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The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Chapter X: Legree.
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
As St. Clare and the Shelbys are the representatives
of one class of masters, so Legree is the representative of another; and,
as all good masters are not as enlightened, as generous, and as considerate,
as St. Clare and Mr. Shelby, or as careful and successful in religious training
as Mrs. Shelby, so all bad masters do not unite the personal ugliness, the
coarseness and profaneness, of Legree.
Legree is introduced not for the sake of vilifying masters as a class,
but for the sake of bringing to the minds of honourable Southern men, who
are masters, a very important feature in the system of slavery, upon which,
perhaps, they have never reflected. It is this: that no
Southern law requires any test of CHARACTER from the
man to whom the absolute power of master is granted.
In the second part of this book it will be shown that the legal power of
the master amounts to an absolute despotism over body and soul, and that there
is no protection for the slave's life or limb, his family relations, his conscience,
nay, more, his eternal interests, but the CHARACTER of the master.
Rev. Charles C. Jones, of Georgia, in addressing masters, tells them that
they have the power to open the kingdom of heaven, or to shut it, to their
slaves (Religious Instruction of the Negroes, p. 158);
and a South Carolinian, in a recent article in Frazer's
Magazine, apparently in a very serious spirit, thus acknowledges the
fact of this awful power: "Yes, we would have the whole South to feel
that the soul of the slave is in some sense in the
master's keeping, and to be charged against him hereafter."
Now, it is respectfully submitted to men of this high class, who are the
law-makers, whether this awful power to bind and to loose, to open and to
shut the kingdom of heaven, ought to be intrusted to every man in the community,
without any other qualification than that of property to buy. Let this gentleman
of South Carolina cast his eyes around the world. Let him travel for one week
through any district of country either in the South or the North,
and ask himself how many of the men whom he meets are fit to be trusted with
this power,-- how many are fit to be trusted with their own souls, much
less with those of others?
Now, in all the theory of government as it is managed in our country, just
in proportion to the extent of power is the strictness with which qualification
for the proper exercise of it is demanded. The physician may not meddle with
the body, to prescribe for its ailments, without a certificate that he is
properly qualified. The judge may not decide on the laws which relate to property,
without a long course of training, and most abundant preparation. It is only
this office of MASTER, which contains the power to bind and to loose, and
to open and shut the kingdom of heaven, and involves responsibility for the
soul as well as the body, that is thrown out to every hand, and committed
without inquiry to any man of any character. A man may have made all his property
by piracy upon the high seas, as we have represented in the case of Legree,
and there is no law whatever to prevent his investing that property in acquiring
this absolute control over the souls and bodies of his fellow- beings. To
the half-maniac drunkard, to the man notorious for hardness and cruelty, to
the man sunk entirely below public opinion, to the bitter infidel and blasphemer,
the law confides this power, just as freely as to the most honourable and
religious man on earth. And yet, men who make and uphold these laws think
they are guiltless before God, because, individually, they do not perpetrate
the wrongs which they allow others to perpetrate!
To the Pirate Legree the law gives a power which no man of woman born,
save One, ever was good enough to exercise.
Are there such men as Legree? Let any one go into the low districts and
dens of New York, let them go into some of the lanes and alleys of London,
and will they not there see many Legrees? Nay, take the purest district of
New England, and let people cast about in their memory and see if there have
not been men there, hard, coarse, unfeeling, brutal, who, if they had possessed
the absolute power of Legree, would have used it in the same way; and that
there should be Legrees in the Southern States, is only saying that human
nature is the same there that it is everywhere. The only difference is this--
that in free States Legree is chained and restrained by law; in the slave
States, the law makes him an absolute, irresponsible despot.
It is a shocking task to confirm by fact this part of the writer's story.
One may well approach it in fear and trembling. It is so mournful to think
that man, made in the image of God, and by his human birth a brother of Jesus
Christ, can sink so low, can do such things as the very soul shudders to contemplate--and
to think that the very man who thus sinks is our brother--is capable,
like us, of the renewal by the Spirit of grace, by which he might be created
in the image of Christ and be made equal unto the angels. They who uphold
the laws which grant this awful power, have another heavy responsibility,
of which they little dream. How many souls of masters have been ruined through
it! How has this absolute authority provoked and developed wickedness which
otherwise might have been suppressed! How many have stumbled into everlasting
perdition over this stumbling-stone of IRRESPONSIBLE POWER!
What facts do the judicial trials of slave-holding States occasionally
develop! What horrible records defile the pages of the law-book, describing
unheard-of scenes of torture and agony, perpetrated in this nineteenth century
of the Christian era, by the irresponsible despot who owns the body and soul!
Let any one read, if they can, the ninety-third page of Weld's Slavery As It Is,
where the Rev. Mr. Dickey gives an account of a trial
in Kentucky for a deed of butchery and blood too repulsive to humanity to
be here described. The culprit was convicted, and sentenced to death.
Mr. Dickey's account of the finale is thus:--
The Court sat--Isham was judged to be guilty of a capital crime in
the affair of George. He was to be hanged at Salem. The day was set. My good
old father visited him in the prison--two or three times talked and prayed
with him; I visited him once myself. We fondly hoped that he was a sincere
penitent. Before the day of execution came, by some means, I never knew what,
Isham was missing. About two years after, we learned
that he had gone down to Natchez, and had married a lady of some refinement
and piety. I saw her letters to his sisters, who were worthy members of the
church of which I was pastor. The last letter told of his death. He was in
Jackson's army, and fell in the famous battle of New Orleans.
I am, sir, your friend, WM. DICKEY.
But the reader will have too much reason to know of the possibility of
the existence of such men as Legree, when he comes to read the records of
the trials and judicial decisions in Part II.
Let not the Southern country be taunted as the only country in the world
which produces such men; let us in sorrow and in humility concede
that such men are found everywhere; but let not the Southern country deny
the awful charge that she invests such men with absolute, irresponsible power
over both the body and the soul.
With regard to that atrocious system of working up the human being in a
given time on which Legree is represented as conducting his plantation, there
is unfortunately too much reason to know that it has been practised and is
In Mr. Weld's book, Slavery As It Is, under the
head of Labour, p. 39, are given several extracts from various documents,
to show that this system has been pursued on some plantations to such an extent
as to shorten life, and to prevent the increase of the slave population, so
that, unless annually renewed, it would of itself die out. Of these documents
we quote the following:--
The Agricultural Society of Baton Rouge, La., in its report published in
1829, furnishes a laboured estimate of the amount of expenditure necessarily
incurred in conducting "a well-regulated sugar estate." In this
estimate, the annual net loss of slaves, over and above the supply by propagation,
is set down at TWO AND A HALF PER CENT.! The late Hon. Josiah S. Johnson,
a member of Congress from Louisiana, addressed a letter to the Secretary of
the United States Treasury in 1830, containing a similar estimate, apparently
made with great care, and going into minute details. Many items in this estimate
differ from the preceding; but the estimate of the annual decrease of the
slaves on a plantation was the same--TWO AND A HALF PER CENT.!
In September, 1834, the writer of this had an interview with James G. Birney,
Esq., who then resided at Kentucky, having removed with his family from Alabama
the year before. A few hours before that interview, and on the morning of
the same day, Mr. B. had spent a couple of hours with Hon. Henry Clay, at
his residence, near Lexington. Mr. Birney remarked that Mr. Clay had just
told him he had lately been led to mistrust certain estimates as to the increase
of the slave population in the far South-west--estimates which he had
presented, I think, in a speech before the Colonization Society. He now believed
that the births among the slaves in that quarter were not equal to the deaths;
and that, of course, the slave population, independent
of immigration from the slave-selling States, was not sustaining
Among other facts stated by Mr. Clay was the following, which we copy
verbatim from the original memorandum made at the time
by Mr. Birney, with which he has kindly furnished us.
"Sept. 16, 1834.--Hon. H. Clay, in a
conversation at his own house on the subject of slavery, informed me that
Hon. Outerbridge Horsey--formerly a senator in Congress from the State
of Delaware, and the owner of a sugar plantation in Louisiana--declared
to him that his overseer worked his hands so closely that one of the women
brought forth a child whilst engaged in the labours of the field.
"Also that, a few years since, he was at a brick-yard in the environs
of New Orleans, in which a hundred hands were employed; among them were from
twenty to thirty young women, in the prime
of life. He was told by the proprietor that there had not been a child
born among them for the last two or three years, although
they all had husbands."
The late Mr. Samuel Blackwell, a highly respectable citizen of Jersey City,
opposite the city of New York, and a member of the Presbyterian church, visited
many of the sugar plantations in Louisiana a few years since; and having,
for many years, been the owner of an extensive sugar refinery in England,
and subsequently in this country, he had not only every facility afforded
him by the planters for personal inspection of all parts of the process of
sugar-making, but received from them the most unreserved communications as
to their management of their slaves. Mr. B--, after his return, frequently
made the following statement to gentlemen of his acquaintance:--"That
the planters generally declared to him that they were obliged so to
overwork their slaves, during the sugar-making season (from
eight to ten weeks), as to use them up in seven or
eight years. For, said they, after the process is commenced, it must be pushed,
without cessation, night and day; and we cannot afford to keep a sufficient
number of slaves to do the extra work at the time
of sugar-making, as we could not profitably employ them the rest of the year."
Dr. Demming, a gentleman of high respectability, residing in Ashland, Richland
County, Ohio, stated to Professor Wright, of New York city--"That,
during a recent tour at the South, while ascending the Ohio river on the steam-boat
'Fame,' he had an opportunity of conversing with a Mr. Dickinson, a resident
of Pittsburg, in company with a number of cotton-planters and slave-dealers
from Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. Mr. Dickinson stated as a fact,
that the sugar-planters upon the sugar-coast in Louisiana had ascertained
that, as it was usually necessary to employ about twice the amount of labour
during the boiling season that was required during
the season of raising, they could, by excessive driving, day and night, during
the boiling season, accomplish the whole labour with one
set of hands. By pursuing this plan, they could afford to sacrifice a set of
hands once in seven years! He further stated that
this horrible system was now practised to a considerable extent! The correctness
of this statement was substantially admitted by the slave-holders then on
The following testimony of the Rev. Dr. Channing, of Boston, who resided
some time in Virginia, shows that the over-working of slaves, to such an extent
as to abridge life, and cause a decrease of population, is not confined to
the far South and South-west:--
"I heard of an estate managed by an individual who was considered
as singularly successful, and who was able to govern the slaves without the
use of the whip. I was anxious to see him, and trusted that some discovery
had been made favourable to humanity. I asked him how he was able to dispense
with corporal punishment. He replied to me, with a very determined look, 'The
slaves know that the work must be done, and that it
is better to do it without punishment than with it.' In other words, the certainty
and dread of chastisement were so impressed on them that they never incurred
"I then found that the slaves on this well-managed estate decreased in
number. I asked the cause. He replied, with perfect frankness
and ease, 'The gang is not large enough for the estate.' In other words, they
were not equal to the work of the plantation, and yet were made to do it,
though with the certainty of abridging life.
"On this plantation the huts were uncommonly convenient. There was
an unusual air of neatness. A superficial observer would have called the slaves,
happy. Yet they were living under a severe, subduing discipline, and were
over-worked to a degree that shortened
A friend of the writer--the Rev. Mr. Barrows, now officiating as teacher
of Hebrew in Andover Theological Seminary--stated as following, in conversation
with her:--That, while at New Orleans, some time since, he was invited
by a planter to visit his estate, as he considered it to be a model one. He
found good dwellings for the slaves, abundant provision distributed to them,
all cruel punishments superseded by rational and reasonable ones, and half
a day, every week, allowed to the negroes to cultivate their own grounds.
Provision was also made for their moral and religious instruction. Mr. Barrows
then asked the planter,
"Do you consider your estate a fair specimen?" The gentleman
replied, "There are two systems pursued among us. One is, to make all
we can out of a negro in a few years, and then supply his place with another;
and the other is, to treat him as I do. My neighbour on the next plantation
pursues the opposite system. His boys are hard worked and scantily fed; and
I have had them come to me, and get down on their knees to beg me to buy them."
Mr. Barrows says he subsequently passed by this plantation, and that the
woe-struck, dejected aspect of its labourers fully confirmed the account.
He also says that the gentleman who managed so benevolently told him, "I
do not make much money out of my slaves."
It will be easy to show that such is the nature of slavery, and the temptations
of masters, that such well-regulated plantations are, and must be, infinitely
in the minority, and exceptional cases.
The Rev. Charles C. Jones, a man of the finest feelings of humanity, and
for many years an assiduous labourer for the benefit of the slave, himself
the owner of a plantation, and qualified, therefore, to judge, both by experience
and observation, says, after speaking of the great improvidence of the negroes,
engendered by slavery:--
And, indeed, once for all, I will here say that the wastes of the system
are so great, as well as the fluctuation in prices of the staple articles
for market, that it is difficult, nay, impossible,
to indulge in large expenditures on plantations, and make them savingly profitable.
If even the religious and benevolent master feels the difficulty
of uniting any great consideration for the comfort of the slave with prudence
and economy, how readily must the moral question be solved by minds of the
coarse style of thought which we have supposed in Legree!
"I used to, when I fust begun, have considerable trouble fussin'
with 'em, and trying to make 'em hold out--doctorin' on 'em up when they's
sick, and givin' on 'em clothes, and blankets, and what not, trying to keep
'em all sort o' decent and comfortable. Law, 't want no sort o' use; I lost
money on 'em, and 't was heaps o' trouble. Now, you see, I just put'm straight
through, sick or well. When one nigger's dead, I buy another; and I find it
comes cheaper and easier every way."
Added to this, the peculiar mode of labour on the sugar plantation is such
that the master, at a certain season of the year, must over-work his slaves,
unless he is willing to incur great pecuniary loss. In that very gracefully
written apology for slavery, Professor Ingraham's "Travels in the South-west,"
the following description of sugar-making is given. We quote from him in preference
to anyone else, because he speaks as an apologist, and describes the thing
with the grace of a Mr. Skimpole.
When the grinding has once commenced, there is no cessation of labour till
it is completed. From beginning to end a busy and cheerful scene continues.
"--Whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week,"
work from eighteen to twenty hours,
"And make the night joint labourer with the day;"
though, to lighten the burden as much as possible, the gang is divided
into two watches, one taking the first and the other the last part of the
night; and, notwithstanding this continued labour, the negroes improve in
appearance, and appear fat and flourishing. They drink freely of cane-juice,
and the sickly among them revive, and become robust and healthy.
After the grinding is finished, the negroes have several holidays, when
they are quite at liberty to dance and frolic as much as they please; and
the cane-song-- which is improvised by one of the gang, the rest all
joining in a prolonged and unintelligible chorus--now breaks, night and
day, upon the ear, in notes "most musical, most melancholy."
The above is inserted as a specimen of the facility with which the most
horrible facts may be told in the genteelest phrase. In a work entitled "Travels
in Louisiana in 1802" is the following extract (see Weld's Slavery As It Is,
p. 134), from which it appears that this cheerful process of labouring
night and day lasts three months!
"At the rolling of sugars, an interval of from
two to three months, they (the slaves in Louisiana) work both night
and day. Abridged of their sleep, they scarcely
retire to rest during the whole period."--P. 81.
Now, let any one learn the private history of seven hundred blacks--men
and women--compelled to work day and night under the lash of a driver,
for a period of three months!
Possibly, if the gentleman who wrote the account were employed, with his
wife and family, in this "cheerful scene" of labour--if he
saw the woman that he loved, the daughter who was dear to him as his own soul,
forced on in the general gang, in this toil which
"Does not divide the Sabbath from the week,
And makes the night joint labourer with the day,'
--possibly, if he saw all this, he might have another opinion of its
cheerfulness; and it might be an eminently salutary thing if every apologist
for slavery were to enjoy some such privilege for a season, particularly as
Mr. Ingraham is careful to tell us that its effect upon the general health
is so excellent that the negroes improve in appearance, and appear fat and
flourishing, and that the sickly among them revive, and become robust and
healthy. One would think it a surprising fact, if working slaves night and
day, and giving them cane-juice to drink, really produces such salutary results,
that the practice should not be continued the whole year round; though, perhaps,
in this case, the negroes would become so fat as to be unable to labour. Possibly,
it is because this healthful process is not longer continued that the agricultural
societies of Louisiana are obliged to set down an annual loss of slaves on
sugar plantations to the amount of two and a half per cent. This ought to
be looked into by philanthropists. Perhaps working them all night for six
months, instead of three, might remedy the evil.
But this periodical pressure is not confined to the making of sugar. There
is also a press in the cotton season, as any one can observe by reading the
Southern newspapers. At a certain season of the year, the whole interest of
the community is engaged in gathering in the cotton crop. Concerning this
Mr. Weld says (Slavery as It is, p. 34):--
In the cotton and sugar region there is a fearful amount of desperate gambling,
in which, though money is the ostensible stake and forfeit, human life is the
real one. The length to which this rivalry is carried
at the South and South-west, the multitude of planters who engage in it, and
the recklessness of human life exhibited in driving the murderous game to
its issue, cannot well be imagined by one who has not lived in the midst of
it. Desire of gain is only one of the motives that stimulates them; the éclat
of having made the largest crop with a given
number of hands is also a powerful stimulant; the Southern newspapers,
at the crop season, chronicle carefully the "cotton brag," and
the "crack cotton- picking," and unparalleled driving, &c.
Even the editors of professedly religious papers cheer on the mélée,
and sing the triumphs of the victor. Among these
we recollect the celebrated Rev. J. N. Maffit, recently editor of a religious
paper at Natchez, Mississippi, in which he took care to assign a prominent
place and capitals to "THE COTTON BRAG."
As a specimen, of recent date, of this kind of affair, we subjoin the following
from the Fairfield Herald, Winsboro, S. C., November
We find in many of our southern and western exchanges notices of the amount
of cotton picked by hands, and the quantity by each hand; and, as we have
received a similar account, which we have not seen excelled, so far as regards
the quantity picked by one hand, we with pleasure furnish the statement, with
the remark that it is from a citizen of this district, overseeing for Major
H. W. Parr.
Broad River, October 12, 1852.
"MESSRS. EDITORS,--By way of contributing
something to your variety (provided it meets your approbation), I send you
the return of a day's picking of cotton, not by picked hands, but the fag-end
of a set of hands on one plantation, the able-bodied hands having been drawn
out for other purposes. Now for the result of a day's picking, from sun-up
until sun-down, by twenty-two hands--women, boys, and two men:--4,880
lbs. of clean-picked cotton from the stalk.
"The highest, 350 lbs., by several; the lowest, 115 lbs. One of the
number has picked in the last seven and a-half days (Sunday excepted), eleven
hours each day, 1,900 lbs. clean cotton. When any of my agricultural friends
beat this, in the same time, and during sunshine, I will try again.
It seems that this agriculturist professes to have accomplished all these
extraordinary results with what he very elegantly terms the "fag-end"
of a set of hands; and, the more to exalt his glory in the matter, he distinctly
informs the public that there were no "able-bodied" hands employed;
that this whole triumphant result was worked out of women and children, and
two disabled men; in other words, he boasts that out of women and children,
and the feeble and sickly, he has extracted 4,880
pounds of clean-picked cotton in a day; and that one of these same hands has
been made to pick 1,900 pounds of clean cotton in a week! and adds, complacently,
that, when any of his agricultural friends beat this, in the same time, and
during sunshine, he "will try again."
Will any of our readers now consider the forcing up of the hands on Legree's
plantation an exaggeration? Yet see how complacently this account is quoted
by the editor, as a most praiseworthy and laudable thing!
"BEHOLD THE HIRE OF
THE LABOURERS WHO HAVE REAPED YOUR FIELDS, WHICH IS OF YOU KEPT BACK BY FRAUD,
CRIETH! AND THE CRIES OF THEM WHICH HAVE REAPED ARE ENTERED INTO THE EARS
OF THE LORD OF SABOATH."
That the representations of the style of dwelling-house, modes of housekeeping,
and, in short, the features of life generally, as described on Legree's plantation,
are not wild and fabulous drafts on the imagination, or exaggerated pictures
of exceptional cases, there is the most abundant testimony before the world,
and has been for a long number of years. Let the reader weigh the following
testimony with regard to the dwellings of the negroes, which has been for
some years before the world, in the work of Mr. Weld. It shows the state of
things in this respect, at least up to the year 1838.
Mr. Stephen E. Maltby, Inspector of Provisions, Skaneateles, New York,
who has lived in Alabama.--"The huts where the slaves slept generally
contained but one apartment, and that without floor."
Mr. George A. Avery, elder of the 4th Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New
York, who lived four years in Virginia.--"Amongst all the negro
cabins which I saw in Virginia, I cannot call to mind one in which
there was any other floor than the earth; anything that a Northern
labourer, or mechanic, white or coloured, would
call a bed, nor a solitary partition to separate the sexes."
William Ladd, Esq., Minot, Maine, President of the American Peace Society,
formerly a slaveholder in Florida.--"The dwellings of the slaves
were palmetto huts, built by themselves of stakes and poles, thatched with
the palmetto-leaf. The door, when they had any, was generally of the same
materials, sometimes boards found on the beach. They had no floors, no
separate apartments; except the Guinea negroes had sometimes
a small enclosure for their 'god houses.' These huts the slaves built themselves
after task and on Sundays."
Rev. Joseph M. Sadd, Pastor of Presbyterian Church, Castile, Greene County,
New York, who lived in Missouri five years previous to 1837.--"The
slaves live generally in miserable
huts, which are without floors; and have a single
apartment only, where both sexes are herded promiscuously together."
Mr. George W. Westgate, member of the Congregational Church in Quincy,
Illinois, who has spent a number of years in slave States.--"On
old plantations the negro quarters are of frame and clapboards, seldom affording
a comfortable shelter from wind or rain; their size varies from eight by ten,
to ten by twelve feet, and six or eight feet high; sometimes there is a hole
cut for a window, but I never saw a sash, or glass, in any. In the new country,
and in the woods, the quarters are generally built of logs, of similar dimensions."
Mr. Cornelius Johnson, a member of a Christian Church in Farmington, Ohio.
Mr. J. lived in Mississippi in 1837-38.--"Their houses were commonly
built of logs; sometimes they were framed, often they had no floor; some of
them have two apartments, commonly but one; each of those apartments contained
a family. Sometimes these families consisted of a man and his wife and children,
while in other instances persons of both sexes were thrown together,
without any regard to family relationship."
The Western Medical Reformer, in an article on
the Cachexia Africana, by a Kentucky physician, thus speaks of the huts of
the slaves: "They are crowded together in a small hut,
and sometimes having an imperfect, and sometimes
no floor, and seldom raised from the ground, ill-ventilated, and surrounded
Mr. William Leftwich, a native of Virginia, but has resided most of his
life in Madison County, Alabama.--"The dwellings of the slaves
are log huts, from ten to twelve feet square, often without windows, doors,
or floors; they have neither chairs, table, nor bedstead."
Reuben L. Macy, of Hudson, New York, a member of the Religious Society
of Friends. He lived in South Carolina in 1818-19.--"The houses
for the field-slaves were about fourteen feet square, built in the coarsest
manner, with one room, without any chimney or flooring,
with a hole in the roof to let the smoke out."
Mr. Lemuel Sapington, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a native of Maryland,
formerly a slave-holder.--"The descriptions generally given of
negro quarters are correct; the quarters are without floors,
and not sufficient to keep off the inclemency of the weather; they are
uncomfortable both in summer and winter."
Rev. John Rankin, a native of Tennessee.--"When they return
to their miserable huts at night, they find not there the means of comfortable
rest; but on the cold ground they must lie without covering,
and shiver while they slumber."
Philemon Bliss, Esq., Elyria, Ohio, who lived in Florida in 1835.--"The
dwellings of the slaves are usually small open log
huts, with but one apartment, and very generally without
The Rev. C. C. Jones, to whom we have already alluded, when taking a survey
of the condition of the negroes considered as a field for missionary effort,
takes into account all the conditions of their external life. He speaks of
a part of Georgia where as much attention had been paid to the comfort of
the negro as in any part of the United States. He gives the following picture:--
Their general mode of living is coarse and vulgar.
Many negro-houses are small, low to the ground, blackened with smoke, often
with dirt floors, and the furniture of the plainest kind. On some estates
the houses are framed, weather-boarded, neatly whitewashed, and made sufficiently
large and comfortable in every respect. The improvement in the size, material,
and finish of negro-houses is extending. Occasionally they may be found constructed
of tabby or brick.
Now, admitting what Mr. Jones says, to wit, that improvements with regard
to the accommodation of the negroes are continually making among enlightened
and Christian people, still, if we take into account how many people there
are who are neither enlightened nor Christian, how unproductive of any benefit
to the master all these improvements are, and how entirely, therefore, they
must be the result either of native generosity or of Christian
sentiment, the reader may fairly conclude that such improvements are the exception,
rather than the rule.
A friend of the writer, travelling in Georgia during the last month, thus
Upon the long line of rice and cotton plantations extending along the railroad
from Savannah to this city, the negro quarters contain scarcely a single hut
which a Northern farmer would deem fit shelter for his cattle. They are all
built of poles, with the ends so slightly notched that they are almost as
open as children's cob-houses (which they very much resemble), without a
single glazed window, and with only one mud chimney to each cluster of from
four to eight cabins. And yet our fellow-travellers were quietly expatiating
upon the negro's strange inability to endure cold weather.
Let this modern picture be compared with the account given by the Rev.
Horace Moulton, who spent five years in Georgia between 1817 and 1824, and
it will be seen, in that State at least, there is some resemblance between
the more remote and more recent practice:--
The huts of the slaves are mostly of the poorest kind. They are not as
good as those temporary shanties which are thrown up beside railroads. They
are erected with posts and crotchets, with but little or no frame-work about
them. They have no stoves or chimneys; some of them have something like a
fire-place at one end, and a board or two off at that side, or on the roof,
to let off the smoke. Others have nothing like a fire-place in them; in these
the fire is sometimes made in the middle of the hut. These buildings have
but one apartment in them; the places where they pass in and out serve both
for doors and windows; the sides and roofs are covered with coarse, and in
many instances with refuse, boards. In warm weather, especially in the spring,
the slaves keep up a smoke, or fire and smoke, all night, to drive away the
gnats and mosquitoes, which are very troublesome in all the low country of
the South; so much so, that the whites sleep under frames with nets over them,
knit so fine that the mosquitoes cannot fly through them.
The same Mr. Moulton gives the following account of the food of the slaves,
and the mode of procedure on the plantation on which he was engaged. It may
be here mentioned that at the time he was at the South he was engaged in certain
business relations which caused him frequently to visit different plantations,
and to have under his control many of the slaves. His opportunities for observation,
therefore, were quite intimate. There is a homely matter-of-fact distinctness
in the style that forbids the idea of its being a fancy sketch:--
It was a general custom, wherever I have been, for the master to give each
of his slaves, male and female, one peck of corn per week for their food. This,
at fifty cents per bushel, which
was all that it was worth when I was there, would amount to twelve and a half
cents per week for board per head.
It cost me, upon an average, when at the South, one dollar per day for
board--the price of fourteen bushels of corn per week. This would make
my board equal in amount to the board of forty-six slaves!
This is all that good or bad masters allow their slaves, round about
Savannah, on the plantations. One peck of gourd-seed corn is to be measured
out to each slave once every week. One man with whom I laboured, however,
being desirous to get all the work out of his hands he could, before I left
(about fifty in number), bought for them every week, or twice a week, a beef's
head from market. With this they made a soup in a large iron kettle, around
which the hands came at meal-time, and dipping out the soup, would mix it
with their hominy, and eat it as though it were a feast. This man permitted
his slaves to eat twice a day while I was doing a job for him. He promised
me a beaver hat, and as good a suit of clothes as could be bought in the city,
if I would accomplish so much for him before I returned to the North; giving
me the entire control over his slaves. Thus you may see the temptations overseers
sometimes have, to get all the work they can out of the poor slaves. The above
is an exception to the general rule of feeding. For, in all other places where
I worked and visited, the slaves had nothing from the masters
but the corn, or its equivalent in potatoes or rice; and to this they
were not permitted to come but once a day. The custom
was to blow the horn early in the morning, as a signal for the hands to rise
and go to work. When commenced, they continue work until about eleven o'clock
A.M., when, at the signal, all hands left off, and went into their huts, made
their fires, made their corn-meal into hominy or cake, ate it, and went to
work again at the signal of the horn, and worked until night, or until their
tasks were done. Some cooked their breakfast in the field while at work. Each
slave must grind his own corn in a hand-mill after he has done his work at
night. There is generally one hand-mill on every plantation for the use of
Some of the planters have no corn; others often get out. The substitute
for it is the equivalent of one peck of corn, either in rice or sweet potatoes,
neither of which is as good for the slaves as corn. They complain more of
being faint when fed on rice or potatoes than when fed on corn. I was with
one man a few weeks who gave me his hands to do a job of work, and, to save
time, one cooked for all the rest. The following course was taken:--Two
crotched sticks were driven down at one end of the yard, and a small pole
being laid on the crotches, they swung a large iron kettle on the middle of
the pole; then made up a fire under the kettle, and boiled the hominy; when
ready, the hands were called around this kettle with their wooden plates and
spoons. They dipped out and ate, standing around the kettle, or sitting upon
the ground, as best suited their convenience. When they had potatoes, they
took them out with their hands, and ate them.
Thomas Clay, Esq., a slaveholder of Georgia, and a most benevolent man,
and who interested himself very successfully in endeavouring to promote the
improvement of the negroes, in his address before the Georgia Presbytery,
1833, says of their food, "The quantity allowed by custom is a peck of corn
The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser,
May 30, 1788, says, "A single peck of corn, or the same measure of rice,
is the ordinary provision for a hard-working slave, to which a small quantity
of meat is occasionally though rarely added."
Captain William Ladd, of Minot, Maine, formerly a slave- holder in Florida,
says, "The usual allowance of food was a quart of corn a day to a full-task
hand, with a modicum of salt. Kind masters allowed
a peck of corn a week."
The law of North Carolina provides that the master shall give his slave
a quart of corn a day, which is less than a peck a week by one quart.--
Haywood's Manual, 525; Slavery as It
is, p. 29. The master, therefore, who gave a peck a week would feel that
he was going beyond the law, and giving a quart for generosity.
This condition of things will appear far more probable in the section of
country where the scene of the story is laid. It is in the South-western States,
where no provision is raised on the plantations, but
the supply for the slaves is all purchased from the more Northern States.
Let the reader now imagine the various temptations which might occur to
retrench the allowance of the slaves, under these circumstances; scarcity
of money, financial embarrassment, high price of provisions, and various causes
of the kind, bring a great influence upon the master or overseer.
At the time when it was discussed whether the State of Missouri should
be admitted as a slave State, the measure, like all measures for the advancement
of this horrible system, was advocated on the good old plea of humanity to
the negroes. Thus Mr. Alexander Smyth, in his speech on the slavery question,
January 21, 1820, says--
By confining the slaves to the Southern States, where crops are raised
for exportation, and bread and meat are purchased, you doom them to scarcity
and hunger. It is proposed to hem in the blacks
where they are ILL FED.
This is a simple recognition of the state of things we have adverted to.
To the same purport, Mr. Asa A. Stone, a theological student, who resided
near Natchez, Mississippi, in 1834-5, says--
On almost every plantation, the hands suffer more or less from hunger at
some seasons of almost every year. There is always a good
deal of suffering from hunger. On many plantations, and particularly
in Louisiana, the slaves are in a condition of almost utter
famishment during a great portion of the year.
Mr. Tobias Baudinot, St. Albans, Ohio, a member of the Methodist Church,
who for some years was a navigator on the Mississippi, says:--
The slaves down the Mississippi are half-starved.
The boats, when they stop at night, are constantly boarded by slaves, begging
for something to eat.
On the whole, while it is freely and cheerfully admitted that many individuals
have made most commendable advances in regard to the provision for the physical
comfort of the slave, still it is to be feared that the picture of the accommodations
on Legree's plantation has yet too many counterparts. Lest, however, the author
should be suspected of keeping back anything which might serve to throw light
on the subject, she will insert in full the following incidents on the other
side, from the pen of the accomplished Professor Ingraham. How far these may
be regarded as exceptional cases, or as pictures of the general mode of providing
for slaves, may safely be left to the good sense of the reader. The professor's
anecdotes are as follows:--
"What can you do with so much tobacco?" said a gentleman--who
related the circumstance to me--on hearing a planter, whom he was visiting,
give an order to his teamster to bring two hogsheads of tobacco out to the
estate from the "Landing."
"I purchase it for my negroes; it is a harmless indulgence, which
it gives me pleasure to afford them."
"Why are you at the trouble and expense of having high-post bedsteads
for your negroes?" said a gentleman from the North, while walking through
the handsome "quarters," or village, for the slaves, then in progress
on a plantation near Natchez--addressing the proprietor.
"To suspend their 'bars' from, that they may not be troubled with
"Master, me would like, if you please, a little bit gallery front
"For what, Peter?"
"'Cause, master, the sun too hot (an odd reason for a negro to give)
that side, and when he rain, we no able to keep de door open."
"Well, well, when a carpenter gets a little leisure, you shall have
A few weeks after, I was at the plantation, and riding past the quarters
one Sabbath morning, beheld Peter, his wife and children, with his old father,
all sunning themselves in the new gallery.
"Missus, you promise me a Chrismus gif'."
"Well, Jane, there is a new calico frock for you."
"It werry pretty, missus," said Jane, eyeing it at a distance
without touching it, "but me prefer muslin, if you please: muslin de
fashion dis Chrismus."
"Very well, Jane, call to-morrow, and you shall have a muslin."
The writer would not think of controverting the truth of these anecdotes.
Any probable amount of high-post bedsteads and mosquito "bars,"
of tobacco distributed as gratuity, and verandahs constructed by leisurely
carpenters for the sunning of fastidious negroes, may be conceded, and they
do in no whit impair the truth of the other facts. When the reader remembers
that the "gang" of some opulent owners amounts to from 500 to
700 working hands, besides children, he can judge how extensively these accommodations
are likely to be provided. Let them be safely thrown into the account for
what they are worth.
At all events, it is pleasing to end off so disagreeable a chapter with
some more agreeable images.