest was nearly as fierce as the struggle between the whites and Indians. If epithets had been as fatal as bullets, the loss of life would have been terrible. Happily, the wordy battle was devoid of danger, and the State of Minnesota, her politicians, her generals, and her men emerged from it without harm.
Various schemes have been devised for placing the Sioux Indians where they will not be in our way. No spot of land can be found between the Mississippi and the Pacific where their presence would not be an annoyance to somebody. General Pope proposed to disarm these Indians, allot no more reservations to them, and allow no traders among them. He recommended that they be placed on Isle Royale, in Lake Superior, and there furnished with barracks, rations, and clothing, just as the same number of soldiers would be furnished. They should have no arms, and no means of escaping to the main-land. They would thus be secluded from all evil influence, and comfortably housed and cared for at Government expense. If this plan should be adopted, it would be a great relief to the people of our Northwestern frontier.
Minnesota has fixed its desires upon a railway to the Pacific. The “St. Paul and Pacific Railway” is already in operation about forty miles west of St. Paul, and its projectors hope, in time, to extend it to the shores of the “peaceful sea.” It has called British capital to its aid, and is slowly but steadily progressing.
In the latter part of 1858 several enterprising citizens of St. Paul took a small steamer in midwinter from the upper waters of the Mississippi to the head of navigation, on the Red River of the North. The distance was two hundred and fifty miles, and the route lay through a wilderness. Forty yoke of oxen were required for moving the boat. When navigation was open in the spring of 1859, the boat (the _Anson Northrup_) steamed down to Fort Garry, the principal post of the Hudson Bay Company, taking all the inhabitants by surprise. None of them had any intimation of its coming, and were, consequently, as much astonished as if the steamer had dropped from the clouds.
The agents of the Hudson Bay Company purchased the steamer, a few hours after its arrival, for about four times its value. They hoped to continue their seclusion by so doing; but were doomed to disappointment. Another and larger boat was built in the following year at Georgetown, Minnesota, the spot where the _Northrup_ was launched. The isolation of the fur-traders was ended. The owners of the second steamer (the _International_) were the proprietors of a stage and express line to all parts of Minnesota. They extended their line to Fort Garry, and soon established a profitable business.
From its organization in 1670, down to 1860, the Hudson Bay Company sent its supplies, and received its furs in return, by way of the Arctic Ocean and Hudson’s Bay. There are only two months in the year in which a ship can enter or leave Hudson’s Bay. A ship sailing from London in January, enters the Bay in August. When the cargo is delivered at York Factory, at the mouth of Nelson’s River, it is too late in the season to send the goods to the great lakes of Northwestern America, where the trading posts are located. In the following May the goods are forwarded. They go by canoes where the river is navigable, and are carried on the backs of men around the frequent and sometimes long rapids. The journey requires three months.
The furs purchased with these goods cannot be sent to York Factory until a year later, and another year passes away before they leave Hudson’s Bay. Thus, returns for a cargo were not received in London until four years after its shipment from that port.
Since American enterprise took control of the carrying trade, goods are sent from London to Fort Garry by way of New York and St. Paul, and are only four months in transit. Four or five months will be required to return a cargo of furs to London, making a saving of three years over the old route. Stupid as our English cousin sometimes shows himself, he cannot fail to perceive the advantages of the new route, and has promptly embraced them. The people of Minnesota are becoming well acquainted with the residents of the country on their northern boundary. Many of the Northwestern politicians are studying the policy of “annexation.”
The settlement at Pembina, near Pembina Mountain, lies in Minnesota, a few miles only from the international line. The settlers supposed they were on British soil until the establishment of the boundary showed them their mistake. Every year the settlement sends a train to St. Paul, nearly seven hundred miles distant, to exchange its buffalo-robes, furs, etc., for various articles of necessity that the Pembina region does not produce. This annual train is made up of “Red River carts”–vehicles that would be regarded with curiosity in New York or Washington.
A Red River cart is about the size of a two-wheeled dray, and is built entirely of wood–not a particle of iron entering into its composition. It is propelled by a single ox or horse, generally the former, driven by a half-breed native. Sometimes, though not usually, the wheels are furnished with tires of rawhide, placed upon them when green and shrunk closely in drying. Each cart carries about a thousand pounds of freight, and the train will ordinarily make from fifteen to twenty miles a day. It was estimated that five hundred of these carts would visit St. Paul and St. Cloud in the autumn of 1863.
The settlements of which Fort Garry is the center are scattered for several miles along the Red River of the North. They have schools, churches, flouring and saw mills, and their houses are comfortably and often luxuriously furnished. They have pianos imported from St. Paul, and their principal church, has an organ. At St. Cloud I saw evidences of extreme civilization on their way to Fort Garry. These were a whisky-still, two sewing-machines, and a grain-reaper. No people can remain in darkness after adopting these modern inventions.
The monopoly which the Hudson Bay Company formerly held, has ceased to exist. Under its charter, granted by Charles II. in 1670, it had exclusive control of all the country drained by Hudson’s Bay. In addition to its privilege of trade, it possessed the “right of eminent domain” and the full political management of the country. Crime in this territory was not punished by the officers of the British Government, but by the courts and officers of the Company. All settlements of farmers and artisans were discouraged, as it was the desire of the Company to maintain the territory solely as a fur preserve, from the Arctic Ocean to the United States boundary.
The profits of this fur-trade were enormous, as the Company had it under full control. The furs were purchased of the Indians and trappers at very low rates, and paid for in goods at enormous prices. An industrious trapper could earn a comfortable support, and nothing more.
Having full control of the fur market in Europe, the directors could regulate the selling prices as they chose. Frequently they issued orders forbidding the killing of a certain class of animals for several years. The fur from these animals would become scarce and very high, and at the same time the animals would increase in numbers. Suddenly, when the market was at its uppermost point, the order would be countermanded and a large supply brought forward for sale. This course was followed with all classes of fur in succession. The Company’s dividends in the prosperous days would shame the best oil wells or Nevada silver mines of our time.
Though its charter was perpetual, the Hudson Bay Company was obliged to obtain once in twenty-one years a renewal of its license for exclusive trade. From 1670 to 1838 it had no difficulty in obtaining the desired renewal. The last license expired in 1859. Though a renewal was earnestly sought, it was not attained. The territory is now open to all traders, and the power of the old Company is practically extinguished.
The first explorations in Minnesota were made shortly after the discovery of the Mississippi River by Marquette and Hennepin. St. Paul was originally a French trading post, and the resort of the Indians throughout the Northwest. Fort Snelling was established by the United Suites Government in 1819, but no settlements were made until 1844. After the current of emigration began, the territory was rapidly filled.
While Minnesota was a wilderness, the American Fur Company established posts on the upper waters of the Mississippi. The old trading-house below the Falls of St. Anthony, the first frame building erected in the territory, is yet standing, though it exhibits many symptoms of decay.
At one time the emigration to Minnesota was very great, but it has considerably fallen off during the last eight years. The State is too far north to hold out great inducements to settlers. The winters are long and severe, and the productions of the soil are limited in character and quantity. In summer the climate is excellent, attracting large numbers of pleasure-seekers. The Falls of St. Anthony and the Minnehaha have a world-wide reputation.
INAUGURATION OF A GREAT ENTERPRISE.
Plans for Arming the Negroes along the Mississippi.–Opposition to the Movement.–Plantations Deserted by their Owners.–Gathering Abandoned Cotton.–Rules and Regulations.–Speculation.–Widows and Orphans in Demand.–Arrival of Adjutant-General Thomas.–Designs of the Government.
I have elsewhere alluded to the orders of General Grant at Lagrange, Tennessee, in the autumn of 1862, relative to the care of the negroes where his army was then operating.
The plan was successful in providing for the negroes in Tennessee and Northern Mississippi, where the number, though large, was not excessive. At that time, the policy of arming the blacks was being discussed in various quarters. It found much opposition. Many persons thought it would be an infringement upon the “rights” of the South, both unconstitutional and unjust. Others cared nothing for the South, or its likes and dislikes, but opposed the measure on the ground of policy. They feared its adoption would breed discontent among the white soldiers of the army, and cause so many desertions and so much uneasiness that the importance of the new element would be more than neutralized. Others, again, doubted the courage of the negroes, and thought their first use under fire would result in disgrace and disaster to our arms. They opposed the experiment on account of this fear.
In South Carolina and in Kansas the negroes had been put under arms and mustered into service as Union soldiers. In engagements of a minor character they had shown coolness and courage worthy of veterans. There was no valid reason why the negroes along the Mississippi would not be just as valuable in the army, as the men of the same race in other parts of the country. Our Government determined to try the experiment, and make the _Corps d’Afrique_ a recognized and important adjunct of our forces in the field.
When General Grant encamped his army at Milliken’s Bend and Young’s Point, preparatory to commencing the siege of Vicksburg, many of the cotton plantations were abandoned by their owners. Before our advent nearly all the white males able to bear arms had, willingly or unwillingly, gone to aid in filling the ranks of the insurgents. On nearly every plantation there was a white man not liable to military service, who remained to look after the interests of the property. When our army appeared, the majority of these white men fled to the interior of Louisiana, leaving the plantations and the negroes to the tender mercy of the invaders. In some cases the fugitives took the negroes with them, thus leaving the plantations entirely deserted.
When the negroes remained, and the plantations were not supplied with provisions, it became necessary for the Commissary Department to issue rations for the subsistence of the blacks. As nearly all the planters cared nothing for the negroes they had abandoned, there was a very large number that required the attention of the Government.
On many plantations the cotton crop of 1862 was still in the field, somewhat damaged by the winter rains; but well worth gathering at the prices which then ruled the market. General Grant gave authority for the gathering of this cotton by any parties who were willing to take the contract. The contractors were required to feed the negroes and pay them for their labor. One-half the cotton went to the Government, the balance to the contractor. There was no lack of men to undertake the collection of abandoned cotton on these terms, as the enterprise could not fail to be exceedingly remunerative.
This cotton, gathered by Government authority, was, with a few exceptions, the only cotton which could be shipped to market. There were large quantities of “old” cotton–gathered and baled in previous years–which the owners were anxious to sell, and speculators ready to buy. Numerous applications were made for shipping-permits, but nearly all were rejected. A few cases were pressed upon General Grant’s attention, as deserving exception from the ordinary rule.
There was one case of two young girls, whose parents had recently died, and who were destitute of all comforts on the plantation where they lived. They had a quantity of cotton which they wished to take to Memphis, for sale in that market. Thus provided with money, they would proceed North, and remain there till the end of the war.
A speculator became interested in these girls, and plead with all his eloquence for official favor in their behalf. General Grant softened his heart and gave this man a written permit to ship whatever cotton belonged to the orphans. It was understood, and so stated in the application, that the amount was between two hundred and three hundred bales. The exact number not being known, there was no quantity specified in the permit.
The speculator soon discovered that the penniless orphans could claim two thousand instead of two hundred bales, and thought it possible they would find three thousand bales and upward. On the strength of his permit without special limit, he had purchased, or otherwise procured, all the cotton he could find in the immediate vicinity. He was allowed to make shipment of a few hundred bales; the balance was detained.
Immediately, as this transaction became known, every speculator was on the _qui vive_ to discover a widow or an orphan. Each plantation was visited, and the status of the owners, if any remained, became speedily known. Orphans and widows, the former in particular, were at a high premium. Never in the history of Louisiana did the children of tender years, bereft of parents, receive such attention from strangers. A spectator might have imagined the Millennium close at hand, and the dealers in cotton about to be humbled at the feet of babes and sucklings. Widows, neither young nor comely, received the warmest attention from men of Northern birth. The family of John Rodgers, had it then lived at Milliken’s Bend, would have been hailed as a “big thing.” Everywhere in that region there were men seeking “healthy orphans for adoption.”
The majority of the speculators found the widows and orphans of whom they were in search. Some were able to obtain permits, while others were not. Several officers of the army became interested in these speculations, and gave their aid to obtain shipping privileges. Some who were innocent were accused of dealing in the forbidden fiber, while others, guilty of the transaction, escaped without suspicion. The temptation was great. Many refused to be concerned in the traffic; but there were some who yielded.
The contractors who gathered the abandoned cotton were enabled to accumulate small fortunes. Some of them acted honestly, but others made use of their contracts to cover large shipments of purchased or stolen cotton, baled two or three years before. The ordinary yield of an acre of ground is from a bale to a bale and a half. The contractors were sometimes able to show a yield of ten or twenty bales to the acre.
About the first of April, Adjutant-General Thomas arrived at Milliken’s Bend, bringing, as he declared, authority to regulate every thing as he saw fit. Under his auspices, arrangements were made for putting the able-bodied male negroes into the army. In a speech delivered at a review of the troops at Lake Providence, he announced the determination of the Government to use every just measure to suppress the Rebellion.
The Rebels indirectly made use of the negroes against the Government, by employing them in the production of supplies for their armies in the field. “In this way,” he said, “they can bring to bear against us all the power of their so-called Confederacy. At the same time we are compelled to retain at home a portion of our fighting force to furnish supplies for the men at the front. The Administration has determined to take the negroes belonging to disloyal men, and make them a part of the army. This is the policy that has been fixed and will be fully carried out.”
General Thomas announced that he brought authority to raise as many regiments as possible, and to give commissions to all proper persons who desired them. The speech was listened to with attention, and loudly cheered at its close. The general officers declared themselves favorable to the new movement, and gave it their co-operation. In a few days a half-dozen regiments were in process of organization. This was the beginning of the scheme for raising a large force of colored soldiers along the Mississippi.
The disposition to be made of the negro women and children in our lines, was a subject of great importance. Their numbers were very large, and constantly increasing. Not a tenth of these persons could find employment in gathering abandoned cotton. Those that found such employment were only temporarily provided for. It would be a heavy burden upon the Government to support them in idleness during the entire summer. It would be manifestly wrong to send them to the already overcrowded camps at Memphis and Helena. They were upon our hands by the fortune of war, and must be cared for in some way.
The plantations which their owners had abandoned were supposed to afford the means of providing homes for the negroes, where they could be sheltered, fed, and clothed without expense to the Government. It was proposed to lease these plantations for the term of one year, to persons who would undertake the production of a crop of cotton. Those negroes who were unfit for military service were to be distributed on these plantations, where the lessees would furnish them all needed supplies, and pay them for their labor at certain stipulated rates.
The farming tools and other necessary property on the plantations were to be appraised at a fair valuation, and turned over to the lessees. Where the plantations were destitute of the requisite number of mules for working them, condemned horses and mules were loaned to the lessees, who should return them whenever called for. There were promises of protection against Rebel raids, and of all assistance that the Government could consistently give. General Thomas announced that the measure was fully decided upon at Washington, and should receive every support.
The plantations were readily taken, the prospects being excellent for enormous profits if the scheme proved successful. The cost of producing cotton varies from three to eight cents a pound. The staple would find ready sale at fifty cents, and might possibly command a higher figure. The prospects of a large percentage on the investment were alluring in the extreme. The plantations, the negroes, the farming utensils, and the working stock were to require no outlay. All that was demanded before returns would be received, were the necessary expenditures for feeding and clothing the negroes until the crop was made and gathered. From five to thirty thousand dollars was the estimated yearly expense of a plantation of a thousand acres. If successful, the products for a year might be set down at two hundred thousand dollars; and should cotton appreciate, the return would be still greater.
COTTON-PLANTING IN 1863.
Leasing the Plantations.–Interference of the Rebels.–Raids.–Treatment of Prisoners.–The Attack upon Milliken’s Bend.–A Novel Breast-Work.–Murder o four Officers.–Profits of Cotton-Planting.–Dishonesty of Lessees.–Negroes Planting on their own Account.
It was late in the season before the plantations were leased and the work of planting commenced. The ground was hastily plowed and the seed as hastily sown. The work was prosecuted with the design of obtaining as much as possible in a single season. In their eagerness to accumulate fortunes, the lessees frequently planted more ground than they could care for, and allowed much of it to run to waste.
Of course, it could not be expected the Rebels would favor the enterprise. They had prophesied the negro would not work when free, and were determined to break up any effort to induce him to labor. They were not even willing to give him a fair trial. Late in June they visited the plantations at Milliken’s Bend and vicinity.
They stripped many of the plantations of all the mules and horses that could be found, frightened some of the negroes into seeking safety at the nearest military posts, and carried away others. Some of the lessees were captured; others, having timely warning, made good their escape. Of those captured, some were released on a regular parole not to take up arms against the “Confederacy.” Others were liberated on a promise to go North and remain there, after being allowed a reasonable time for settling their business. Others were carried into captivity and retained as prisoners of war until late in the summer. A Mr. Walker was taken to Brownsville, Texas, and there released, with the privilege of crossing to Matamoras, and sailing thence to New Orleans. It was six months from the time of his capture before he reached New Orleans on his return home.
The Rebels made a fierce attack upon the garrison at Milliken’s Bend. For a few moments during the fight the prospects of their success were very good. The negroes composing the garrison had not been long under arms, and their discipline was far from perfect. The Rebels obtained possession of a part of our works, but were held at bay by the garrison, until the arrival of a gun-boat turned the scale in our favor. The odds were against us at the outset, but we succeeded in putting the enemy to flight.
In this attack the Rebels made use of a movable breast-work, consisting of a large drove of mules, which they kept in their front as they advanced upon the fort. This breast-work served very well at first, but grew unmanageable as our fire became severe. It finally broke and fled to the rear, throwing the Rebel lines into confusion. I believe it was the first instance on record where the defenses ran away, leaving the defenders uncovered. It marked a new, but unsuccessful, phase of war. An officer who was present at the defense of Milliken’s Bend vouches for the truth of the story.
The Rebels captured a portion of the garrison, including some of the white officers holding commissions in negro regiments. The negro prisoners were variously disposed of. Some were butchered on the spot while pleading for quarter; others were taken a few miles on the retreat, and then shot by the wayside. A few were driven away by their masters, who formed a part of the raiding force, but they soon escaped and returned to our lines. Of the officers who surrendered as prisoners of war, some were shot or hanged within a short distance of their place of capture. Two were taken to Shreveport and lodged in jail with one of the captured lessees. One night these officers were taken from the jail by order of General Kirby Smith, and delivered into the hands of the provost-marshal, to be shot for the crime of accepting commissions in negro regiments. Before morning they were dead.
Similar raids were made at other points along the river, where plantations were being cultivated under the new system. At all these places the mules were stolen and the negroes either frightened or driven away. Work was suspended until the plantations could be newly stocked and equipped. This suspension occurred at the busiest time in the season. The production of the cotton was, consequently, greatly retarded. On some plantations the weeds grew faster than the cotton, and refused to be put down. On others, the excellent progress the weeds had made, during the period of idleness, rendered the yield of the cotton-plant very small. Some of the plantations were not restocked after the raid, and speedily ran to waste.
In 1863, no lessee made more than half an ordinary crop of _cotton_, and very few secured even this return. Some obtained a quarter or an eighth of a bale to the acre, and some gathered only one bale where they should have gathered twelve or twenty. A few lost money in the speculation. Some made a fair profit on their investment, and others realized their expectations of an enormous reward. Several parties united their interest on three or four plantations in different localities, so that a failure in one quarter was offset by success in another.
The majority of the lessees were unprincipled men, who undertook the enterprise solely as a speculation. They had as little regard for the rights of the negro as the most brutal slaveholder had ever shown. Very few of them paid the negroes for their labor, except in furnishing them small quantities of goods, for which they charged five times the value. One man, who realized a profit of eighty thousand dollars, never paid his negroes a penny. Some of the lessees made open boast of having swindled their negroes out of their summer’s wages, by taking advantage of their ignorance.
The experiment did not materially improve the condition of the negro, save in the matter of physical treatment. As a slave the black man received no compensation for his labor. As a free man, he received none.
He was well fed, and, generally, well clothed. He received no severe punishment for non-performance of duty, as had been the case before the war. The difference between working for nothing as a slave, and working for the same wages under the Yankees, was not always perceptible to the unsophisticated negro.
Several persons leased plantations that they might use them as points for shipping purchased or stolen cotton. Some were quite successful in this, while others were unable to find any cotton to bring out. Various parties united with the plantation-owners, and agreed to obtain all facilities from the Government officials, if their associates would secure protection against Rebel raids. In some cases this experiment was successful, and the plantations prospered, while those around them were repeatedly plundered. In others, the Rebels were enraged at the plantation-owners for making any arrangements with “the Yankees,” and treated them with merciless severity. There was no course that promised absolute safety, and there was no man who could devise a plan of operations that would cover all contingencies.
Every thing considered, the result of the free-labor enterprise was favorable to the pockets of the avaricious lessees, though it was not encouraging to the negro and to the friends of justice and humanity. All who had been successful desired to renew their leases for another season. Some who were losers were willing to try again and hope for better fortune.
All the available plantations in the vicinity of Vicksburg, Milliken’s Bend, and other points along that portion of the Mississippi were applied for before the beginning of the New Year. Application for these places were generally made by the former lessees or their friends. The prospects were good for a vigorous prosecution of the free-labor enterprise during 1864.
In the latter part of 1863, I passed down the Mississippi, _en route_ to New Orleans. At Vicksburg I met a gentleman who had been investigating the treatment of the negroes under the new system, and was about making a report to the proper authorities. He claimed to have proof that the agents appointed by General Thomas had not been honest in their administration of affairs.
One of these agents had taken five plantations under his control, and was proposing to retain them for another year. It was charged that he had not paid his negroes for their labor, except in scanty supplies of clothing, for which exorbitant prices were charged. He had been successful with his plantations, but delivered very little cotton to the Government agents.
The investigations into the conduct of agents and lessees were expected to make a change in the situation. Up to that time the War Department had controlled the whole system of plantation management. The Treasury Department was seeking the control, on the ground that the plantations were a source of revenue to the Government, and should be under its financial and commercial policy. If it could be proved that the system pursued was an unfair and dishonest one, there was probability of a change.
I pressed forward on my visit to New Orleans. On my return, two weeks later, the agents of General Thomas were pushing their plans for the coming year. There was no indication of an immediate change in the management. The duties of these agents had been enlarged, and the region which they controlled extended from Lake Providence, sixty miles above Vicksburg, to the mouth of Red River, nearly two hundred miles below. One of the agents had his office at Lake Providence, a second was located at Vicksburg, while the third was at Natchez.
Nearly all the plantations near Lake Providence had been leased or applied for. The same was the case with most of those near Vicksburg. In some instances, there were several applicants for the same plantation. The agents announced their determination to sell the choice of plantations to the highest bidder. The competition for the best places was expected to be very active.
There was one pleasing feature. Some of the applicants for plantations were not like the sharp-eyed speculators who had hitherto controlled the business. They seemed to be men of character, desirous of experimenting with free labor for the sake of demonstrating its feasibility when skillfully and honestly managed. They hoped and believed it would be profitable, but they were not undertaking the enterprise solely with a view to money-making. The number of these men was not large, but their presence, although in small force, was exceedingly encouraging.
I regret to say that these men were outstripped in the struggle for good locations by their more unscrupulous competitors. Before the season was ended, the majority of the honest men abandoned the field.
During 1863, many negroes cultivated small lots of ground on their own account. Sometimes a whole family engaged in the enterprise, a single individual having control of the matter. In other cases, two, three, or a half-dozen negroes would unite their labor, and divide the returns. One family of four persons sold twelve bales of cotton, at two hundred dollars per bale, as the result of eight months’ labor. Six negroes who united their labor were able to sell twenty bales. The average was about one and a half or two bales to each of those persons who attempted the planting enterprise on their own account. A few made as high as four bales each, while others did not make more than a single bale. One negro, who was quite successful in planting on his own account, proposed to take a small plantation in 1864, and employ twenty or more colored laborers. How he succeeded I was not able to ascertain.
The commissioners in charge of the freedmen gave the negroes every encouragement to plant on their own account. In 1864 there were thirty colored lessees near Milliken’s Bend, and about the same number at Helena. Ten of these persons at Helena realized $31,000 for their year’s labor. Two of them planted forty acres in cotton; their expenses were about $1,200; they sold their crop for $8,000. Another leased twenty-four acres. His expenses were less than $2,000, and he sold his crop for $6,000. Another leased seventeen acres. He earned by the season’s work enough to purchase a good house, and leave him a cash balance of $300. Another leased thirteen and a half acres, expended about $600 in its cultivation, and sold his crop for $4,000.
At Milliken’s Bend the negroes were not as successful as at Helena–much of the cotton crop being destroyed by the “army worm.” It is possible that the return of peace may cause a discontinuance of the policy of leasing land to negroes.
The planters are bitterly opposed to the policy of dividing plantations into small parcels, and allowing them to be cultivated by freedmen. They believe in extensive tracts of land under a single management, and endeavor to make the production of cotton a business for the few rather than the many. It has always been the rule to discourage small planters. No aristocratic proprietor, if he could avoid it, would sell any portion of his estate to a man of limited means. In the hilly portions of the South, the rich men were unable to carry out their policy. Consequently, there were many who cultivated cotton on a small scale. On the lower Mississippi this was not the case.
When the Southern States are fairly “reconstructed,” and the political control is placed in the hands of the ruling race, every effort will be made to maintain the old policy. Plantations of a thousand or of three thousand acres will be kept intact, unless the hardest necessity compels their division. If possible, the negroes will not be permitted to possess or cultivate land on their own account. To allow them to hold real estate will be partially admitting their claim to humanity. No true scion of chivalry can permit such an innovation, so long as he is able to make successful opposition.
I have heard Southern men declare that a statute law should, and would, be made to prevent the negroes holding real estate. I have no doubt of the disposition of the late Rebels in favor of such enactment, and believe they would display the greatest energy in its enforcement. It would be a labor of love on their part, as well as of duty. Its success would be an obstacle in the way of the much-dreaded “negro equality.”
AMONG THE OFFICIALS.
Reasons for Trying an Experiment.–Activity among Lessees.–Opinions of the Residents.–Rebel Hopes in 1863.–Removal of Negroes to West Louisiana.–Visiting Natchez.–The City and its Business.–“The Rejected Addresses.”
In my visit to Vicksburg I was accompanied by my fellow-journalist, Mr. Colburn, of _The World_. Mr. Colburn and myself had taken more than an ordinary interest in the free-labor enterprise. We had watched its inception eight months before, with many hopes for its success, and with as many fears for the result. The experiment of 1863, under all its disadvantages, gave us convincing proof that the production of cotton and sugar by free labor was both possible and profitable. The negro had proved the incorrectness of the slaveholders’ assertion that no black man would labor on a plantation except as a slave. So much we had seen accomplished. It was the result of a single year’s trial. We desired to see a further and more extensive test.
While studying the new system in the hands of others, we were urged to bring it under our personal observation. Various inducements were held out. We were convinced of the general feasibility of the enterprise, wherever it received proper attention. As a philanthropic undertaking, it was commendable. As a financial experiment, it promised success. We looked at the matter in all its aspects, and finally decided to gain an intimate knowledge of plantation life in war-time. Whether we succeeded or failed, we would learn more about the freedmen than we had hitherto known, and would assist, in some degree, to solve the great problem before the country. Success would be personally profitable, while failure could not be disastrous.
We determined to lease a plantation, but had selected none. In her directions for cooking a hare, Mrs. Glass says: “First, catch your hare.” Our animal was to be caught, and the labor of securing it proved greater than we anticipated.
All the eligible locations around Vicksburg had been taken by the lessees of the previous season, or by newly-arrived persons who preceded us. There were several residents of the neighboring region who desired persons from the North to join them in tilling their plantations. They were confident of obtaining Rebel protection, though by no means certain of securing perfect immunity. In each case they demanded a cash advance of a few thousands, for the purpose of hiring the guerrillas to keep the peace. As it was evident that the purchase of one marauding band would require the purchase of others, until the entire “Confederacy” had been bought up, we declined all these proposals.
Some of these residents, who wished Northern men to join them, claimed to have excellent plantations along the Yazoo, or near some of its tributary bayous. These men were confident a fine cotton crop could be made, “if there were some Northern man to manage the niggers.” It was the general complaint with the people who lived in that region that, with few exceptions, no Southern man could induce the negroes to continue at work. One of these plantation proprietors said his location was such that no guerrilla could get near it without endangering his life. An investigation showed that no other person could reach the plantation without incurring a risk nearly as great. Very few of these owners of remote plantations were able to induce strangers to join them.
We procured a map of the Mississippi and the country bordering its banks. Whenever we found a good location and made inquiry about it at the office of the leasing agents, we were sure to ascertain that some one had already filed an application. It was plain that Vicksburg was not the proper field for our researches. We shook its dust from our feet and went to Natchez, a hundred and twenty-five miles below, where a better prospect was afforded.
In the spring of 1863, the Rebels felt confident of retaining permanent possession of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, two hundred and fifty miles apart. Whatever might be the result elsewhere, this portion of the Mississippi should not be abandoned. In the belief that the progress of the Yankees had been permanently stopped, the planters in the locality mentioned endeavored to make as full crops as possible of the great staple of the South. Accordingly, they plowed and planted, and tended the growing cotton until midsummer came. On the fourth of July, Vicksburg surrendered, and opened the river to Port Hudson. General Herron’s Division was sent to re-enforce General Banks, who was besieging the latter place. In a few days, General Gardner hauled down his flag and gave Port Hudson to the nation. “The Father of Waters went unvexed to the Sea.”
The rich region that the Rebels had thought to hold was, by the fortune of war, in the possession of the National army. The planters suspended their operations, through fear that the Yankees would possess the land.
Some of them sent their negroes to the interior of Louisiana for safety. Others removed to Texas, carrying all their human property with them. On some plantations the cotton had been so well cared for that it came to maturity in fine condition. On others it had been very slightly cultivated, and was almost choked out of existence by weeds and grass. Nearly every plantation could boast of more or less cotton in the field–the quantity varying from twenty bales to five hundred. On some plantations cotton had been neglected, and a large crop of corn grown in its place. Everywhere the Rebel law had been obeyed by the production of more corn than usual. There was enough for the sustenance of our armies for many months.
Natchez was the center of this newly-opened region. Before the war it was the home of wealthy slave-owners, who believed the formation of a Southern Confederacy would be the formation of a terrestrial paradise. On both banks of the Mississippi, above and below Natchez, were the finest cotton plantations of the great valley. One family owned nine plantations, from which eight thousand bales of cotton were annually sent to market. Another family owned seven plantations, and others were the owners of from three to six, respectively.
The plantations were in the care of overseers and agents, and rarely visited by their owners. The profits were large, and money was poured out in profusion. The books of one of the Natchez banks showed a daily business, in the picking season, of two or three million dollars, generally on the accounts of planters and their factors.
Prior to the Rebellion, cotton was usually shipped to New Orleans, and sold in that market. There were some of the planters who sent their cotton to Liverpool or Havre, without passing it through the hands of New Orleans factors. A large balance of the proceeds of such shipments remained to the credit of the shippers when the war broke out, and saved them from financial ruin. The business of Natchez amounted, according to the season, from a hundred thousand to three hundred thousand bales. This included a great quantity that was sent to New Orleans from plantations above and below the city, without touching at all upon the levee at Natchez.
Natchez consists of Natchez-on-the-Hill and Natchez-under-the-Hill. A bluff, nearly two hundred feet high, faces the Mississippi, where there is an eastward bend of the stream. Toward the river this bluff is almost perpendicular, and is climbed by three roads cut into its face like inclined shelves. The French established a settlement at this point a hundred and fifty years ago, and erected a fortification for its defense. This work, known as Fort Rosalie, can still be traced with distinctness, though it has fallen into extreme decay. It was evidently a rectangular, bastioned work, and the location of the bastions and magazine can be readily made out.
Natchez-under-the-Hill is a small, straggling village, having a few commission houses and stores, and dwellings of a suspicious character. It was once a resort of gamblers and other _chevaliers d’industrie_, whose livelihood was derived from the travelers along the Mississippi. At present it is somewhat shorn of its glory.
Natchez-on-the-Hill is a pleasant and well-built city, of about ten thousand inhabitants. The buildings display wealth and good taste, the streets are wide and finely shaded, and the abundance of churches speaks in praise of the religious sentiment of the people. Near the edge of the bluff there was formerly a fine park, commanding a view of the river for several miles in either direction, and overlooking the plantations and cypress forests on the opposite shore. This pleasure-ground was reserved for the white people alone, no negro being allowed to enter the inclosure under severe penalties. A regiment of our soldiers encamped near this park, and used its fence for fuel. The park is now free to persons of whatever color.
Natchez suffered less from the war than most other places of its size along the Mississippi. The Rebels never erected fortifications in or around Natchez, having relied upon Vicksburg and Port Hudson for their protection. When Admiral Farragut ascended the river, in 1862, after the fall of New Orleans, he promised that Natchez should not be disturbed, so long as the people offered no molestation to our gun-boats or army transports. This neutrality was carefully observed, except on one occasion. A party which landed from the gun-boat _Essex_ was fired upon by a militia company that desired to distinguish itself. Natchez was shelled for two hours, in retaliation for this outrage. From that time until our troops occupied the city there was no disturbance.
When we arrived at Natchez, we found several Northern men already there, whose business was similar to our own. Some had secured plantations, and were preparing to take possession. Others were watching the situation and surveying the ground before making their selections. We found that the best plantations in the vicinity had been taken by the friends of Adjutant-General Thomas, and were gone past our securing. At Vidalia, Louisiana, directly opposite Natchez, were two fine plantations, “Arnuldia” and “Whitehall,” which had been thus appropriated. Others in their vicinity had been taken in one way or another, and were out of our reach. Some of the lessees declared they had been forced to promise a division with certain parties in authority before obtaining possession, while others maintained a discreet silence on the subject. Many plantations owned by widows and semi-loyal persons, would not be placed in the market as “abandoned property.” There were many whose status had not been decided, so that they were practically out of the market. In consequence of these various drawbacks, the number of desirable locations that were open for selection was not large.
One of the leasing agents gave us a letter to a young widow who resided in the city, and owned a large plantation in Louisiana, fifteen miles from Natchez. We lost no time in calling upon the lady.
Other parties had already seen her with a view to leasing her plantation. Though she had promised the lease to one of these visitors, she had no objections to treating with ourselves, provided she could make a more advantageous contract.
In a few days we repeated our visit. Our rival had urged his reasons for consideration, and was evidently in favor. He had claimed to be a Secessionist, and assured her he could obtain a safeguard from the Rebel authorities. The lady finally consented to close a contract with him, and placed us in the position of discarded suitors. We thought of issuing a new edition of “The Rejected Addresses.”
A JOURNEY OUTSIDE THE LINES.
Passing the Pickets.–Cold Weather in the South.–Effect of Climate upon the Constitution.–Surrounded and Captured.–Prevarication and Explanation.–Among the Natives.–The Game for the Confederacy.–Courtesy of the Planters.–Condition of the Plantations.–The Return.
Mr. Colburn went to St. Louis, on business in which both were interested, and left me to look out a plantation. I determined to make a tour of exploration in Louisiana, in the region above Vidalia. With two or three gentlemen, who were bound on similar business, I passed our pickets one morning, and struck out into the region which was dominated by neither army. The weather was intensely cold, the ground frozen solid, and a light snow falling.
Cold weather in the South has one peculiarity: it can seem more intense than the same temperature at the North. It is the effect of the Southern climate to unfit the system for any thing but a warm atmosphere. The chill penetrates the whole body with a severity I have never known north of the Ohio River. In a cold day, the “Sunny South” possesses very few attractions in the eyes of a stranger.
In that day’s ride, and in the night which followed, I suffered more than ever before from cold. I once passed a night in the open air in the Rocky Mountains, with the thermometer ten degrees below zero. I think it was more endurable than Louisiana, with the mercury ten degrees above zero. On my plantation hunt I was thickly clad, but the cold _would_ penetrate, in spite of every thing. An hour by a fire might bring some warmth, but the first step into the open air would drive it away. Fluid extract of corn failed to have its ordinary effect. The people of the vicinity said the weather was unusually severe on that occasion. For the sake of those who reside there hereafter, I hope their statement was true.
Our party stopped for the night at a plantation near Waterproof, a small village on the bank of the river, twenty-two miles from Natchez. Just as we were comfortably seated by the fire in the overseer’s house, one of the negroes announced that a person at the door wished to see us.
I stepped to the door, and found a half-dozen mounted men in blue uniforms. Each man had a carbine or revolver drawn on me. One of my companions followed me outside, and found that the strange party had weapons enough to cover both of us. It had been rumored that several guerrillas, wearing United States uniforms, were lurking in the vicinity. Our conclusions concerning the character of our captors were speedily made.
Resistance was useless, but there were considerations that led us to parley as long as possible. Three officers, and as many soldiers, from Natchez, had overtaken us in the afternoon, and borne us company during the latter part of our ride. When we stopped for the night, they concluded to go forward two or three miles, and return in the morning. Supposing ourselves fairly taken, we wished to give our friends opportunity to escape. With this object in view, we endeavored, by much talking, to consume time.
I believe it does not make a man eloquent to compel him to peer into the muzzles of a half-dozen cocked revolvers, that may be discharged at any instant on the will of the holders. Prevarication is a difficult task, when time, place, and circumstances are favorable. It is no easy matter to convince your hearers of the truth of a story you know to be false, even when those hearers are inclined to be credulous. Surrounded by strangers, and with your life in peril, the difficulties are greatly increased. I am satisfied that I made a sad failure on that particular occasion.
My friend and myself answered, indiscriminately, the questions that were propounded. Our responses did not always agree. Possibly we might have done better if only one of us had spoken.
“Come out of that house,” was the first request that was made.
We came out.
“Tell those soldiers to come out.”
“There are no soldiers here,” I responded.
“That’s a d–d lie.”
“There are none here.”
“Yes, there are,” said the spokesman of the party. “Some Yankee soldiers came here a little while ago.”
“We have been here only a few minutes.”
“Where did you come from?”
This was what the lawyers call a leading question. We did not desire to acknowledge we were from Natchez, as that would reveal us at once. We did not wish to say we were from Shreveport, as it would soon be proved we were not telling the truth. I replied that we had come from a plantation a few miles below. Simultaneously my companion said we had just crossed the river.
Here was a lack of corroborative testimony which our captors commented upon, somewhat to our discredit. So the conversation went on, our answers becoming more confused each time we spoke. At last the leader of the group dismounted, and prepared to search the house. He turned us over to the care of his companions, saying, as he did so:
“If I find any soldiers here, you may shoot these d–d fellows for lying.”
During all the colloquy we had been carefully covered by the weapons of the group. We knew no soldiers could be found about the premises, and felt no fear concerning the result of the search.
Just as the leader finished his search, a lieutenant and twenty men rode up.
“Well,” said our captor, “you are saved from shooting. I will turn you over to the lieutenant.”
I recognized in that individual an officer to whom I had received introduction a day or two before. The recognition was mutual.
We had fallen into the hands of a scouting party of our own forces. Each mistook the other for Rebels. The contemplated shooting was indefinitely postponed. The lieutenant in command concluded to encamp near us, and we passed the evening in becoming acquainted with each other.
On the following day the scouting party returned to Natchez. With my two companions I proceeded ten miles further up the river-bank, calling, on the way, at several plantations. All the inhabitants supposed we were Rebel officers, going to or from Kirby Smith’s department. At one house we found two old gentlemen indulging in a game of chess. In response to a comment upon their mode of amusement, one of them said:
“We play a very slow and cautious game, sir. Such a game as the Confederacy ought to play at this time.”
To this I assented.
“How did you cross the river, gentlemen?” was the first interrogatory.
“We crossed it at Natchez.”
“At Natchez! We do not often see Confederates from Natchez. You must have been very fortunate to get through.”
Then we explained who and what we were. The explanation was followed by a little period of silence on the part of our new acquaintances. Very soon, however, the ice was broken, and our conversation became free. We were assured that we might travel anywhere in that region as officers of the Rebel army, without the slightest suspicion of our real character. They treated us courteously, and prevailed upon us to join them at dinner. Many apologies were given for the scantiness of the repast. Corn-bread, bacon, and potatoes were the only articles set before us. Our host said he was utterly unable to procure flour, sugar, coffee, or any thing else not produced upon his plantation. He thought the good times would return when the war ended, and was particularly anxious for that moment to arrive. He pressed us to pass the night at his house, but we were unable to do so. On the following day we returned to Natchez.
Everywhere on the road from Vidalia to the farthest point of our journey, we found the plantations running to waste. The negroes had been sent to Texas or West Louisiana for safety, or were remaining quietly in their quarters. Some had left their masters, and were gone to the camps of the National army at Vicksburg and Natchez. The planters had suspended work, partly because they deemed it useless to do any thing in the prevailing uncertainty, and partly because the negroes were unwilling to perform any labor. Squads of Rebel cavalry had visited some of the plantations, and threatened punishment to the negroes if they did any thing whatever toward the production of cotton. Of course, the negroes would heed such advice if they heeded no other.
On all the plantations we found cotton and corn, principally the latter, standing in the field. Sometimes there were single inclosures of several hundred acres. The owners were desirous of making any arrangement that would secure the tilling of their soil, while it did not involve them in any trouble with their neighbors or the Rebel authorities.
They deplored the reverses which the Rebel cause had suffered, and confessed that the times were out of joint. One of the men we visited was a judge in the courts of Louisiana, and looked at the question in a legal light. After lamenting the severity of the storm which was passing over the South, and expressing his fear that the Rebellion would be a failure, he referred to his own situation.
“I own a plantation,” said he, “and have combined my planting interest with the practice of law. The fortune of war has materially changed my circumstances. My niggers used to do as I told them, but that time is passed. Your Northern people have made soldiers of our servants, and will, I presume, make voters of them. In five years, if I continue the practice of law, I suppose I shall be addressing a dozen negroes as gentlemen of the jury.”
“If you had a negro on trial,” said one of our party, “that would be correct enough. Is it not acknowledged everywhere that a man shall be tried by his peers?”
The lawyer admitted that he never thought of that point before. He said he would insist upon having negroes admitted into court as counsel for negroes that were to be tried by a jury of their race. He did not believe they would ever be available as laborers in the field if they were set free, and thought so many of them would engage in theft that negro courts would be constantly busy.
Generally speaking, the planters that I saw were not violent Secessionists, though none of them were unconditional Union men. All said they had favored secession at the beginning of the movement, because they thought it would strengthen and perpetuate slavery. Most of them had lost faith in its ultimate success, but clung to it as their only hope. The few Union men among them, or those who claimed to be loyal, were friends of the nation with many conditions. They desired slavery to be restored to its former status, the rights of the States left intact, and a full pardon extended to all who had taken part in the Rebellion. Under these conditions they would be willing to see the Union restored. Otherwise, the war must go on.
We visited several plantations on our tour of observation, and compared their respective merits. One plantation contained three thousand acres of land, but was said to be very old and worn out. Near it was one of twelve hundred acres, three-fourths covered with corn, but with no standing cotton. One had six hundred acres of cotton in the field. This place belonged to a Spaniard, who would not be disturbed by Government, and who refused to allow any work done until after the end of the war. Another had four hundred acres of standing cotton, but the plantation had been secured by a lessee, who was about commencing work.
All had merits, and all had demerits. On some there was a sufficient force for the season’s work, while on others there was scarcely an able field-hand. On some the gin-houses had been burned, and on others they were standing, but disabled. A few plantations were in good order, but there was always some drawback against our securing them. Some were liable to overflow during the expected flood of the Mississippi; others were in the hands of their owners, and would not be leased by the Government. Some that had been abandoned were so thoroughly abandoned that we would hesitate to attempt their cultivation. There were several plantations more desirable than others, and I busied myself to ascertain the status of their owners, and the probabilities concerning their disposal.
Some of the semi-loyal owners of plantations were able to make very good speculations in leasing their property. There was an earnest competition among the lessees to secure promising plantations. One owner made a contract, by which he received five thousand dollars in cash and half the product of the year’s labor.
A week after the lessee took possession, he was frightened by the near approach of a company of Rebel cavalry. He broke his contract and departed for the North, forfeiting the five thousand dollars he had advanced. Another lessee was ready to make a new contract with the owner, paying five thousand dollars as his predecessor had done. Four weeks later, this lessee abandoned the field, and the owner was at liberty to begin anew.
To widows and orphans the agents of the Government displayed a commendable liberality. Nearly all of these persons were allowed to retain control of their plantations, leasing them as they saw fit, and enjoying the income. Some were required to subscribe to the oath of allegiance, and promise to show no more sympathy for the crumbling Confederacy. In many cases no pledge of any kind was exacted.
I knew one widow whose disloyalty was of the most violent character. On a visit to New Orleans she was required to take the oath of allegiance before she could leave the steamboat at the levee. She signed the printed oath under protest. A month later, she brought this document forward to prove her loyalty and secure the control of her plantation.
OH THE PLANTATION.
Military Protection.–Promises.–Another Widow.–Securing a Plantation.–Its Locality and Appearance.–Gardening in Louisiana.–How Cotton is Picked.–“The Tell-Tale.”–A Southerner’s Opinion of the Negro Character.–Causes and Consequences.
Parties who proposed to lease and cultivate abandoned plantations were anxious to know what protection would be afforded them. General Thomas and his agents assured them that proper military posts would soon be established at points within easy distance of each other along the river, so that all plantations in certain limits would be amply protected. This would be done, not as a courtesy to the lessees, but as a part of the policy of providing for the care of the negroes. If the lessees would undertake to feed and clothe several thousand negroes, besides paying them for their labor, they would relieve the Government authorities of a great responsibility. They would demonstrate the feasibility of employing the negroes as free laborers. The cotton which they would throw into market would serve to reduce the prices of that staple, and be a partial supply to the Northern factories. All these things considered, the Government was anxious to foster the enterprise, and would give it every proper assistance. The agents were profuse in their promises of protection, and assured us it would be speedily forthcoming.
There was a military post at Vidalia, opposite Natchez, which afforded protection to the plantations in which General Thomas’s family and friends were interested. Another was promised at Waterproof, twenty miles above, with a stockade midway between the two places. There was to be a force of cavalry to make a daily journey over the road between Vidalia and Waterproof. I selected two plantations about two miles below Waterproof, and on the bank of the Mississippi. They were separated by a strip of wood-land half a mile in width, and by a small bayou reaching from the river to the head of Lake St. John. Both plantations belonged to the same person, a widow, living near Natchez.
The authorities had not decided what they would do with these plantations–whether they would hold them as Government property, or allow the owner to control them. In consideration of her being a widow of fifteen years’ standing, they at length determined upon the latter course. It would be necessary to take out a lease from the authorities after obtaining one from the owner. I proceeded at once to make the proper negotiations.
Another widow! My first experience in seeking to obtain a widow’s plantation was not encouraging. The first widow was young, the second was old. Both were anxious to make a good bargain. In the first instance I had a rival, who proved victorious. In the second affair I had no rival at the outset, but was confronted with one when my suit was fairly under way. Before he came I obtained a promise of the widow’s plantations. My rival made her a better offer than I had done. At this she proposed to desert me. I caused the elder Weller’s advice to be whispered to him, hoping it might induce his withdrawal. He did not retire, and we, therefore, continued our struggle. _He_ was making proposals on his own behalf; I was proposing for myself and for Mr. Colburn, who was then a thousand miles away.
My widow (I call her mine, for I won at last) desired us to give her all the corn and cotton then on the plantations, and half of what should be produced under our management. I offered her half the former and one-fourth the latter. These were the terms on which nearly all private plantations were being leased. She agreed to the offer respecting the corn and cotton then standing in the field, and demanded a third of the coming year’s products. After some hesitation, we decided upon “splitting the difference.” Upon many minor points, such as the sale of wood, stock, wool, etc., she had her own way.
A contract was drawn up, which gave Colburn and myself the lease of the two plantations, “Aquasco” and “Monono,” for the period of one year. We were to gather the crops then standing in the field, both cotton and corn, selling all the former and such portion of the latter as was not needed for the use of the plantations. We were to cultivate the plantations to the best of our abilities, subject to the fortunes of flood, fire, and pestilence, and the operations of military and marauding forces. We agreed to give up the plantations at the end of the year in as good condition as we found them in respect to stock, tools, etc., unless prevented by circumstances beyond our control. We were to have full supervision of the plantations, and manage them as we saw fit. We were to furnish such stock and tools as might be needed, with the privilege of removing the same at the time of our departure.
Our widow (whom I shall call Mrs. B.) was to have one-half the proceeds of the corn and cotton then on the plantations, and seven twenty-fourths of such as might be produced during the year. She was to have the privilege of obtaining, once a week, the supplies of butter, chickens, meal, vegetables, and similar articles she might need for her family use. There were other provisions in the contract, but the essential points were those I have mentioned. The two plantations were to be under a single management. I shall have occasion to speak of them jointly, as “the plantation.”
With this contract duly signed, sealed, and stamped, I went to the “Agent for Abandoned Plantations.” After some delay, and a payment of liberal fees, I obtained the Government lease. These preliminaries concluded, I proceeded to the locality of our temporary home. Colburn had not returned from the North, but was expected daily.
The bayou which I have mentioned, running through the strip of woods which separated the plantations, formed the dividing line between the parishes “Concordia” and “Tensas,” in the State of Louisiana. Lake St. John lay directly in rear of “Monono,” our lower plantation. This lake was five or six miles long by one in width, and was, doubtless, the bed of the Mississippi many years ago.
On each plantation there were ten dwelling-houses for the negroes. On one they were arranged in a double row, and on the other in a single row. There was a larger house for the overseer, and there were blacksmith shops, carpenter shops, stables, corn-cribs, meat-houses, cattle-yards, and gin-houses.
On Aquasco there was a dwelling-house containing five large rooms, and having a wide veranda along its entire front. This dwelling-house was in a spacious inclosure, by the side of a fine garden. Inside this inclosure, and not far from the dwelling, were the quarters for the house-servants, the carriage-house and private stable, the smoke-house and the kitchen, which lay detached from the main building, according to the custom prevailing in the South.
Our garden could boast of fig and orange trees, and other tropical productions. Pinks and roses we possessed in abundance. Of the latter we had enough in their season to furnish all the flower-girls on Broadway with a stock in trade. Our gardener “made his garden” in February. By the middle of March, his potatoes, cabbages, beets, and other vegetables under his care were making fine progress. Before the jingle of sleigh-bells had ceased in the Eastern States, we were feasting upon delicious strawberries from our own garden, ripened in the open air. The region where plowing begins in January, and corn is planted in February or early March, impresses a New Englander with its contrast to his boyhood home.
When I took possession of our new property, the state of affairs was not the most pleasing. Mrs. B. had sent the best of her negroes to Texas shortly after the fall of Vicksburg. Those remaining on the plantations were not sufficient for our work. There were four mules where we needed fifty, and there was not a sufficient supply of oxen and wagons. Farming tools, plows, etc., were abundant, but many repairs must be made. There was enough of nearly every thing for a commencement. The rest would be secured in due season.
Cotton and corn were in the field. The former was to receive immediate attention. On the day after my arrival I mustered thirty-four laborers of all ages and both sexes, and placed them at work, under the superintendence of a foreman. During the afternoon I visited them in the field, to observe the progress they were making. It was the first time I had ever witnessed the operation, but I am confident I did not betray my inexperience in the presence of my colored laborers. The foreman asked my opinion upon various points of plantation management, but I deferred making answer until a subsequent occasion. In every case I told him to do for the present as they had been accustomed, and I would make such changes as I saw fit from time to time.
Cotton-picking requires skill rather than strength. The young women are usually the best pickers, on account of their superior dexterity. The cotton-stalk, or bush, is from two to five or six feet high. It is unlike any plant with which we are familiar in the North. It resembles a large currant-bush more nearly than any thing else I can think of. Where the branches are widest the plant is three or four feet from side to side. The lowest branches are the longest, and the plant, standing by itself, has a shape similar to that of the Northern spruce. The stalk is sometimes an inch and a half in diameter where it leaves the ground. Before the leaves have fallen, the rows in a cotton-field bear a strong resemblance to a series of untrimmed hedges.
When fully opened, the cotton-bolls almost envelop the plant in their snow-white fiber. At a distance a cotton-field ready for the pickers forcibly reminds a Northerner of an expanse covered with snow. Our Northern expression, “white as snow,” is not in use in the Gulf States. “White as cotton” is the form of comparison which takes its place.
The pickers walk between the rows, and gather the cotton from the stalks on either side. Each one gathers half the cotton from the row on his right, and half of that on his left. Sometimes, when the stalks are low, one person takes an entire row to himself, and gathers from both sides of it. A bag is suspended by a strap over the shoulder, the end of the bag reaching the ground, so that its weight may not be an inconvenience. The open boll is somewhat like a fully bloomed water-lily. The skill in picking lies in thrusting the fingers into the boll so as to remove all the cotton with a single motion. Ordinary-pickers grasp the boll with one hand and pluck out the cotton with the other. Skillful pickers work with both hands, never touching the bolls, but removing the cotton by a single dextrous twist of the fingers. They can thus operate with great rapidity.
As fast as the bags are filled, they are emptied into large baskets, which are placed at a corner of the field or at the ends of the rows. When the day’s work is ended the cotton is weighed. The amount brought forward by each person is noted on a slate, from which it is subsequently recorded on the account-book of the plantation.
From one to four hundred pounds, according to the state of the plants, is the proper allowance for each hand per day.
In the days of slavery the “stint” was fixed by the overseer, and was required to be picked under severe penalties. It is needless to say that this stint was sufficiently large to allow of no loitering during the entire day. If the slave exceeded the quantity required of him, the excess was sometimes placed to his credit and deducted from a subsequent day. This was by no means the universal custom. Sometimes he received a small present or was granted some especial favor. By some masters the stint was increased by the addition of the excess. The task was always regulated by the condition of the cotton in the field. Where it would sometimes be three hundred pounds, at others it would not exceed one hundred.
At the time I commenced my cotton-picking, the circumstances were not favorable to a large return. The picking season begins in August or September, and is supposed to end before Christmas. In my case it was late in January, and the winter rain had washed much of the cotton from the stalks. Under the circumstances I could not expect more than fifty or seventy-five pounds per day for each person engaged.
During the first few days I did not weigh the cotton. I knew the average was not more than fifty pounds to each person, but the estimates which the negroes made fixed it at two hundred pounds. One night I astonished them by taking the weighing apparatus to the field and carefully weighing each basket. There was much disappointment among all parties at the result. The next day’s picking showed a surprising improvement. After that time, each day’s work was tested and the result announced. The “tell-tale,” as the scales were sometimes called, was an overseer from whom there was no escape. I think the negroes worked faithfully as soon as they found there was no opportunity for deception.
I was visited by Mrs. B.’s agent a few days after I became a cotton-planter. We took an inventory of the portable property that belonged to the establishment, and arranged some plans for our mutual advantage. This agent was a resident of Natchez. He was born in the North, but had lived so long in the slave States that his sympathies were wholly Southern. He assured me the negroes were the greatest liars in the world, and required continual watching. They would take every opportunity to neglect their work, and were always planning new modes of deception. They would steal every thing of which they could make any use, and many articles that they could not possibly dispose of. Pretending illness was among the most frequent devices for avoiding labor, and the overseer was constantly obliged to contend against such deception. In short, as far as I could ascertain from this gentleman, the negro was the embodiment of all earthly wickedness. Theft, falsehood, idleness, deceit, and many other sins which afflict mortals, were the especial heritance of the negro.
In looking about me, I found that many of these charges against the negro were true. The black man was deceptive, and he was often dishonest. There can be no effect without a cause, and the reasons for this deception and dishonesty were apparent, without difficult research. The system of slavery necessitated a constant struggle between the slave and his overseer. It was the duty of the latter to obtain the greatest amount of labor from the sinews of the slave. It was the business of the slave to perform as little labor as possible. It made no difference to him whether the plantation produced a hundred or a thousand bales. He received nothing beyond his subsistence and clothing. His labor had no compensation, and his balance-sheet at the end of the month or year was the same, whether he had been idle or industrious. It was plainly to his personal interest to do nothing he could in any way avoid. The negro displayed his sagacity by deceiving the overseer whenever he could do so. The best white man in the world would have shunned all labor under such circumstances. The negro evinced a pardonable weakness in pretending to be ill whenever he could hope to make the pretense successful.
Receiving no compensation for his services, beyond his necessary support, the negro occasionally sought to compensate himself. He was fond of roasted pork, but that article did not appear on the list of plantation rations. Consequently some of the negroes would make clandestine seizure of the fattest pigs when the chance of detection was not too great. It was hard to convince them that the use of one piece of property for the benefit of another piece, belonging to the same person, was a serious offense.
“You see, Mr. K—-,” said a negro to me, admitting that he had sometimes stolen his master’s hogs, “you see, master owns his saddle-horse, and he owns lots of corn. Master would be very mad if I didn’t give the horse all the corn he wanted. Now, he owns me, and he owns a great many hogs. I like hog, just as much as the horse likes corn, but when master catches me killing the hogs he is very mad, and he makes the overseer whip me.”
Corn, chickens, flour, meal, in fact, every thing edible, became legitimate plunder for the negroes when the rations furnished them were scanty. I believe that in nine cases out of ten the petty thefts which the negroes committed were designed to supply personal wants, rather than for any other purpose. What the negro stole was usually an article of food, and it was nearly always stolen from the plantation where he belonged.
Sometimes there was a specially bad negro–one who had been caught in some extraordinary dishonesty. One in my employ was reported to have been shot at while stealing from a dwelling-house several years before. Among two hundred negroes, he was the only noted rascal. I did not attribute his dishonesty to his complexion alone. I have known worse men than he, in whose veins there was not a drop of African blood. The police records everywhere show that wickedness of heart “dwells in white and black the same.”
With his disadvantages of position, the absence of all moral training, and the dishonesty which was the natural result of the old system of labor, the negro could not be expected to observe all the rules prescribed for his guidance, but which were never explained. Like ignorant and degraded people everywhere, many of the negroes believed that guilt lay mainly in detection. There was little wickedness in stealing a pig or a chicken, if the theft were never discovered, and there was no occasion for allowing twinges of conscience to disturb the digestion.
I do not intend to intimate, by the above, that all were dishonest, even in these small peculations. There were many whose sense of right and wrong was very clear, and whose knowledge of their duties had been derived from the instructions of the white preachers. These negroes “obeyed their masters” in every thing, and considered it a religious obligation to be always faithful. They never avoided their tasks, in the field or elsewhere, and were never discovered doing any wrong. Under the new system of labor at the South, this portion of the negro population will prove of great advantage in teaching their kindred the duties they owe to each other. When all are trained to think and act for themselves, the negroes will, doubtless, prove as correct in morals as the white people around them.
Early in the present year, the authorities at Davies’ Bend, below Vicksburg, established a negro court, in which all petty cases were tried. The judge, jury, counsel, and officers were negroes, and no white man was allowed to interfere during the progress of a trial. After the decisions were made, the statement of the case and the action thereon were referred to the superintendent of the Government plantations at that point.
It was a noticeable feature that the punishments which the negroes decreed for each other were of a severe character. Very frequently it was necessary for the authorities to modify the sentences after the colored judge had rendered them. The cases tried by the court related to offenses of a minor character, such as theft, fraud, and various delinquencies of the freed negroes.
The experiment of a negro court is said to have been very successful, though it required careful watching. It was made in consequence of a desire of the authorities to teach the freedmen how to govern themselves. The planters in the vicinity were as bitterly opposed to the movement as to any other effort that lifts the negro above his old position.
At the present time, several parties in Vicksburg have leased three plantations, in as many localities, and are managing them on different plans. On the first they furnish the negroes with food and clothing, and divide the year’s income with them. On the second they pay wages at the rate of ten dollars per month, furnishing rations free, and retaining half the money until the end of the year. On the third they pay daily wages of one dollar, having the money ready at nightfall, the negro buying his own rations at a neighboring store.
On the first plantation, the negroes are wasteful of their supplies, as they are not liable for any part of their cost. They are inclined to be idle, as their share in the division will not be materially affected by the loss of a few days’ labor. On the second they are less wasteful and more industrious, but the distance of the day of payment is not calculated to develop notions of strict economy. On the third they generally display great frugality, and are far more inclined to labor than on the other plantations.
The reason is apparent. On the first plantation their condition is not greatly changed from that of slavery, except in the promise of compensation and the absence of compulsory control. In the last case they are made responsible both for their labor and expenses, and are learning how to care for themselves as freemen.
RULES AND REGULATIONS UNDER THE OLD AND NEW SYSTEMS.
The Plantation Record.–Its Uses.–Interesting Memoranda.–Dogs, Jail, and Stocks.–Instructions to the Overseer.–His Duties and Responsibilities.–The Order of General Banks.–Management of Plantations in the Department of the Gulf.–The two Documents Contrasted.–One of the Effects of “an Abolition War.”
Nearly every planter in the South required the manager of his plantation to keep a record of all events of importance. Books were prepared by a publishing house in New Orleans, with special reference to their use by overseers. These books had a blank for every day in the year, in which the amount and kind of work performed were to be recorded by the overseer. There were blanks for noting the progress during the picking season, and the amount picked by each person daily. There were blanks for monthly and yearly inventories of stock, tools, etc., statements of supplies received and distributed, lists of births and deaths (there were no blanks for marriages), time and amount of shipments of cotton, and for all the ordinary business of a plantation. In the directions for the use of this book, I found the following:–
“On the pages marked I, the planter himself will make a careful record of all the negroes upon the plantation, stating their ages as nearly as possible, and their cash value, at the commencement of the year. At the close, he will again enter their individual value at that time, adding the year’s increase, and omitting those that may have died. The difference can then be transferred to the balance-sheet. The year’s crop is chargeable with any depreciation in the value of the negroes, occasioned by overwork and improper management, in the effort, perhaps, to make an extra crop independent of every other consideration. On the other hand, should the number of children have greatly increased during the year; the strength and usefulness of the old been sustained by kind treatment and care; the youngsters taught to be useful, and, perhaps, some of the men instructed in trades and the women in home manufactures, the increased value of the entire force will form a handsome addition to the side of _profits_.”
On the pages where the daily incidents of the plantation were recorded, I frequently discovered entries that illustrated the “peculiar institution.” Some of them read thus:–
Whipped Harry and Sarah to-day, because they didn’t keep up their rows. _July 7th_. Aleck ran away to the woods, because I threatened to whip him.
Got Mr. Hall’s dogs and hunted Aleck. Didn’t find him. Think he is in the swamp back of Brandon’s.
Took Aleck out of Vidalia jail. Paid $4.50 for jail fees. Put him in the stocks when we got home.
Moses died this morning. Charles and Henry buried him. His wife was allowed to keep out of the field until noon.
Sent six mules and four negroes down to the lower plantation. They will come back to-morrow.
John said he was sick this morning, but I made him go to the field. They brought him in before noon. He has a bad fever. Am afraid he won’t be able to go out again soon.
Whipped Susan, because she didn’t pick as much cotton as she did yesterday.
Put William in the stocks and kept him till sunset, for telling Charles he wanted to run away.
_October 8th_. William and Susan want to be married. Told them I should not allow it, but they might live together if they wanted to.
(The above memorandum was explained to me by one of the negroes. The owner of the plantation did not approve of marriages, because they were inconvenient in case it was desired to sell a portion of the working force.)
_October 1st_. Took an inventory of the negroes and stock. Their value is about the same as when the last inventory was taken.
_December 3d_. Finished picking. Gave the negroes half a holiday.
Nearly every day’s entry shows the character and amount of work performed. Thus we have:–
_February 10th_. Fifteen plows running, five hands piling logs, four hands ditching, six hands in trash-gang.
In the planting, hoeing, and picking seasons, the result of the labor was recorded in the same manner. Whippings were more or less frequent, according to the character of the overseer. Under one overseer I found that whippings were rare. Under other overseers they were of common occurrence.
The individual who prepared the “_Plantation Record_” for the publishers, gave, in addition to directions for its use, instructions for the overseer’s general conduct.
I copy them below, preserving the author’s language throughout.
THE DUTIES OF AN OVERSEER.
It is here supposed that the overseer is not immediately under his employer’s eye, but is left for days or weeks, perhaps months, to the exercise of his own judgment in the management of the plantation. To him we would say–
Bear in mind, that you have engaged for a stated sum of money, to devote your time and energies, for an entire year, _to one object_–to carry out the orders of your employer, strictly, cheerfully, and to the best of your ability; and, in all things, to study his interests–requiring something more than your mere presence on the plantation, and that at such times as suits your own pleasure and convenience.
On entering upon your duties, inform yourself thoroughly of the condition of the plantation, negroes, stock, implements, etc. Learn the views of your employer as to the general course of management he wishes pursued, and make up your mind to carry out these views fully, as far as in your power. If any objections occur to you, state them distinctly, that they may either be yielded to or overcome.
Where full and particular directions are not given to you, but you are left, in a great measure, to the exercise of your own judgment, you will find the following hints of service. They are compiled from excellent sources–from able articles in the agricultural journals of the day, from Washington’s Directions to his Overseers, and from personal experience.
“I do, in explicit terms, enjoin it upon you to remain constantly at home (unless called off by unavoidable business, or to attend Divine worship), and to be constantly with your people when there. There is no other sure way of getting work well done, and quietly, by negroes; for when an overlooker’s back is turned the most of them will slight their work, or be idle altogether. In which case correction cannot retrieve either, but often produces evils which are worse than the disease. Nor is there any other mode than this to prevent thieving and other disorders, the consequences of opportunities. You will recollect that your time is paid for by me, and if I am deprived of it, it is worse even than robbing my purse, because it is also a breach of trust, which every honest man ought to hold most sacred. You have found me, and you will continue to find me, faithful to my part of the agreement which was made with you, whilst you are attentive to your part; but it is to be remembered that a breach on one side releases the obligation on the other.”
Neither is it right that you should entertain a constant run of company at your house, incurring unnecessary expense, taking up your own time and that of the servants beyond what is needful for your own comfort–a woman to cook and wash for you, milk, make butter, and so on. More than this you have no claim to.
Endeavor to take the same interest in every thing upon the place, as if it were your own; indeed, the responsibility in this case is greater than if it were all your own–having been intrusted to you by another. Unless you feel thus, it is impossible that you can do your employer justice.
The health of the negroes under your charge is an important matter. Much of the usual sickness among them is the result of carelessness and mismanagement. Overwork or unnecessary exposure to rain, insufficient clothing, improper or badly-cooked food, and night rambles, are all fruitful causes of disease. A great majority of the cases you should be yourself competent to manage, or you are unfit for the place you hold; but whenever you find that the case is one you do not understand, send for a physician, if such is the general order of the owner. By exerting yourself to have their clothing ready in good season; to arrange profitable in-door employment in wet weather; to see that an abundant supply of wholesome, _well-cooked food_, including plenty of vegetables, be supplied to them _at regular hours_; that the sick be cheered and encouraged, and some extra comforts allowed them, and the convalescent not exposed to the chances of a relapse; that women, whilst nursing, be kept as near to the nursery as possible, but at no time allowed to suckle their children when overheated; that the infant be nursed three times during the day, in addition to the morning and evening; that no whisky be allowed upon the place at any time or under any circumstances; but that they have, whilst heated and at work, plenty of pure, _cool_ water; that care be taken to prevent the hands from carrying their baskets full of cotton on their head–a most injurious practice; and, in short, that such means be used for their comfort as every judicious, humane man will readily think of, you will find the amount of sickness gradually lessened.
Next to the negroes, the stock on the place will require your constant attention. You can, however, spare yourself much trouble by your choice of a stock-minder, and by adopting and enforcing a strict system in the care of the stock. It is a part of their duty in which overseers are generally most careless.
The horse and mule stock are first in importance. Unless these are kept in good condition, it is impossible that the work can go on smoothly, or your crop be properly tended. Put your stable in good order; and, if possible, inclose it so that it can be kept under lock. Place a steady, careful old man there as hostler, making him responsible for every thing, and that directly to yourself. The foreman of the plow-gang, and the hands under his care, should be made answerable to the hostler–whose business it is to have the feed cut up, ground, and ready; the stalls well littered and cleaned out at proper intervals; to attend to sick or maimed animals; to see that the gears are always hung in their proper place, kept in good order, and so on.
It is an easy matter to keep horses or mules fat, with a full and open corn-crib and abundance of fodder. But that overseer shows his good management who can keep his teams fat at the least expense of corn and fodder. The waste of those articles in the South, through shameful carelessness and neglect, is immense; as food for stock, they are most expensive articles. Oats, millet, peas (vine and all), broadcast corn, Bermuda and crab-grass hay, are all much cheaper and equally good. Any one of these crops, fed whilst green–the oats and millet as they begin to shoot, the peas to blossom, and the corn when tasseling–with a feed of dry oats, corn, or corn-chop at noon, will keep a plow-team in fine order all the season. In England, where they have the finest teams in the world, this course _is invariably pursued_, for its economy. From eight to nine hours per day is as long as the team should be at actual work. They will perform more upon less feed, and keep in better order for a _push_ when needful, worked briskly in that way, than when kept dragging a plow all day long at a slow pace. And the hands have leisure to rest, to cut up feed, clean and repair gears, and so on.
Oxen. No more work oxen should be retained than can be kept at all times in good order. An abundant supply of green feed during spring and summer, cut and fed as recommended above, and in winter well-boiled cotton-seed, with a couple of quarts of meal in it per head; turnips, raw or cooked; corn-cobs soaked twenty-four hours in salt and water; shucks, pea-vines, etc., passed through a cutting-box–any thing of the kind, in short, is cheaper food for them in winter, and will keep them in better order than dry corn and shucks or fodder.
Indeed, the fewer cattle are kept on any place the better, unless the range is remarkably good. When young stock of any kind are stinted of their proper food, and their growth receives a check, they never can wholly recover it. Let the calves have a fair share of milk, and also as much of the cooked food prepared for the cows and oxen as they will eat; with at times a little dry meal to lick. When cows or oxen show symptoms of failing, from age or otherwise, fatten them off at once; and if killed for the use of the place, _save the hide carefully_–rubbing at least two quarts of salt upon it; then roll up for a day or two, when it may be stretched and dried.
Hogs are generally sadly mismanaged. Too many are kept, and kept badly. One good brood sow for every five hands on a place, is amply sufficient–indeed, more pork will be cured from these than from a greater number. Provide at least two good grazing lots for them, with Bermuda, crab-grass, or clover, which does as well at Washington, Miss., as anywhere in the world, with two bushels of ground plaster to the acre, sowed over it. Give a steady, trusty hand no other work to do but to feed and care for them. With a large set kettle or two, an old mule and cart to haul his wood for fuel, cotton-seed, turnips, etc., for feed, and leaves for bedding, he can do full justice to one hundred head, old and young. They will increase and thrive finely, with good grazing, and a full mess, twice a day, of swill prepared as follows: Sound cotton-seed, with a gallon of corn-meal to the bushel, a quart of oak or hickory ashes, a handful of salt, and a good proportion of turnips or green food of any kind, even clover or peas; the whole thoroughly–mind you, _thoroughly_ cooked–then thrown into a large trough, and there allowed _to become sour before being fed_.
Sheep may be under the charge of the stock-minder; from ten to twenty to the hand may be generally kept with advantage.
Sick animals require close and judicious attention. Too frequently they are either left to get well or to die of themselves, or are bled and dosed with nauseous mixtures indiscriminately. Study the subject of the diseases of animals during your leisure evenings, which you can do from some of the many excellent works on the subject. _Think_ before you _act_. When your animal has fever, nature would dictate that all stimulating articles of diet or medicine should be avoided. Bleeding may be necessary to reduce the force of the circulation; purging, to remove irritating substances from the bowels; moist, light, and easily-digested food, that his weakened digestion may not be oppressed; cool drinks, to allay his thirst, and, to some extent, compensate for diminished secretions; rest and quiet, to prevent undue excitement in his system, and so on through the whole catalogue of diseases–but do nothing without a reason. Carry out this principle, and you will probably do much good–hardly great harm; go upon any other, and your measures are more likely to be productive of injury than benefit.
The implements and tools require a good deal of looking after. By keeping a memorandum of the distribution of any set of tools, they will be much more likely to be forthcoming at the end of the month. Axes, hoes, and other small tools, of which every hand has his own, should have his number marked upon it with a steel punch. The strict enforcement of one single rule will keep every thing straight: “Have a place for every thing, and see that every thing is in its place.”
Few instances of good management will better please an employer than that of having all of the winter clothing spun and woven on the place. By having a room devoted to that purpose, under charge of some one of the old women, where those who may be complaining a little, or convalescent after sickness, may be employed in some light work, and where all of the women may be sent in wet weather, more than enough of both cotton and woolen yarn can be spun for the supply of the place.
Of the principal staple crop of the plantation, whether cotton, sugar, or rice, we shall not here speak.
Of the others–the provision crops–there is most commonly enough made upon most plantations for their own supply. Rarely, however, is it saved without great and inexcusable waste, and fed out without still greater. And this, to their lasting shame be it said, is too often the case to a disgraceful extent, when an overseer feels satisfied that he will not remain another year upon the place. His conduct should be the very opposite of this–an honorable, right-thinking man will feel a particular degree of pride in leaving every thing in thorough order, and especially an abundant supply of all kinds of feed. He thus establishes a character for himself which _must_ have its effect.
Few plantations are so rich in soil as not to be improved by manure. Inform yourself of the best means, suited to the location and soil of the place under, your charge, of improving it in this and in every other way. When an opportunity offers, carry out these improvements. Rely upon it there are few employers who will not see and reward such efforts. Draining, ditching, circling, hedging, road-making, building, etc., may all be effected to a greater or less extent every season.
During the long evenings of winter improve your own mind and the knowledge of your profession by reading and study. The many excellent agricultural periodicals and books now published afford good and cheap opportunities for this.
It is indispensable that you exercise judgment and consideration in the management of the negroes under your charge. Be _firm_, and, at the same time, _gentle_ in your control. Never display yourself before them in a passion; and even if inflicting the severest punishment, do so in a mild, cool manner, and it will produce a tenfold effect. When you find it necessary to use the whip–and desirable as it would be to dispense with it entirely, it _is_ necessary at times–apply it slowly and deliberately, and to the extent you had determined, in your own mind, to be needful before you began. The indiscriminate, constant, and excessive use of the whip is altogether unnecessary and inexcusable. When it can be done without a too great loss of time, the stocks offer a means of punishment greatly to be preferred. So secured, in a lonely, quiet place, where no communication can be held with any one, nothing but bread and water allowed, and the confinement extending from Saturday, when they drop work, until Sabbath evening, will prove much more effectual in preventing a repetition of the offense, than any amount of whipping. Never threaten a negro, but if you have occasion to punish, do it at once, or say nothing until ready to do so. A violent and passionate threat will often scare the best-disposed negro to the woods. Always keep your word with them, in punishments as well as in rewards. If you have named the penalty for any certain offense, inflict it without listening to a word of excuse. Never forgive that in one that you would punish in another, but treat all alike, showing no favoritism. By pursuing such a course, you convince them that you act from principle and not from impulse, and will certainly enforce your rules. Whenever an opportunity is afforded you for rewarding continued good behavior, do not let it pass–occasional rewards have a much better effect than frequent punishments.
Never be induced by a course of good behavior on the part of the negroes to relax the strictness of your discipline; but, when you have by judicious management brought them to that state, keep them so by the same means. By taking frequent strolls about the premises, including of course the quarter and stock yards, during the evening, and at least twice a week during the night, you will put a more