Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

American Negro Slavery by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips

Part 5 out of 10

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

fairs, partly of efforts at invention. A citizen of Alabama, for example,
announced success in devising a cotton picking machine; but as in many
subsequent cases in the same premises, the proclamation was premature.

As to improved breeds of cotton, public interest appears to have begun
about 1820 in consequence of surprisingly good results from seed newly
procured from Mexico. These were in a few years widely distributed under
the name of Petit Gulf cotton. Colonel Vick of Mississippi then began to
breed strains from selected seed; and others here and there followed his
example, most of them apparently using the Mexican type. The more dignified
of the planters who prided themselves on selling nothing but cotton, would
distribute among their friends parcels of seed from any specially fine
plants they might encounter in their fields, and make little ado about
it. Men of a more flamboyant sort, such as M.W. Philips, contemning such
"ruffle-shirt cant," would christen their strains with attractive names,
publish their virtues as best they might, and offer their fancy seed for
sale at fancy prices. Thus in 1837 the Twin-seed or Okra cotton was in
vogue, selling at many places for five dollars a quart. In 1839 this was
eclipsed by the Alvarado strain, which its sponsors computed from an
instance of one heavily fruited stalk nine feet high and others not so
prodigious, might yield three thousand pounds per acre.[32] Single Alvarado
seeds were sold at fifty cents each, or a bushel might be had at $160. In
the succeeding years Vick's Hundred Seed, Brown's, Pitt's, Prolific, Sugar
Loaf, Guatemala, Cluster, Hogan's, Banana, Pomegranate, Dean, Multibolus,
Mammoth, Mastodon and many others competed for attention and sale. Some
proved worth while either in increasing the yield, or in producing larger
bolls and thereby speeding the harvest, or in reducing the proportionate
weight of the seed and increasing that of the lint; but the test of
planting proved most of them to be merely commonplace and not worth the
cost of carriage. Extreme prices for seed of any strain were of course
obtainable only for the first year or two; and the temptation to make
fraudulent announcement of a wonder-working new type was not always
resisted. Honest breeders improved the yield considerably; but the
succession of hoaxes roused abundant skepticism. In 1853 a certain Miller
of Mississippi confided to the public the fact that he had discovered by
chance a strain which would yield three hundred pounds more of seed cotton
per acre than any other sort within his knowledge, and he alluringly named
it Accidental Poor Land Cotton. John Farrar of the new railroad town
Atlanta was thereby moved to irony. "This kind of cotton," he wrote in a
public letter, "would run a three million bale crop up to more than four
millions; and this would reduce the price probably to four or five cents.
Don't you see, Mr. Miller, that we had better let you keep and plant your
seed? You say that you had rather plant your crop with them than take a
dollar a pint.... Let us alone, friend, we are doing pretty well--we might
do worse."[33]

[Footnote 32: _Southern Banner_( Athens, Ga.), Sept. 20, 1839.]

[Footnote 33: J.A. Turner, ed., _Cotton Planter's Manual_, p. 98-128.]

In the sea-island branch of the cotton industry the methods differed
considerably from those in producing the shorter staple. Seed selection was
much more commonly practiced, and extraordinary care was taken in ginning
and packing the harvest. The earliest and favorite lands for this crop
were those of exceedingly light soil on the islands fringing the coast of
Georgia and South Carolina. At first the tangle of live-oak and palmetto
roots discouraged the use of the plow; and afterward the need of heavy
fertilization with swamp mud and seaweed kept the acreage so small in
proportion to the laborers that hoes continued to be the prevalent means of
tillage. Operations were commonly on the basis of six or seven acres to the
hand, half in cotton and the rest in corn and sweet potatoes. In the swamps
on the mainland into which this crop was afterwards extended, the use of
the plow permitted the doubling of the area per hand; but the product of
the swamp lands was apparently never of the first grade.

The fields were furrowed at five-foot intervals during the winter, bedded
in early spring, planted in late April or early May, cultivated until the
end of July, and harvested from September to December. The bolls opened but
narrowly and the fields had to be reaped frequently to save the precious
lint from damage by the weather. Accordingly the pickers are said to have
averaged no more than twenty-five pounds a day. The preparation for market
required the greatest painstaking of all. First the seed cotton was dried
on a scaffold; next it was whipped for the removal of trash and sand; then
it was carefully sorted into grades by color and fineness; then it went to
the roller gins, whence the lint was spread upon tables where women picked
out every stained or matted bit of the fiber; and finally when gently
packed into sewn bags it was ready for market. A few gin houses were
equipped in the later decades with steam power; but most planters retained
the system of a treadle for each pair of rollers as the surest safeguard
of the delicate filaments. A plantation gin house was accordingly a simple
barn with perhaps a dozen or two foot-power gins, a separate room for the
whipping, a number of tables for the sorting and moting, and a round hole
in the floor to hold open the mouth of the long bag suspended for the
packing.[34] In preparing a standard bale of three hundred pounds, it was
reckoned that the work required of the laborers at the gin house was as
follows: the dryer, one day; the whipper, two days; the sorters, at fifty
pounds of seed cotton per day for each, thirty days; the ginners, each
taking 125 pounds in the seed per day and delivering therefrom 25 pounds of
lint, twelve days; the moters, at 43 pounds, seven days; the inspector and
packer, two days; total fifty-four days.

[Footnote 34: The culture and apparatus are described by W.B. Seabrook,
_Memoir on Cotton_, pp. 23-25; Thomas Spaulding in the _American
Agriculturist_, III, 244-246; R.F.W. Allston, _Essay on Sea Coast Crops_
(Charleston, 1854), reprinted in _DeBow's Review_, XVI, 589-615; J.A.
Turner, ed., _Cotton Planter's Manual_, pp. 131-136. The routine of
operations is illustrated in the diary of Thomas P. Ravenel, of Woodboo
plantation, 1847-1850, printed in _Plantation and Frontier_, I, 195-208.]

The roller gin was described in a most untechnical manner by Basil Hall:
"It consists of two little wooden rollers, each about as thick as a man's
thumb, placed horizontally and touching each other. On these being put into
rapid motion, handfulls of the cotton are cast upon them, which of course
are immediately sucked in.... A sort of comb fitted with iron teeth ... is
made to wag up and down with considerable velocity in front of the rollers.
This rugged comb, which is equal in length to the rollers, lies parallel to
them, with the sharp ends of its teeth almost in contact with them. By
the quick wagging motion given to this comb by the machinery, the buds of
cotton cast upon the rollers are torn open just as they are beginning to be
sucked in. The seeds, now released ... fly off like sparks to the right and
left, while the cotton itself passes between the rollers."[35]

[Footnote 35: Basil Hall, _Travels in North America_ (Edinburgh, 1829),
III, 221, 222.]

As to yields and proceeds, a planter on the Georgia seaboard analyzed his
experience from 1830 to 1847 as follows: the harvest average per acre
ranged from 68 pounds of lint in 1846 to 223 pounds in 1842, with a general
average for the whole period of 137 pounds; the crop's average price per
pound ranged from 14 cents in 1847 to 41 cents in 1838, with a general
average of 23 1/2 cents; and the net proceeds per hand were highest at
$137 in 1835, lowest at $41 in 1836, and averaged $83 for the eighteen

[Footnote 36: J.A. Turner, ed., _Cotton Planter's Manual_, pp. 128, 129.]

In the cotton belt as a whole the census takers of 1850 enumerated 74,031
farms and plantations each producing five bales or more,[37] and they
reckoned the crop at 2,445,793 bales of four hundred pounds each. Assuming
that five bales were commonly the product of one full hand, and leaving
aside a tenth of the gross output as grown perhaps on farms where the
cotton was not the main product, it appears that the cotton farms and
plantations averaged some thirty bales each, and employed on the average
about six full hands. That is to say, there were very many more small
farms than large plantations devoted to cotton; and among the plantations,
furthermore, it appears that very few were upon a scale entitling them
to be called great, for the nature of the industry did not encourage the
engrossment of more than sixty laborers under a single manager.[38] It is
true that some proprietors operated on a much larger scale than this. It
was reported in 1859, for example, that Joseph Bond of Georgia had marketed
2199 bales of his produce, that numerous Louisiana planters, particularly
about Concordia Parish, commonly exceeded that output; that Dr. Duncan of
Mississippi had a crop of 3000 bales; and that L.R. Marshall, who lived at
Natchez and had plantations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, was
accustomed to make more than four thousand bales.[39] The explanation lies
of course in the possession by such men of several more or less independent
plantations of manageable size. Bond's estate, for example, comprised not
less than six plantations in and about Lee County in southwestern Georgia,
while his home was in the town of Macon. The areas of these, whether
cleared or in forest, ranged from 1305 to 4756 acres.[40] But however large
may have been the outputs of exceptionally great planters, the fact remains
on the other hand that virtually half of the total cotton crop each year
was made by farmers whose slaves were on the average hardly more numerous
than the white members of their own families. The plantation system
nevertheless dominated the regime.

[Footnote 37: _Compendium of the Seventh Census_, p. 178]

[Footnote 38: _DeBow's Review_, VIII, 16.]

[Footnote 39: _Ibid_., XXVI, 581.]

[Footnote 40: Advertisement of Bond's executors offering the plantations
for sale in the _Federal Union_ (Milledgeville, Ga.), Nov. 8, 1859.]

The British and French spinners, solicitous for their supply of material,
attempted at various times and places during the ante-bellum period to
enlarge the production of cotton where it was already established and to
introduce it into new regions. The result was a complete failure to lessen
the predominance of the United States as a source. India, Egypt and Brazil
might enlarge their outputs considerably if the rates in the market were
raised to twice or thrice their wonted levels; but so long as the price
held a moderate range the leadership of the American cotton belt could not
be impaired, for its facilities were unequaled. Its long growing season,
hot in summer by day and night, was perfectly congenial to the plant, its
dry autumns permitted the reaping of full harvests, and its frosty winters
decimated the insect pests. Its soil was abundant, its skilled managers
were in full supply, its culture was well systematized, and its labor
adequate for the demand. To these facilities there was added in the
Southern thought of the time, as no less essential for the permanence of
the cotton belt's primacy, the plantation system and the institution of



The tone and method of a plantation were determined partly by the crop and
the lie of the land, partly by the characters of the master and his men,
partly by the local tradition. Some communities operated on the basis of
time-work, or the gang system; others on piece-work or the task system. The
former was earlier begun and far more widely spread, for Sir Thomas Dale
used it in drilling the Jamestown settlers at their work, it was adopted
in turn on the "particular" and private plantations thereabout, and it was
spread by the migration of the sons and grandsons of Virginia throughout
the middle and western South as far as Missouri and Texas. The task system,
on the other hand, was almost wholly confined to the rice coast. The gang
method was adaptable to operations on any scale. If a proprietor were of
the great majority who had but one or two families of slaves, he and his
sons commonly labored alongside the blacks, giving not less than step for
step at the plow and stroke for stroke with the hoe. If there were a dozen
or two working hands, the master, and perhaps the son, instead of laboring
manually would superintend the work of the plow and hoe gangs. If the
slaves numbered several score the master and his family might live in
leisure comparative or complete, while delegating the field supervision to
an overseer, aided perhaps by one or more slave foremen. When an estate
was inherited by minor children or scattered heirs, or where a single
proprietor had several plantations, an overseer would be put into full
charge of an establishment so far as the routine work was concerned; and
when the plantations in one ownership were quite numerous or of a great
scale a steward might be employed to supervise the several overseers. Thus
in the latter part of the eighteenth century, Robert Carter of Nomoni Hall
on the Potomac had a steward to assist in the administration of his many
scattered properties, and Washington after dividing the Mount Vernon lands
into several units had an overseer upon each and a steward for the whole
during his own absence in the public service. The neighboring estate of
Gunston Hall, belonging to George Mason, was likewise divided into several
units for the sake of more detailed supervision. Even the 103 slaves of
James Mercer, another neighbor, were distributed on four plantations under
the management in 1771 of Thomas Oliver. Of these there were 54 slaves on
Marlborough, 19 on Acquia, 12 on Belviderra and 9 on Accokeek, besides 9
hired for work elsewhere. Of the 94 not hired out, 64 were field workers.
Nearly all the rest, comprising the house servants, the young children, the
invalids and the superannuated, were lodged on Marlborough, which was of
course the owner's "home place." Each of the four units had its implements
of husbandry, and three of them had tobacco houses; but the barn and
stables were concentrated on Marlborough. This indicates that the four
plantations were parts of a single tract so poor in soil that only pockets
here and there would repay cultivation.[1] This presumption is reinforced
by an advertisement which Mercer published in 1767: "Wanted soon, ... a
farmer who will undertake the management of about 80 slaves, all settled
within six miles of each other, to be employed in making of grain."[2] In
such a case the superintendent would combine the functions of a regular
overseer on the home place with those of a "riding boss" inspecting the
work of the three small outlying squads from time to time. Grain crops
would facilitate this by giving more frequent intermissions than tobacco in
the routine. The Mercer estate might indeed be more correctly described
as a plantation and three subsidiary farms than as a group of four
plantations. The occurrence of tobacco houses in the inventory and of grain
crops alone in the advertisement shows a recent abandonment of the tobacco
staple; and the fact of Mercer's financial embarrassment[3] suggests, what
was common knowledge, that the plantation system was ill suited to grain
production as a central industry.

[Footnote 1: Robert Carter's plantation affairs are noted in Philip V.
Fithian, _Journal and Letters_ (Princeton, N.J., 1900); the Gunston Hall
estate is described in Kate M. Rowland, _Life of George Mason_ (New York,
1892), I, 98-102; many documents concerning Mt. Vernon are among the George
Washington MSS. in the Library of Congress, and Washington's letters,
1793-179, to his steward are printed in the Long Island Historical Society
_Memoirs_ v. 4; of James Mercer's establishments an inventory taken in 1771
is reproduced in _Plantation and Frontier_, I, 249.]

[Footnote 2: _Virginia Gazette_ (Williamsburg, Va.), Oct. 22, 1767,
reprinted in _Plantation and Frontier_, I, 133.]

[Footnote 3: S.M. Hamilton ed., _Letters to Washington_, IV, 286.]

The organization and routine of the large plantations on the James River in
the period of an agricultural renaissance are illustrated in the inventory
and work journal of Belmead, in Powhatan County, owned by Philip St. George
Cocke and superintended by S.P. Collier.[4] At the beginning of 1854 the
125 slaves were scheduled as follows: the domestic staff comprised a
butler, two waiters, four housemaids, a nurse, a laundress, a seamstress, a
dairy maid and a gardener; the field corps had eight plowmen, ten male and
twelve female hoe hands, two wagoners and four ox drivers, with two cooks
attached to its service; the stable and pasture staff embraced a carriage
driver, a hostler, a stable boy, a shepherd, a cowherd and a hog herd; in
outdoor crafts there were two carpenters and five stone masons; in indoor
industries a miller, two blacksmiths, two shoemakers, five women spinners
and a woman weaver; and in addition there were forty-five children, one
invalid, a nurse for the sick, and an old man and two old women hired off
the place, and finally Nancy for whom no age, value or classification is
given. The classified workers comprised none younger than sixteen years
except the stable boy of eleven, a waiter of twelve, and perhaps some of
the housemaids and spinners whose ages are not recorded. At the other
extreme there were apparently no slaves on the plantation above sixty years
old except Randal, a stone mason, who in spite of his sixty-six years was
valued at $300, and the following who had no appraisable value: Old Jim the
shepherd, Old Maria the dairy maid, and perhaps two of the spinners. The
highest appraisal, $800, was given to Payton, an ox driver, twenty-eight
years old. The $700 class comprised six plowmen, five field hands, the
three remaining ox drivers, both wagoners, both blacksmiths, the carriage
driver, four stone masons, a carpenter, and Ned the twenty-eight year old
invalid whose illness cannot have been chronic. The other working men
ranged between $250 and $500 except the two shoemakers whose rating was
only $200 each. None of the women were appraised above $400, which was the
rating also of the twelve and thirteen year old boys. The youngest children
were valued at $100 each. These ratings were all quite conservative for
that period. The fact that an ox driver overtopped all others in appraisal
suggests that the artisans were of little skill. The masons, the carpenters
and various other specialists were doubtless impressed as field hands on

[Footnote 4: These records are in the possession of Wm. Bridges of
Richmond, Va. For copies of them, as well as for many other valuable items,
I am indebted to Alfred H. Stone of Dunleith, Miss.]

The livestock comprised twelve mules, nine work horses, a stallion, a brood
mare, four colts, six pleasure horses and "William's team" of five head;
sixteen work oxen, a beef ox, two bulls, twenty-three cows, and twenty-six
calves; 150 sheep and 115 swine. The implements included two reaping
machines, three horse rakes, two wheat drills, two straw cutters, three
wheat fans, and a corn sheller; one two-horse and four four-horse wagons,
two horse carts and four ox carts; nine one-horse and twelve two-horse
plows, six colters, six cultivators, eight harrows, two earth scoops, and
many scythes, cradles, hoes, pole-axes and miscellaneous farm implements as
well as a loom and six spinning wheels.

The bottom lands of Belmead appear to have been cultivated in a rotation
of tobacco and corn the first year, wheat the second and clover the third,
while the uplands had longer rotations with more frequent crops of clover
and occasional interspersions of oats. The work journal of 1854 shows
how the gang dovetailed the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of the
several crops and the general upkeep of the plantation.

On specially moist days from January to the middle of April all hands were
called to the tobacco houses to strip and prize the cured crop; when the
ground was frozen they split and hauled firewood and rails, built fences,
hauled stone to line the ditches or build walls and culverts, hauled
wheat to the mill, tobacco and flour to the boat landing, and guano, land
plaster, barnyard manure and straw to the fields intended for the coming
tobacco crop; and in milder dry weather they spread and plowed in these
fertilizers, prepared the tobacco seed bed by heaping and burning brush
thereon and spading it mellow, and also sowed clover and oats in their
appointed fields. In April also the potato patch and the corn fields were
prepared, and the corn planted; and the tobacco bed was seeded at the
middle of the month. In early May the corn began to be plowed, and the soil
of the tobacco fields drawn by hoes into hills with additional manure in
their centers. From the end of May until as late as need be in July the
occurrence of every rain sent all hands to setting the tobacco seedlings in
their hills at top speed as long as the ground stayed wet enough to give
prospect of success in the process. In the interims the corn cultivation
was continued, hay was harvested in the clover fields and the meadows, and
the tobacco fields first planted began to be scraped with hoe and plow. The
latter half of June was devoted mainly to the harvesting of small grain
with the two reaping machines and the twelve cradles; and for the following
two months the main labor force was divided between threshing the wheat and
plowing, hoeing, worming and suckering the tobacco, while the expert Daniel
was day after day steadily topping the plants. In late August the plows
began breaking the fallow fields for wheat. Early in September the cutting
and housing of tobacco began, and continued at intervals in good weather
until the middle of October. Then the corn was harvested and the sowing of
wheat was the chief concern until the end of November when winter plowing
was begun for the next year's tobacco. Two days in December were devoted to
the housing of ice; and Christmas week, as well as Easter Monday and a
day or two in summer and fall, brought leisure. Throughout the year the
overseer inspected the negroes' houses and yards every Sunday morning and
regularly reported them in good order.

The greatest of the tobacco planters in this period was Samuel Hairston,
whose many plantations lying in the upper Piedmont on both sides of the
Virginia-North Carolina boundary were reported in 1854 to have slave
populations aggregating some 1600 souls, and whose gardens at his homestead
in Henry County, Virginia, were likened to paradise. Of his methods
of management nothing more is known than that his overseers were
systematically superintended and that his negroes were commonly both fed
and clothed with the products of the plantations themselves.[5]

[Footnote 5: William Chambers, _American Slavery and Colour_ (London,
1857), pp. 194, 195, quoting a Richmond newspaper of 1854.]

In the eastern cotton belt a notable establishment of earlier decades was
that of Governor David R. Williams, who began operations with about a
hundred slaves in Chesterfield County, South Carolina, near the beginning
of the nineteenth century and increased their number fivefold before his
death in 1830. While each of his four plantations gave adequate yields of
the staple as well as furnishing their own full supplies of corn and pork,
the central feature and the chief source of prosperity was a great bottom
tract safeguarded from the floods of the Pee Dee by a levee along the river
front. The building of this embankment was but one of many enterprises
which Williams undertook in the time spared from his varied political and
military services. Others were the improvement of manuring methods, the
breeding of mules, the building of public bridges, the erection and
management of a textile factory, the launching of a cottonseed oil mill, of
which his talents might have made a success even in that early time had not
his untimely death intervened. The prosperity of Williams' main business in
the face of his multifarious diversions proves that his plantation
affairs were administered in thorough fashion. His capable wife must have
supplemented the husband and his overseers constantly and powerfully in the
conduct of the routine. The neighboring plantation of a kinsman, Benjamin
F. Williams, was likewise notable in after years for its highly improved
upland fields as well as for the excellent specialized work of its slave

[Footnote 6: Harvey T. Cooke, _The Life and Legacy of David Rogerson
Williams_ (New York, 1916), chaps. XIV, XVI, XIX, XX, XXV. This book,
though bearing a New York imprint, is actually published, as I have been at
pains to learn, by Mr. J.W. Norwood of Greenville, South Carolina.]

In the fertile bottoms on the Congaree River not far above Columbia, lay
the well famed estate of Colonel Wade Hampton, which in 1846 had some
sixteen hundred acres of cotton and half as much of corn. The traveler,
when reaching it after long faring past the slackly kept fields and
premises common in the region, felt equal enthusiasm for the drainage and
the fencing, the avenues, the mansion and the mill, the stud of blooded
horses, the herd of Durham cattle, the flock of long-wooled sheep, and the
pens of Berkshire pigs.[7] Senator McDuffie's plantation in the further
uplands of the Abbeville district was likewise prosperous though on a
somewhat smaller scale. Accretions had enlarged it from three hundred acres
in 1821 to five thousand in 1847, when it had 147 slaves of all ages. Many
of these were devoted to indoor employments, and seventy were field workers
using twenty-four mules. The 750 acres in cotton commonly yielded crops of
a thousand pounds in the seed; the 325 acres in corn gave twenty-five or
thirty bushels; the 300 in oats, fifteen bushels; and ten acres in peas,
potatoes and squashes yielded their proportionate contribution.[8]

[Footnote 7: Described by R.L. Allen in the _American Agriculturist_, VI,
20, 21.]

[Footnote 8: _DeBow's Review_, VI, 149.]

The conduct and earnings of a cotton plantation fairly typical among those
of large scale, may be gathered from the overseer's letters and factor's
accounts relating to Retreat, which lay in Jefferson County, Georgia. This
was one of several establishments founded by Alexander Telfair of Savannah
and inherited by his two daughters, one of whom became the wife of W.B.
Hodgson. For many years Elisha Cain was its overseer. The first glimpse
which the correspondence affords is in the fall of 1829, some years after
Cain had taken charge. He then wrote to Telfair that many of the negroes
young and old had recently been ill with fever, but most of them had
recovered without a physician's aid. He reported further that a slave named
John had run away "for no other cause than that he did not feel disposed to
be governed by the same rules and regulations that the other negroes on
the land are governed by." Shortly afterward John returned and showed
willingness to do his duty. But now Cain encountered a new sort of trouble.
He wrote Telfair in January, 1830: "Your negroes have a disease now among
them that I am fully at a loss to know what I had best to do. Two of them
are down with the venereal disease, Die and Sary. Doctor Jenkins has been
attending Die four weeks, and very little alteration as I can learn. It is
very hard to get the truth; but from what I can learn, Sary got it from
Friday." A note appended to this letter, presumably by Telfair, reads:
"Friday is the house servant sent to Retreat every summer. I have all the
servants examined before they leave Savannah."

In a letter of February, 1831, Cain described his winter work and his
summer plans. The teams had hauled away nearly all the cotton crop of 205
bales; the hog killing had yielded thirteen thousand pounds of pork, from
which some of the bacon and lard was to be sent to Telfair's town house;
the cotton seed were abundant and easily handled, but they were thought
good for fertilizing corn only; the stable and cowpen manure was
embarrassingly plentiful in view of the pressure of work for the mules and
oxen; and the encumbrance of logs and brush on the fields intended for
cotton was straining all the labor available to clear them. The sheep, he
continued, had not had many lambs; and many of the pigs had died in spite
of care and feeding; but "the negroes have been healthy, only colds, and
they have for some time now done their work in as much peace and have been
as obedient as I could wish."

One of the women, however, Darkey by name, shortly became a pestilent
source of trouble. Cain wrote in 1833 that her termagant outbreaks among
her fellows had led him to apply a "moderate correction," whereupon she had
further terrorized her housemates by threats of poison. Cain could then
only unbosom himself to Telfair: "I will give you a full history of my
belief of Darkey, to wit: I believe her disposition as to temper is as bad
as any in the whole world. I believe she is as unfaithful as any I have
ever been acquainted with. In every respect I believe she has been more
injury to you in the place where she is than two such negroes would sell
for.... I have tryed and done all I could to get on with her, hopeing that
she would mend; but I have been disappointed in every instant. I can not
hope for the better any longer."

The factor's record becomes available from 1834, with the death of Telfair.
The seventy-six pair of shoes entered that year tells roughly the number
of working hands, and the ninety-six pair in 1842 suggests the rate of
increase. Meanwhile the cotton output rose from 166 bales of about three
hundred pounds in 1834 to 407 bales of four hundred pounds in the fine
weather of 1841. In 1836 an autumn report from Cain is available, dated
November 20. Sickness among the negroes for six weeks past had kept
eight or ten of them in their beds; the resort to Petit Gulf seed had
substantially increased the cotton yield; and the fields were now white
with a crop in danger of ruin from storms. "My hands," he said, "have
picked well when they were able, and some of them appear to have a kind
of pride in making a good crop." A gin of sixty saws newly installed had
proved too heavy for the old driving apparatus, but it was now in operation
with shifts of four mules instead of two as formerly. This pressure, in
addition to the hauling of cotton to market had postponed the gathering of
the corn crop. The corn would prove adequate for the plantation's need, and
the fodder was plentiful, but the oats had been ruined by the blast. The
winter cloth supply had been spun and woven, as usual, on the place; but
Cain now advised that the cotton warp for the jeans in future be bought.
"The spinning business on this plantation," said he, "is very ungaining. In
the present arrangement there is eight hands regular imployed in spinning
and weaving, four of which spin warpe, and it could be bought at the
factory at 120 dollars annually. Besides, it takes 400 pounds of cotton
each year, leaveing 60 dollars only to the four hands who spin warp....
These hands are not old negroes, not all of them. Two of Nanny's daughters,
or three I may say, are all able hands ... and these make neither corn nor
meat. Take out $20 to pay their borde, and it leaves them in debt. I give
them their task to spin, and they say they cannot do more. That is, they
have what is jenerly given as a task."

In 1840 Cain raised one of the slaves to the rank of driver, whereupon
several of the men ran away in protest, and Cain was impelled to defend his
policy in a letter to Mary Telfair, explaining that the new functionary had
not been appointed "to lay off tasks and use the whip." The increase of the
laborers and the spread of the fields, he said, often required the working
of three squads, the plowmen, the grown hoe hands, and the younger hoe
hands. "These separate classes are frequently separate a considerable
distance from each other, and so soon as I am absent from either they are
subject to quarrel and fight, or to idle time, or beat and abuse the mules;
and when called to account each negro present when the misconduct took
place will deny all about the same. I therefore thought, and yet believe,
that for the good order of the plantation and faithful performance of their
duty, it was proper to have some faithful and trusty hand whose duty it
should be to report to me those in fault, and that is the only dread they
have of John, for they know he is not authorized to beat them. You mention
in your letter that you do not wish your negroes treated with severity.
I have ever thought my fault on the side of lenity; if they were treated
severe as many are, I should not be their overseer on any consideration."
In the same letter Cain mentioned that the pork made on the place the
preceding year had yielded eleven monthly allowances to the negroes at the
rate of 1050 pounds per month, and that the deficit for the twelfth month
had been filled as usual by a shipment from Savannah.

From 407 bales in 1841 the cotton output fell rapidly, perhaps because of
restriction prompted by the low prices, to 198 bales in 1844. Then it rose
to the maximum of 438 bales in 1848. Soon afterwards Cain's long service
ended, and after two years during which I. Livingston was in charge, I.N.
Bethea was engaged and retained for the rest of the ante-bellum period. The
cotton crops in the 'fifties did not commonly exceed three hundred bales
of a weight increasing to 450 pounds, but they were supplemented to some
extent by the production of wheat and rye for market. The overseer's wages
were sometimes as low as $600, but were generally $1000 a year. In the
expense accounts the annual charges for shoes, blankets and oznaburgs were
no more regular than the items of "cotton money for the people." These
sums, averaging about a hundred dollars a year, were distributed among
the slaves in payment for the little crops of nankeen cotton which they
cultivated in spare time on plots assigned to the several families. Other
expense items mentioned salt, sugar, bacon, molasses, tobacco, wool and
cotton cards, loom sleighs, mules and machinery. Still others dealt with
drugs and doctor's bills. In 1837, for example, Dr. Jenkins was paid $90
for attendance on Priscilla. In some years the physician's payment was a
round hundred dollars, indicating services on contract. In May, 1851, there
are debits of $16.16 for a constable's reward, a jail fee and a railroad
fare, and of $1.30 for the purchase of a pair of handcuffs, two padlocks
and a trace chain. These constitute the financial record of a runaway's

From 1834 to 1841 the gross earnings on Retreat ranged between eight and
fifteen thousand dollars, of which from seven to twelve thousand each year
was available for division between the owners. The gross then fell rapidly
to $4000 in 1844, of which more than half was consumed in expenses. It then
rose as rapidly to its maximum of $21,300 in 1847, when more than half of
it again was devoted to current expenses and betterments. Thereafter the
range of the gross was between $8000 and $17,000 except for a single
year of crop failure, 1856, when the 109 bales brought $5750. During the
'fifties the current expenses ranged usually between six and ten thousand
dollars, as compared with about one third as much in the 'thirties. This is
explained partly by the resolution of the owners to improve the fields,
now grown old, and to increase the equipment. For the crop of 1856, for
example, purchases were made of forty tons of Peruvian guano at $56 per
ton, and nineteen tons of Mexican guano at $25 a ton. In the following
years lime, salt and dried blood were included in the fertilizer purchases.
At length Hodgson himself gave over his travels and his ethnological
studies to take personal charge on Retreat. He wrote in June, 1859, to his
friend Senator Hammond, of whom we have seen something in the preceding
chapter, that he had seriously engaged in "high farming," and was spreading
huge quantities of fertilizers. He continued: "My portable steam engine
is the _delicia domini_ and of overseer too. It follows the reapers
beautifully in a field of wheat, 130 acres, and then in the rye fields. In
August it will be backed up to the gin house and emancipate from slavery
eighteen mules and four little nigger drivers."[9]

[Footnote 9: MS. among the Hammond papers in the Library of Congress.]

The factor's books for this plantation continue their records into the war
time. From the crop of 1861 nothing appears to have been sold but a single
bale of cotton, and the year's deficit was $6,721. The proceeds from the
harvests of 1862 were $500 from nineteen bales of cotton, and some $10,000
from fodder, hay, peanuts and corn. The still more diversified market
produce of 1863 comprised also wheat, which was impressed by the
Confederate government, syrup, cowpeas, lard, hams and vinegar. The
proceeds were $17,000 and the expenses about $9000, including the
overseer's wages at $1300 and the purchase of 350 bushels of peanuts from
the slaves at $1.50 per bushel. The reckonings in the war period were made
of course in the rapidly depreciating Confederate currency. The stoppage of
the record in 1864 was doubtless a consequence of Sherman's march through

[Footnote 10: The Retreat records are in the possession of the Georgia
Historical Society, trustee for the Telfair Academy of Art, Savannah, Ga.
The overseer's letters here used are printed in _Plantation and Frontier_,
I, 314, 330-336, II, 39, 85.]

In the western cotton belt the plantations were much like those of the
eastern, except that the more uniform fertility often permitted the fields
to lie in solid expanses instead of being sprawled and broken by waste
lands as in the Piedmont. The scale of operations tended accordingly to be
larger. One of the greatest proprietors in that region, unless his display
were far out of proportion to his wealth, was Joseph A.S. Acklen whose
group of plantations was clustered near the junction of the Red and
Mississippi Rivers. In 1859 he began to build a country house on the style
of a Gothic castle, with a great central hall and fifty rooms exclusive of
baths and closets.[11] The building was expected to cost $150,000, and
the furnishings $125,000 more. Acklen's rules for the conduct of his
plantations will be discussed in another connection;[12] but no description
of his estate or his actual operations is available.

[Footnote 11: _Federal Union_ (Milledgeville, Ga.), Aug. 2, 1859.]

[Footnote 12: Below, pp. 262 ff.]

Olmsted described in detail a plantation in the neighborhood of Natchez.
Its thirteen or fourteen hundred acres of cotton, corn and incidental
crops were tilled by a plow gang of thirty and a hoe gang of thirty-seven,
furnished by a total of 135 slaves on the place. A driver cracked a whip
among the hoe hands, occasionally playing it lightly upon the shoulders
of one or another whom he thought would be stimulated by the suggestion.
"There was a nursery for sucklings at the quarters, and twenty women at
this time left their work four times a day, for half an hour, to nurse the
young ones, and whom the overseer counted as half hands--that is, expected
to do half an ordinary day's work." At half past nine every night the hoe
and plow foremen, serving alternately, sounded curfew on a horn, and half
an hour afterward visited each cabin to see that the households were at
rest and the fires safely banked. The food allowance was a peck of corn and
four pounds of pork weekly. Each family, furthermore, had its garden, fowl
house and pigsty; every Christmas the master distributed among them coffee,
molasses, tobacco, calico and "Sunday tricks" to the value of from a
thousand to fifteen hundred dollars; and every man might rive boards in the
swamp on Sundays to buy more supplies, or hunt and fish in leisure times to
vary his family's fare. Saturday afternoon was also free from the routine.
Occasionally a slave would run away, but he was retaken sooner or later,
sometimes by the aid of dogs. A persistent runaway was disposed of by

[Footnote 13: F.L. Olmsted, _A Journey in the Back Country_ (New York,
1860), pp. 46-54.]

Another estate in the same district, which Olmsted observed more cursorily,
comprised four adjoining plantations, each with its own stables and
quarter, each employing more than a hundred slaves under a separate
overseer, and all directed by a steward whom the traveler described as
cultured, poetic and delightful. An observation that women were at some
of the plows prompted Olmsted to remark that throughout the Southwest the
slaves were worked harder as a rule than in the easterly and northerly
slaveholding states. On the other hand he noted: "In the main the negroes
appeared to be well cared for and abundantly supplied with the necessaries
of vigorous physical existence. A large part of them lived in commodious
and well built cottages, with broad galleries in front, so that each family
of five had two rooms on the lower floor and a large loft. The remainder
lived in log huts, small and mean in appearance;[14] but those of their
overseers were little better, and preparations were being made to replace
all of these by neat boarded cottages."

[Footnote 14: Olmsted, _Back Country_, pp. 72-92.]

In the sugar district Estwick Evans when on his "pedestrious tour" in 1817
found the shores of the Mississippi from a hundred miles above New Orleans
to twenty miles below the city in a high state of cultivation.
"The plantations within these limits," he said, "are superb beyond
description.... The dwelling houses of the planters are not inferior to any
in the United States, either with respect to size, architecture, or the
manner in which they are furnished. The gardens and yards contiguous to
them are formed and decorated with much taste. The cotton, sugar and ware
houses are very large, and the buildings for the slaves are well finished.
The latter buildings are in some cases forty or fifty in number, and each
of them will accommodate ten or twelve persons.... The planters here derive
immense profits from the cultivation of their estates.[15] The yearly
income from them is from twenty thousand to thirty thousand dollars."

[Footnote 15: Estwick Evans, _A Pedestrious Tour ... through the Western
States and Territories_ (Concord, N.H., 1817), p. 219, reprinted in R.G.
Thwaites ed., _Early Western Travels_, VIII, 325, 326.]

Gross proceeds running into the tens of thousands of dollars were indeed
fairly common then and afterward among Louisiana sugar planters, for the
conditions of their industry conduced strongly to a largeness of plantation
scale. Had railroad facilities been abundant a multitude of small
cultivators might have shipped their cane to central mills for manufacture,
but as things were the weight and the perishableness of the cane made
milling within the reach of easy cartage imperative. It was inexpedient
even for two or more adjacent estates to establish a joint mill, for the
imminence of frost in the harvest season would make wrangles over the
questions of precedence in the grinding almost inevitable. As a rule,
therefore, every unit in cane culture was also a unit in sugar manufacture.
Exceptions were confined to the scattering instances where some small farm
lay alongside a plantation which had a mill of excess capacity available
for custom grinding on slack days.

The type of plantation organization in the sugar bowl was much like that
which has been previously described for Jamaica. Mules were used as draught
animals instead of oxen, however, on account of their greater strength
and speed, and all the seeding and most of the cultivation was done with
deep-running plows. Steam was used increasingly as years passed for driving
the mills, railways were laid on some of the greater estates for hauling
the cane, more suitable varieties of cane were introduced, guano was
imported soon after its discovery to make the rich fields yet more fertile,
and each new invention of improved mill apparatus was readily adopted for
the sake of reducing expenses. In consequence the acreage cultivated per
hand came to be several times greater than that which had prevailed in
Jamaica's heyday. But the brevity of the growing season kept the saccharine
content of the canes below that in the tropics, and together with the
mounting price of labor made prosperity depend in some degree upon
protective tariffs. The dearth of land available kept the sugar output
well below the domestic demand, though the molasses market was sometimes

A typical prosperous estate of which a description and a diary are
extant[16] was that owned by Valcour Aime, lying on the right bank of the
Mississippi about sixty miles above New Orleans. Of the 15,000 acres which
it comprised in 1852, 800 were in cane, 300 in corn, 150 in crops belonging
to the slaves, and most of the rest in swampy forest from which two or
three thousand cords of wood were cut each year as fuel for the sugar mill
and the boiling house. The slaves that year numbered 215 of all ages, half
of them field hands,[17] and the mules 64. The negroes were well housed,
clothed and fed; the hospital and the nursery were capacious, and the
stables likewise. The mill was driven by an eighty-horse-power steam
engine, and the vacuum pans and the centrifugals were of the latest types.
The fields were elaborately ditched, well manured, and excellently tended.
The land was valued at $360,000, the buildings at $100,000, the machinery
at $60,000, the slaves at $170,000, and the livestock at $11,000;
total, $701,000. The crop of 1852, comprising 1,300,000 pounds of white
centrifugal sugar at 6 cents and 60,000 gallons of syrup at 36 cents,
yielded a gross return of almost $100,000. The expenses included 4,629
barrels of coal from up the river, in addition to the outlay for wages and
miscellaneous supplies.

[Footnote 16: _Harper's Magasine_, VII, 758, 759 (November, 1853);
Valcour Aime, _Plantation Diary_ (New Orleans, 1878), partly reprinted in
_Plantation and Frontier_, I, 214, 230.]

[Footnote 17: According to the MS. returns of the U.S. census of 1850
Aime's slaves at that time numbered 231, of whom 58 were below fifteen
years old, 164 were between 15 and 65, and 9 (one of them blind, another
insane) were from 66 to 80 years old. Evidently there was a considerable
number of slaves of working age not classed by him as field hands.]

In the routine of work, each January was devoted mainly to planting fresh
canes in the fields from which the stubble canes or second rattoons had
recently been harvested. February and March gave an interval for cutting
cordwood, cleaning ditches, and such other incidentals as the building and
repair of the plantation's railroad. Warm weather then brought the corn
planting and cane and corn cultivation. In August the laying by of the
crops gave time for incidentals again. Corn and hay were now harvested, the
roads and premises put in order, the cordwood hauled from the swamp, the
coal unladen from the barges, and all things made ready for the rush of
the grinding season which began in late October. In the first phase of
harvesting the main gang cut and stripped the canes, the carters and the
railroad crew hauled them to the mill, and double shifts there kept up the
grinding and boiling by day and by night. As long as the weather continued
temperate the mill set the pace for the cutters. But when frost grew
imminent every hand who could wield a knife was sent to the fields to cut
the still standing stalks and secure them against freezing. For the first
few days of this phase, the stalks as fast as cut were laid, in their
leaves, in great mats with the tops turned south to prevent the entrance
of north winds, with the leaves of each layer covering the butts of that
below, and with a blanket of earth over the last butts in the mat. Here
these canes usually stayed until January when they were stripped and strewn
in the furrows of the newly plowed "stubble" field as the seed of a new
crop. After enough seed cane were "mat-layed," the rest of the cut was
merely laid lengthwise in the adjacent furrows to await cartage to the
mill.[18] In the last phase of the harvest, which followed this work of the
greatest emergency, these "windrowed" canes were stripped and hauled, with
the mill setting the pace again, until the grinding was ended, generally in

[Footnote 18: These processes of matlaying and windrowing are described in
L. Bouchereau, _Statement of the Sugar and Rice Crops made in Louisiana in
1870-71_ (New Orleans, 1871), p. xii.]

Another typical sugar estate was that of Dr. John P.R. Stone, comprising
the two neighboring though not adjacent plantations called Evergreen and
Residence, on the right bank of the Mississippi in Iberville Parish. The
proprietor's diary is much like Aime's as regards the major crop routine
but is fuller in its mention of minor operations. These included the
mending and heightening of the levee in spring, the cutting of staves,
the shaving of hoops and the making of hogsheads in summer, and, in their
fitting interims, the making of bricks, the sawing of lumber, enlarging
old buildings, erecting new ones, whitewashing, ditching, pulling fodder,
cutting hay, and planting and harvesting corn, sweet potatoes, pumpkins,
peas and turnips. There is occasional remark upon the health of the slaves,
usually in the way of rejoicing at its excellence. Apparently no outside
help was employed except for an Irish carpenter during the construction of
a sugar house on Evergreen in 1850.[19] The slaves on Evergreen in 1850
numbered 44 between the ages of 15 and 60 years and 26 children; on
Residence, 25 between 15 and 65 years and 6 children.[20] The joint crop
in 1850, ground in the Residence mill, amounted to 312 hogsheads of brown
sugar and sold for 4-3/4 to 5 cents a pound; that of the phenomenal year
1853, when the Evergreen mill was also in commission, reached 520 hogsheads
on that plantation and 179 on Residence, but brought only 3 cents a pound.
These prices were much lower than those of white sugar at the time; but as
Valcour Aime found occasion to remark, the refining reduced the weight of
the product nearly as much as it heightened the price, so that the chief
advantage of the centrifugals lay in the speed of their process.

[Footnote 19: Diary of Dr. J.P.R. Stone. MS. in the possession of Mr. John
Stone Ware, White Castle, La. For the privilege of using the diary I
am indebted to Mr. V. Alton Moody of the University of Michigan, now
Lieutenant in the American Expeditionary Force in France.]

[Footnote 20: MS. returns in the U.S. Census Bureau, data procured through
the courtesy of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and Mr.(now
Lieutenant) V. Alton Moody.]

All of the characteristic work in the sugar plantation routine called
mainly for able-bodied laborers. Children were less used than in tobacco
and cotton production, and the men and women, like the mules, tended to be
of sturdier physique. This was the result partly of selection, partly of
the vigorous exertion required.

Among the fourteen hundred and odd sugar plantations of this period, the
average one had almost a hundred slaves of all ages, and produced average
crops of nearly three hundred hogsheads or a hundred and fifty tons. Most
of the Anglo-Americans among the planters lived about Baton Rouge and on
the Red River, where they or their fathers had settled with an initial
purpose of growing cotton. Their fellows who acquired estates in the Creole
parishes were perhaps as often as otherwise men who had been merchants and
not planters in earlier life. One of these had removed from New York in the
eighteenth century and had thriven in miscellaneous trade at Pensacola and
on the Mississippi. In 1821 he bought for $140,000 a plantation and its
complement of slaves on Bayou Lafourche, and he afterward acquired a second
one in Plaquemines Parish. In the conduct of his plantation business he
shrewdly bought blankets by the bale in Philadelphia, and he enlarged his
gang by commissioning agents to buy negroes in Virginia and Maryland. The
nature of the instructions he gave may be gathered from the results, for
there duly arrived in several parcels between 1828 and 1832, fully covered
by marine insurance for the coastwise voyage, fifty slaves, male and
female, virtually all of whom ranged between the ages of ten and
twenty-five years.[21] This planter prospered, and his children after him;
and while he may have had a rugged nature, his descendants to-day are among
the gentlest of Louisianians. Another was Duncan F. Kenner, who was long a
slave trader with headquarters at New Orleans before he became a planter in
Ascension Parish on a rapidly increasing scale. His crop advanced from 580
hogsheads in 1849 to 1,370 hogsheads in 1853 and 2,002 hogsheads in 1858
when he was operating two mills, one equipped with vacuum pans and the
other with Rillieux apparatus.[22] A third example was John Burnside, who
emigrated from the North of Ireland in his youth rose rapidly from grocery
clerk in upland Virginia to millionaire merchant in New Orleans, and then
in the fifties turned his talents to sugar growing. He bought the three
contiguous plantations of Col. J.S. Preston lying opposite Donaldsonville,
and soon added a fourth one to the group. In 1858 his aggregate crop was
3,701 hogsheads; and in 1861 his fields were described by William H.
Russell as exhibiting six thousand acres of cane in an unbroken tract. By
employing squads of immigrant Irishmen for ditching and other severe
work he kept his literally precious negroes, well housed and fed, in
fit condition for effective routine under his well selected staff of
overseers.[23] Even after the war Burnside kept on acquiring plantations,
and with free negro labor kept on making large sugar crops. At the end of
his long life, spent frugally as a bachelor and somewhat of a recluse,
he was doubtless by far the richest man in all the South. The number of
planters who had been merchants and the frequency of partnerships and
corporations operating sugar estates, as well as the magnitude of scale
characteristic of the industry, suggest that methods of a strictly business
kind were more common in sugar production than in that of cotton or
tobacco. Domesticity and paternalism were nevertheless by no means alien to
the sugar regime.

[Footnote 21: MSS. in private possession, data from which were made
available through the kindness of Mr. V.A. Moody.]

[Footnote 22: The yearly product of each sugar plantation in Louisiana
between 1849 and 1858 is reported in P.A. Champonier's _Annual Statement_
of the crop. (New Orleans, 1850-1859).]

[Footnote 23: William H. Russell, _My Diary North and South_ (Boston,
1863), pp. 268-279]

Virtually all of the tobacco, short staple cotton and sugar plantations
were conducted on the gang system. The task system, on the other hand, was
instituted on the rice coast, where the drainage ditches checkering
the fields into half or quarter acre plots offered convenient units of
performance in the successive processes. The chief advantage of the task
system lay in the ease with which it permitted a planter or an overseer
to delegate much of his routine function to a driver. This official each
morning would assign to each field hand his or her individual plot, and
spend the rest of the day in seeing to the performance of the work. At
evening or next day the master could inspect the results and thereby keep
a check upon both the driver and the squad. Each slave when his day's task
was completed had at his own disposal such time as might remain. The driver
commonly gave every full hand an equal area to be worked in the same way,
and discriminated among them only in so far as varying conditions from plot
to plot would permit the assignment of the stronger and swifter workmen to
tracts where the work required was greater, and the others to plots where
the labor was less. Fractional hands were given fractional tasks, or were
combined into full hands for full tasks. Thus a woman rated at three
quarters might be helped by her own one quarter child, or two half-hand
youths might work a full plot jointly. The system gave some stimulus to
speed of work, at least from time to time, by its promise of afternoon
leisure in reward. But for this prospect to be effective the tasks had to
be so limited that every laborer might have the hope of an hour or two's
release as the fruit of diligence. The performance of every hand tended
accordingly to be standardized at the customary accomplishment of the
weakest and slowest members of the group. This tendency, however, was
almost equally strong in the gang system also.

The task acre was commonly not a square of 210 feet, but a rectangle 300
feet long and 150 feet broad, divided into square halves and rectangular
quarters, and further divisible into "compasses" five feet wide and 150
feet long, making one sixtieth of an acre. The standard tasks for full
hands in rice culture were scheduled in 1843 as follows: plowing with two
oxen, with the animals changed at noon, one acre; breaking stiff land with
the hoe and turning the stubble under, ten compasses; breaking such land
with the stubble burnt off, or breaking lighter land, a quarter acre or
slightly more; mashing the clods to level the field, from a quarter to half
an acre; trenching the drills, if on well prepared land, three quarters of
an acre; sowing rice, from three to four half-acres; covering the drills,
three quarters; the first hoeing, half an acre, or slightly less if the
ground were lumpy and the drills hard to clear; second hoeing, half an
acre, or slightly less or more according to the density of the grass; third
hoeing with hand picking of the grass from the drills, twenty compasses;
fourth hoeing, half an acre; reaping with the sickle, three quarters,
or much less if the ground were new and cumbered or if the stalks were
tangled; and threshing with the flail, six hundred sheaves for the men,
five hundred for the women.[24] Much of the incidental work was also done
by tasks, such as ditching, cutting cordwood, squaring timber, splitting
rails, drawing staves and hoop poles, and making barrels. The scale of the
crop was commonly five acres of rice to each full hand, together with about
half as much in provision crops for home consumption.

[Footnote 24: Edmund Ruffin, _Agricultural Survey of South Carolina_
(Columbia, 1843), p. 118.]

Under the task system, Olmsted wrote: "most of the slaves work rapidly and
well...Custom has settled the extent of the task, and it is difficult to
increase it. The driver who marks it out has to remain on the ground until
it is finished, and has no interest in over-measuring it; and if it should
be systematically increased very much there is the danger of a general
stampede to the 'swamp'--a danger a slave can always hold before his
master's cupidity...It is the driver's duty to make the tasked hands do
their work well.[25] If in their haste to finish it they neglect to do it
properly he 'sets them back,' so that carelessness will hinder more than
it hastens the completion of their tasks." But Olmsted's view was for once
rose colored. A planter who lived in the regime wrote: "The whole task
system ... is one that I most unreservedly disapprove of, because it
promotes idleness, and that is the parent of mischief."[26] Again the truth
lies in the middle ground. The virtue or vice of the system, as with the
gang alternative, depended upon its use by a diligent master or its abuse
by an excessive delegation of responsibility.

[Footnote 25: Olmsted, _Seaboard Slave States_, pp. 435, 436.]

[Footnote 26: J.A. Turner, ed., _Cotton Planter's Manual_, p. 34.]

That the tide when taken at the flood on the rice coast as elsewhere
would lead to fortune is shown by the career of the greatest of all rice
planters, Nathaniel Heyward. At the time of his birth, in 1766, his father
was a planter on an inland swamp near Port Royal. Nathaniel himself after
establishing a small plantation in his early manhood married Harriett
Manigault, an heiress with some fifty thousand dollars. With this, when
both lands and slaves were cheap, Heyward bought a tide-land tract and
erected four plantations thereon, and soon had enough accrued earnings to
buy the several inland plantations of the Gibbes brothers, who had fallen
into debt from luxurious living. With the proceeds of his large crops at
high prices during the great wars in Europe, he bought more slaves year
after year, preferably fresh Africans as long as that cheap supply remained
available, and he bought more land when occasion offered. Joseph Manigault
wrote of him in 1806: "Mr. Heyward has lately made another purchase of
land, consisting of 300 acres of tide swamp, joining one of his Combahee
plantations and belonging to the estate of Mrs. Bell. I believe he has made
a good bargain. It is uncleared and will cost him not quite L20 per acre.
I have very little doubt that he will be in a few years, if he lives, the
richest, as he is the best planter in the state. The Cooper River lands
give him many a long ride." Heyward was venturesome in large things,
conservative in small. He long continued to have his crops threshed by
hand, saying that if it were done by machines his darkies would have no
winter work; but when eventually he instituted mechanical threshers, no
one could discern an increase of leisure. In the matter of pounding
mills likewise, he clung for many years to those driven by the tides and
operating slowly and crudely; but at length he built two new ones driven by
steam and so novel and complete in their apparatus as to be the marvels of
the countryside. He necessarily depended much upon overseers; but his own
frequent visits of inspection and the assistance rendered by his sons kept
the scattered establishments in an efficient routine. The natural increase
of his slaves was reckoned by him to have ranged generally between one and
five per cent. annually, though in one year it rose to seven per cent. At
his death in 1851 he owned fourteen rice plantations with fields ranging
from seventy to six hundred acres in each, and comprising in all 4,390
acres in cultivation. He had also a cotton plantation, much pine land and a
sawmill, nine residences in Charleston, appraised with their furniture at
$180,000; securities and cash to the amount of $200,000; $20,000 worth of
horses, mules and cattle; $15,000 worth of plate; and $3000 worth of old
wine. His slaves, numbering 2,087 and appraised at an average of $550, made
up the greater part of his two million dollar estate. His heirs continued
his policy. In 1855, for example, they bought a Savannah River plantation
called Fife, containing 500 acres of prime rice land at $150 per
acre, together with its equipment and 120 slaves, at a gross price of

[Footnote 27: MSS. in the possession of Mrs. Hawkins K. Jenkins, Pinopolis,
S.C., including a "Memoir of Nathaniel Heyward," written in 1895 by Gabriel
E. Manigault.]

The history of the estate of James Heyward, Nathaniel's brother, was in
striking contrast with this. When on a tour in Ireland he met and married
an actress, who at his death in 1796 inherited his plantation and 214
slaves. Two suitors for the widow's hand promptly appeared in Alexander
Baring, afterwards Lord Ashburton, and Charles Baring, his cousin. Mrs.
Heyward married the latter, who increased the estate to seven or eight
hundred acres in rice, yielding crops worth from twelve to thirty thousand
dollars. But instead of superintending its work in person Baring bought
a large tract in the North Carolina mountains, built a house there, and
carried thither some fifty slaves for his service. After squandering the
income for nearly fifty years, he sold off part of the slaves and mortgaged
the land; and when the plantation was finally surrendered in settlement of
Baring's debts, it fell into Nathaniel Heyward's possession.[28]

[Footnote 28: Notes by Louis Manigault of a conversation with Nathaniel
Heyward in 1846. M.S. in the collection above mentioned.]

Another case of absentee neglect, made notorious through Fanny Kemble's
_Journal_, was the group of rice and sea-island cotton plantations founded
by Senator Pierce Butler on and about Butler's Island near the mouth of the
Altamaha River. When his two grandsons inherited the estate, they used it
as a source of revenue but not as a home. One of these was Pierce Butler
the younger, who lived in Philadelphia. When Fanny Kemble, with fame
preceding her, came to America in 1832, he became infatuated, followed
her troupe from city to city, and married her in 1834. The marriage was
a mistake. The slaveholder's wife left the stage for the time being, but
retained a militant English abolitionism. When in December, 1838, she and
her husband were about to go South for a winter on the plantations, she
registered her horror of slavery in advance, and resolved to keep a journal
of her experiences and observations. The resulting record is gloomy enough.
The swarms of negroes were stupid and slovenly, the cabins and hospitals
filthy, the women overdriven, the overseer callous, the master indifferent,
and the new mistress herself, repudiating the title, was more irritable and
meddlesome than helpful.[29] The short sojourn was long enough. A few years
afterward the ill-mated pair were divorced and Fanny Kemble resumed her
own name and career. Butler did not mend his ways. In 1859 his half of the
slaves, 429 in number, were sold at auction in Savannah to pay his debts.

[Footnote 29: Frances Anne Kemble, _Journal of a Residence on a Georgia
Plantation in 1838-1839_(London, 1863).]

A pleasanter picture is afforded by the largest single unit in rice culture
of which an account is available. This was the plantation of William Aiken,
at one time governor of South Carolina, occupying Jehossee Island near the
mouth of the Edisto River. It was described in 1850 by Solon Robinson, an
Iowa farmer then on tour as correspondent for the _American Agriculturist_.
The two or three hundred acres of firm land above tide comprised the
homestead, the negro quarter, the stables, the stock yard, the threshing
mill and part of the provision fields. Of the land which could be flooded
with the tide, about fifteen hundred acres were diked and drained. About
two-thirds of this appears to have been cropped in rice each year, and the
rest in corn, oats and sweet potatoes. The steam-driven threshing apparatus
was described as highly efficient. The sheaves were brought on the heads of
the negroes from the great smooth stack yard, and opened in a shed where
the scattered grain might be saved. A mechanical carrier led thence to the
threshing machines on the second floor, whence the grain descended through
a winnowing fan. The pounding mill, driven by the tide, was a half mile
distant at the wharf, whence a schooner belonging to the plantation carried
the hulled and polished rice in thirty-ton cargoes to Charleston. The
average product per acre was about forty-five bushels in the husk, each
bushel yielding some thirty pounds of cleaned rice, worth about three cents
a pound. The provision fields commonly fed the force of slaves and mules;
and the slave families had their own gardens and poultry to supplement
their fare. The rice crops generally yielded some twenty-five
thousand dollars in gross proceeds, while the expenses, including the
two-thousand-dollar salary of the overseer, commonly amounted to some ten
thousand dollars. During the summer absence of the master, the overseer
was the only white man on the place. The engineers, smiths, carpenters
and sailors were all black. "The number of negroes upon the place," wrote
Robinson, "is just about 700, occupying 84 double frame houses, each
containing two tenements of three rooms to a family besides the
cockloft.... There are two common hospitals and a 'lying-in hospital,' and
a very neat, commodious church, which is well filled every Sabbath.... Now
the owner of all this property lives in a very humble cottage, embowered in
dense shrubbery and making no show.... He and his family are as plain and
unostentatious in their manners as the house they live in.... Nearly all
the land has been reclaimed and the buildings, except the house, erected
new within the twenty years that Governor Aiken has owned the island. I
fully believe that he is more concerned to make his people comfortable
and happy than he is to make money."[30] When the present writer visited
Jehossee in the harvest season sixty years after Robinson, the fields were
dotted with reapers, wage earners now instead of slaves, but still using
sickles on half-acre tasks; and the stack yard was aswarm with sable men
and women carrying sheaves on their heads and chattering as of old in a
dialect which a stranger can hardly understand. The ante-bellum hospital
and many of the cabins in their far-thrown quadruple row were still
standing. The site of the residence, however, was marked only by desolate
chimneys, a live-oak grove and a detached billiard room, once elegant but
now ruinous, the one indulgence which this planter permitted himself.

[Footnote 30: _American Agriculturist_, IX, 187, 188, reprinted in _DeBow's
Review_, IX, 201-203.]

The ubiquitous Olmsted chose for description two rice plantations operated
as one, which he inspected in company with the owner, whom he calls "Mr.
X." Frame cabins at intervals of three hundred feet constituted the
quarters; the exteriors were whitewashed, the interiors lathed and
plastered, and each family had three rooms and a loft, as well as a chicken
yard and pigsty not far away. "Inside, the cabins appeared dirty and
disordered, which was rather a pleasant indication that their home life
was not much interfered with, though I found certain police regulations
enforced." Olmsted was in a mellow mood that day. At the nursery "a number
of girls eight or ten years old were occupied in holding and tending the
youngest infants. Those a little older--the crawlers--were in the pen, and
those big enough to toddle were playing on the steps or before the house.
Some of these, with two or three bigger ones, were singing and dancing
about a fire they had made on the ground.... The nurse was a kind-looking
old negro woman.... I watched for half an hour, and in all that time not a
baby of them began to cry; nor have I ever heard one, at two or three other
plantation nurseries which I have visited." The chief slave functionary was
a "gentlemanly-mannered mulatto who ... carried by a strap at his waist a
very large bunch of keys and had charge of all the stores of provisions,
tools and materials on the plantations, as well as of their produce before
it was shipped to market. He weighed and measured out all the rations of
the slaves and the cattle.... In all these departments his authority was
superior to that of the overseer; ... and Mr. X. said he would trust him
with much more than he would any overseer he had ever known." The master
explained that this man and the butler, his brother, having been reared
with the white children, had received special training to promote their
sense of dignity and responsibility. The brothers, Olmsted further
observed, rode their own horses the following Sunday to attend the same
church as their master, and one of them slipped a coin into the hand of the
boy who had been holding his mount. The field hands worked by tasks under
their drivers. "I saw one or two leaving the field soon after one o'clock,
several about two; and between three and four I met a dozen men and women
coming home to their cabins, having finished their day's work." As to
punishment, Olmsted asked how often it was necessary. The master replied:
"'Sometimes perhaps not once for two or three weeks; then it will seem as
if the devil had gotten into them all and there is a good deal of it.'" As
to matings: "While watching the negroes in the field, Mr. X. addressed a
girl who was vigorously plying a hoe near us: 'Is that Lucy?--Ah, Lucy,
what's this I hear about you?' The girl simpered, but did not answer or
discontinue her work. 'What is this I hear about you and Sam, eh?' The girl
grinned and still hoeing away with all her might whispered 'Yes, sir.' 'Sam
came to see me this morning,' 'If master pleases.' 'Very well; you may come
up to the house Saturday night, and your mistress will have something for
you.'"[31] We may hope that the pair whose prospective marriage was thus
endorsed with the promise of a bridal gift lived happily ever after.

[Footnote 31: Olmsted, _Seaboard Slave States_,418-448.]

The most detailed record of rice operations available is that made by
Charles Manigault from the time of his purchase in 1833 of "Gowrie," on the
Savannah River, twelve miles above the city of Savannah.[32] The plantation
then had 220 acres in rice fields, 80 acres unreclaimed, a good pounding
mill, and 50 slaves. The price of $40,000 was analyzed by Manigault as
comprising $7500 for the mill, $70 per acre for the cleared, and $37 for
the uncleared, and an average of $300 for the slaves. His maintenance
expense per hand he itemized at a weekly peck of corn, $13 a year; summer
and winter clothes, $7; shoes, $1; meat at times, salt, molasses and
medical attention, not estimated. In reward for good service, however,
Manigault usually issued broken rice worth $2.50 per bushel, instead of
corn worth $1. Including the overseer's wages the current expense for the
plantation for the first six years averaged about $2000 annually. Meanwhile
the output increased from 200 barrels of rice in 1833 to 578 in 1838. The
crop in the latter year was particularly notable, both in its yield of
three barrels per acre, or 161-1/2 barrels per working hand, and its price
of four cents per pound or $24 per barrel. The net proceeds of the one crop
covered the purchase in 1839 of two families of slaves, comprising sixteen
persons, mostly in or approaching their prime, at a price of $640 each.

[Footnote 32: The Manigault MSS. are in the possession of Mrs. H.K.
Jenkins, Pinopolis, S.C. Selections from them are printed in _Plantation
and Frontier_, I, 134-139 _et passim_.]

Manigault and his family were generally absent every summer and sometimes
in winter, at Charleston or in Europe, and once as far away as China. His
methods of administration may be gathered from his letters, contracts and
memoranda. In January, 1848, he wrote from Naples to I.F. Cooper whom his
factor had employed at $250 a year as a new overseer on Gowrie: "My negroes
have the reputation of being orderly and well disposed; but like all
negroes they are up to anything if not watched and attended to. I expect
the kindest treatment of them from you, for this has always been a
principal thing with me. I never suffer them to work off the place, or
exchange work with any plantation....It has always been my plan to give out
allowance to my negroes on Sunday in preference to any other day, because
this has much influence in keeping them at home that day, whereas if they
received allowance on Saturday for instance some of them would be off with
it that same evening to the shops to trade, and perhaps would not get back
until Monday morning. I allow no strange negro to take a wife on my place,
and none of mine to keep a boat."[33]

[Footnote 33: MS. copy in Manigault letter book.]

A few years after this, Manigault bought an adjoining plantation, "East
Hermitage," and consolidated it with Gowrie, thereby increasing his rice
fields to 500 acres and his slaves to about 90 of all ages. His draught
animals appear to have comprised merely five or six mules. A new overseer,
employed in 1853 at wages of $500 together with corn and rice for his table
and the services of a cook and a waiting boy, was bound by a contract
stipulating the duties described in the letter to Cooper above quoted,
along with a few additional items. He was, for example, to procure a book
of medical instructions and a supply of the few requisite "plantation
medicines" to be issued to the nurses with directions as needed. In case of
serious injury to a slave, however, the sufferer was to be laid upon a door
and sent by the plantation boat to Dr. Bullock's hospital in Savannah.
Except when the work was very pressing the slaves were to be sent home for
the rest of the day upon the occurrence of heavy rains in the afternoon,
for Manigault had found by experience "that always after a complete
wetting, particularly in cold rainy weather in winter or spring, one
or more of them are made sick and lie up, and at times serious illness

[Footnote 34: _Plantation and Frontier_, I, 122-126.]

In 1852 and again in 1854 storms and freshets heavily injured Manigault's
crops, and cholera decimated his slaves. In 1855 the fields were in
bad condition because of volunteer rice, and the overseer was dying of
consumption. The slaves, however, were in excellent health, and the crop,
while small, brought high prices because of the Crimean war. In 1856 a new
overseer named Venters handled the flooding inexpertly and made but half
a crop, yielding $12,660 in gross proceeds. For the next year Venters was
retained, on the maxim "never change an overseer if you can help it,"
and nineteen slaves were bought for $11,850 to fill the gaps made by the
cholera. Furthermore a tract of pine forest was bought to afford summer
quarters for the negro children, who did not thrive on the malarial
plantation, and to provide a place of isolation for cholera cases. In 1857
Venters made a somewhat better crop, but as Manigault learned and wrote at
the end of the year, "elated by a strong and very false religious feeling,
he began to injure the plantation a vast deal, placing himself on a par
with the negroes by even joining in with them at their prayer meetings,
breaking down long established discipline which in every case is so
difficult to preserve, favoring and siding in any difficulty with the
people against the drivers, besides causing numerous grievances." The
successor of the eccentric Venters in his turn proved grossly neglectful;
and it was not until the spring of 1859 that a reliable overseer was found
in William Capers, at a salary of $1000. Even then the year's experience
was such that at its end Manigault recorded the sage conclusion: "The truth
is, on a plantation, to attend to things properly it requires both master
and overseer."

The affairs of another estate in the Savannah neighborhood, "Sabine
Fields," belonging to the Alexander Telfair estate, may be gleaned from
its income and expense accounts. The purchases of shoes indicate a
working force of about thirty hands. The purchases of woolen clothing and
waterproof hats tell of adequate provision against inclement weather;
but the scale of the doctor's bills suggest either epidemics or serious
occasional illnesses. The crops from 1845 to 1854 ranged between seventeen
and eighty barrels of rice; and for the three remaining years of the record
they included both rice and sea-island cotton. The gross receipts were
highest at $1,695 in 1847 and lowest at $362 in 1851; the net varied from
a surplus of $995 in 1848 to a deficit of $2,035 in the two years 1853 and
1854 for which the accounting was consolidated. Under E.S. Mell, who was
overseer until 1854 at a salary of $350 or less, there were profits until
1849, losses thereafter. The following items of expense in this latter
period, along with high doctor's bills, may explain the reverse: for taking
a negro from the guard-house, $5; for court costs in the case of a
boy prosecuted for larceny, $9.26; jail fees of Cesar, $2.69; for the
apprehension of a runaway, $5; paid Jones for trying to capture a negro,
$5. In February, 1854, Mell was paid off, and a voucher made record of a
newspaper advertisement for another overseer. What happened to the new
incumbent is told by the expense entries of March 9, 1855: "Paid ... amount
Jones' bill for capturing negroes, $25. Expenses of Overseer Page's burial
as follows, Ferguson's bill, $25; Coroner's, $14; Dr. Kollock's, $5; total
$69." A further item in 1856 of twenty-five dollars paid for the arrest of
Bing and Tony may mean that two of the slaves who shared in the killing of
the overseer succeeded for a year in eluding capture, or it may mean that
disorders continued under Page's successor.[35]

[Footnote 35: Account book of Sabine Fields plantation, among the Telfair
MSS. in the custody of the Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Ga.]

Other lowland plantations on a scale similar to that of Sabine Fields
showed much better earnings. One of these, in Liberty County, Georgia,
belonged to the heirs of Dr. Adam Alexander of Savannah. It was devoted to
sea-island cotton in the 'thirties, but rice was added in the next decade.
While the output fluctuated, of course, the earnings always exceeded the
expenses and sometimes yielded as much as a hundred dollars per hand for
distribution among the owners.[36]

[Footnote 36: The accounts for selected years are printed in _Plantation
and Frontier_, I, 150-165.]

The system of rice production was such that plantations with less than
a hundred acres available for the staple could hardly survive in the
competition. If one of these adjoined another estate it was likely to be
merged therewith; but if it lay in isolation the course of years would
probably bring its abandonment. The absence of the proprietors every summer
in avoidance of malaria, and the consequent expense of overseer's wages,
hampered operations on a small scale, as did also the maintenance of
special functionaries among the slaves, such as drivers, boatswains, trunk
minders, bird minders, millers and coopers. In 1860 Louis Manigault listed
the forty-one rice plantations on the Savannah River and scheduled their
acreage in the crop. Only one of them had as little as one hundred acres
in rice, and it seems to have been an appendage of a larger one across the
river. On the other hand, two of them had crops of eleven hundred, and two
more of twelve hundred acres each. The average was about 425 acres per
plantation, expected to yield about 1200 pounds of rice per acre each
year.[37] A census tabulation in 1850, ignoring any smaller units, numbered
the plantations which produced annually upwards of 20,000 pounds of rice at
446 in South Carolina, 80 in Georgia, and 25 in North Carolina.[38]

[Footnote 37: MS. in the possession of Mrs. H.K. Jenkins, Pinopolis, S.C.]

[Footnote 38: _Compendium of the Seventh U.S. Census_, p. 178.]

Indigo and sea-island cotton fields had no ditches dividing them
permanently into task units; but the fact that each of these in its day was
often combined with rice on the same plantations, and that the separate
estates devoted to them respectively lay in the region dominated by the
rice regime, led to the prevalence of the task system in their culture
also. The soils used for these crops were so sandy and light, however, that
the tasks, staked off each day by the drivers, ranged larger than those in
rice. In the cotton fields they were about half an acre per hand, whether
for listing, bedding or cultivation. In the collecting and spreading of
swamp mud and other manures for the cotton the work was probably done
mostly by gangs rather than by task, since the units were hard to measure.
In cotton picking, likewise, the conditions of the crop were so variable
and the need of haste so great that time work, perhaps with special rewards
for unusually heavy pickings, was the common resort. Thus the lowland
cotton regime alternated the task and gang systems according to the work
at hand; and even the rice planters of course abandoned all thoughts of
stinted performance when emergency pressed, as in the mending of breaks in
the dikes, or when joint exertion was required, as in log rolling, or when
threshing and pounding with machinery to set the pace.

That the task system was extended sporadically into the South Carolina
Piedmont, is indicated by a letter of a certain Thomas Parker of the
Abbeville district, in 1831,[39] which not only described his methods but
embodied an essential plantation precept. He customarily tasked his hoe
hands, he said, at rates determined by careful observation as just both to
himself and the workers. These varied according to conditions, but ranged
usually about three quarters of an acre. He continued: "I plant six acres
of cotton to the hand, which is about the usual quantity planted in my
neighborhood. I do not make as large crops as some of my neighbors. I am
content with three to three and a half bales of cotton to the hand, with my
provisions and pork; but some few make four bales, and last year two of my
neighbors made five bales to the hand. In such cases I have vanity enough,
however, to attribute this to better lands. I have no overseer, nor indeed
is there one in the neighborhood. We personally attend to our planting,
believing that as good a manure as any, if not the best we can apply to our
fields, is the print of the master's footstep."

[Footnote 39: _Southern Agriculturist_, March. 1831, reprinted in the
_American Farmer_, XIII, 105, 106.]



Typical planters though facile in conversation seldom resorted to their
pens. Few of them put their standards into writing except in the form of
instructions to their stewards and overseers. These counsels of perfection,
drafted in widely separated periods and localities, and varying much in
detail, concurred strikingly in their main provisions. Their initial topic
was usually the care of the slaves. Richard Corbin of Virginia wrote in
1759 for the guidance of his steward: "The care of negroes is the first
thing to be recommended, that you give me timely notice of their wants
that they may be provided with all necessarys. The breeding wenches more
particularly you must instruct the overseers to be kind and indulgent to,
and not force them when with child upon any service or hardship that will
be injurious to them, ... and the children to be well looked after, ... and
that none of them suffer in time of sickness for want of proper care."
P.C. Weston of South Carolina wrote in 1856: "The proprietor, in the first
place, wishes the overseer most distinctly to understand that his first
object is to be, under all circumstances, the care and well being of the
negroes. The proprietor is always ready to excuse such errors as may
proceed from want of judgment; but he never can or will excuse any cruelty,
severity or want of care towards the negroes. For the well being, however,
of the negroes it is absolutely necessary to maintain obedience, order and
discipline, to see that the tasks are punctually and carefully performed,
and to conduct the business steadily and firmly, without weakness on the
one hand or harshness on the other." Charles Manigault likewise required of
his overseer in Georgia a pledge to treat his negroes "all with kindness
and consideration in sickness and health." On J.W. Fowler's plantation in
the Yazoo-Mississippi delta from which we have seen in a preceding chapter
such excellent records of cotton picking, the preamble to the rules framed
in 1857 ran as follows: "The health, happiness, good discipline and
obedience, good, sufficient and comfortable clothing, a sufficiency
of good, wholesome and nutritious food for both man and beast being
indispensably necessary to successful planting, as well as for reasonable
dividends for the amount of capital invested, without saying anything about
the Master's duty to his dependents, to himself, and his God, I do hereby
establish the following rules and regulations for the management of my
Prairie plantation, and require an observance of the same by any and all
overseers I may at any time have in charge thereof."[1]

[Footnote 1: The Corbin, Weston, Manigault and Fowler instructions are
printed in _Plantation and Frontier_, I, 109-129.]

Joseph A.S. Acklen had his own rules printed in 1861 for the information of
applicants and the guidance of those who were employed as his overseers.[2]
His estate was one of the greatest in Louisiana, his residence one of the
most pretentious,[3] and his rules the most sharply phrased. They read in
part: "Order and system must be the aim of everyone on this estate, and the
maxim strictly pursued of a time for everything and everything done in its
time, a place for everything and everything kept in its place, a rule for
everything and everything done according to rule. In this way labor becomes
easy and pleasant. No man can enforce a system of discipline unless he
himself conforms strictly to rules...No man should attempt to manage
negroes who is not perfectly firm and fearless and [in] entire control of
his temper."

[Footnote 2: They were also printed in _DeBow's Review_, XXII, 617-620,
XXIII, 376-381 (Dec., 1856, and April, 1857).]

[Footnote 3: _See above_, p. 239.]

James H. Hammond's "plantation manual" which is the fullest of such
documents available, began with the subject of the crop, only to
subordinate it at once to the care of the slaves and outfit: "A good crop
means one that is good taking into consideration everything, negroes, land,
mules, stock, fences, ditches, farming utensils, etc., etc., all of which
must be kept up and improved in value. The effort must therefore not be
merely to make so many cotton bales or such an amount of other produce, but
as much as can be made without interrupting the steady increase in value
of the rest of the property.... There should be an increase in number and
improvement in condition of negroes."[4]

[Footnote 4: MS. bound volume, "Plantation Manual," among the Hammond
papers in the Library of Congress.]

For the care of the sick, of course, all these planters were solicitous.
Acklen, Manigault and Weston provided that mild cases be prescribed for by
the overseer in the master's absence, but that for any serious illness a
doctor be summoned. One of Telfair's women was a semi-professional midwife
and general practitioner, permitted by her master to serve blacks and
whites in the neighborhood. For home needs Telfair wrote of her: "Elsey is
the doctoress of the plantation. In case of extraordinary illness, when
she thinks she can do no more for the sick, you will employ a physician."
Hammond, however, was such a devotee of homeopathy that in the lack of an
available physician of that school he was his own practitioner. He wrote in
his manual: "No negro will be allowed to remain at his own house when sick,
but must be confined to the hospital. Every reasonable complaint must be
promptly attended to; and with any marked or general symptom of sickness,
however trivial, a negro may lie up a day or so at least.... Each case
has to be examined carefully by the master or overseer to ascertain the
disease. The remedies next are to be chosen with the utmost discrimination;
... the directions for treatment, diet, etc., most implicitly followed; the
effects and changes cautiously observed.... In cases where there is the
slightest uncertainty, the books must be taken to the bedside and a careful
and thorough examination of the case and comparison of remedies made before
administering them. The overseer must record in the prescription book
every dose of medicine administered." Weston said he would never grudge a
doctor's bill, however large; but he was anxious to prevent idleness under
pretence of illness. "Nothing," said he, "is so subversive of discipline,
or so unjust, as to allow people to sham, for this causes the well-disposed
to do the work of the lazy."

Pregnancy, childbirth and the care of children were matters of special
concern. Weston wrote: "The pregnant women are always to do some work up
to the time of their confinement, if it is only walking into the field and
staying there. If they are sick, they are to go to the hospital and stay
there until it is pretty certain their time is near." "Lying-in women are
to be attended by the midwife as long as is necessary, and by a woman put
to nurse them for a fortnight. They will remain at the negro houses for
four weeks, and then will work two weeks on the highland. In some cases,
however, it is necessary to allow them to lie up longer. The health of many
women has been ruined by want of care in this particular." Hammond's rules
were as follows: "Sucklers are not required to leave their homes until
sunrise, when they leave their children at the children's house before
going to field. The period of suckling is twelve months. Their work lies
always within half a mile of the quarter. They are required to be cool
before commencing to suckle--to wait fifteen minutes at least in summer,
after reaching the children's house before nursing. It is the duty of the
nurse to see that none are heated when nursing, as well as of the overseer
and his wife occasionally to do so. They are allowed forty-five minutes at
each nursing to be with their children. They return three times a day until
their children are eight months old--in the middle of the forenoon, at
noon, and in the middle of the afternoon; till the twelfth month but twice
a day, missing at noon; during the twelfth month at noon only...The amount
of work done by a suckler is about three fifths of that done by a full
hand, a little increased toward the last...Pregnant women at five months
are put in the sucklers' gang. No plowing or lifting must be required of
them. Sucklers, old, infirm and pregnant receive the same allowances as
full-work hands. The regular plantation midwife shall attend all women in
confinement. Some other woman learning the art is usually with her during
delivery. The confined woman lies up one month, and the midwife remains in
constant attendance for seven days. Each woman on confinement has a bundle
given her containing articles of clothing for the infant, pieces of cloth
and rag, and some nourishment, as sugar, coffee, rice and flour for the

The instructions with one accord required that the rations issued to the
negroes be never skimped. Corbin wrote, "They ought to have their belly
full, but care must be taken with this plenty that no waste is committed."
Acklen, closely followed by Fowler, ordered his overseer to "see that
their necessities be supplied, that their food and clothing be good and
sufficient, their houses comfortable; and be kind and attentive to them in
sickness and old age." And further: "There will be stated hours for the
negroes to breakfast and dine [in the field], and those hours must be
regularly observed. The manager will frequently inspect the meals as they
are brought by the cook--see that they have been properly prepared, and
that vegetables be at all times served with the meat and bread." At the
same time he forbade his slaves to use ardent spirits or to have such about
their houses. Weston wrote: "Great care should be taken that the negroes
should never have less than their regular allowance. In all cases of doubt,
it should be given in favor of the largest quantity. The measure should
not be struck, but rather heaped up over. None but provisions of the best
quality should be used." Telfair specified as follows: "The allowance for
every grown negro, however old and good for nothing, and every young one
that works in the field, is a peck of corn each week and a pint of salt,
and a piece of meat, not exceeding fourteen pounds, per month...The
suckling children, and all other small ones who do not work in the field,
draw a half allowance of corn and salt....Feed everything plentifully, but
waste nothing." He added that beeves were to be killed for the negroes in
July, August and September. Hammond's allowance to each working hand was a
heaping peck of meal and three pounds of bacon or pickled pork every week.
In the winter, sweet potatoes were issued when preferred, at the rate of a
bushel of them in lieu of the peck of meal; and fresh beef, mutton or pork,
at increased weights, were to be substituted for the salt pork from time to
time. The ditchers and drivers were to have extra allowances in meat and
molasses. Furthermore, "Each ditcher receives every night, when ditching, a
dram (jigger) consisting of two-thirds whiskey and one-third water, with as
much asafoetida as it will absorb, and several strings of red peppers added
in the barrel. The dram is a large wine-glass full. In cotton picking time
when sickness begins to be prevalent, every field hand gets a dram in the
morning before leaving for the field. After a soaking rain all exposed to
it get a dram before changing their clothes; also those exposed to the
dust from the shelter and fan in corn shelling, on reaching the quarter at
night; or anyone at any time required to keep watch in the night. Drams are
not given as rewards, but only as medicinal. From the second hoeing, or
early in May, every work hand who uses it gets an occasional allowance of
tobacco, about one sixth of a pound, usually after some general operation,
as a hoeing, plowing, etc. This is continued until their crops are
gathered, when they can provide for themselves." The families, furthermore,
shared in the distribution of the plantation's peanut crop every fall. Each
child was allowed one third as much meal and meat as was given to each
field hand, and an abundance of vegetables to be cooked with their meat.
The cooking and feeding was to be done at the day nursery. For breakfast
they were to have hominy and milk and cold corn bread; for dinner,
vegetable soup and dumplings or bread; and cold bread or potatoes were to
be kept on hand for demands between meals. They were also to have molasses
once or twice a week. Each child was provided with a pan and spoon in
charge of the nurse.

Hammond's clothing allowance was for each man in the fall two cotton
shirts, a pair of woolen pants and a woolen jacket, and in the spring two
cotton shirts and two pairs of cotton pants, with privilege of substitution
when desired; for each woman six yards of woolen cloth and six yards of
cotton cloth in the fall, six yards of light and six of heavy cotton cloth
in the spring, with needles, thread and buttons on each occasion. Each
worker was to have a pair of stout shoes in the fall, and a heavy blanket
every third year. Children's cloth allowances were proportionate and their
mothers were required to dress them in clean clothes twice a week.

In the matter of sanitation, Acklen directed the overseer to see that the
negroes kept clean in person, to inspect their houses at least once a week
and especially during the summer, to examine their bedding and see to its
being well aired, to require that their clothes be mended, "and everything
attended to which conduces to their comfort and happiness." In these
regards, as in various others, Fowler incorporated Acklen's rules in his
own, almost verbatim. Hammond scheduled an elaborate cleaning of the houses
every spring and fall. The houses were to be completely emptied and their
contents sunned, the walls and floors were to be scrubbed, the mattresses
to be emptied and stuffed with fresh hay or shucks, the yards swept and the
ground under the houses sprinkled with lime. Furthermore, every house was
to be whitewashed inside and out once a year; and the negroes must appear
once a week in clean clothes, "and every negro habitually uncleanly in
person must be washed and scrubbed by order of the overseer--the driver and
two other negroes officiating."

As to schedules of work, the Carolina and Georgia lowlanders dealt in
tasks; all the rest in hours. Telfair wrote briefly: "The negroes to be
tasked when the work allows it. I require a reasonable day's work, well
done--the task to be regulated by the state of the ground and the strength
of the negro." Weston wrote with more elaboration: "A task is as much work
as the meanest full hand can do in nine hours, working industriously....
This task is never to be increased, and no work is to be done over task
except under the most urgent necessity; which over-work is to be reported
to the proprietor, who will pay for it. No negro is to be put into a task
which [he] cannot finish with tolerable ease. It is a bad plan to punish
for not finishing tasks; it is subversive of discipline to leave tasks
unfinished, and contrary to justice to punish for what cannot be done. In
nothing does a good manager so much excel a bad as in being able to discern
what a hand is capable of doing, and in never attempting to make him do
more." In Hammond's schedule the first horn was blown an hour before
daylight as a summons for work-hands to rise and do their cooking and other
preparations for the day. Then at the summons of the plow driver, at first
break of day, the plowmen went to the stables whose doors the overseer
opened. At the second horn, "just at good daylight," the hoe gang set out
for the field. At half past eleven the plowmen carried their mules to a
shelter house in the fields, and at noon the hoe hands laid off for dinner,
to resume work at one o'clock, except that in hot weather the intermission
was extended to a maximum of three and a half hours. The plowmen led the
way home by a quarter of an hour in the evening, and the hoe hands followed
at sunset. "No work," said Hammond, "must ever be required after dark."
Acklen contented himself with specifying that "the negroes must all rise at
the ringing of the first bell in the morning, and retire when the last
bell rings at night, and not leave their houses after that hour unless on
business or called." Fowler's rule was of the same tenor: "All hands should
be required to retire to rest and sleep at a suitable hour and permitted to
remain there until such time as it will be necessary to get out in time to
reach their work by the time they can see well how to work."

Telfair, Fowler and Hammond authorized the assignment of gardens and
patches to such slaves as wanted to cultivate them at leisure times. To
prevent these from becoming a cloak for thefts from the planter's crops,
Telfair and Fowler forbade the growing of cotton in the slaves' private
patches, and Hammond forbade both cotton and corn. Fowler specifically
gave his negroes the privilege of marketing their produce and poultry "at
suitable leisure times." Hammond had a rule permitting each work hand to go
to Augusta on some Sunday after harvest; but for some reason he noted in
pencil below it: "This is objectionable and must be altered." Telfair
and Weston directed that their slaves be given passes on application,
authorizing them to go at proper times to places in the neighborhood. The
negroes, however, were to be at home by the time of the curfew horn about
nine o'clock each night. Mating with slaves on other plantations was
discouraged as giving occasion for too much journeying.

"Marriage is to be encouraged," wrote Hammond, "as it adds to the comfort,
happiness and health of those who enter upon it, besides insuring a greater
increase. Permission must always be obtained from the master before
marriage, but no marriage will be allowed with negroes not belonging to the
master. When sufficient cause can be shewn on either side, a marriage may
be annulled; but the offending party must be severely punished. Where both
are in wrong, both must be punished, and if they insist on separating must
have a hundred lashes apiece. After such a separation, neither can marry
again for three years. For first marriage a bounty of $5.00, to be invested
in household articles, or an equivalent of articles, shall be given. If
either has been married before, the bounty shall be $2.50. A third marriage
shall be not allowed but in extreme cases, and in such cases, or where both
have been married before, no bounty will be given."

"Christianity, humanity and order elevate all, injure none," wrote Fowler,
"whilst infidelity, selfishness and disorder curse some, delude others and
degrade all. I therefore want all of my people encouraged to cultivate
religious feeling and morality, and punished for inhumanity to their
children or stock, for profanity, lying and stealing." And again: "I would
that every human being have the gospel preached to them in its original
purity and simplicity. It therefore devolves upon me to have these
dependants properly instructed in all that pertains to the salvation of
their souls. To this end whenever the services of a suitable person can be
secured, have them instructed in these things. In view of the fanaticism
of the age, it behooves the master or overseer to be present on all
such occasions. They should be instructed on Sundays in the day time if
practicable; if not, then on Sunday night." Acklen wrote in his usual
peremptory tone: "No negro preachers but my own will be permitted to preach
or remain on any of my places. The regularly appointed minister for my
places must preach on Sundays during daylight, or quit. The negroes must
not be suffered to continue their night meetings beyond ten o'clock."
Telfair in his rules merely permitted religious meetings on Saturday nights
and Sunday mornings. Hammond encouraged his negroes to go to church on
Sundays, but permitted no exercises on the plantation beyond singing and
praying. He, and many others, encouraged his negroes to bring him their
complaints against drivers and overseers, and even against their own
ecclesiastical authorities in the matter of interference with recreations.

Fighting among the negroes was a common bane of planters. Telfair
prescribed: "If there is any fighting on the plantation, whip all engaged
in it, for no matter what the cause may have been, all are in the wrong."
Weston wrote: "Fighting, particularly amongst women, and obscene or abusive
language, is to be always rigorously punished."

"Punishment must never be cruel or abusive," wrote Acklen, closely followed
by Fowler, "for it is absolutely mean and unmanly to whip a negro from mere
passion and malice, and any man who can do so is utterly unfit to have
control of negroes; and if ever any of my negroes are cruelly or inhumanly
treated, bruised, maimed or otherwise injured, the overseer will be
promptly discharged and his salary withheld." Weston recommended the lapse
of a day between the discovery of an offense and the punishment, and he
restricted the overseer's power in general to fifteen lashes. He continued:
"Confinement (not in the stocks) is to be preferred to whipping; but the
stoppage of Saturday's allowance, and doing whole task on Saturday, will
suffice to prevent ordinary offenses. Special care must be taken to prevent
any indecency in punishing women. No driver or other negro is to be allowed
to punish any person in any way except by order of the overseer and in his
presence." And again: "Every person should be made perfectly to understand
what they are punished for, and should be made to perceive that they are
not punished in anger or through caprice. All abusive language or violence
of demeanor should be avoided; they reduce the man who uses them to a level
with the negro, and are hardly ever forgotten by those to whom they are
addressed." Hammond directed that the overseer "must never threaten a
negro, but punish offences immediately on knowing them; otherwise he will
soon have runaways." As a schedule he wrote: "The following is the order
in which offences must be estimated and punished: 1st, running away; 2d,
getting drunk or having spirits; 3d, stealing hogs; 4th, stealing; 5th,
leaving plantation without permission; 6th, absence from house after
horn-blow at night; 7th, unclean house or person; 8th, neglect of tools;
9th, neglect of work. The highest punishment must not exceed a hundred
lashes in one day, and to that extent only in extreme cases. The whip lash
must be one inch in width, or a strap of one thickness of leather 1-1/2
inches in width, and never severely administered. In general fifteen to
twenty lashes will be a sufficient flogging. The hands in every case must
be secured by a cord. Punishment must always be given calmly, and never
when angry or excited." Telfair was as usual terse: "No negro to have
more than fifty lashes for any offense, no matter how great the crime."
Manigault said nothing of punishments in his general instructions, but sent
special directions when a case of incorrigibility was reported: "You had
best think carefully respecting him, and always keep in mind the important
old plantation maxim, viz: 'never to threaten a negro,' or he will do as
you and I would when at school--he will run. But with such a one, ... if
you wish to make an example of him, take him down to the Savannah jail and
give him prison discipline, and by all means solitary confinement, for
three weeks, when he will be glad to get home again.... Mind then and tell
him that you and he are quits, that you will never dwell on old quarrels
with him, that he has now a clear track before him and all depends on
himself, for he now sees how easy it is to fix 'a bad disposed nigger.'
Then give my compliments to him and tell him that you wrote me of his
conduct, and say if he don't change for the better I'll sell him to a slave
trader who will send him to New Orleans, where I have already sent several
of the gang for misconduct, or their running away for no cause." In one
case Manigault lost a slave by suicide in the river when a driver brought
him up for punishment but allowed him to run before it was administered.[5]

[Footnote 5: _Plantation and Frontier_, II, 32, 94.]

As to rewards, Hammond was the only one of these writers to prescribe them
definitely. His head driver was to receive five dollars, the plow driver
three dollars, and the ditch driver and stock minder one dollar each every
Christmas day, and the nurse a dollar and the midwife two dollars for every
actual increase of two on the place. Further, "for every infant thirteen
months old and in sound health, that has been properly attended to, the
mother shall receive a muslin or calico frock."

"The head driver," Hammond wrote, "is the most important negro on the
plantation, and is not required to work like other hands. He is to
be treated with more respect than any other negro by both master and
overseer....He is to be required to maintain proper discipline at all
times; to see that no negro idles or does bad work in the field, and to
punish it with discretion on the spot....He is a confidential servant, and
may be a guard against any excesses or omissions of the overseer." Weston,
forbidding his drivers to inflict punishments except at the overseer's
order and in his presence, described their functions as the maintenance of
quiet in the quarter and of discipline at large, the starting of the slaves
to the fields each morning, the assignment and supervision of tasks,
and the inspection of "such things as the overseer only generally
superintends." Telfair informed his overseer: "I have no driver. You are to
task the negroes yourself, and each negro is responsible to you for his own
work, and nobody's else."

Of the master's own functions Hammond wrote in another place: "A planter
should have all his work laid out, days, weeks, months, seasons and years
ahead, according to the nature of it. He must go from job to job without
losing a moment in turning round, and he must have all the parts of his
work so arranged that due proportion of attention may be bestowed upon each
at the proper time. More is lost by doing work out of season, and doing it
better or worse than is requisite, than can readily be supposed. Negroes
are harassed by it, too, instead of being indulged; so are mules, and
everything else. A halting, vacillating, undecided course, now idle, now
overstrained, is more fatal on a plantation than in any other kind of
business--ruinous as it is in any."[6]

[Footnote 6: Letter of Hammond to William Gilmore Simms, Jan. 21, 1841,
from Hammond's MS. copy in the Library of Congress.]

In the overseer all the virtues of a master were desired, with a deputy's
obedience added. Corbin enjoined upon his staff that they "attend their
business with diligence, keep the negroes in good order, and enforce
obedience by the example of their own industry, which is a more effectual
method in every respect than hurry and severity. The ways of industry," he
continued, "are constant and regular, not to be in a hurry at one time and
do nothing at another, but to be always usefully and steadily employed.
A man who carries on business in this manner will be prepared for every
incident that happens. He will see what work may be proper at the distance
of some time and be gradually and leisurely preparing for it. By this
foresight he will never be in confusion himself, and his business, instead
of a labor, will be a pleasure to him." Weston wrote: "The proprietor
wishes particularly to impress upon the overseer the criterions by which
he will judge of his usefullness and capacity. First, by the general
well-being of all the negroes; their cleanly appearance, respectful
manners, active and vigorous obedience; their completion of their tasks
well and early; the small amount of punishment; the excess of births over
deaths; the small number of persons in hospital; and the health of the
children. Secondly, the condition and fatness of the cattle and mules; the
good repair of all the fences and buildings, harness, boats, flats and
ploughs; more particularly the good order of the banks and trunks, and the
freedom of the fields from grass and volunteer [rice]. Thirdly, the amount
and quality of the rice and provision crops.... The overseer is expressly
forbidden from three things, viz.: bleeding, giving spirits to any negro
without a doctor's order, and letting any negro on the place have or keep
any gun, powder or shot." One of Acklen's prohibitions upon his overseers
was: "Having connection with any of my female servants will most certainly
be visited with a dismissal from my employment, and no excuse can or will
be taken."

Hammond described the functions as follows: "The overseer will never be
expected to work in the field, but he must always be with the hands when
not otherwise engaged in the employer's business.... The overseer must
never be absent a single night, nor an entire day, without permission
previously obtained. Whenever absent at church or elsewhere he must be on
the plantation by sundown without fail. He must attend every night and
morning at the stables and see that the mules are watered, cleaned and fed,
and the doors locked. He must keep the stable keys at night, and all the
keys, in a safe place, and never allow anyone to unlock a barn, smoke-house
or other depository of plantation stores but himself. He must endeavor,
also, to be with the plough hands always at noon." He must also see that
the negroes are out promptly in the morning, and in their houses after
curfew, and must show no favoritism among the negroes. He must carry on all
experiments as directed by the employer, and use all new implements and
methods which the employer may determine upon; and he must keep a full
plantation diary and make monthly inventories. Finally, "The negroes must
be made to obey and to work, which may be done, by an overseer who attends
regularly to his business, with very little whipping. Much whipping
indicates a bad tempered or inattentive manager, and will not be allowed."
His overseer might quit employment on a month's notice, and might be
discharged without notice. Acklen's dicta were to the same general effect.

As to the relative importance of the several functions of an overseer, all
these planters were in substantial agreement. As Fowler put it: "After
taking proper care of the negroes, stock, etc., the next most important
duty of the overseer is to make, if practicable, a sufficient quantity of
corn, hay, fodder, meat, potatoes and other vegetables for the consumption
of the plantation, and then as much cotton as can be made by requiring good
and reasonable labor of operatives and teams." Likewise Henry Laurens,
himself a prosperous planter of the earlier time as well as a statesman,
wrote to an overseer of whose heavy tasking he had learned: "Submit to
make less rice and keep my negroes at home in some degree of happiness in
preference to large crops acquired by rigour and barbarity to those poor
creatures." And to a new incumbent: "I have now to recommend to you the
care of my negroes in general, but particularly the sick ones. Desire Mrs.
White not to be sparing of red wine for those who have the flux or bad
loosenesses; let them be well attended night and day, and if one wench is
not sufficient add another to nurse them. With the well ones use gentle
means mixed with easy authority first--if that does not succeed, make
choice of the most stubborn one or two and chastise them severely but
properly and with mercy, that they may be convinced that the end of
correction is to be amendment," Again, alluding to one of his slaves
who had been gathering the pennies of his fellows: "Amos has a great
inclination to turn rum merchant. If his confederate comes to that
plantation, I charge you to discipline him with thirty-nine sound lashes
and turn him out of the gate and see that he goes quite off."[7]

[Footnote 7: D.D. Wallace, _Life of Henry Laurens_, pp. 133, 192.]

The published advice of planters to their fellows was quite in keeping with
these instructions to overseers. About 1809, for example, John Taylor, of
Caroline, the leading Virginian advocate of soil improvement in his day,
wrote of the care and control of slaves as follows: "The addition of
comfort to mere necessaries is a price paid by the master for the
advantages he will derive from binding his slave to his service by a
ligament stronger than chains, far beneath their value in a pecuniary
point of view; and he will moreover gain a stream of agreeable reflections
throughout life, which will cost him nothing." He recommended fireproof
brick houses, warm clothing, and abundant, varied food. Customary plenty
in meat and vegetables, he said, would not only remove occasions for
pilfering, but would give the master effective power to discourage it; for
upon discovering the loss of any goods by theft he might put his whole
force of slaves upon a limited diet for a time and thus suggest to the
thief that on any future occasion his fellows would be under pressure
to inform on him as a means of relieving their own privations. "A daily
allowance of cyder," Taylor continued, "will extend the success of this
system for the management of slaves, and particularly its effect of
diminishing corporal punishments. But the reader is warned that a stern
authority, strict discipline and complete subordination must be combined
with it to gain any success at all."[8]

[Footnote 8: John Taylor, of Caroline County, Virginia, _Arator, Being
a Series of Agricultural Essays_ (2d ed., Georgetown, D. C, 1814), pp.

Another Virginian's essay, of 1834, ran as follows: Virginia negroes are
generally better tempered than any other people; they are kindly, grateful,
attached to persons and places, enduring and patient in fatigue and
hardship, contented and cheerful. Their control should be uniform and
consistent, not an alternation of rigor and laxity. Punishment for real
faults should be invariable but moderate. "The best evidence of the good
management of slaves is the keeping up of good discipline with little or
no punishment." The treatment should be impartial except for good conduct
which should bring rewards. Praise is often a better cure for laziness than
stripes. The manager should know the temper of each slave. The proud and
high spirited are easily handled: "Your slow and sulky negro, although he
may have an even temper, is the devil to manage. The negro women are all
harder to manage than the men. The only way to get along with them is by
kind words and flattery. If you want to cure a sloven, give her something
nice occasionally to wear, and praise her up to the skies whenever she has
on anything tolerably decent." Eschew suspicion, for it breeds dishonesty.
Promote harmony and sound methods among your neighbors. "A good
disciplinarian in the midst of bad managers of slaves cannot do much; and
without discipline there cannot be profit to the master or comfort to the
slaves." Feed and clothe your slaves well. The best preventive of theft is
plenty of pork. Let them have poultry and gardens and fruit trees to attach
them to their houses and promote amenability. "The greatest bar to good
discipline in Virginia is the number of grog shops in every farmer's
neighborhood." There is no severity in the state, and there will be no
occasion for it again if the fanatics will only let us alone.[9]

[Footnote 9: "On the Management of Negroes. Addressed to the Farmers and
Overseers of Virginia," signed "H. C," in the _Farmer's Register_, I, 564,
565 (February, 1834).]

An essay written after long experience by Robert Collins, of Macon,
Georgia, which was widely circulated in the 'fifties, was in the same tone:
"The best interests of all parties are promoted by a kind and liberal
treatment on the part of the owner, and the requirement of proper
discipline and strict obedience on the part of the slave ... Every attempt
to force the slave beyond the limits of reasonable service by cruelty or
hard treatment, so far from extorting more work, only tends to make him
unprofitable, unmanageable, a vexation and a curse." The quarters should
be well shaded, the houses free of the ground, well ventilated, and large
enough for comfort; the bedding and blankets fully adequate. "In former
years the writer tried many ways and expedients to economize in the
provision of slaves by using more of the vegetable and cheap articles of
diet, and less of the costly and substantial. But time and experience have
fully proven the error of a stinted policy ... The allowance now given per
week to each hand ... is five pounds of good clean bacon and one quart of
molasses, with as much good bread as they require; and in the fall, or
sickly season of the year, or on sickly places, the addition of one pint of
strong coffee, sweetened with sugar, every morning before going to work."
The slaves may well have gardens, but the assignment of patches for market
produce too greatly "encourages a traffic on their own account, and
presents a temptation and opportunity, during the process of gathering, for
an unscrupulous fellow to mix a little of his master's produce with his
own. It is much better to give each hand whose conduct has been such as to
merit it an equivalent in money at the end of the year; it is much less
trouble, and more advantageous to both parties." Collins further advocated
plenty of clothing, moderate hours, work by tasks in cotton picking and
elsewhere when feasible, and firm though kindly discipline. "Slaves," he
said, "have no respect or affection for a master who indulges them over
much.... Negroes are by nature tyrannical in their dispositions, and if
allowed, the stronger will abuse the weaker, husbands will often abuse
their wives and mothers their children, so that it becomes a prominent duty
of owners and overseers to keep peace and prevent quarrelling and disputes
among them; and summary punishment should follow any violation of this
rule. Slaves are also a people that enjoy religious privileges. Many
of them place much value upon it; and to every reasonable extent that
advantage should be allowed them. They are never injured by preaching, but
thousands become wiser and better people and more trustworthy servants
by their attendance at church. Religious services should be provided and
encouraged on every plantation. A zealous and vehement style, both in
doctrine and manner, is best adapted to their temperament. They are good
believers in mysteries and miracles, ready converts, and adhere with much
pertinacity to their opinions when formed."[10] It is clear that Collins
had observed plantation negroes long and well.

[Footnote 10: Robert Collins, "Essay on the Management of Slaves,"
reprinted in _DeBow's Review_, XVII, 421-426, and partly reprinted in F.L.
Olmsted, _Seaboard Slave States_, pp. 692-697.]

Advice very similar to the foregoing examples was also printed in the
form of manuals at the front of blank books for the keeping of plantation
records;[11] and various planters described their own methods in operation
as based on the same principles. One of these living at Chunnennuggee,
Alabama, signing himself "N.B.P.," wrote in 1852 an account of the problems
he had met and the solutions he had applied. Owning some 150 slaves, he had
lived away from his plantation until about a decade prior to this writing;
but in spite of careful selection he could never get an overseer combining
the qualities necessary in a good manager. "They were generally on
extremes; those celebrated for making large crops were often too severe,
and did everything by coercion. Hence turmoil and strife ensued. The
negroes were ill treated and ran away. On the other hand, when he employed
a good-natured man there was a want of proper discipline; the negroes
became unmanageable and, as a natural result, the farm was brought into
debt," The owner then entered residence himself and applied methods which
resulted in contentment, health and prolific increase among the slaves, and
in consistently good crops. The men were supplied with wives at home so far
as was practicable; each family had a dry and airy house to itself, with a
poultry house and a vegetable garden behind; the rations issued weekly were
three and a half pounds of bacon to each hand over ten years old, together
with a peck of meal, or more if required; the children in the day nursery
were fed from the master's kitchen with soup, milk, bacon, vegetables and
bread; the hands had three suits of working clothes a year; the women were
given time off for washing, and did their mending in bad weather; all hands
had to dress up and go to church on Sunday when preaching was near; and
a clean outfit of working clothes was required every Monday. The chief
distinction of this plantation, however, lay in its device for profit
sharing. To each slave was assigned a half-acre plot with the promise that
if he worked with diligence in the master's crop the whole gang would in
turn be set to work his crop. This was useful in preventing night and
Sunday work by the negroes. The proceeds of their crops, ranging from ten
to fifty dollars, were expended by the master at their direction for Sunday
clothing and other supplies.[12] On a sugar plantation visited by Olmsted
a sum of as many dollars as there were hogsheads in the year's crop was
distributed among the slaves every Christmas.[13]

[Footnote 11: Pleasant Suit, _Farmer's Accountant and Instructions for
Overseers_ (Richmond, Va., 1828); _Affleck's Cotton Plantation Record and
Account Book_, reprinted in _DeBow's Review_, XVIII, 339-345, and in Thomas
W. Knox, _Campfire and Cotton Field_ (New York, 1865), pp. 358-364. _See
also_ for varied and interesting data as to rules, experience and advice;
Thomas S. Clay (of Bryan County, Georgia), _Detail of a Plan for the Moral
Improvement of Negroes on Plantations_ (1833); and _DeBow's Review_, XII,
291, 292; XIX, 358-363; XXI, 147-149, 277-279; XXIV, 321-326; XXV, 463;
XXVI, 579, 580; XXIX, 112-115, 357-368.]

[Footnote 12: _Southern Quarterly Review_, XXI, 215, 216.]

[Footnote 13: Olmsted, _Seaboard Slave States_, p. 660.]

Of overseers in general, the great variety in their functions, their
scales of operation and their personal qualities make sweeping assertions
hazardous. Some were at just one remove from the authority of a great
planter, as is suggested by the following advertisement: "Wanted, a manager
to superintend several rice plantations on the Santee River. As the
business is extensive, a proportionate salary will be made, and one or two
young men of his own selection employed under him.[14] A healthful summer
residence on the seashore is provided for himself and family." Others
were hardly more removed from the status of common field hands. Lawrence
Tompkins, for example, signed with his mark in 1779 a contract to oversee
the four slaves of William Allason, near Alexandria, and to work steadily
with them. He was to receive three barrels of corn and three hundred pounds
of pork as his food allowance, and a fifth share of the tobacco, hemp and
flax crops and a sixth of the corn; but if he neglected his work he might
be dismissed without pay of any sort.[15] Some overseers were former
planters who had lost their property, some were planters' sons working for
a start in life, some were English and German farmers who had brought their
talents to what they hoped might prove the world's best market, but most of
them were of the native yeomanry which abounded in virtually all parts
of the South. Some owned a few slaves whom they put on hire into their
employers' gangs, thereby hastening their own attainment of the means to
become planters on their own score.[16]

[Footnote 14: _Southern Patriot_ (Charleston, S. C), Jan. 9, 1821.]

[Footnote 15: MS. Letter book, 1770-1787, among the Allason papers in the
New York Public Library.]

[Footnote 16: D.D. Wallace, _Life of Henry Laurens_, pp. 21, 135.]

If the master lived on the plantation, as was most commonly the case, the
overseer's responsibilities were usually confined to the daily execution of
orders in supervising the slaves in the fields and the quarters. But when
the master was an absentee the opportunity for abuses and misunderstandings
increased. Jurisdiction over slaves and the manner of its exercise were the
grounds of most frequent complaint. On the score of authority, for example,
a Virginia overseer in the employ of Robert Carter wrote him in 1787 in
despair at the conduct of a woman named Suckey: "I sent for hir to Come in
the morning to help Secoure the foder, but She Sent me word that She would
not come to worke that Day, and that you had ordered her to wash hir

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest