HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
WelcomeHistoryLiteratureArtMusicPhilosophyResourcesHelp
Sort By Author Sort By Title
pixel

Resources
Sort By Author
Sort By Title

Search

Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc
FEEDBACK

(C)1998-2013
All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
26 June, 2013
American Negro Slavery
Chapter XIV Plantation Management
by Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell


Typical planters though facile in conversation seldom resorted to their pens. Few of them put their standards into writing except in the form of instructions to their stewards and overseers. These counsels of perfection, drafted in widely separated periods and localities, and varying much in detail, concurred strikingly in their main provisions. Their initial topic was usually the care of the slaves. Richard Corbin of Virginia wrote in 1759 for the guidance of his steward: "The care of negroes is the first thing to be recommended, that you give me timely notice of their wants that they may be provided with all necessarys. The breeding wenches more particularly you must instruct the overseers to be kind and indulgent to, and not force them when with child upon any service or hardship that will be injurious to them, ... and the children to be well looked after, ... and that none of them suffer in time of sickness for want of proper care." P.C. Weston of South Carolina wrote in 1856: "The proprietor, in the first place, wishes the overseer most distinctly to understand that his first object is to be, under all circumstances, the care and well being of the negroes. The proprietor is always ready to excuse such errors as may proceed from want of judgment; but he never can or will excuse any cruelty, severity or want of care towards the negroes. For the well being, however, of the negroes it is absolutely necessary to maintain obedience, order and discipline, to see that the tasks are punctually and carefully performed, and to conduct the business steadily and firmly, without weakness on the one hand or harshness on the other." Charles Manigault likewise required of his overseer in Georgia a pledge to treat his negroes "all with kindness and consideration in sickness and health." On J.W. Fowler's plantation in the Yazoo-Mississippi delta from which we have seen in a preceding chapter such excellent records of cotton picking, the preamble to the rules framed in 1857 ran as follows: "The health, happiness, good discipline and obedience, good, sufficient and comfortable clothing, a sufficiency of good, wholesome and nutritious food for both man and beast being indispensably necessary to successful planting, as well as for reasonable dividends for the amount of capital invested, without saying anything about the Master's duty to his dependents, to himself, and his God, I do hereby establish the following rules and regulations for the management of my Prairie plantation, and require an observance of the same by any and all overseers I may at any time have in charge thereof."[1]
[Footnote 1: The Corbin, Weston, Manigault and Fowler instructions are printed in Plantation and Frontier, I, 109-129.]
Joseph A.S. Acklen had his own rules printed in 1861 for the information of applicants and the guidance of those who were employed as his overseers.[2] His estate was one of the greatest in Louisiana, his residence one of the most pretentious,[3] and his rules the most sharply phrased. They read in part: "Order and system must be the aim of everyone on this estate, and the maxim strictly pursued of a time for everything and everything done in its time, a place for everything and everything kept in its place, a rule for everything and everything done according to rule. In this way labor becomes easy and pleasant. No man can enforce a system of discipline unless he himself conforms strictly to rules...No man should attempt to manage negroes who is not perfectly firm and fearless and [in] entire control of his temper."
[Footnote 2: They were also printed in DeBow's Review, XXII, 617-620, XXIII, 376-381 (Dec., 1856, and April, 1857).]

[Footnote 3: See above, p. 239.]
James H. Hammond's "plantation manual" which is the fullest of such documents available, began with the subject of the crop, only to subordinate it at once to the care of the slaves and outfit: "A good crop means one that is good taking into consideration everything, negroes, land, mules, stock, fences, ditches, farming utensils, etc., etc., all of which must be kept up and improved in value. The effort must therefore not be merely to make so many cotton bales or such an amount of other produce, but as much as can be made without interrupting the steady increase in value of the rest of the property.... There should be an increase in number and improvement in condition of negroes."[4]
[Footnote 4: MS. bound volume, "Plantation Manual," among the Hammond papers in the Library of Congress.]
For the care of the sick, of course, all these planters were solicitous. Acklen, Manigault and Weston provided that mild cases be prescribed for by the overseer in the master's absence, but that for any serious illness a doctor be summoned. One of Telfair's women was a semi-professional midwife and general practitioner, permitted by her master to serve blacks and whites in the neighborhood. For home needs Telfair wrote of her: "Elsey is the doctoress of the plantation. In case of extraordinary illness, when she thinks she can do no more for the sick, you will employ a physician." Hammond, however, was such a devotee of homeopathy that in the lack of an available physician of that school he was his own practitioner. He wrote in his manual: "No negro will be allowed to remain at his own house when sick, but must be confined to the hospital. Every reasonable complaint must be promptly attended to; and with any marked or general symptom of sickness, however trivial, a negro may lie up a day or so at least.... Each case has to be examined carefully by the master or overseer to ascertain the disease. The remedies next are to be chosen with the utmost discrimination; ... the directions for treatment, diet, etc., most implicitly followed; the effects and changes cautiously observed.... In cases where there is the slightest uncertainty, the books must be taken to the bedside and a careful and thorough examination of the case and comparison of remedies made before administering them. The overseer must record in the prescription book every dose of medicine administered." Weston said he would never grudge a doctor's bill, however large; but he was anxious to prevent idleness under pretence of illness. "Nothing," said he, "is so subversive of discipline, or so unjust, as to allow people to sham, for this causes the well-disposed to do the work of the lazy."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Punishment must never be cruel or abusive," wrote Acklen, closely followed by Fowler, "for it is absolutely mean and unmanly to whip a negro from mere passion and malice, and any man who can do so is utterly unfit to have control of negroes; and if ever any of my negroes are cruelly or inhumanly treated, bruised, maimed or otherwise injured, the overseer will be promptly discharged and his salary withheld." Weston recommended the lapse of a day between the discovery of an offense and the punishment, and he restricted the overseer's power in general to fifteen lashes. He continued: "Confinement (not in the stocks) is to be preferred to whipping; but the stoppage of Saturday's allowance, and doing whole task on Saturday, will suffice to prevent ordinary offenses. Special care must be taken to prevent any indecency in punishing women. No driver or other negro is to be allowed to punish any person in any way except by order of the overseer and in his presence." And again: "Every person should be made perfectly to understand what they are punished for, and should be made to perceive that they are not punished in anger or through caprice. All abusive language or violence of demeanor should be avoided; they reduce the man who uses them to a level with the negro, and are hardly ever forgotten by those to whom they are addressed." Hammond directed that the overseer "must never threaten a negro, but punish offences immediately on knowing them; otherwise he will soon have runaways." As a schedule he wrote: "The following is the order in which offences must be estimated and punished: 1st, running away; 2d, getting drunk or having spirits; 3d, stealing hogs; 4th, stealing; 5th, leaving plantation without permission; 6th, absence from house after horn-blow at night; 7th, unclean house or person; 8th, neglect of tools; 9th, neglect of work. The highest punishment must not exceed a hundred lashes in one day, and to that extent only in extreme cases. The whip lash must be one inch in width, or a strap of one thickness of leather 1-1/2 inches in width, and never severely administered. In general fifteen to twenty lashes will be a sufficient flogging. The hands in every case must be secured by a cord. Punishment must always be given calmly, and never when angry or excited." Telfair was as usual terse: "No negro to have more than fifty lashes for any offense, no matter how great the crime." Manigault said nothing of punishments in his general instructions, but sent special directions when a case of incorrigibility was reported: "You had best think carefully respecting him, and always keep in mind the important old plantation maxim, viz: 'never to threaten a negro,' or he will do as you and I would when at school--he will run. But with such a one, ... if you wish to make an example of him, take him down to the Savannah jail and give him prison discipline, and by all means solitary confinement, for three weeks, when he will be glad to get home again.... Mind then and tell him that you and he are quits, that you will never dwell on old quarrels with him, that he has now a clear track before him and all depends on himself, for he now sees how easy it is to fix 'a bad disposed nigger.' Then give my compliments to him and tell him that you wrote me of his conduct, and say if he don't change for the better I'll sell him to a slave trader who will send him to New Orleans, where I have already sent several of the gang for misconduct, or their running away for no cause." In one case Manigault lost a slave by suicide in the river when a driver brought him up for punishment but allowed him to run before it was administered.[5]
[Footnote 5: Plantation and Frontier, II, 32, 94.]
As to rewards, Hammond was the only one of these writers to prescribe them definitely. His head driver was to receive five dollars, the plow driver three dollars, and the ditch driver and stock minder one dollar each every Christmas day, and the nurse a dollar and the midwife two dollars for every actual increase of two on the place. Further, "for every infant thirteen months old and in sound health, that has been properly attended to, the mother shall receive a muslin or calico frock."

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

Of the master's own functions Hammond wrote in another place: "A planter should have all his work laid out, days, weeks, months, seasons and years ahead, according to the nature of it. He must go from job to job without losing a moment in turning round, and he must have all the parts of his work so arranged that due proportion of attention may be bestowed upon each at the proper time. More is lost by doing work out of season, and doing it better or worse than is requisite, than can readily be supposed. Negroes are harassed by it, too, instead of being indulged; so are mules, and everything else. A halting, vacillating, undecided course, now idle, now overstrained, is more fatal on a plantation than in any other kind of business--ruinous as it is in any."[6]
[Footnote 6: Letter of Hammond to William Gilmore Simms, Jan. 21, 1841, from Hammond's MS. copy in the Library of Congress.]
In the overseer all the virtues of a master were desired, with a deputy's obedience added. Corbin enjoined upon his staff that they "attend their business with diligence, keep the negroes in good order, and enforce obedience by the example of their own industry, which is a more effectual method in every respect than hurry and severity. The ways of industry," he continued, "are constant and regular, not to be in a hurry at one time and do nothing at another, but to be always usefully and steadily employed. A man who carries on business in this manner will be prepared for every incident that happens. He will see what work may be proper at the distance of some time and be gradually and leisurely preparing for it. By this foresight he will never be in confusion himself, and his business, instead of a labor, will be a pleasure to him." Weston wrote: "The proprietor wishes particularly to impress upon the overseer the criterions by which he will judge of his usefullness and capacity. First, by the general well-being of all the negroes; their cleanly appearance, respectful manners, active and vigorous obedience; their completion of their tasks well and early; the small amount of punishment; the excess of births over deaths; the small number of persons in hospital; and the health of the children. Secondly, the condition and fatness of the cattle and mules; the good repair of all the fences and buildings, harness, boats, flats and ploughs; more particularly the good order of the banks and trunks, and the freedom of the fields from grass and volunteer [rice]. Thirdly, the amount and quality of the rice and provision crops.... The overseer is expressly forbidden from three things, viz.: bleeding, giving spirits to any negro without a doctor's order, and letting any negro on the place have or keep any gun, powder or shot." One of Acklen's prohibitions upon his overseers was: "Having connection with any of my female servants will most certainly be visited with a dismissal from my employment, and no excuse can or will be taken."

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

As to the relative importance of the several functions of an overseer, all these planters were in substantial agreement. As Fowler put it: "After taking proper care of the negroes, stock, etc., the next most important duty of the overseer is to make, if practicable, a sufficient quantity of corn, hay, fodder, meat, potatoes and other vegetables for the consumption of the plantation, and then as much cotton as can be made by requiring good and reasonable labor of operatives and teams." Likewise Henry Laurens, himself a prosperous planter of the earlier time as well as a statesman, wrote to an overseer of whose heavy tasking he had learned: "Submit to make less rice and keep my negroes at home in some degree of happiness in preference to large crops acquired by rigour and barbarity to those poor creatures." And to a new incumbent: "I have now to recommend to you the care of my negroes in general, but particularly the sick ones. Desire Mrs. White not to be sparing of red wine for those who have the flux or bad loosenesses; let them be well attended night and day, and if one wench is not sufficient add another to nurse them. With the well ones use gentle means mixed with easy authority first--if that does not succeed, make choice of the most stubborn one or two and chastise them severely but properly and with mercy, that they may be convinced that the end of correction is to be amendment," Again, alluding to one of his slaves who had been gathering the pennies of his fellows: "Amos has a great inclination to turn rum merchant. If his confederate comes to that plantation, I charge you to discipline him with thirty-nine sound lashes and turn him out of the gate and see that he goes quite off."[7]
[Footnote 7: D.D. Wallace, Life of Henry Laurens, pp. 133, 192.]
The published advice of planters to their fellows was quite in keeping with these instructions to overseers. About 1809, for example, John Taylor, of Caroline, the leading Virginian advocate of soil improvement in his day, wrote of the care and control of slaves as follows: "The addition of comfort to mere necessaries is a price paid by the master for the advantages he will derive from binding his slave to his service by a ligament stronger than chains, far beneath their value in a pecuniary point of view; and he will moreover gain a stream of agreeable reflections throughout life, which will cost him nothing." He recommended fireproof brick houses, warm clothing, and abundant, varied food. Customary plenty in meat and vegetables, he said, would not only remove occasions for pilfering, but would give the master effective power to discourage it; for upon discovering the loss of any goods by theft he might put his whole force of slaves upon a limited diet for a time and thus suggest to the thief that on any future occasion his fellows would be under pressure to inform on him as a means of relieving their own privations. "A daily allowance of cyder," Taylor continued, "will extend the success of this system for the management of slaves, and particularly its effect of diminishing corporal punishments. But the reader is warned that a stern authority, strict discipline and complete subordination must be combined with it to gain any success at all."[8]
[Footnote 8: John Taylor, of Caroline County, Virginia, Arator, Being a Series of Agricultural Essays (2d ed., Georgetown, D. C, 1814), pp. 122-125.]
Another Virginian's essay, of 1834, ran as follows: Virginia negroes are generally better tempered than any other people; they are kindly, grateful, attached to persons and places, enduring and patient in fatigue and hardship, contented and cheerful. Their control should be uniform and consistent, not an alternation of rigor and laxity. Punishment for real faults should be invariable but moderate. "The best evidence of the good management of slaves is the keeping up of good discipline with little or no punishment." The treatment should be impartial except for good conduct which should bring rewards. Praise is often a better cure for laziness than stripes. The manager should know the temper of each slave. The proud and high spirited are easily handled: "Your slow and sulky negro, although he may have an even temper, is the devil to manage. The negro women are all harder to manage than the men. The only way to get along with them is by kind words and flattery. If you want to cure a sloven, give her something nice occasionally to wear, and praise her up to the skies whenever she has on anything tolerably decent." Eschew suspicion, for it breeds dishonesty. Promote harmony and sound methods among your neighbors. "A good disciplinarian in the midst of bad managers of slaves cannot do much; and without discipline there cannot be profit to the master or comfort to the slaves." Feed and clothe your slaves well. The best preventive of theft is plenty of pork. Let them have poultry and gardens and fruit trees to attach them to their houses and promote amenability. "The greatest bar to good discipline in Virginia is the number of grog shops in every farmer's neighborhood." There is no severity in the state, and there will be no occasion for it again if the fanatics will only let us alone.[9]
[Footnote 9: "On the Management of Negroes. Addressed to the Farmers and Overseers of Virginia," signed "H. C," in the Farmer's Register, I, 564, 565 (February, 1834).]
An essay written after long experience by Robert Collins, of Macon, Georgia, which was widely circulated in the 'fifties, was in the same tone: "The best interests of all parties are promoted by a kind and liberal treatment on the part of the owner, and the requirement of proper discipline and strict obedience on the part of the slave ... Every attempt to force the slave beyond the limits of reasonable service by cruelty or hard treatment, so far from extorting more work, only tends to make him unprofitable, unmanageable, a vexation and a curse." The quarters should be well shaded, the houses free of the ground, well ventilated, and large enough for comfort; the bedding and blankets fully adequate. "In former years the writer tried many ways and expedients to economize in the provision of slaves by using more of the vegetable and cheap articles of diet, and less of the costly and substantial. But time and experience have fully proven the error of a stinted policy ... The allowance now given per week to each hand ... is five pounds of good clean bacon and one quart of molasses, with as much good bread as they require; and in the fall, or sickly season of the year, or on sickly places, the addition of one pint of strong coffee, sweetened with sugar, every morning before going to work." The slaves may well have gardens, but the assignment of patches for market produce too greatly "encourages a traffic on their own account, and presents a temptation and opportunity, during the process of gathering, for an unscrupulous fellow to mix a little of his master's produce with his own. It is much better to give each hand whose conduct has been such as to merit it an equivalent in money at the end of the year; it is much less trouble, and more advantageous to both parties." Collins further advocated plenty of clothing, moderate hours, work by tasks in cotton picking and elsewhere when feasible, and firm though kindly discipline. "Slaves," he said, "have no respect or affection for a master who indulges them over much.... Negroes are by nature tyrannical in their dispositions, and if allowed, the stronger will abuse the weaker, husbands will often abuse their wives and mothers their children, so that it becomes a prominent duty of owners and overseers to keep peace and prevent quarrelling and disputes among them; and summary punishment should follow any violation of this rule. Slaves are also a people that enjoy religious privileges. Many of them place much value upon it; and to every reasonable extent that advantage should be allowed them. They are never injured by preaching, but thousands become wiser and better people and more trustworthy servants by their attendance at church. Religious services should be provided and encouraged on every plantation. A zealous and vehement style, both in doctrine and manner, is best adapted to their temperament. They are good believers in mysteries and miracles, ready converts, and adhere with much pertinacity to their opinions when formed."[10] It is clear that Collins had observed plantation negroes long and well.
[Footnote 10: Robert Collins, "Essay on the Management of Slaves," reprinted in DeBow's Review, XVII, 421-426, and partly reprinted in F.L. Olmsted, Seaboard Slave States, pp. 692-697.]
Advice very similar to the foregoing examples was also printed in the form of manuals at the front of blank books for the keeping of plantation records;[11] and various planters described their own methods in operation as based on the same principles. One of these living at Chunnennuggee, Alabama, signing himself "N.B.P.," wrote in 1852 an account of the problems he had met and the solutions he had applied. Owning some 150 slaves, he had lived away from his plantation until about a decade prior to this writing; but in spite of careful selection he could never get an overseer combining the qualities necessary in a good manager. "They were generally on extremes; those celebrated for making large crops were often too severe, and did everything by coercion. Hence turmoil and strife ensued. The negroes were ill treated and ran away. On the other hand, when he employed a good-natured man there was a want of proper discipline; the negroes became unmanageable and, as a natural result, the farm was brought into debt," The owner then entered residence himself and applied methods which resulted in contentment, health and prolific increase among the slaves, and in consistently good crops. The men were supplied with wives at home so far as was practicable; each family had a dry and airy house to itself, with a poultry house and a vegetable garden behind; the rations issued weekly were three and a half pounds of bacon to each hand over ten years old, together with a peck of meal, or more if required; the children in the day nursery were fed from the master's kitchen with soup, milk, bacon, vegetables and bread; the hands had three suits of working clothes a year; the women were given time off for washing, and did their mending in bad weather; all hands had to dress up and go to church on Sunday when preaching was near; and a clean outfit of working clothes was required every Monday. The chief distinction of this plantation, however, lay in its device for profit sharing. To each slave was assigned a half-acre plot with the promise that if he worked with diligence in the master's crop the whole gang would in turn be set to work his crop. This was useful in preventing night and Sunday work by the negroes. The proceeds of their crops, ranging from ten to fifty dollars, were expended by the master at their direction for Sunday clothing and other supplies.[12] On a sugar plantation visited by Olmsted a sum of as many dollars as there were hogsheads in the year's crop was distributed among the slaves every Christmas.[13]
[Footnote 11: Pleasant Suit, Farmer's Accountant and Instructions for Overseers (Richmond, Va., 1828); Affleck's Cotton Plantation Record and Account Book, reprinted in DeBow's Review, XVIII, 339-345, and in Thomas W. Knox, Campfire and Cotton Field (New York, 1865), pp. 358-364. See also for varied and interesting data as to rules, experience and advice; Thomas S. Clay (of Bryan County, Georgia), Detail of a Plan for the Moral Improvement of Negroes on Plantations (1833); and DeBow's Review, XII, 291, 292; XIX, 358-363; XXI, 147-149, 277-279; XXIV, 321-326; XXV, 463; XXVI, 579, 580; XXIX, 112-115, 357-368.]

[Footnote 12: Southern Quarterly Review, XXI, 215, 216.]

[Footnote 13: Olmsted, Seaboard Slave States, p. 660.]
Of overseers in general, the great variety in their functions, their scales of operation and their personal qualities make sweeping assertions hazardous. Some were at just one remove from the authority of a great planter, as is suggested by the following advertisement: "Wanted, a manager to superintend several rice plantations on the Santee River. As the business is extensive, a proportionate salary will be made, and one or two young men of his own selection employed under him.[14] A healthful summer residence on the seashore is provided for himself and family." Others were hardly more removed from the status of common field hands. Lawrence Tompkins, for example, signed with his mark in 1779 a contract to oversee the four slaves of William Allason, near Alexandria, and to work steadily with them. He was to receive three barrels of corn and three hundred pounds of pork as his food allowance, and a fifth share of the tobacco, hemp and flax crops and a sixth of the corn; but if he neglected his work he might be dismissed without pay of any sort.[15] Some overseers were former planters who had lost their property, some were planters' sons working for a start in life, some were English and German farmers who had brought their talents to what they hoped might prove the world's best market, but most of them were of the native yeomanry which abounded in virtually all parts of the South. Some owned a few slaves whom they put on hire into their employers' gangs, thereby hastening their own attainment of the means to become planters on their own score.[16]
[Footnote 14: Southern Patriot (Charleston, S. C), Jan. 9, 1821.]

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

[Footnote 16: D.D. Wallace, Life of Henry Laurens, pp. 21, 135.]
If the master lived on the plantation, as was most commonly the case, the overseer's responsibilities were usually confined to the daily execution of orders in supervising the slaves in the fields and the quarters. But when the master was an absentee the opportunity for abuses and misunderstandings increased. Jurisdiction over slaves and the manner of its exercise were the grounds of most frequent complaint. On the score of authority, for example, a Virginia overseer in the employ of Robert Carter wrote him in 1787 in despair at the conduct of a woman named Suckey: "I sent for hir to Come in the morning to help Secoure the foder, but She Sent me word that She would not come to worke that Day, and that you had ordered her to wash hir 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, advertisement.]

[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, 358.]
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 wife.
[Footnote 27: Marion G. McDougall, Fugitive Slaves( Boston, 1891), p. 36.]
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.

Personae

Terms Defined

Referenced Works