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American Negro Slavery by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips

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Cloaiths and goo to Any meeting She pleased any time in the weke without my
leafe, and on monday when I Come to Reken with hir about it She Said it was
your orders and She would do it in Defiance of me.... I hope if Suckey is
aloud that privilige more than the Rest, that she will bee moved to some
other place, and one Come in her Room."[17] On the score of abuses, Stancil
Barwick, an overseer in southwestern Georgia, wrote in 1855 to John B.
Lamar: "I received your letter on yesterday ev'ng. Was vary sorry to hear
that you had heard that I was treating your negroes so cruely. Now, sir, I
do say to you in truth that the report is false. Thear is no truth in it.
No man nor set of men has ever seen me mistreat one of the negroes on the
place." After declaring that miscarriages by two of the women had been due
to no requirement of work, he continued: "The reports that have been sent
must have been carried from this place by negroes. The fact is I have made
the negro men work, an made them go strait. That is what is the matter, an
is the reason why my place is talk of the settlement. I have found among
the negro men two or three hard cases an I have had to deal rite ruff, but
not cruly at all. Among them Abram has been as triflin as any man on the
place. Now, sir, what I have wrote you is truth, and it cant be disputed by
no man on earth,"[18]

[Footnote 17: _Plantation and Frontier_, I, 325.]

[Footnote 18: _Ibid_., I, 312, 313.]

To diminish the inducement for overdriving, the method of paying the
overseers by crop shares, which commonly prevailed in the colonial period,
was generally replaced in the nineteenth century by that of fixed salaries.
As a surer preventive of embezzlement, a trusty slave was in some cases
given the store-house keys in preference to the overseer; and sometimes
even when the master was an absentee an overseer was wholly dispensed with
and a slave foreman was given full charge. This practice would have been
still more common had not the laws discouraged it.[19] Some planters
refused to leave their slaves in the full charge of deputies of any kind,
even for short periods. For example, Francis Corbin in 1819 explained
to James Madison that he must postpone an intended visit because of the
absence of his son. "Until he arrives," Corbin wrote, "I dare not, in
common prudence, leave my affairs to the sole management of overseers, who
in these days are little respected by our intelligent negroes, many of whom
are far superior in mind, morals and manners to those who are placed in
authority over them."[20]

[Footnote 19: Olmsted, _Seaboard States_, p. 206.]

[Footnote 20: Massachusetts Historical Society _Proceedings_, XLIII, 261.]

Various phases of the problem of management are illustrated in a letter of
A.H. Pemberton of the South Carolina midlands to James H. Hammond at the
end of 1846. The writer described himself as unwilling to sacrifice his
agricultural reading in order to superintend his slaves in person, but as
having too small a force to afford the employment of an overseer pure and
simple. For the preceding year he had had one charged with the double
function of working in person and supervising the slaves' work also; but
this man's excess of manual zeal had impaired his managerial usefulness.
What he himself did was well done, said Pemberton, "and he would do _all_
and leave the negroes to do virtually nothing; and as they would of course
take advantage of this, what he did was more than counterbalanced by what
they did not." Furthermore, this employee, "who worked harder than any man
I ever saw," used little judgment or foresight. "Withal, he has always been
accustomed to the careless Southern practice generally of doing things
temporarily and in a hurry, just to last for the present, and allowing the
negroes to leave plows and tools of all kinds just where they use them,
no matter where, so that they have to be hunted all over the place when
wanted. And as to stock, he had no idea of any more attention to them than
is common in the ordinarily cruel and neglectful habits of the South."
Pemberton then turned to lamentation at having let slip a recent
opportunity to buy at auction "a remarkably fine looking negro as to size
and strength, very black, about thirty-five or forty, and so intelligent
and trustworthy that he had charge of a separate plantation and eight or
ten hands some ten or twelve miles from home." The procuring of such a
foreman would precisely have solved Pemberton's problem; the failure to
do so left him in his far from hopeful search for a paragon manager and
workman combined.[21]

[Footnote 21: MS. among the Hammond papers in the Library of Congress.]

On the whole, the planters were disposed to berate the overseers as a class
for dishonesty, inattention and self indulgence. The demand for new
and better ones was constant. For example, the editor of the _American
Agriculturist_, whose office was at New York, announced in 1846: "We are
almost daily beset with applications for properly educated managers
for farms and plantations--we mean for such persons as are up to the
improvements of the age, and have the capacity to carry them into
effect."[22] Youths occasionally offered themselves as apprentices. One of
them, in Louisiana, published the following notice in 1822: "A young man
wishing to acquire knowledge of cotton planting would engage for twelve
months as overseer and keep the accounts of a plantation.... Unquestionable
reference as to character will be given."[23] And a South Carolinian in
1829 proposed that the practice be systematized by the appointment of local
committees to bring intelligent lads into touch with planters willing to
take them as indentured apprentices.[24] The lack of system persisted,
however, both in agricultural education and in the procuring of managers.
In the opinion of Basil Hall and various others the overseers were commonly
better than the reputation of their class,[25] but this is not to say that
they were conspicuous either for expertness or assiduity. On the whole
they had about as much human nature, with its merits and failings, as the
planters or the slaves or anybody else.

[Footnote 22: _American Agriculturist_, V, 24.]

[Footnote 23: _Louisiana Herald_ (Alexandria, La.), Jan. 12, 1822,

[Footnote 24: _Southern Agriculturist_, II, 271.]

[Footnote 25: Basil Hall, _Travels in North America_, III, 193.]

It is notable that George Washington was one of the least tolerant
employers and masters who put themselves upon record.[26] This was
doubtless due to his own punctiliousness and thorough devotion to system as
well as to his often baffled wish to diversify his crops and upbuild his
fields. When in 1793 he engaged William Pearce as a new steward for the
group of plantations comprising the Mount Vernon estate, he enjoined strict
supervision of his overseers "to keep them from running about and to oblige
them to remain constantly with their people, and moreover to see at what
time they turn out in the morning--for," said he, "I have strong suspicions
that this with some of them is at a late hour, the consequences of which
to the negroes is not difficult to foretell." "To treat them civilly,"
Washington continued, "is no more than what all men are entitled to; but my
advice to you is, keep them at a proper distance, for they will grow upon
familiarity in proportion as you will sink in authority if you do not. Pass
by no faults or neglects, particularly at first, for overlooking one only
serves to generate another, and it is more than probable that some of
them, one in particular, will try at first what lengths he may go."
Particularizing as to the members of his staff, Washington described their
several characteristics: Stuart was intelligent and apparently honest and
attentive, but vain and talkative, and usually backward in his schedule;
Crow would be efficient if kept strictly at his duty, but seemed prone to
visiting and receiving visits. "This of course leaves his people too much
to themselves, which produces idleness or slight work on the one side and
flogging on the other, the last of which, besides the dissatisfaction
which it creates, has in one or two instances been productive of serious
consequences." McKay was a "sickly, slothful and stupid sort of fellow,"
too much disposed to brutality in the treatment of the slaves in his
charge; Butler seemed to have "no more authority over the negroes ... than
an old woman would have"; and Green, the overseer of the carpenters, was
too much on a level with the slaves for the exertion of control. Davy, the
negro foreman at Muddy Hole, was rated in his master's esteem higher than
some of his white colleagues, though Washington had suspicions concerning
the fate of certain lambs which had vanished while in his care. Indeed the
overseers all and several were suspected from time to time of drunkenness,
waste, theft and miscellaneous rascality. In the last of these categories
Washington seems to have included their efforts to secure higher wages.

[Footnote 26: Voluminous plantation data are preserved in the Washington
MSS. in the Library of Congress. Those here used are drawn from the letters
of Washington published in the Long Island Historical Society _Memoirs_,
vol. IV; entitled _George Washington and Mount Vernon_. A map of the Mount
Vernon estate is printed in Washington's _Writings_ (W.C. Ford ed.), XII,

The slaves in their turn were suspected of ruining horses by riding them at
night, and of embezzling grain issued for planting, as well as of lying and
malingering in general. The carpenters, Washington said, were notorious
piddlers; and not a slave about the mansion house was worthy of trust.
Pretences of illness as excuses for idleness were especially annoying.
"Is there anything particular in the cases of Ruth, Hannah and Pegg,"
he enquired, "that they have been returned as sick for several weeks
together?... If they are not made to do what their age and strength will
enable them, it will be a very bad example to others, none of whom would
work if by pretexts they can avoid it." And again: "By the reports I
perceive that for every day Betty Davis works she is laid up two. If she
is indulged in this idleness she will grow worse and worse, for she has a
disposition to be one of the most idle creatures on earth, and is besides
one of the most deceitful." Pearce seems to have replied that he was at a
loss to tell the false from the true. Washington rejoined: "I never found
so much difficulty as you seem to apprehend in distinguishing between real
and feigned sickness, or when a person is much afflicted with pain. Nobody
can be very sick without having a fever, or any other disorder continue
long upon anyone without reducing them.... But my people, many of them,
will lay up a month, at the end of which no visible change in their
countenance nor the loss of an ounce of flesh is discoverable; and their
allowance of provision is going on as if nothing ailed them." Runaways were
occasional. Of one of them Washington directed: "Let Abram get his deserts
when taken, by way of example; but do not trust Crow to give it to him, for
I have reason to believe he is swayed more by passion than by judgment in
all his corrections." Of another, whom he had previously described as an
idler beyond hope of correction: "Nor is it worth while, except for the
sake of example, ... to be at much trouble, or any expence over a trifle,
to hunt him up." Of a third, who was thought to have escaped in company
with a neighbor's slave: "If Mr. Dulany is disposed to pursue any measure
for the purpose of recovering his man, I will join him in the expence so
far as it may respect Paul; but I would not have my name appear in any
advertisement, or other measure, leading to it." Again, when asking that a
woman of his who had fled to New Hampshire be seized and sent back if it
could be done without exciting a mob: "However well disposed I might be to
gradual abolition, or even to an entire emancipation of that description of
people (if the latter was in itself practicable), at this moment it would
neither be politic nor just to reward unfaithfulness with a premature
preference, and thereby discontent beforehand the minds of all her fellow
serv'ts who, by their steady attachment, are far more deserving than
herself of favor."[27] Finally: "The running off of my cook has been a most
inconvenient thing to this family, and what rendered it more disagreeable
is that I had resolved never to become the master of another slave by
purchase. But this resolution I fear I must break. I have endeavored to
hire, black or white, but am not yet supplied." As to provisions, the
slaves were given fish from Washington's Potomac fishery while the supply
lasted, "meat, fat and other things ... now and then," and of meal "as
much as they can eat without waste, and no more." The housing and clothing
appear to have been adequate. The "father of his country" displayed little
tenderness for his slaves. He was doubtless just, so far as a business-like
absentee master could be; but his only generosity to them seems to have
been the provision in his will for their manumission after the death of his

[Footnote 27: Marion G. McDougall, _Fugitive Slaves_( Boston, 1891), p.

Lesser men felt the same stresses in plantation management. An owner of
ninety-six slaves told Olmsted that such was the trouble and annoyance
his negroes caused him, in spite of his having an overseer, and such the
loneliness of his isolated life, that he was torn between a desire to sell
out at once and a temptation to hold on for a while in the expectation of
higher prices. At the home of another Virginian, Olmsted wrote: "During
three hours or more in which I was in company with the proprietor I do
not think there were ten consecutive minutes uninterrupted by some of the
slaves requiring his personal direction or assistance. He was even obliged
three times to leave the dinner table. 'You see,' said he smiling, as he
came in the last time, 'a farmer's life in this country is no sinecure,'" A
third Virginian, endorsing Olmsted's observations, wrote that a planter's
cares and troubles were endless; the slaves, men, women and children,
infirm and aged, had wants innumerable; some were indolent, some obstinate,
some fractious, and each class required different treatment. With the daily
wants of food, clothing and the like, "the poor man's time and thoughts,
indeed every faculty of mind, must be exercised on behalf of those who have
no minds of their own."[28]

[Footnote 28: F.L. Olmsted, _Seaboard Slave States_, pp. 44, 58, 718.]

Harriet Martineau wrote on her tour of the South: "Nothing struck me
more than the patience of slave-owners ... with their slaves ... When I
considered how they love to be called 'fiery Southerners,' I could not but
marvel at their mild forbearance under the hourly provocations to which
they are liable in their homes. Persons from New England, France or
England, becoming slaveholders, are found to be the most severe masters
and mistresses, however good their tempers may always have appeared
previously. They cannot, like the native proprietor, sit waiting half an
hour for the second course, or see everything done in the worst possible
manner, their rooms dirty, their property wasted, their plans frustrated,
their infants slighted,--themselves deluded by artifices--they cannot, like
the native proprietor, endure all this unruffled."[29] It is clear from
every sort of evidence, if evidence were needed, that life among negro
slaves and the successful management of them promoted, and wellnigh
necessitated, a blending of foresight and firmness with kindliness and
patience. The lack of the former qualities was likely to bring financial
ruin; the lack of the latter would make life not worth living; the
possession of all meant a toleration of slackness in every concern not
vital to routine. A plantation was a bed of roses only if the thorns were
turned aside. Charles Eliot Norton, who like Olmsted, Hall, Miss Martineau
and most other travelers, was hostile to slavery, wrote after a journey to
Charleston in 1855: "The change to a Northerner in coming South is always
a great one when he steps over the boundary of the free states; and the
farther you go towards the South the more absolutely do shiftlessness and
careless indifference take the place of energy and active precaution and
skilful management.... The outside first aspect of slavery has nothing
horrible and repulsive about it. The slaves do not go about looking
unhappy, and are with difficulty, I fancy, persuaded to feel so. Whips and
chains, oaths and brutality, are as common, for all that one sees, in the
free as the slave states. We have come thus far, and might have gone ten
times as far, I dare say, without seeing the first sign of negro misery
or white tyranny."[30] If, indeed, the neatness of aspect be the test of
success, most plantations were failures; if the test of failure be the lack
of harmony and good will, it appears from the available evidence that most
plantations were successful.

[Footnote 29: Harriet Martineau, _Society in America_ (London, 1837), II
315, 316.]

[Footnote 30: Charles Eliot Norton, _Letters_ (Boston, 1913), I, 121.]

The concerns and the character of a high-grade planter may be gathered from
the correspondence of John B. Lamar, who with headquarters in the town of
Macon administered half a dozen plantations belonging to himself and his
kinsmen scattered through central and southwestern Georgia and northern
Florida.[31] The scale of his operations at the middle of the nineteenth
century may be seen from one of his orders for summer cloth, presumably
at the rate of about five yards per slave. This was to be shipped from
Savannah to the several plantations as follows: to Hurricane, the property
of Howell Cobb, Lamar's brother-in-law, 760 yards; to Letohatchee, a trust
estate in Florida belonging to the Lamar family, 500 yards; and to Lamar's
own plantations the following: Swift Creek, 486; Harris Place, 360; Domine,
340; and Spring Branch, 229. Of his course of life Lamar wrote: "I am one
half the year rattling over rough roads with Dr. Physic and Henry, stopping
at farm houses in the country, scolding overseers in half a dozen counties
and two states, Florida and Georgia, and the other half in the largest
cities of the Union, or those of Europe, living on dainties and riding on
rail-cars and steamboats. When I first emerge from Swift Creek into the
hotels and shops on Broadway of a summer, I am the most economical body
that you can imagine. The fine clothes and expensive habits of the people
strike me forcibly.... In a week I become used to everything, and in a
month I forget my humble concern on Swift Creek and feel as much a nabob as
any of them.... At home where everything is plain and comfortable we look
on anything beyond that point as extravagant. When abroad where things are
on a greater scale, our ideas keep pace with them. I always find such to be
my case; and if I live to a hundred I reckon it will always be so."

[Footnote 31: Lamar's MSS. are in the possession of Mrs. A.S. Erwin,
Athens, Ga. Selections from them are printed in _Plantation and Frontier_,
I, 167-183, 309-312, II, 38, 41.]

Lamar could command strong words, as when a physician demanded five hundred
dollars for services at Hurricane in 1844, or when overseers were detected
in drunkenness or cruelty; but his most characteristic complaints were of
his own short-comings as a manager and of the crotchets of his relatives.
His letters were always cheery, and his repeated disappointments in
overseers never damped his optimism concerning each new incumbent. His
old lands contented him until he found new and more fertile ones to buy,
whereupon his jubilation was great. When cotton was low he called himself a
toad under the harrow; but rising markets would set him to counting bales
before the seed had more than sprouted and to building new plantations in
the air. In actual practice his log-cabin slave quarters gave place to
frame houses; his mules were kept in full force; his production of corn and
bacon was nearly always ample for the needs of each place; his slaves were
permitted to raise nankeen cotton on their private accounts; and his own
frequent journeys of inspection and stimulus, as he said, kept up an
_esprit du corps_. When an overseer reported that his slaves were down with
fever by the dozen and his cotton wasting in the fields, Lamar would hasten
thither with a physician and a squad of slaves impressed from another
plantation, to care for the sick and the crop respectively. He
redistributed slaves among his plantations with a view to a better
balancing of land and labor, but was deterred from carrying this policy as
far as he thought might be profitable by his unwillingness to separate the
families. His absence gave occasion sometimes for discontent among his
slaves; yet when the owners of others who were for sale authorized them
to find their own purchasers his well known justice, liberality and good
nature made "Mas John" a favorite recourse.

As to crops and management, Lamar indicated his methods in criticizing
those of a relative: "Uncle Jesse still builds air castles and blinds
himself to his affairs. Last year he tinkered away on tobacco and sugar
cane, things he knew nothing about.... He interferes with the arrangements
of his overseers, and has no judgment of his own.... If he would employ a
competent overseer and move off the plantation with his family he could
make good crops, as he has a good force of hands and good lands.... I have
found that it is unprofitable to undertake anything on a plantation out of
the regular routine. If I had a little place off to itself, and my business
would admit of it, I should delight in agricultural experiments." In his
reliance upon staple routine, as in every other characteristic, Lamar rings
true to the planter type.



WHILE produced only in America, the plantation slave was a product of
old-world forces. His nature was an African's profoundly modified but
hardly transformed by the requirements of European civilization. The wrench
from Africa and the subjection to the new discipline while uprooting his
ancient language and customs had little more effect upon his temperament
than upon his complexion. Ceasing to be Foulah, Coromantee, Ebo or Angola,
he became instead the American negro. The Caucasian was also changed by the
contact in a far from negligible degree; but the negro's conversion
was much the more thorough, partly because the process in his case was
coercive, partly because his genius was imitative.

The planters had a saying, always of course with an implicit reservation
as to limits, that a negro was what a white man made him. The molding,
however, was accomplished more by groups than by individuals. The purposes
and policies of the masters were fairly uniform, and in consequence the
negroes, though with many variants, became largely standardized into the
predominant plantation type. The traits which prevailed were an eagerness
for society, music and merriment, a fondness for display whether of person,
dress, vocabulary or emotion, a not flagrant sensuality, a receptiveness
toward any religion whose exercises were exhilarating, a proneness to
superstition, a courteous acceptance of subordination, an avidity for
praise, a readiness for loyalty of a feudal sort, and last but not least, a
healthy human repugnance toward overwork. "It don't do no good to hurry,"
was a negro saying, "'caze you're liable to run by mo'n you overtake."
Likewise painstaking was reckoned painful; and tomorrow was always waiting
for today's work, while today was ready for tomorrow's share of play. On
the other hand it was a satisfaction to work sturdily for a hard boss, and
so be able to say in an interchange of amenities: "Go long, half-priced
nigger! You wouldn't fotch fifty dollars, an' I'm wuth a thousand!"[1]

[Footnote 1: _Daily Tropic_ (New Orleans), May 18, 1846.]

Contrasts were abundant. John B. Lamar, on the one hand, wrote: "My man Ned
the carpenter is idle or nearly so at the plantation. He is fixing gates
and, like the idle groom in Pickwick, trying to fool himself into the
belief that he is doing something.... He is an eye servant. If I was with
him I could have the work done soon and cheap; but I am afraid to trust him
off where there is no one he fears."[2] On the other hand, M.W. Philips
inscribed a page of his plantation diary as follows:[3]

[Footnote 2: _Plantation and Frontier_, II, 38.]

[Footnote 3: Mississippi Historical Society _Publications_, X, 444.]

July 10, 1853
Peyton is no more
Aged 42
Though he was a bad man in many respects
yet he was a most excellent field
hand, always at his
On this place for 21 years.
Except the measles and its sequence, the
injury rec'd by the mule last Nov'r and its sequence,
he has not lost 15 days' work, I verily believe, in the
remaining 19 years. I wish we could hope for his
eternal state.

Should anyone in the twentieth century wish to see the old-fashioned prime
negro at his best, let him take a Mississippi steamboat and watch the
roustabouts at work--those chaffing and chattering, singing and swinging,
lusty and willing freight handlers, whom a river captain plying out of New
Orleans has called the noblest black men that God ever made.[4] Ready
at every touching of the shore day and night, resting and sleeping only
between landings, they carry their loads almost at running speed, and when
returning for fresh burdens they "coonjine" by flinging their feet in
semi-circles at every step, or cutting other capers in rhythm to show their
fellows and the gallery that the strain of the cotton bales, the grain
sacks, the oil barrels and the timbers merely loosen their muscles and
lighten their spirits.

[Footnote 4: Captain L.V. Cooley, _Address Before the Tulane Society of
Economics, New Orleans, April 11th, 1911, on River Transportation and Its
Relation to New Orleans, Past, Present and Future_. [New Orleans, 1911.]]

Such an exhibit would have been the despair of the average ante-bellum
planter, for instead of choosing among hundreds of applicants and rejecting
or discharging those who fell short of a high standard, he had to make
shift with such laborers as the slave traders chanced to bring or as his
women chanced to rear. His common problem was to get such income and
comfort as he might from a parcel of the general run; and the creation
of roustabout energy among them would require such vigor and such iron
resolution on his own part as was forthcoming in extremely few cases.

Theoretically the master might be expected perhaps to expend the minimum
possible to keep his slaves in strength, to discard the weaklings and the
aged, to drive his gang early and late, to scourge the laggards hourly, to
secure the whole with fetters by day and with bolts by night, and to keep
them in perpetual terror of his wrath. But Olmsted, who seems to have gone
South with the thought of finding some such theory in application, wrote:
"I saw much more of what I had not anticipated and less of what I had in
the slave states than, with a somewhat extended travelling experience, in
any other country I ever visited";[5] and Nehemiah Adams, who went from
Boston to Georgia prepared to weep with the slaves who wept, found himself
laughing with the laughing ones instead.[6]

[Footnote 5: Olmsted, _Seaboard Slave States_, p. 179.]

[Footnote 6: Nehemiah Adams. _A Southside View of Slavery, or Three Months
in the South in 1854_ (Boston, 1854), chap. 2.]

The theory of rigid coercion and complete exploitation was as strange to
the bulk of the planters as the doctrine and practice of moderation was to
those who viewed the regime from afar and with the mind's eye. A planter
in explaining his mildness might well have said it was due to his being
neither a knave nor a fool He refrained from the use of fetters not so much
because they would have hampered the slaves in their work as because the
general use of them never crossed his mind. And since chains and bolts were
out of the question, the whole system of control must be moderate; slaves
must be impelled as little as possible by fear, and as much as might be by
loyalty, pride and the prospect of reward.

Here and there a planter applied this policy in an exceptional degree. A
certain Z. Kingsley followed it with marked success even when his whole
force was of fresh Africans. In a pamphlet of the late eighteen-twenties
he told of his method as follows: "About twenty-five years ago I settled
a plantation on St. John's River in Florida with about fifty new negroes,
many of whom I brought from the Coast myself. They were mostly fine young
men and women, and nearly in equal numbers. I never interfered in their
connubial concerns nor domestic affairs, but let them regulate these after
their own manner. I taught them nothing but what was useful, and what I
thought would add to their physical and moral happiness. I encouraged as
much as possible dancing, merriment and dress, for which Saturday afternoon
and night and Sunday morning were dedicated. [Part of their leisure] was
usually employed in hoeing their corn and getting a supply of fish for the
week. Both men and women were very industrious. Many of them made twenty
bushels of corn to sell, and they vied with each other in dress and
dancing.... They were perfectly honest and obedient, and appeared perfectly
happy, having no fear but that of offending me; and I hardly ever had
to apply other correction than shaming them. If I exceeded this, the
punishment was quite light, for they hardly ever failed in doing their work
well. My object was to excite their ambition and attachment by kindness,
not to depress their spirits by fear and punishment.... Perfect confidence,
friendship and good understanding reigned between us." During the War of
1812 most of these negroes were killed or carried off in a Seminole raid.
When peace returned and Kingsley attempted to restore his Eden with a
mixture of African and American negroes, a serpent entered in the guise of
a negro preacher who taught the sinfulness of dancing, fishing on Sunday
and eating the catfish which had no scales. In consequence the slaves
"became poor, ragged, hungry and disconsolate. To steal from me was only to
do justice--to take what belonged to them, because I kept them in unjust
bondage." They came to believe "that all pastime or pleasure in this
iniquitous world was sinful; that this was only a place of sorrow and
repentance, and the sooner they were out of it the better; that they would
then go to a good country where they would experience no want of anything,
and have no work nor cruel taskmaster, for that God was merciful and would
pardon any sin they committed; only it was necessary to pray and ask
forgiveness, and have prayer meetings and contribute what they could to the
church, etc.... Finally myself and the overseer became completely divested
of all authority over the negroes.... Severity had no effect; it only made
it worse."[7]

[Footnote 7: [Z. Kingsley] _A Treatise on the Patriarchal System of Society
as It exists ... under the Name of Slavery_. By an inhabitant of Florida.
Fourth edition (1834), pp. 21, 22. (Copy in the Library of Congress.)]

This experience left Kingsley undaunted in his belief that liberalism
and profit-sharing were the soundest basis for the plantation regime.
To support this contention further he cited an experiment by a South
Carolinian who established four or five plantations in a group on Broad
River, with a slave foreman on each and a single overseer with very limited
functions over the whole. The cotton crop was the master's, while the hogs,
corn and other produce belonged to the slaves for their sustenance and the
sale of any surplus. The output proved large, "and the owner had no further
trouble nor expense than furnishing the ordinary clothing and paying the
overseer's wages, so that he could fairly be called free, seeing that he
could realize his annual income wherever he chose to reside, without paying
the customary homage to servitude of personal attendance on the operation
of his slaves." In Kingsley's opinion the system "answered extremely well,
and offers to us a strong case in favor of exciting ambition by cultivating
utility, local attachment and moral improvement among the slaves."[8]

[Footnote 8: [Z. Kingsley] _Treatise_, p. 22.]

The most thoroughgoing application on record of self-government by slaves
is probably that of the brothers Joseph and Jefferson Davis on their
plantations, Hurricane and Brierfield, in Warren County, Mississippi. There
the slaves were not only encouraged to earn money for themselves in every
way they might, but the discipline of the plantations was vested in courts
composed wholly of slaves, proceeding formally and imposing penalties to be
inflicted by slave constables except when the master intervened with his
power of pardon. The regime was maintained for a number of years in full
effect until in 1862 when the district was invaded by Federal troops.[9]

[Footnote 9: W.L. Fleming, "Jefferson Davis, the Negroes and the Negro
Problem," in the _Sewanee Review_ (October, 1908).]

These several instances were of course exceptional, and they merely tend to
counterbalance the examples of systematic severity at the other extreme.
In general, though compulsion was always available in last resort, the
relation of planter and slave was largely shaped by a sense of propriety,
proportion and cooperation.

As to food, clothing and shelter, a few concrete items will reinforce the
indications in the preceding chapters that crude comfort was the rule.
Bartram the naturalist observed in 1776 that a Georgia slaveholder with
whom he stopped sold no dairy products from his forty cows in milk. The
proprietor explained this by saying: "I have a considerable family of black
people who though they are slaves must be fed and cared for Those I have
were either chosen for their good qualities or born in the family; and I
find from long experience and observation that the better they are fed,
clothed and treated, the more service and profit we may expect to derive
from their labour. In short, I find my stock produces no more milk, or any
article of food or nourishment, than what is expended to the best advantage
amongst my family and slaves." At another place Bartram noted the arrival
at a plantation of horse loads of wild pigeons taken by torchlight from
their roosts in a neighboring swamp.[10]

[Footnote 10: William Bartram, _Travels_ (London, 1792), pp. 307-310, 467,

On Charles Cotesworth Pinckney's two plantations on the South Carolina
coast, as appears from his diary of 1818, a detail of four slaves was
shifted from the field work each week for a useful holiday in angling
for the huge drumfish which abounded in those waters; and their catches
augmented the fare of the white and black families alike.[11] Game and
fish, however, were extras. The staple meat was bacon, which combined
the virtues of easy production, ready curing and constant savoriness. On
Fowler's "Prairie" plantation, where the field hands numbered a little less
than half a hundred, the pork harvest throughout the eighteen-fifties,
except for a single year of hog cholera, yielded from eleven to
twenty-three hundred pounds; and when the yield was less than the normal,
northwestern bacon or barreled pork made up the deficit.[12]

In the matter of clothing, James Habersham sent an order to London in 1764
on behalf of himself and two neighbors for 120 men's jackets and breeches
and 80 women's gowns to be made in assorted sizes from strong and heavy
cloth. The purpose was to clothe their slaves "a little better than common"
and to save the trouble of making the garments at home.[13] In January,
1835, the overseer of one of the Telfair plantations reported that the
woolen weaving had nearly supplied the full needs of the place at the rate
of six or six and a half yards for each adult and proportionately for the
children.[14] In 1847, in preparation for winter, Charles Manigault wrote
from Paris to his overseer: "I wish you to count noses among the negroes
and see how many jackets and trousers you want for the men at Gowrie, ...
and then write to Messrs. Matthiessen and Co. of Charleston to send them to
you, together with the same quantity of twilled red flannel shirts, and a
large woolen Scotch cap for each man and youth on the place.... Send back
anything which is not first rate. You will get from Messrs. Habersham and
Son the twilled wool and cotton, called by some 'Hazzard's cloth,' for all
the women and children, and get two or three dozen handkerchiefs so as to
give each woman and girl one.... The shoes you will procure as usual from
Mr. Habersham by sending down the measures in time."[15] Finally, the
register of A.L. Alexander's plantation in the Georgia Piedmont contains
record of the distributions from 1851 to 1864 on a steady schedule. Every
spring each man drew two cotton shirts and two pair of homespun woolen
trousers, each woman a frock and chemises, and each child clothing or cloth
in proportion; and every fall the men drew shirts, trousers and coats, the
women shifts, petticoats, frocks and sacks, the children again on a similar
scale, and the several families blankets as needed.[16]

[Footnote 11: _Plantation and Frontier_, I, 203-208.]

[Footnote 12: MS. records in the possession of W.H. Stovall, Stovall,

[Footnote 13: _Plantation and Frontier_, I, 293, 294.]

[Footnote 14: _Ibid_., 192, 193.]

[Footnote 15: MS. copy in Manigault's letter book.]

[Footnote 16: MS. in the possession of Mrs. J.F. Minis, Savannah, Ga.]

As for housing, the vestiges of the old slave quarters, some of which
have stood abandoned for half a century, denote in many cases a sounder
construction and greater comfort than most of the negroes in freedom have
since been able to command.

With physical comforts provided, the birth-rate would take care of itself.
The pickaninnies were winsome, and their parents, free of expense and
anxiety for their sustenance, could hardly have more of them than they
wanted. A Virginian told Olmsted, "he never heard of babies coming so fast
as they did on his plantation; it was perfectly surprising";[17] and in
Georgia, Howell Cobb's negroes increased "like rabbits."[18] In Mississippi
M.W. Philips' woman Amy had borne eleven children when at the age of
thirty she was married by her master to a new husband, and had eight more
thereafter, including a set of triplets.[19] But the culminating instance
is the following as reported by a newspaper at Lynchburg, Virginia: "VERY
REMARKABLE. There is now living in the vicinity of Campbell a negro
woman belonging to a gentleman by the name of Todd; this woman is in her
forty-second year and has had forty-one children and at this time is
pregnant with her forty-second child, and possibly with her forty-third, as
she has frequently had doublets."[20] Had childbearing been regulated
in the interest of the masters, Todd's woman would have had less than
forty-one and Amy less than her nineteen, for such excesses impaired the
vitality of the children. Most of Amy's, for example, died a few hours or
days after birth.

[Footnote 17: Olmsted, _Seaboard Slave States_, p. 57.]

[Footnote 18: _Plantation and Frontier_, I, 179.]

[Footnote 19: Mississippi Historical Society _Publications_, X, 439, 443,
447, 480.]

[Footnote 20: _Louisiana Gazette_ (New Orleans), June 11, 1822, quoting the
Lynchburg _Press_.]

A normal record is that of Fowler's plantation, the "Prairie." Virtually
all of the adult slaves were paired as husbands and wives except Caroline
who in twenty years bore ten children. Her husband was presumably the slave
of some other master. Tom and Milly had nine children in eighteen years;
Harry and Jainy had seven in twenty-two years; Fanny had five in seventeen
years with Ben as the father of all but the first born; Louisa likewise had
five in nineteen years with Bob as the father of all but the first; and
Hector and Mary had five in seven years. On the other hand, two old couples
and one in their thirties had had no children, while eight young pairs had
from one to four each.[21] A lighter schedule was recorded on a Louisiana
plantation called Bayou Cotonier, belonging to E. Tanneret, a Creole. The
slaves listed in 1859 as being fifteen years old and upwards comprised
thirty-six males and thirty-seven females. The "livre des naissances"
showed fifty-six births between 1833 and 1859 distributed among
twenty-three women, two of whom were still in their teens when the record
ended. Rhode bore six children between her seventeenth and thirty-fourth
years; Henriette bore six between twenty-one and forty; Esther six between
twenty-one and thirty-six; Fanny, four between twenty-five and thirty-two;
Annette, four between thirty-three and forty; and the rest bore from one
to three children each, including Celestine who had her first baby when
fifteen and her second two years after. None of the matings or paternities
appear in the record, though the christenings and the slave godparents are

[Footnote 21: MS. in the possession of W.H. Stovall, Stovall, Miss.]

[Footnote 22: MS. in the Howard Memorial Library, New Orleans.]

The death rate was a subject of more active solicitude. This may be
illustrated from the journal for 1859-1860 of the Magnolia plantation,
forty miles below New Orleans. Along with its record of rations to 138
hands, and of the occasional births, deaths, runaways and recaptures, and
of the purchase of a man slave for $2300, it contains the following summary
under date of October 4, 1860: "We have had during the past eighteen months
over 150 cases of measles and numerous cases of whooping cough, and then
the diphtheria, all of which we have gone through with but little loss save
in the whooping cough when we lost some twelve children." This entry was in
the spirit of rejoicing at escape from disasters. But on December 18 there
were two items of another tone. One of these was entered by an overseer
named Kellett: "[I] shot the negro boy Frank for attempting to cut at me
and three boys with his cane knife with intent to kill." The other, in a
different handwriting, recorded tersely: "J.A. Randall commenst buisnass
this mornung. J. Kellett discharged this morning." The owner could not
afford to keep an overseer who killed negroes even though it might be in
self defence.[23]

[Footnote 23: MS. preserved on the plantation, owned by ex-Governor H.C.

Of epidemics, yellow fever was of minor concern as regards the slaves, for
negroes were largely immune to it; but cholera sometimes threatened to
exterminate the slaves and bankrupt their masters. After a visitation of
this in and about New Orleans in 1832, John McDonogh wrote to a friend:
"All that you have seen of yellow fever was nothing in comparison. It is
supposed that five or six thousand souls, black and white, were carried off
in fourteen days."[24] The pecuniary loss in Louisiana from slave deaths
in that epidemic was estimated at four million dollars.[25] Two years
afterward it raged in the Savannah neighborhood. On Mr. Wightman's
plantation, ten miles above the city, there were in the first week of
September fifty-three cases and eighteen deaths. The overseer then checked
the spread by isolating the afflicted ones in the church, the barn and the
mill. The neighboring planters awaited only the first appearance of the
disease on their places to abandon their crops and hurry their slaves to
lodges in the wilderness.[26] Plagues of smallpox were sometimes of similar

[Footnote 24: William Allen, _Life of John McDonogh_ (Baltimore, 1886), p.

[Footnote 25: _Niles' Register_, XLV, 84]

[Footnote 26: _Federal Union_ (Milledgeville, Ga.), Sept. 14 and 17 and
Oct. 22, 1834.]

Even without pestilence, deaths might bring a planter's ruin. A series
of them drove M.W. Philips to exclaim in his plantation journal: "Oh! my
losses almost make me crazy. God alone can help." In short, planters must
guard their slaves' health and life as among the most vital of their own
interests; for while crops were merely income, slaves were capital. The
tendency appears to have been common, indeed, to employ free immigrant
labor when available for such work as would involve strain and exposure.
The documents bearing on this theme are scattering but convincing. Thus
E.J. Forstall when writing in 1845 of the extension of the sugar fields,
said thousands of Irishmen were seen in every direction digging plantation
ditches;[27] T.B. Thorpe when describing plantation life on the Mississippi
in 1853 said the Irish proved the best ditchers;[28] and a Georgia planter
when describing his drainage of a swamp in 1855 said that Irish were
hired for the work in order that the slaves might continue at their usual
routine.[29] Olmsted noted on the Virginia seaboard that "Mr. W.... had an
Irish gang draining for him by contract." Olmsted asked, "why he should
employ Irishmen in preference to doing the work with his own hands. 'It's
dangerous work,' the planter replied, 'and a negro's life is too valuable
to be risked at it. If a negro dies, it is a considerable loss you
know,'"[30] On a Louisiana plantation W.H. Russell wrote in 1860: "The
labor of ditching, trenching, cleaning the waste lands and hewing down the
forests is generally done by Irish laborers who travel about the country
under contractors or are engaged by resident gangsmen for the task. Mr.
Seal lamented the high prices of this work; but then, as he said, 'It was
much better to have Irish do it, who cost nothing to the planter if they
died, than to use up good field-hands in such severe employment,'" Russell
added on his own score: "There is a wonderful mine of truth in this
observation. Heaven knows how many poor Hibernians have been consumed and
buried in these Louisianian swamps, leaving their earnings to the dramshop
keeper and the contractor, and the results of their toil to the planter."
On another plantation the same traveller was shown the debris left by the
last Irish gang and was regaled by an account of the methods by which their
contractor made them work.[31] Robert Russell made a similar observation on
a plantation near New Orleans, and was told that even at high wages Irish
laborers were advisable for the work because they would do twice as
much ditching as would an equal number of negroes in the same time.[32]
Furthermore, A. de Puy Van Buren, noted as a common sight in the Yazoo
district, "especially in the ditching season, wandering 'exiles of Erin,'
straggling along the road"; and remarked also that the Irish were the chief
element among the straining roustabouts, on the steamboats of that day.[33]
Likewise Olmsted noted on the Alabama River that in lading his boat with
cotton from a towering bluff, a slave squad was appointed for the work at
the top of the chute, while Irish deck hands were kept below to capture the
wildly bounding bales and stow them. As to the reason for this division
of labor and concentration of risk, the traveller had his own surmise
confirmed when the captain answered his question by saying, "The niggers
are worth too much to be risked here; if the Paddies are knocked overboard,
or get their backs broke, nobody loses anything!"[34] To these chance
observations it may be added that many newspaper items and canal and
railroad company reports from the 'thirties to the 'fifties record that the
construction gangs were largely of Irish and Germans. The pay attracted
those whose labor was their life; the risk repelled those whose labor was
their capital. There can be no doubt that the planters cherished the lives
of their slaves.

[Footnote 27: Edward J. Forstall, _The Agricultural Productions of
Louisiana_ (New Orleans, 1845).]

[Footnote 28: _Harper's Magazine_, VII, 755.]

[Footnote 29: _DeBoufs Review_, XI, 401.]

[Footnote 30: Olmsted, _Seaboard Slave States_, pp. 90, 91.]

[Footnote 31: W.H. Russell, _My Diary North and South_ (Boston, 1863), pp
272, 273, 278.]

[Footnote 32: Robert Russell, _North America, Its Agriculture and Chwate_
(Edinburgh, 1857), p. 272.]

[Footnote 33: A. de Puy Van Buren, _Jottings of a Year's Sojourn in the
South_ (Battle Creek, Mich., 1859), pp. 84, 318.]

[Footnote 34: Olmsted, _Seaboard Slave States_, pp. 550, 551.]

Truancy was a problem in somewhat the same class with disease, disability
and death, since for industrial purposes a slave absent was no better than
a slave sick, and a permanent escape was the equivalent of a death on the
plantation. The character of the absconding was various. Some slaves merely
took vacations without leave, some fled in postponement of threatened
punishments, and most of the rest made resolute efforts to escape from
bondage altogether.

Occasionally, however, a squad would strike in a body as a protest against
severities. An episode of this sort was recounted in a letter of a Georgia
overseer to his absent employer: "Sir: I write you a few lines in order to
let you know that six of your hands has left the plantation--every man but
Jack. They displeased me with their worke and I give some of them a few
lashes, Tom with the rest. On Wednesday morning they were missing. I think
they are lying out until they can see you or your uncle Jack, as he is
expected daily. They may be gone off, or they may be lying round in this
neighbourhood, but I don't know. I blame Tom for the whole. I don't think
the rest would of left the plantation if Tom had not of persuaded them of
for some design. I give Tom but a few licks, but if I ever get him in my
power I will have satisfaction. There was a part of them had no cause for
leaving, only they thought if they would all go it would injure me moore.
They are as independent a set for running of as I have ever seen, and I
think the cause is they have been treated too well. They want more whipping
and no protecter; but if our country is so that negroes can quit their
homes and run of when they please without being taken they will have the
advantage of us. If they should come in I will write to you immediately and
let you know." [35]

[Footnote 35: Letter of I.E.H. Harvey, Jefferson County, Georgia, April 16,
1837, to H.C. Flournoy, Athens, Ga. MS. in private possession. Punctuation
and capitals, which are conspicuously absent in the original, have here
been supplied for the sake of clarity.]

Such a case is analogous to that of wage-earning laborers on strike for
better conditions of work. The slaves could not negotiate directly at such
a time, but while they lay in the woods they might make overtures to the
overseer through slaves on a neighboring plantation as to terms upon which
they would return to work, or they might await their master's posthaste
arrival and appeal to him for a redress of grievances. Humble as their
demeanor might be, their power of renewing the pressure by repeating their
flight could not be ignored. A happy ending for all concerned might be
reached by mutual concessions and pledges. That the conclusion might be
tragic is illustrated in a Louisiana instance where the plantation was in
charge of a negro foreman. Eight slaves after lying out for some weeks
because of his cruelty and finding their hardships in the swamp intolerable
returned home together and proposed to go to work again if granted amnesty.
When the foreman promised a multitude of lashes instead, they killed him
with their clubs. The eight then proceeded to the parish jail at Vidalia,
told what they had done, and surrendered themselves. The coroner went to
the plantation and found the foreman dead according to specifications.[36]
The further history of the eight is unknown.

[Footnote 36: _Daily Delta_ (New Orleans), April 17, 1849.]

Most of the runaways went singly, but some of them went often. Such chronic
offenders were likely to be given exemplary punishment when recaptured. In
the earlier decades branding and shackling were fairly frequent. Some of
the punishments were unquestionably barbarous, the more so when inflicted
upon talented and sensitive mulattoes and quadroons who might be quite
as fit for freedom as their masters. In the later period the more common
resorts were to whipping, and particularly to sale. The menace of this last
was shrewdly used by making a bogey man of the trader and a reputed hell
on earth of any district whither he was supposed to carry his merchandise.
"They are taking her to Georgia for to wear her life away" was a slave
refrain welcome to the ears of masters outside that state; and the
slanderous imputation gave no offence even to Georgians, for they
recognized that the intention was benevolent, and they were in turn
blackening the reputations of the more westerly states in the amiable
purpose of keeping their own slaves content.

Virtually all the plantations whose records are available suffered more
or less from truancy, and the abundance of newspaper advertisements for
fugitives reinforces the impression that the need of deterrence was vital.
Whippings, instead of proving a cure, might bring revenge in the form of
sabotage, arson or murder. Adequacy in food, clothing and shelter might
prove of no avail, for contentment must be mental as well as physical. The
preventives mainly relied upon were holidays, gifts and festivities to
create lightness of heart; overtime and overtask payments to promote zeal
and satisfaction; kindliness and care to call forth loyalty in return;
and the special device of crop patches to give every hand a stake in the
plantation. This last raised a minor problem of its own, for if slaves
were allowed to raise and sell the plantation staples, pilfering might be
stimulated more than industry and punishments become more necessary
than before. In the cotton belt a solution was found at last in nankeen
cotton.[37] This variety had been widely grown for domestic use as early as
the beginning of the nineteenth century, but it was left largely in neglect
until when in the thirties it was hit upon for negro crops. While the
prices it brought were about the same as those of the standard upland
staple, its distinctive brown color prevented the admixture of the
planter's own white variety without certain detection when it reached
the gin. The scale which the slave crops attained on some plantations is
indicated by the proceeds of $1,969.65 in 1859 from the nankeen of the
negroes on the estate of Allen McWalker in Taylor County, Georgia.[38] Such
returns might be distributed in cash; but planters generally preferred for
the sake of sobriety that money should not be freely handled by the slaves.
Earnings as well as gifts were therefore likely to be issued in the form of
tickets for merchandise. David Ross, for example, addressed the following
to the firm of Allen and Ellis at Fredericksburg in the Christmas season of
1802: "Gentlemen: Please to let the bearer George have ten dollars value in
anything he chooses"; and the merchants entered a memorandum that George
chose two handkerchiefs, two hats, three and a half yards of linen, a pair
of hose, and six shillings in cash.[39]

[Footnote 37: John Drayton, _View of South Carolina_ (Charleston, 1802), p.

[Footnote 38: Macon, Ga., _Telegraph_, Feb. 3, 1859, quoted in _DeBow's
Review_, XXIX, 362, note.]

[Footnote 39: MS. among the Allen and Ellis papers in the Library of

In general the most obvious way of preventing trouble was to avoid the
occasion for it. If tasks were complained of as too heavy, the simplest
recourse was to reduce the schedule. If jobs were slackly done,
acquiescence was easier than correction. The easy-going and plausible
disposition of the blacks conspired with the heat of the climate to soften
the resolution of the whites and make them patient. Severe and unyielding
requirements would keep everyone on edge; concession when accompanied with
geniality and not indulged so far as to cause demoralization would make
plantation life not only tolerable but charming.

In the actual regime severity was clearly the exception, and kindliness the
rule. The Englishman Welby, for example, wrote in 1820: "After travelling
through three slave states I am obliged to go back to theory to raise any
abhorrence of it. Not once during the journey did I witness an instance of
cruel treatment nor could I discover anything to excite commiseration in
'the faces or gait of the people of colour. They walk, talk and appear at
least as independent as their masters; in animal spirits they have greatly
the advantage."[40] Basil Hall wrote in 1828: "I have no wish, God knows!
to defend slavery in the abstract; ... but ... nothing during my recent
journey gave me more satisfaction than the conclusion to which I was
gradually brought that the planters of the Southern states of America,
generally speaking, have a sincere desire to manage their estates with
the least possible severity. I do not say that undue severity is nowhere
exercised; but the discipline, taken upon the average, as far as I could
learn, is not more strict than is necessary for the maintenance of a proper
degree of authority, without which the whole framework of society in that
quarter would be blown to atoms."[41] And Olmsted wrote: "The only whipping
of slaves that I have seen in Virginia has been of these wild, lazy
children as they are being broke in to work."[42]

[Footnote 40: Adlard Welby, _Visit to North America_ (London, 1821 )
reprinted in Thwaites ed., _Early Western Travels_, XII, 289]

[Footnote 41: Basil Hall, _Travels in the United States_, III, 227, 228.]

[Footnote 42: Olmsted, _Seaboard Slave States_, p. 146.]

As to the rate and character of the work, Hall said that in contrast with
the hustle prevailing on the Northern farms, "in Carolina all mankind
appeared comparatively idle."[43] Olmsted, when citing a Virginian's remark
that his negroes never worked enough to tire themselves, said on his own
account: "This is just what I have thought when I have seen slaves at
work--they seem to go through the motions of labor without putting strength
into them. They keep their powers in reserve for their own use at night,
perhaps."[44] And Solon Robinson reported tersely from a rice plantation
that the negroes plied their hoes "at so slow a rate, the motion would have
given a quick-working Yankee convulsions."[45]

[Footnote 43: Basil Hall, III, 117.]

[Footnote 44: _Seaboard Slave States_, p. 91.]

[Footnote 45: _American Agriculturist_, IX, 93.]

There was clearly no general prevalence of severity and strain in the
regime. There was, furthermore, little of that curse of impersonality
and indifference which too commonly prevails in the factories of the
present-day world where power-driven machinery sets the pace, where the
employers have no relations with the employed outside of work hours, where
the proprietors indeed are scattered to the four winds, where the directors
confine their attention to finance, and where the one duty of the
superintendent is to procure a maximum output at a minimum cost. No, the
planters were commonly in residence, their slaves were their chief property
to be conserved, and the slaves themselves would not permit indifference
even if the masters were so disposed. The generality of the negroes
insisted upon possessing and being possessed in a cordial but respectful
intimacy. While by no means every plantation was an Arcadia there were many
on which the industrial and racial relations deserved almost as glowing
accounts as that which the Englishman William Faux wrote in 1819 of the
"goodly plantation" of the venerable Mr. Mickle in the uplands of South
Carolina.[46] "This gentleman," said he, "appears to me to be a rare
example of pure and undefiled religion, kind and gentle in manners....
Seeing a swarm, or rather herd, of young negroes creeping and dancing
about the door and yard of his mansion, all appearing healthy, happy and
frolicsome and withal fat and decently clothed, both young and old, I felt
induced to praise the economy under which they lived. 'Aye,' said he, 'I
have many black people, but I have never bought nor sold any in my life.
All that you see came to me with my estate by virtue of my father's will.
They are all, old and young, true and faithful to my interests. They need
no taskmaster, no overseer. They will do all and more than I expect them
to do, and I can trust them with untold gold. All the adults are well
instructed, and all are members of Christian churches in the neighbourhood;
and their conduct is becoming their professions. I respect them as my
children, and they look on me as their friend and father. Were they to be
taken from me it would be the most unhappy event of their lives,' This
conversation induced me to view more attentively the faces of the adult
slaves; and I was astonished at the free, easy, sober, intelligent and
thoughtful impression which such an economy as Mr. Mickle's had indelibly
made on their countenances."

[Footnote 46: William Faux, _Memorable Days in America_ (London, 1823), p.
68, reprinted in Thwaites, ed., _Early Western Travels_, XI, 87.]



When Hakluyt wrote in 1584 his _Discourse of Western Planting_, his theme
was the project of American colonization; and when a settlement was planted
at Jamestown, at Boston or at Providence as the case might be, it was
called, regardless of the type, a plantation. This usage of the word in the
sense of a colony ended only upon the rise of a new institution to which
the original name was applied. The colonies at large came then to be known
as provinces or dominions, while the sub-colonies, the privately
owned village estates which prevailed in the South, were alone called
plantations. In the Creole colonies, however, these were known as
_habitations_--dwelling places. This etymology of the name suggests the
nature of the thing--an isolated place where people in somewhat peculiar
groups settled and worked and had their being. The standard community
comprised a white household in the midst of several or many negro families.
The one was master, the many were slaves; the one was head, the many were
members; the one was teacher, the many were pupils.

The scheme of the buildings reflected the character of the group. The "big
house," as the darkies loved to call it, might be of any type from a double
log cabin to a colonnaded mansion of many handsome rooms, and its setting
might range from a bit of primeval forest to an elaborate formal garden.
Most commonly the house was commodious in a rambling way, with no pretense
to distinction without nor to luxury within. The two fairly constant
features were the hall running the full depth of the house, and the
verandah spanning the front. The former by day and the latter at evening
served in all temperate seasons as the receiving place for guests and the
gathering place for the household at all its leisure times. The house was
likely to have a quiet dignity of its own; but most of such beauty as the
homestead possessed was contributed by the canopy of live-oaks if on the
rice or sugar coasts, or of oaks, hickories or cedars, if in the uplands.
Flanking the main house in many cases were an office and a lodge,
containing between them the administrative headquarters, the schoolroom,
and the apartments for any bachelor overflow whether tutor, sons or
guests. Behind the house and at a distance of a rod or two for the sake of
isolating its noise and odors, was the kitchen. Near this, unless a spring
were available, stood the well with its two buckets dangling from the
pulley; and near this in turn the dairy and the group of pots and tubs
which constituted the open air laundry. Bounding the back yard there were
the smoke-house where bacon and hams were cured, the sweet potato pit, the
ice pit except in the southernmost latitudes where no ice of local origin
was to be had, the carriage house, the poultry house, the pigeon cote, and
the lodgings of the domestic servants. On plantations of small or medium
scale the cabins of the field hands generally stood at the border of the
master's own premises; but on great estates, particularly in the lowlands,
they were likely to be somewhat removed, with the overseer's house, the
smithy, and the stables, corn cribs and wagon sheds nearby. At other
convenient spots were the buildings for working up the crops--the tobacco
house, the threshing and pounding mills, the gin and press, or the sugar
house as the respective staples required. The climate conduced so strongly
to out of door life that as a rule each roof covered but a single unit of
residence, industry or storage.

The fields as well as the buildings commonly radiated from the planter's
house. Close at hand were the garden, the orchards and the horse lot; and
behind them the sweet potato field, the watermelon patch and the forage
plots of millet, sorghum and the like. Thence there stretched the fields
of the main crops in a more or less solid expanse according to the local
conditions. Where ditches or embankments were necessary, as for sugar and
rice fields, the high cost of reclamation promoted compactness; elsewhere
the prevailing cheapness of land promoted dispersion. Throughout the
uplands, accordingly, the area in crops was likely to be broken by wood
lots and long-term fallows. The scale of tillage might range from a few
score acres to a thousand or two; the expanse of unused land need have no
limit but those of the proprietor's purse and his speculative proclivity.

The scale of the orchards was in some degree a measure of the domesticity
prevailing. On the rice coast the unfavorable character of the soil and the
absenteeism of the planter's families in summer conspired to keep the fruit
trees few. In the sugar district oranges and figs were fairly plentiful.
But as to both quantity and variety in fruits the Piedmont was unequaled.
Figs, plums, apples, pears and quinces were abundant, but the peaches
excelled all the rest. The many varieties of these were in two main groups,
those of clear stones and soft, luscious flesh for eating raw, and those
of clinging stones and firm flesh for drying, preserving, and making pies.
From June to September every creature, hogs included, commonly had as many
peaches as he cared to eat; and in addition great quantities might be
carried to the stills. The abandoned fields, furthermore, contributed
dewberries, blackberries, wild strawberries and wild plums in summer, and
persimmons in autumn, when the forest also yielded its muscadines, fox
grapes, hickory nuts, walnuts, chestnuts and chinquapins, and along the
Gulf coast pecans.

The resources for edible game were likewise abundant, with squirrels,
opossums and wild turkeys, and even deer and bears in the woods, rabbits,
doves and quail in the fields, woodcock and snipe in the swamps and
marshes, and ducks and geese on the streams. Still further, the creeks and
rivers yielded fish to be taken with hook, net or trap, as well as terrapin
and turtles, and the coastal waters added shrimp, crabs and oysters. In
most localities it required little time for a household, slave or free, to
lay forest, field or stream under tribute.

The planter's own dietary, while mostly home grown, was elaborate. Beef and
mutton were infrequent because the pastures were poor; Irish potatoes were
used only when new, for they did not keep well in the Southern climate;
and wheaten loaves were seldom seen because hot breads were universally
preferred. The standard meats were chicken in its many guises, ham and
bacon. Wheat flour furnished relays of biscuit and waffles, while corn
yielded lye hominy, grits, muffins, batter cakes, spoon bread, hoe cake
and pone. The gardens provided in season lettuce, cucumbers, radishes and
beets, mustard greens and turnip greens, string beans, snap beans and
butter beans, asparagus and artichokes, Irish potatoes, squashes, onions,
carrots, turnips, okra, cabbages and collards. The fields added green corn
for boiling, roasting, stewing and frying, cowpeas and black-eyed peas,
pumpkins and sweet potatoes, which last were roasted, fried or candied
for variation. The people of the rice coast, furthermore, had a special
fondness for their own pearly staple; and in the sugar district _strop de
batterie_ was deservedly popular. The pickles, preserves and jellies were
in variety and quantity limited only by the almost boundless resources and
industry of the housewife and her kitchen corps. Several meats and breads
and relishes would crowd the table simultaneously, and, unless unexpected
guests swelled the company, less would be eaten during the meal than would
be taken away at the end, never to return. If ever tables had a habit of
groaning it was those of the planters. Frugality, indeed, was reckoned a
vice to be shunned, and somewhat justly so since the vegetables and eggs
were perishable, the bread and meat of little cost, and the surplus from
the table found sure disposal in the kitchen or the quarters. Lucky was the
man whose wife was the "big house" cook, for the cook carried a basket, and
the basket was full when she was homeward bound.

The fare of the field hands was, of course, far more simple. Hoecake and
bacon were its basis and often its whole content. But in summer fruit
and vegetables were frequent; there was occasional game and fish at all
seasons; and the first heavy frost of winter brought the festival of
hog-killing time. While the shoulders, sides, hams and lard were saved, all
other parts of the porkers were distributed for prompt consumption. Spare
ribs and backbone, jowl and feet, souse and sausage, liver and chitterlings
greased every mouth on the plantation; and the crackling-bread, made of
corn meal mixed with the crisp tidbits left from the trying of the lard,
carried fullness to repletion. Christmas and the summer lay-by brought
recreation, but the hog-killing brought fat satisfaction.[1]

[Footnote 1: This account of plantation homesteads and dietary is drawn
mainly from the writer's own observations in post-bellum times in which,
despite the shifting of industrial arrangements and the decrease of wealth,
these phases have remained apparent. Confirmation may be had in Philip
Fithian _Journal_ (Princeton, 1900); A. de Puy Van Buren, _Jottings of a
Year's Sojourn in the South_ (Battle Creek, Mich., 1859); Susan D. Smedes,
_Memorials of a Southern Planter_ (Baltimore, 1887); Mary B. Chestnutt, _A
Diary from Dixie_ (New York, 1905); and many other memoirs and traveller's

The warmth of the climate produced some distinctive customs. One was the
high seasoning of food to stimulate the appetite; another was the afternoon
siesta of summer; a third the wellnigh constant leaving of doors ajar even
in winter when the roaring logs in the chimney merely took the chill from
the draughts. Indeed a door was not often closed on the plantation except
those of the negro cabins, whose inmates were hostile to night air, and
those of the storerooms. As a rule, it was only in the locks of the latter
that keys were ever turned by day or night.

The lives of the whites and the blacks were partly segregate, partly
intertwined. If any special link were needed, the children supplied it.
The whites ones, hardly knowing their mothers from their mammies or their
uncles by blood from their "uncles" by courtesy, had the freedom of the
kitchen and the cabins, and the black ones were their playmates in the
shaded sandy yard the livelong day. Together they were regaled with
folklore in the quarters, with Bible and fairy stories in the "big house,"
with pastry in the kitchen, with grapes at the scuppernong arbor, with
melons at the spring house and with peaches in the orchard. The half-grown
boys were likewise almost as undiscriminating among themselves as the dogs
with which they chased rabbits by day and 'possums by night. Indeed, when
the fork in the road of life was reached, the white youths found something
to envy in the freedom of their fellows' feet from the cramping weight of
shoes and the freedom of their minds from the restraints of school. With
the approach of maturity came routine and responsibility for the whites,
routine alone for the generality of the blacks. Some of the males of each
race grew into ruffians, others into gentlemen in the literal sense, some
of the females into viragoes, others into gentlewomen; but most of
both races and sexes merely became plain, wholesome folk of a somewhat
distinctive plantation type.

In amusements and in religion the activities of the whites and blacks were
both mingled and separate. Fox hunts when occurring by day were as a rule
diversions only for the planters and their sons and guests, but when they
occurred by moonlight the chase was joined by the negroes on foot with
halloos which rivalled the music of the hounds. By night also the blacks,
with the whites occasionally joining in, sought the canny 'possum and the
embattled 'coon; in spare times by day they hied their curs after the
fleeing Brer Rabbit, or built and baited seductive traps for turkeys and
quail; and fishing was available both by day and by night. At the horse
races of the whites the jockeys and many of the spectators were negroes;
while from the cock fights and even the "crap" games of the blacks, white
men and boys were not always absent.

Festivities were somewhat more separate than sports, though by no means
wholly so. In the gayeties of Christmas the members of each race were
spectators of the dances and diversions of the other. Likewise marriage
merriment in the great house would have its echo in the quarters; and
sometimes marriages among the slaves were grouped so as to give occasion
for a general frolic. Thus Daniel R. Tucker in 1858 sent a general
invitation over the countryside in central Georgia to a sextuple wedding
among his slaves, with dinner and dancing to follow.[2] On the whole, the
fiddle, the banjo and the bones were not seldom in requisition.

[Footnote 2: _Federal Union_ (Milledgeville, Ga.), April 20, 1858.]

It was a matter of discomfort that in the evangelical churches dancing
and religion were held to be incompatible. At one time on Thomas Dabney's
plantation in Mississippi, for instance, the whole negro force fell captive
in a Baptist "revival" and forswore the double shuffle. "I done buss' my
fiddle an' my banjo, and done fling 'em away," the most music-loving
fellow on the place said to the preacher when asked for his religious
experiences.[3] Such a condition might be tolerable so long as it was
voluntary; but the planters were likely to take precautions against its
becoming coercive. James H. Hammond, for instance, penciled a memorandum
in his plantation manual: "Church members are privileged to dance on all
holyday occasions; and the class-leader or deacon who may report them shall
be reprimanded or punished at the discretion of the master."[4] The logic
with which sin and sanctity were often reconciled is illustrated in Irwin
Russell's remarkably faithful "Christmas in the Quarters." "Brudder Brown"
has advanced upon the crowded floor to "beg a blessin' on dis dance:"

[Footnote 3: S.D. Smedes. _Memorials of a Southern Planter_, pp. 161, 162.]

[Footnote 4: MS. among the Hammond papers in the Library of Congress.]

O Mashr! let dis gath'rin' fin' a blessin' in yo' sight!
Don't jedge us hard fur what we does--you knows it's Chrismus night;
An' all de balunce ob de yeah we does as right's we kin.
Ef dancin's wrong, O Mashr! let de time excuse de sin!

We labors in de vineya'd, wukin' hard and wukin' true;
Now, shorely you won't notus, ef we eats a grape or two,
An' takes a leetle holiday,--a leetle restin' spell,--
Bekase, nex' week we'll start in fresh, an' labor twicet as well.

Remember, Mashr,--min' dis, now,--de sinfulness ob sin
Is 'pendin' 'pon de sperrit what we goes an' does it in;
An' in a righchis frame ob min' we's gwine to dance an' sing,
A-feelin' like King David, when he cut de pigeon-wing.

It seems to me--indeed it do--I mebbe mout be wrong--
That people raly _ought_ to dance, when Chrismus comes along;
Des dance bekase dey's happy--like de birds hops in de trees,
De pine-top fiddle soundin' to de blowin' ob de breeze.

We has no ark to dance afore, like Isrul's prophet king;
We has no harp to soun' de chords, to holp us out to sing;
But 'cordin' to de gif's we has we does de bes' we knows,
An' folks don't 'spise de vi'let-flower bekase it ain't de rose.

You bless us, please, sah, eben ef we's doin' wrong tonight:
Kase den we'll need de blessin' more'n ef we's doin' right;
An' let de blessin' stay wid us, untel we comes to die,
An' goes to keep our Chrismus wid dem sheriffs in de sky!

Yes, tell dem preshis anjuls we's a-gwine to jine 'em soon:
Our voices we's a-trainin' fur to sing de glory tune;
We's ready when you wants us, an' it ain't no matter when--
O Mashr! call yo' chillen soon, an' take 'em home! Amen.[5]

[Footnote 5: Irwin Russell, _Poems_ (New York [1888]), pp. 5-7.]

The churches which had the greatest influence upon the negroes were those
which relied least upon ritual and most upon exhilaration. The Baptist and
Methodist were foremost, and the latter had the special advantage of the
chain of camp meetings which extended throughout the inland regions. At
each chosen spot the planters and farmers of the countryside would jointly
erect a great shed or "stand" in the midst of a grove, and would severally
build wooden shelters or "tents" in a great square surrounding it. When the
crops were laid by in August, the households would remove thither, their
wagons piled high with bedding, chairs and utensils to keep "open house"
with heavy-laden tables for all who might come to the meeting. With less
elaborate equipment the negroes also would camp in the neighborhood and
attend the same service as the whites, sitting generally in a section of
the stand set apart for them. The camp meeting, in short, was the chief
social and religious event of the year for all the Methodist whites and
blacks within reach of the ground and for such non-Methodists as cared
to attend. For some of the whites this occasion was highly festive, for
others, intensely religious; but for any negro it might easily be both at
once. Preachers in relays delivered sermons at brief intervals from
sunrise until after nightfall; and most of the sermons were followed by
exhortations for sinners to advance to the mourners' benches to receive
the more intimate and individual suasion of the clergy and their corps of
assisting brethren and sisters. The condition was highly hypnotic, and the
professions of conversion were often quite as ecstatic as the most fervid
ministrant could wish. The negroes were particularly welcome to the
preachers, for they were likely to give the promptest response to the
pulpit's challenge and set the frenzy going. A Georgia preacher, for
instance, in reporting from one of these camps in 1807, wrote: "The first
day of the meeting, we had a gentle and comfortable moving of the spirit of
the Lord among us; and at night it was much more powerful than before, and
the meeting was kept up all night without intermission. However, before
day the white people retired, and the meeting was continued by the black
people." It is easy to see who led the way to the mourners' bench. "Next
day," the preacher continued, "at ten o'clock the meeting was remarkably
lively, and many souls were deeply wrought upon; and at the close of the
sermon there was a general cry for mercy, and before night there were a
good many persons who professed to get converted. That night the meeting
continued all night, both by the white and black people, and many souls
were converted before day." The next day the stir was still more general.
Finally, "Friday was the greatest day of all. We had the Lord's Supper at
night, ... and such a solemn time I have seldom seen on the like occasion.
Three of the preachers fell helpless within the altar, and one lay a
considerable time before he came to himself. From that the work of
convictions and conversions spread, and a large number were converted
during the night, and there was no intermission until the break of day. At
that time many stout hearted sinners were conquered. On Saturday we had
preaching at the rising of the sun; and then with many tears we took leave
of each other."[6]

[Footnote 6: _Farmer's Gazette_ (Sparta, Ga.), Aug. 8, 1807, reprinted in
_Plantation and Frontier_, II, 285, 286.]

The tone of the Baptist "protracted meetings" was much like that of the
Methodist camps. In either case the rampant emotionalism, effective enough
among the whites, was with the negroes a perfect contagion. With some of
these the conversion brought lasting change; with others it provided a
garment of piety to be donned with "Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes" and
doffed as irksome on week days. With yet more it merely added to the joys
of life. The thrill of exaltation would be followed by pleasurable "sin,"
to give place to fresh conversion when the furor season recurred. The
rivalry of the Baptist and Methodist churches, each striving by similar
methods to excel the other, tempted many to become oscillating proselytes,
yielding to the allurements first of the one and then of the other, and on
each occasion holding the center of the stage as a brand snatched from the
burning, a lost sheep restored to the fold, a cause and participant of

In these manifestations the negroes merely followed and enlarged upon the
example of some of the whites. The similarity of practices, however,
did not promote a permanent mingling of the two races in the same
congregations, for either would feel some restraint upon its rhapsody
imposed by the presence of the other. To relieve this there developed in
greater or less degree a separation of the races for purposes of worship,
white ministers preaching to the blacks from time to time in plantation
missions, and home talent among the negroes filling the intervals. While
some of the black exhorters were viewed with suspicion by the whites,
others were highly esteemed and unusually privileged. One of these at
Lexington, Kentucky, for example, was given the following pass duly signed
by his master: "Tom is my slave, and has permission to go to Louisville for
two or three weeks and return here after he has made his visit. Tom is a
preacher of the reformed Baptist church, and has always been a faithful
servant."[7] As a rule the greater the proportion of negroes in a district
or a church connection, the greater the segregation in worship. If the
whites were many and the negroes few, the latter would be given the gallery
or some other group of pews; but if the whites were few and the negroes
many, the two elements would probably worship in separate buildings. Even
in such case, however, it was very common for a parcel of black domestics
to flock with their masters rather than with their fellows.

[Footnote 7: Dated Aug. 6, 1856, and signed E. McCallister. MS. in the New
York Public Library.]

The general regime in the fairly typical state of South Carolina was
described in 1845 in a set of reports procured preliminary to a convention
on the state of religion among the negroes and the means of its betterment.
Some of these accounts were from the clergy of several denominations,
others from the laity; some treated of general conditions in the several
districts, others in detail of systems on the writers' own plantations. In
the latter group, N.W. Middleton, an Episcopalian of St. Andrew's parish,
wrote that he and his wife and sons were the only religious teachers of his
slaves, aside from the rector of the parish. He read the service and taught
the catechism to all every Sunday afternoon, and taught such as came
voluntarily to be instructed after family prayers on Wednesday nights. His
wife and sons taught the children "constantly during the week," chiefly in
the catechism. On the other hand R.F.W. Allston, a fellow Episcopalian of
Prince George, Winyaw, had on his plantation a place of worship open to all
denominations. A Methodist missionary preached there on alternate Sundays,
and the Baptists were less regularly cared for. Both of these sects,
furthermore, had prayer meetings, according to the rules of the plantation,
on two nights of each week. Thus while Middleton endeavored to school his
slaves in his own faith, Allston encouraged them to seek salvation by such
creed as they might choose.

An Episcopal clergyman in the same parish with Allston wrote that he held
fortnightly services among the negroes on ten plantations, and enlisted
some of the literate slaves as lay readers. His restriction of these to the
text of the prayer book, however, seems to have shorn them of power. The
bulk of the slaves flocked to the more spontaneous exercises elsewhere;
and the clergyman could find ground for satisfaction only in saying that
frequently as many as two hundred slaves attended services at one of the
parish churches in the district.

The Episcopal failure was the "evangelical" opportunity. Of the thirteen
thousand slaves in Allston's parish some 3200 were Methodists and 1500
Baptists, as compared with 300 Episcopalians. In St. Peter's parish a
Methodist reported that in a total of 6600 slaves, 1335 adhered to his
faith, about half of whom were in mixed congregations of whites and blacks
under the care of two circuit-riders, and the rest were in charge of two
missionaries who ministered to negroes alone. Every large plantation,
furthermore, had one or more "so-called negro preachers, but more properly
exhorters." In St. Helena parish the Baptists led with 2132 communicants;
the Methodists followed with 314 to whom a missionary holding services on
twenty plantations devoted the whole of his time; and the Episcopalians as
usual brought up the rear with fifty-two negro members of the church at
Beaufort and a solitary additional one in the chapel on St. Helena island.

Of the progress and effects of religion in the lowlands Allston and
Middleton thought well. The latter said, "In every respect I feel
encouraged to go on." The former wrote: "Of my own negroes and those in my
immediate neighborhood I may speak with confidence. They are attentive to
religious instruction and greatly improved in intelligence and morals, in
domestic relations, etc. Those who have grown up under religious training
are more intelligent and generally, though not always, more improved than
those who have received religious instruction as adults. Indeed the degree
of intelligence which as a class they are acquiring is worthy of deep
consideration." Thomas Fuller, the reporter from the Beaufort neighborhood,
however, was as much apprehensive as hopeful. While the negroes had greatly
improved in manners and appearance as a result of coming to worship in town
every Sunday, said he, the freedom which they were allowed for the purpose
was often misused in ways which led to demoralization. He strongly advised
the planters to keep the slaves at home and provide instruction there.

From the upland cotton belt a Presbyterian minister in the Chester district
wrote: "You are all aware, gentlemen, that the relation and intercourse
between the whites and the blacks in the up-country are very different from
what they are in the low-country. With us they are neither so numerous nor
kept so entirely separate, but constitute a part of our households, and are
daily either with their masters or some member of the white family. From
this circumstance they feel themselves more identified with their owners
than they can with you. I minister steadily to two different congregations.
More than one hundred blacks attend.... The gallery, or a quarter of the
house, is appropriated to them in all our churches, and they enjoy the
preached gospel in common with the whites." Finally, from the Greenville
district, on the upper edge of the Piedmont, where the Methodists and
Baptists were completely dominant among whites and blacks alike, it was
reported: "About one fourth of the members in the churches are negroes.
In the years 1832, '3 and '4 great numbers of negroes joined the churches
during a period of revival. Many, I am sorry to say, have since been
excommunicated. As the general zeal in religion declined, they backslid."
There were a few licensed negro preachers, this writer continued, who were
thought to do some good; but the general improvement in negro character, he
thought, was mainly due to the religious and moral training given by their
masters, and still more largely by their mistresses. From all quarters the
expression was common that the promotion of religion among the slaves was
not only the duty of masters but was to their interest as well in that it
elevated the morals of the workmen and improved the quality of the service
they rendered.[8]

[Footnote 8: _Proceedings of the Meeting in Charleston, S.C., May 13-15,
1845, on the Religious Instruction of the Negroes, together with the Report
of the Committee and the Address to the Public_ (Charleston, 1845). The
reports of the Association for the Religious Instruction of Negroes in
Liberty County, Georgia, printed annually for a dozen years or more in the
'thirties and 'forties, relate the career of a particularly interesting
missionary work in that county on the rice coast, under the charge of the
Reverend C.C. Jones. The tenth report in the series (1845) summarizes the
work of the first decade, and the twelfth (1847) surveys the conditions
then prevalent. In C.F. Deems ed., _Annals of Southern Methodism for 1856_
(Nashville, [1857]) the ninth chapter is made up of reports on the mission
activities of that church among the negroes in various quarters of the

In general, the less the cleavage of creed between master and man, the
better for both, since every factor conducing to solidarity of sentiment
was of advantage in promoting harmony and progress. When the planter went
to sit under his rector while the slave stayed at home to hear an exhorter,
just so much was lost in the sense of fellowship. It was particularly
unfortunate that on the rice coast the bulk of the blacks had no
co-religionists except among the non-slaveholding whites with whom they had
more conflict than community of economic and sentimental interest. On
the whole, however, in spite of the contrary suggestion of irresponsible
religious preachments and manifestations, the generality of the negroes
everywhere realized, like the whites, that virtue was to be acquired by
consistent self-control in the performance of duty rather man by the
alternation of spasmodic reforms and relapses.

Occasionally some hard-headed negro would resist the hypnotic suggestion
of his preacher, and even repudiate glorification on his death-bed. A
Louisiana physician recounts the final episode in the career of "Old Uncle
Caleb," who had long been a-dying. "Before his departure, Jeff, the negro
preacher of the place, gathered his sable flock of saints and sinners
around the bed. He read a chapter and prayed, after which they sang a
hymn.... Uncle Caleb lay motionless with closed eyes, and gave no sign.
Jeff approached and took his hand. 'Uncle Caleb,' said he earnestly, 'de
doctor says you are dying; and all de bredderin has come in for to see you
de last time. And now, Uncle Caleb, dey wants to hear from your own mouf de
precious words, dat you feels prepared to meet your God, and is ready and
willin' to go,' Old Caleb opened his eyes suddenly, and in a very peevish,
irritable tone, rebuffed the pious functionary in the following unexpected
manner: 'Jeff, don't talk your nonsense to me! You jest knows dat I an't
ready to go, nor willin' neder; and dat I an't prepared to meet nobody,'
Jeff expatiated largely not only on the mercy of God, but on the glories of
the heavenly kingdom, as a land flowing with milk and honey, etc. 'Dis ole
cabin suits me mon'sus well!' was the only reply he could elicit from the
old reprobate. And so he died."[9]

[Footnote 9: William H. Holcombe, "Sketches of Plantation Life," in the
_Knickerbocker Magazine_, LVII, 631 (June, 1861).]

The slaves not only had their own functionaries in mystic matters,
including a remnant of witchcraft, but in various temporal concerns also.
Foremen, chosen by masters with the necessary sanction of the slaves, had
industrial and police authority; nurses were minor despots in sick rooms
and plantation hospitals; many an Uncle Remus was an oracle in folklore;
and many an Aunt Dinah was arbitress of style in turbans and of elegancies
in general. Even in the practice of medicine a negro here and there gained
a sage's reputation. The governor of Virginia reported in 1729 that he had
"met with a negro, a very old man, who has performed many wonderful cures
of diseases. For the sake of his freedom he has revealed the medicine, a
concoction of roots and barks.... There is no room to doubt of its being
a certain remedy here, and of singular use among the negroes--it is well
worth the price (L60) of the negro's freedom, since it is now known how to
cure slaves without mercury."[10] And in colonial South Carolina a slave
named Caesar was particularly famed for his cure for poison, which was a
decoction of plantain, hoar-hound and golden rod roots compounded with rum
and lye, together with an application of tobacco leaves soaked in rum in
case of rattlesnake bite. In 1750 the legislature ordered his prescription
published for the benefit of the public, and the Charleston journal which
printed it found its copies exhausted by the demand.[11] An example of more
common episodes appears in a letter from William Dawson, a Potomac planter,
to Robert Carter of Nomoni Hall, asking that "Brother Tom," Carter's
coachman, be sent to see a sick child in his quarter. Dawson continued:
"The black people at this place hath more faith in him as a doctor than any
white doctor; and as I wrote you in a former letter I cannot expect you to
lose your man's time, etc., for nothing, but am quite willing to pay for

[Footnote 10: J.H. Russell, _The Free Negro in Virginia_ (Baltimore, 1913),
p. 53, note.]

[Footnote 11: _South Carolina Gazette_, Feb. 25, 1751.]

[Footnote 12: MS. in the Carter papers, Virginia Historical Society.]

Each plantation had a double head in the master and the mistress. The
latter, mother of a romping brood of her own and over-mother of the
pickaninny throng, was the chatelaine of the whole establishment. Working
with a never flagging constancy, she carried the indoor keys, directed the
household routine and the various domestic industries, served as head nurse
for the sick, and taught morals and religion by precept and example.
Her hours were long, her diversions few, her voice quiet, her influence
firm.[13] Her presence made the plantation a home; her absence would have
made it a factory. The master's concern was mainly with the able-bodied in
the routine of the crops. He laid the plans, guessed the weather, ordered
the work, and saw to its performance. He was out early and in late,
directing, teaching, encouraging, and on occasion punishing. Yet he found
time for going to town and for visits here and there, time for politics,
and time for sports. If his duty as he saw it was sometimes grim, and
his disappointments keen, hearty diversions were at hand to restore his
equanimity. His horn hung near and his hounds made quick response on
Reynard's trail, and his neighbors were ready to accept his invitations and
give theirs lavishly in return, whether to their houses or to their fields.
When their absences from home were long, as they might well be in the
public service, they were not unlikely upon return to meet such a reception
as Henry Laurens described: "I found nobody there but three of our old
domestics--Stepney, Exeter and big Hagar. These drew tears from me by their
humble and affectionate salutes. My knees were clasped, my hands kissed,
my very feet embraced, and nothing less than a very--I can't say fair, but
full--buss of my lips would satisfy the old man weeping and sobbing in my
face.... They ... held my hands, hung upon me; I could scarce get from
them. 'Ah,' said the old man, 'I never thought to see you again; now I am
happy; Ah, I never thought to see you again.'"[14]

[Footnote 13: Emily J. Putnam, _The Lady_ (New York, 1910), pp. 282-323.]

[Footnote 14: D.D. Wallace, _Life of Henry Laurens_, p. 436.]

Among the clearest views of plantation life extant are those of two
Northern tutors who wrote of their Southern sojourns. One was Philip
Fithian who went from Princeton in 1773 to teach the children of Colonel
Robert Carter of Nomoni Hall in the "Northern Neck" of Virginia, probably
the most aristocratic community of the whole South: the other was A. de Puy
Van Buren who left Battle Creek in the eighteen-fifties to seek health and
employment in Mississippi and found them both, and happiness too, amid the
freshly settled folk on the banks of the Yazoo River. Each of these made
jottings now and then of the work and play of the negroes, but both of them
were mainly impressed by the social regime in which they found themselves
among the whites. Fithian marveled at the evidences of wealth and the
stratification of society, but he reckoned that a well recommended
Princeton graduate, with no questions asked as to his family, fortune or
business, would be rated socially as on an equal footing with the owner
of a L10,000 estate, though this might be discounted one-half if he were
unfashionably ignorant of dancing, boxing, fencing, fiddling and cards.[15]
He was attracted by the buoyancy, the good breeding and the cordiality of
those whom he met, and particularly by the sound qualities of Colonel and
Mrs. Carter with whom he dwelt; but as a budding Presbyterian preacher he
was a little shocked at first by the easy-going conduct of the Episcopalian
planters on Sundays. The time at church, he wrote, falls into three
divisions: first, that before service, which is filled by the giving and
receiving of business letters, the reading of advertisements and the
discussion of crop prices and the lineage and qualities of favorite horses;
second, "in the church at service, prayrs read over in haste, a sermon
seldom under and never over twenty minutes, but always made up of sound
morality or deep, studied metaphysicks;"[16] third, "after service is over,
three quarters of an hour spent in strolling round the church among the
crowd, in which time you will be invited by several different gentlemen
home with them to dinner."

[Footnote 15: Philip V. Fithian, _Journal and Letters_ (Princeton, 1900),
p. 287.]

[Footnote 16: Fithian _Journal and Letters_, p. 296.]

Van Buren found the towns in the Yazoo Valley so small as barely to be
entitled to places on the map; he found the planters' houses to be commonly
mere log structures, as the farmers' houses about his own home in Michigan
had been twenty years before; and he found the roads so bad that the mule
teams could hardly draw their wagons nor the spans of horses their chariots
except in dry weather. But when on his horseback errands in search of a
position he learned to halloo from the roadway and was regularly met at
each gate with an extended hand and a friendly "How do you do, sir? Won't
you alight, come in, take a seat and sit awhile?"; when he was invariably
made a member of any circle gathered on the porch and refreshed with cool
water from the cocoanut dipper or with any other beverages in circulation;
when he was asked as a matter of course to share any meal in prospect and
to spend the night or day, he discovered charms even in the crudities of
the pegs for hanging saddles on the porch and the crevices between the logs
of the wall for the keeping of pipes and tobacco, books and newspapers.
Finally, when the planter whose house he had made headquarters for two
months declined to accept a penny in payment, Van Buren's heart overflowed.
The boys whom he then began to teach he found particularly apt in
historical studies, and their parents with whom he dwelt were thorough

Toward the end of his narrative, Van Buren expressed the thought that
Mississippi, the newly settled home of people from all the older Southern
states, exemplified the manners of all. He was therefore prompted to
generalize and interpret: "A Southern gentleman is composed of the same
material that a Northern gentleman is, only it is tempered by a Southern
clime and mode of life. And if in this temperament there is a little more
urbanity and chivalry, a little more politeness and devotion to the ladies,
a little more _suaviter in modo_, why it is theirs--be fair and acknowledge
it, and let them have it. He is from the mode of life he lives, especially
at home, more or less a cavalier; he invariably goes a-horseback. His boot
is always spurred, and his hand ensigned with the riding-whip. Aside from
this he is known by his bearing--his frankness and firmness." Furthermore
he is a man of eminent leisureliness, which Van Buren accounts for as
follows: "Nature is unloosed of her stays there; she is not crowded for
time; the word haste is not in her vocabulary. In none of the seasons is
she stinted to so short a space to perform her work as at the North. She
has leisure enough to bud and blossom--to produce and mature fruit, and do
all her work. While on the other hand in the North right the reverse is
true. Portions are taken off the fall and spring to lengthen out the
winter, making his reign nearly half the year. This crowds the work of
the whole year, you might say, into about half of it. This ... makes the
essential difference between a Northerner and a Southerner. They are
children of their respective climes; and this is why Southrons are so
indifferent about time; they have three months more of it in a year than we
have." [17]

[Footnote 17: A. de Puy Van Buren, _Jottings of a Year's Sojourn in the
South_, pp. 232-236.]

A key to Van Buren's enthusiasm is given by a passage in the diary of
the great English reporter, William H. Russell: "The more one sees of a
planter's life the greater is the conviction that its charms come from a
particular turn of mind, which is separated by a wide interval from modern
ideas in Europe. The planter is a denomadized Arab;--he has fixed himself
with horses and slaves in a fertile spot, where he guards his women with
Oriental care, exercises patriarchal sway, and is at once fierce, tender
and hospitable. The inner life of his household is exceedingly charming,
because one is astonished to find the graces and accomplishments of
womanhood displayed in a scene which has a certain sort of savage rudeness
about it after all, and where all kinds of incongruous accidents are
visible in the service of the table, in the furniture of the house, in
its decorations, menials, and surrounding scenery."[18] The Southerners
themselves took its incongruities much as a matter of course. The regime
was to their minds so clearly the best attainable under the circumstances
that its roughnesses chafed little. The plantations were homes to which,
as they were fond of singing, their hearts turned ever; and the negroes,
exasperating as they often were to visiting strangers, were an element
in the home itself. The problem of accommodation, which was the central
problem of the life, was on the whole happily solved.

[Footnote 18: William H. Russell, _My Diary North and South_ (Boston,
1863), p. 285.]

The separate integration of the slaves was no more than rudimentary. They
were always within the social mind and conscience of the whites, as the
whites in turn were within the mind and conscience of the blacks. The
adjustments and readjustments were mutually made, for although the masters
had by far the major power of control, the slaves themselves were by no
means devoid of influence. A sagacious employer has well said, after long
experience, "a negro understands a white man better than the white man
understands the negro."[19] This knowledge gave a power all its own. The
general regime was in fact shaped by mutual requirements, concessions
and understandings, producing reciprocal codes of conventional morality.
Masters of the standard type promoted Christianity and the customs of
marriage and parental care, and they instructed as much by example as
by precept; they gave occasional holidays, rewards and indulgences, and
permitted as large a degree of liberty as they thought the slaves could be
trusted not to abuse; they refrained from selling slaves except under
the stress of circumstances; they avoided cruel, vindictive and captious
punishments, and endeavored to inspire effort through affection rather
than through fear; and they were content with achieving quite moderate
industrial results. In short their despotism, so far as it might properly
be so called was benevolent in intent and on the whole beneficial in

[Footnote 19: Captain L.V. Cooley, _Address Before the Tulane Society of
Economics_ [New Orleans, 1911], p. 8.]

Some planters there were who inflicted severe punishments for disobedience
and particularly for the offense of running away; and the community
condoned and even sanctioned a certain degree of this. Otherwise no planter
would have printed such descriptions of scars and brands as were fairly
common in the newspaper advertisements offering rewards for the recapture
of absconders.[20] When severity went to an excess that was reckoned as
positive cruelty, however, the law might be invoked if white witnesses
could be had; or the white neighbors or the slaves themselves might apply
extra-legal retribution. The former were fain to be content with inflicting
social ostracism or with expelling the offender from the district;[21] the
latter sometimes went so far as to set fire to the oppressor's house or to
accomplish his death by poison, cudgel, knife or bullet.[22]

[Footnote 20: Examples are reprinted in _Plantation and Frontier_, II,

[Footnote 21: An instance is given in H.M. Henry, _Police Control of the
Slave in South Carolina_ (Emory, Va., [1914]), p. 75.]

[Footnote 22: For instances _see Plantation and Frontier_, II, 117-121.]

In the typical group there was occasion for terrorism on neither side. The
master was ruled by a sense of dignity, duty and moderation, and the
slaves by a moral code of their own. This embraced a somewhat obsequious
obedience, the avoidance of open indolence and vice, the attainment of
moderate skill in industry, and the cultivation of the master's good
will and affection. It winked at petty theft, loitering and other little
laxities, while it stressed good manners and a fine faithfulness in major
concerns. While the majority were notoriously easy-going, very many made
their master's interests thoroughly their own; and many of the masters had
perfect confidence in the loyalty of the bulk of their servitors. When on
the eve of secession Edmund Ruffin foretold[23] the fidelity which the
slaves actually showed when the war ensued, he merely voiced the faith of
the planter class.

[Footnote 23: _Debowfs Review_, XXX, 118-120 (January, 1861).]

In general the relations on both sides were felt to be based on pleasurable
responsibility. The masters occasionally expressed this in their letters.
William Allason, for example, who after a long career as a merchant at
Falmouth, Virginia, had retired to plantation life, declined his niece's
proposal in 1787 that he return to Scotland to spend his declining years.
In enumerating his reasons he concluded: "And there is another thing which
in your country you can have no trial of: that is, of selling faithful
slaves, which perhaps we have raised from their earliest breath. Even this,
however, some can do, as with horses, etc., but I must own that it is not
in my disposition."[24]

[Footnote 24: Letter dated Jan. 22, 1787, in the Allason MS. mercantile
books, Virginia State Library.]

Others were yet more expressive when they came to write their wills.
Thus[25] Howell Cobb of Houston County, Georgia, when framing his testament
in 1817 which made his body-servant "to be what he is really deserving, a
free man," and gave an annuity along with virtual freedom to another slave,
of an advanced age, said that the liberation of the rest of his slaves was
prevented by a belief that the care of generous and humane masters would
be much better for them than a state of freedom. Accordingly he bequeathed
these to his wife who he knew from her goodness of temper would treat them
with unflagging kindness. But should the widow remarry, thereby putting her
property under the control of a stranger, the slaves and the plantation
were at once to revert to the testator's brother who was recommended to
bequeath them in turn to his son Howell if he were deemed worthy of the
trust. "It is my most ardent desire that in whatsoever hands fortune
may place said negroes," the will enjoined, "that all the justice and
indulgence may be shown them that is consistent with a state of slavery. I
flatter myself with the hope that none of my relations or connections will
be so ungrateful to my memory as to treat or use them otherwise." Surely
upon the death of such a master the slaves might, with even more than usual
unction, raise their melodious refrain:

[Footnote 25: MS. copy in the possession of Mrs. A.S. Erwin, Athens,
Ga. The nephew mentioned in the will was Howell Cobb of Confederate

Down in de cawn fiel'
Hear dat mo'nful soun';
All de darkies am aweepin',
Massa's in de col', col' ground.



Every typical settlement in English America was in its first phase a bit
of the frontier. Commerce was rudimentary, capital scant, and industry
primitive. Each family had to suffice itself in the main with its own
direct produce. No one could afford to specialize his calling, for the
versatility of the individual was wellnigh a necessity of life. This phase
lasted only until some staple of export was found which permitted the rise
of external trade. Then the fruit of such energy as could be spared from
the works of bodily sustenance was exchanged for the goods of the outer
world; and finally in districts of special favor for staples, the bulk of
the community became absorbed in the special industry and procured most of
its consumption goods from without.

In the hidden coves of the Southern Alleghanies the primitive regime has
proved permanent. In New England where it was but gradually replaced
through the influence first of the fisheries and then of manufacturing, it
survived long enough to leave an enduring spirit of versatile enterprise,
evidenced in the plenitude of "Yankee notions." In the Southern lowlands
and Piedmont, however, the pristine advantages of self-sufficing industry
were so soon eclipsed by the profits to be had from tobacco, rice, indigo,
sugar or cotton, that in large degree the whole community adopted a
stereotyped economy with staple production as its cardinal feature.
The earnings obtained by the more efficient producers brought an early
accumulation of capital, and at the same time the peculiar adaptability of
all the Southern staples to production on a large scale by unfree labor
prompted the devotion of most of the capital to the purchase of servants
and slaves. Thus in every district suited to any of these staples, the
growth of an industrial and social system like that of Europe and the
Northern States was cut short and the distinctive Southern scheme of things
developed instead.

This regime was conditioned by its habitat, its products and the racial
quality of its labor supply, as well as by the institution of slavery and
the traditional predilections of the masters. The climate of the South was
generally favorable to one or another of the staples except in the elevated
tracts in and about the mountain ranges. The soil also was favorable except
in the pine barrens which skirted the seaboard. Everywhere but in the
alluvial districts, however, the land had only a surface fertility, and all
the staples, as well as their great auxiliary Indian corn, required the
fields to be kept clean and exposed to the weather; and the heavy rainfall
of the region was prone to wash off the soil from the hillsides and to
leach the fertile ingredients through the sands of the plains. But so
spacious was the Southern area that the people never lacked fresh fields
when their old ones were outworn. Hence, while public economy for the long
run might well have suggested a conservation of soil at the expense of
immediate crops, private economy for the time being dictated the opposite
policy; and its dictation prevailed, as it has done in virtually all
countries and all ages. Slaves working in squads might spread manure and
sow soiling crops if so directed, as well as freemen working individually;
and their failure to do so was fully paralleled by similar neglect at the
North in the same period. New England, indeed, was only less noted than the
South for exhausted fields and abandoned farms. The newness of the country,
the sparseness of population and the cheapness of land conspired with
crops, climate and geological conditions to promote exploitive methods.
The planters were by no means alone in shaping their program to fit these
circumstances.[1] The heightened speed of the consequences was in a sense
merely an unwelcome proof of their system's efficiency. Their laborers, by
reason of being slaves, must at word of command set forth on a trek of
a hundred or a thousand miles. No racial inertia could hinder nor local
attachments hold them. In the knowledge of this the masters were even more
alert than other men of the time for advantageous new locations; and they
were accordingly fain to be content with rude houses and flimsy fences in
any place of sojourn, and to let their hills remain studded with stumps as
well as to take the exhaustion of the soil as a matter of course.[2]

[Footnote 1 Edmund Ruffin, _Address on the opposite results of exhausting
and fertilizing systems of agriculture. Read before the South Carolina
Institute, November 18, 1852_ (Charleston, 1853), pp. 12, 13.]

[Footnote 2 W.L. Trenholm, "The Southern States, their social and
industrial history, conditions and needs," in the _Journal of Social
Science_, no. IX (January, 1878).]

Migration produced a more or less thorough segregation of types, for
planters and farmers respectively tended to enter and remain in the
districts most favorable to them.[3] The monopolization of the rice and
sugar industries by the planters, has been described in previous chapters.
At the other extreme the farming regime was without a rival throughout the
mountain regions, in the Shenandoah and East Tennessee Valleys and in
large parts of Kentucky and Missouri where the Southern staples would not
flourish, and in great tracts of the pine barrens where the quality of
the soil repelled all but the unambitious. The tobacco and cotton belts
remained as the debatable ground in which the two systems might compete on
more nearly even terms, though in some cotton districts the planters had
always an overwhelming advantage. In the Mississippi bottoms, for example,
the solid spread of the fields facilitated the supervision of large gangs
at work, and the requirement of building and maintaining great levees on
the river front virtually debarred operations by small proprietors. The
extreme effects of this are illustrated in Issa-quena County, Mississippi,
and Concordia Parish, Louisiana, where in 1860 the slaveholdings averaged
thirty and fifty slaves each, and where except for plantation overseers
and their families there were virtually no non-slaveholders present. The
Alabama prairies, furthermore, showed a plantation predominance almost as
complete. In the six counties of Dallas, Greene, Lowndes, Macon, Perry,
Sumter and Wilcox, for example, the average slaveholdings ranged from
seventeen to twenty-one each, and the slaveholding families were from twice
to six times as numerous as the non-slaveholding ones. Even in the more
rugged parts of the cotton belt and in the tobacco zone as well, the same
tendency toward the engrossment of estates prevailed, though in milder
degree and with lesser effects.

[Footnote 3 F.V. Emerson, "Geographical Influences in American Slavery," in
the American Geographical Society _Bulletin_, XLIII (1911), 13-26, 106-118,

This widespread phenomenon did not escape the notice of contemporaries. Two
members of the South Carolina legislature described it as early as 1805 in
substance as follows: "As one man grows wealthy and thereby increases his
stock of negroes, he wants more land to employ them on; and being fully
able, he bids a large price for his less opulent neighbor's plantation, who
by selling advantageously here can raise money enough to go into the back
country, where he can be more on a level with the most forehanded, can get
lands cheaper, and speculate or grow rich by industry as he pleases."[4]
Some three decades afterward another South Carolinian spoke sadly "on the
incompatibleness of large plantations with neighboring farms, and their
uniform tendency to destroy the yeoman."[5] Similarly Dr. Basil Manly,[6]
president of the University of Alabama, spoke in 1841 of the inveterate
habit of Southern farmers to buy more land and slaves and plod on captive
to the customs of their ancestors; and C.C. Clay, Senator from Alabama,
said in 1855 of his native county of Madison, which lay on the Tennessee
border: "I can show you ... the sad memorials of the artless and exhausting
culture of cotton. Our small planters, after taking the cream off their
lands, unable to restore them by rest, manures or otherwise, are going
further west and south in search of other virgin lands which they may and
will despoil and impoverish in like manner. Our wealthier planters, with
greater means and no more skill, are buying out their poorer neighbors,
extending their plantations and adding to their slave force. The wealthy
few, who are able to live on smaller profits and to give their blasted
fields some rest, are thus pushing off the many who are merely
independent.... In traversing that county one will discover numerous farm
houses, once the abode of industrious and intelligent freemen, now occupied
by slaves, or tenantless, deserted and dilapidated; he will observe
fields, once fertile, now unfenced, abandoned, and covered with those evil
harbingers fox-tail and broomsedge; he will see the moss growing on the
mouldering walls of once thrifty villages; and will find 'one only master
grasps the whole domain' that once furnished happy homes for a dozen white
families. Indeed, a country in its infancy, where fifty years ago scarce
a forest tree had been felled by the axe of the pioneer, is already
exhibiting the painful signs of senility and decay apparent in Virginia and
the Carolinas; the freshness of its agricultural glory is gone, the vigor
of its youth is extinct, and the spirit of desolation seems brooding over

[Footnote 4: "Diary of Edward Hooker," in the American Historical
Association _Report_ for 1896, p. 878.]

[Footnote 5: Quoted in Francis Lieber, _Slavery, Plantations and the
Yeomanry_ (Loyal Publication Society, no. 29, New York, 1863), p. 5.]

[Footnote 6: _Tuscaloosa Monitor_, April 13, 1842.]

[Footnote 7: _DeBow's Review_, XIX, 727.]

The census returns for Madison County show that in 1830 when the gross
population was at its maximum the whites and slaves were equally numerous,
and that by 1860 while the whites had diminished by a fourth the slaves had
increased only by a twentieth. This suggests that the farmers were drawn,
not driven, away.

The same trend may be better studied in the uplands of eastern Georgia
where earlier settlements gave a longer experience and where fuller
statistics permit a more adequate analysis. In the county of Oglethorpe,
typical of that area, the whites in the year 1800 were more than twice as
many as the slaves, the non-slaveholding families were to the slaveholders
in the ratio of 8 to 5, and slaveholders on the average had but 5
slaves each. In 1820 the county attained its maximum population for the
ante-bellum period, and competition between the industrial types was
already exerting its full effect. The whites were of the same number as
twenty years before, but the slaves now exceeded them; the slaveholding
families also slightly exceeded those who had none, and the scale of the
average slaveholding had risen to 8.5. Then in the following forty years
while the whites diminished and the number of slaves remained virtually
constant, the scale of the average slaveholding rose to 12.2; the number of
slaveholders shrank by a third and the non-slaveholders by two thirds.[8]
The smaller slaveholders, those we will say with less than ten slaves each,
ought of course to be classed among the farmers. When this is done the
farmers of Oglethorpe appear to have been twice as many as the planters
even in 1860. But this is properly offset by rating the average plantation
there at four or five times the industrial scale of the average farm, which
makes it clear that the plantation regime had grown dominant.

[Footnote 8: U.B. Phillips, "The Origin and Growth of the Southern Black
Belts," in the _American Historical Review_, XI, 810-813 (July, 1906).]

In such a district virtually everyone was growing cotton to the top of his
ability. When the price of the staple was high, both planters and farmers
prospered in proportion to their scales. Those whose earnings were greatest
would be eager to enlarge their fields, and would make offers for adjoining
lands too tempting for some farmers to withstand. These would sell out and
move west to resume cotton culture to better advantage than before. When
cotton prices were low, however, the farmers, feeling the stress most
keenly, would be inclined to forsake staple production. But in such case
there was no occasion for them to continue cultivating lands best fit for
cotton. The obvious policy would be to sell their homesteads to neighboring
planters and move to cheaper fields beyond the range of planters'
competition. Thus the farmers were constantly pioneering in districts of
all sorts, while the plantation regime, whether by the prosperity and
enlargement of the farms or by the immigration of planters, or both, was
constantly replacing the farming scale in most of the staple areas.

In the oldest districts of all, however, the lowlands about the Chesapeake,
the process went on to a final stage in which the bulk of the planters,
after exhausting the soil for staple purposes, departed westward and were
succeeded in their turn by farmers, partly native whites and free negroes
and partly Northerners trickling in, who raised melons, peanuts, potatoes,
and garden truck for the Northern city markets.

Throughout the Southern staple areas the plantations waxed and waned in a
territorial progression. The regime was a broad billow moving irresistibly
westward and leaving a trough behind. At the middle of the nineteenth
century it was entering Texas, its last available province, whose cotton
area it would have duly filled had its career escaped its catastrophic
interruption. What would have occurred after that completion, without the
war, it is interesting to surmise. Probably the crest of the billow would
have subsided through the effect of an undertow setting eastward again.
Belated immigrants, finding the good lands all engrossed, would have
returned to their earlier homes, to hold their partially exhausted soils
in higher esteem than before and to remedy the depletion by reformed
cultivation. That the billow did not earlier give place to a level flood
was partly due to the shortage of slaves; for the African trade was closed
too soon for the stock to fill the country in these decades. To the same

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