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American Negro Slavery
Plantation Life
by Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell


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

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

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

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

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

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

The fare of the field hands was, of course, far more simple. Hoecake and bacon were its basis and often its whole content. But in summer fruit and vegetables were frequent; there was occasional game and fish at all seasons; and the first heavy frost of winter brought the festival of hog-killing time. While the shoulders, sides, hams and lard were saved, all other parts of the porkers were distributed for prompt consumption. Spare ribs and backbone, jowl and feet, souse and sausage, liver and chitterlings greased every mouth on the plantation; and the crackling-bread, made of corn meal mixed with the crisp tidbits left from the trying of the lard, carried fullness to repletion. Christmas and the summer lay-by brought recreation, but the hog-killing brought fat satisfaction.[1]
[Footnote 1: This account of plantation homesteads and dietary is drawn mainly from the writer's own observations in post-bellum times in which, despite the shifting of industrial arrangements and the decrease of wealth, these phases have remained apparent. Confirmation may be had in Philip Fithian Journal (Princeton, 1900); A. de Puy Van Buren, Jottings of a Year's Sojourn in the South (Battle Creek, Mich., 1859); Susan D. Smedes, Memorials of a Southern Planter (Baltimore, 1887); Mary B. Chestnutt, A Diary from Dixie (New York, 1905); and many other memoirs and traveller's accounts.]
The warmth of the climate produced some distinctive customs. One was the high seasoning of food to stimulate the appetite; another was the afternoon siesta of summer; a third the wellnigh constant leaving of doors ajar even in winter when the roaring logs in the chimney merely took the chill from the draughts. Indeed a door was not often closed on the plantation except those of the negro cabins, whose inmates were hostile to night air, and those of the storerooms. As a rule, it was only in the locks of the latter that keys were ever turned by day or night.

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

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

Festivities were somewhat more separate than sports, though by no means wholly so. In the gayeties of Christmas the members of each race were spectators of the dances and diversions of the other. Likewise marriage merriment in the great house would have its echo in the quarters; and sometimes marriages among the slaves were grouped so as to give occasion for a general frolic. Thus Daniel R. Tucker in 1858 sent a general invitation over the countryside in central Georgia to a sextuple wedding among his slaves, with dinner and dancing to follow.[2] On the whole, the fiddle, the banjo and the bones were not seldom in requisition.
[Footnote 2: Federal Union (Milledgeville, Ga.), April 20, 1858.]
It was a matter of discomfort that in the evangelical churches dancing and religion were held to be incompatible. At one time on Thomas Dabney's plantation in Mississippi, for instance, the whole negro force fell captive in a Baptist "revival" and forswore the double shuffle. "I done buss' my fiddle an' my banjo, and done fling 'em away," the most music-loving fellow on the place said to the preacher when asked for his religious experiences.[3] Such a condition might be tolerable so long as it was voluntary; but the planters were likely to take precautions against its becoming coercive. James H. Hammond, for instance, penciled a memorandum in his plantation manual: "Church members are privileged to dance on all holyday occasions; and the class-leader or deacon who may report them shall be reprimanded or punished at the discretion of the master."[4] The logic with which sin and sanctity were often reconciled is illustrated in Irwin Russell's remarkably faithful "Christmas in the Quarters." "Brudder Brown" has advanced upon the crowded floor to "beg a blessin' on dis dance:"
[Footnote 3: S.D. Smedes. Memorials of a Southern Planter, pp. 161, 162.]

[Footnote 4: MS. among the Hammond papers in the Library of Congress.]
  O Mashr! let dis gath'rin' fin' a blessin' in yo' sight!
  Don't jedge us hard fur what we does--you knows it's Chrismus night;
  An' all de balunce ob de yeah we does as right's we kin.
  Ef dancin's wrong, O Mashr! let de time excuse de sin!


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

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

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

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

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

Yes, tell dem preshis anjuls we's a-gwine to jine 'em soon: Our voices we's a-trainin' fur to sing de glory tune; We's ready when you wants us, an' it ain't no matter when-- O Mashr! call yo' chillen soon, an' take 'em home! Amen.[5]
[Footnote 5: Irwin Russell, Poems (New York [1888]), pp. 5-7.]
The churches which had the greatest influence upon the negroes were those which relied least upon ritual and most upon exhilaration. The Baptist and Methodist were foremost, and the latter had the special advantage of the chain of camp meetings which extended throughout the inland regions. At each chosen spot the planters and farmers of the countryside would jointly erect a great shed or "stand" in the midst of a grove, and would severally build wooden shelters or "tents" in a great square surrounding it. When the crops were laid by in August, the households would remove thither, their wagons piled high with bedding, chairs and utensils to keep "open house" with heavy-laden tables for all who might come to the meeting. With less elaborate equipment the negroes also would camp in the neighborhood and attend the same service as the whites, sitting generally in a section of the stand set apart for them. The camp meeting, in short, was the chief social and religious event of the year for all the Methodist whites and blacks within reach of the ground and for such non-Methodists as cared to attend. For some of the whites this occasion was highly festive, for others, intensely religious; but for any negro it might easily be both at once. Preachers in relays delivered sermons at brief intervals from sunrise until after nightfall; and most of the sermons were followed by exhortations for sinners to advance to the mourners' benches to receive the more intimate and individual suasion of the clergy and their corps of assisting brethren and sisters. The condition was highly hypnotic, and the professions of conversion were often quite as ecstatic as the most fervid ministrant could wish. The negroes were particularly welcome to the preachers, for they were likely to give the promptest response to the pulpit's challenge and set the frenzy going. A Georgia preacher, for instance, in reporting from one of these camps in 1807, wrote: "The first day of the meeting, we had a gentle and comfortable moving of the spirit of the Lord among us; and at night it was much more powerful than before, and the meeting was kept up all night without intermission. However, before day the white people retired, and the meeting was continued by the black people." It is easy to see who led the way to the mourners' bench. "Next day," the preacher continued, "at ten o'clock the meeting was remarkably lively, and many souls were deeply wrought upon; and at the close of the sermon there was a general cry for mercy, and before night there were a good many persons who professed to get converted. That night the meeting continued all night, both by the white and black people, and many souls were converted before day." The next day the stir was still more general. Finally, "Friday was the greatest day of all. We had the Lord's Supper at night, ... and such a solemn time I have seldom seen on the like occasion. Three of the preachers fell helpless within the altar, and one lay a considerable time before he came to himself. From that the work of convictions and conversions spread, and a large number were converted during the night, and there was no intermission until the break of day. At that time many stout hearted sinners were conquered. On Saturday we had preaching at the rising of the sun; and then with many tears we took leave of each other."[6]
[Footnote 6: Farmer's Gazette (Sparta, Ga.), Aug. 8, 1807, reprinted in Plantation and Frontier, II, 285, 286.]
The tone of the Baptist "protracted meetings" was much like that of the Methodist camps. In either case the rampant emotionalism, effective enough among the whites, was with the negroes a perfect contagion. With some of these the conversion brought lasting change; with others it provided a garment of piety to be donned with "Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes" and doffed as irksome on week days. With yet more it merely added to the joys of life. The thrill of exaltation would be followed by pleasurable "sin," to give place to fresh conversion when the furor season recurred. The rivalry of the Baptist and Methodist churches, each striving by similar methods to excel the other, tempted many to become oscillating proselytes, yielding to the allurements first of the one and then of the other, and on each occasion holding the center of the stage as a brand snatched from the burning, a lost sheep restored to the fold, a cause and participant of rapture.

In these manifestations the negroes merely followed and enlarged upon the example of some of the whites. The similarity of practices, however, did not promote a permanent mingling of the two races in the same congregations, for either would feel some restraint upon its rhapsody imposed by the presence of the other. To relieve this there developed in greater or less degree a separation of the races for purposes of worship, white ministers preaching to the blacks from time to time in plantation missions, and home talent among the negroes filling the intervals. While some of the black exhorters were viewed with suspicion by the whites, others were highly esteemed and unusually privileged. One of these at Lexington, Kentucky, for example, was given the following pass duly signed by his master: "Tom is my slave, and has permission to go to Louisville for two or three weeks and return here after he has made his visit. Tom is a preacher of the reformed Baptist church, and has always been a faithful servant."[7] As a rule the greater the proportion of negroes in a district or a church connection, the greater the segregation in worship. If the whites were many and the negroes few, the latter would be given the gallery or some other group of pews; but if the whites were few and the negroes many, the two elements would probably worship in separate buildings. Even in such case, however, it was very common for a parcel of black domestics to flock with their masters rather than with their fellows.
[Footnote 7: Dated Aug. 6, 1856, and signed E. McCallister. MS. in the New York Public Library.]
The general régime in the fairly typical state of South Carolina was described in 1845 in a set of reports procured preliminary to a convention on the state of religion among the negroes and the means of its betterment. Some of these accounts were from the clergy of several denominations, others from the laity; some treated of general conditions in the several districts, others in detail of systems on the writers' own plantations. In the latter group, N.W. Middleton, an Episcopalian of St. Andrew's parish, wrote that he and his wife and sons were the only religious teachers of his slaves, aside from the rector of the parish. He read the service and taught the catechism to all every Sunday afternoon, and taught such as came voluntarily to be instructed after family prayers on Wednesday nights. His wife and sons taught the children "constantly during the week," chiefly in the catechism. On the other hand R.F.W. Allston, a fellow Episcopalian of Prince George, Winyaw, had on his plantation a place of worship open to all denominations. A Methodist missionary preached there on alternate Sundays, and the Baptists were less regularly cared for. Both of these sects, furthermore, had prayer meetings, according to the rules of the plantation, on two nights of each week. Thus while Middleton endeavored to school his slaves in his own faith, Allston encouraged them to seek salvation by such creed as they might choose.

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

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

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

From the upland cotton belt a Presbyterian minister in the Chester district wrote: "You are all aware, gentlemen, that the relation and intercourse between the whites and the blacks in the up-country are very different from what they are in the low-country. With us they are neither so numerous nor kept so entirely separate, but constitute a part of our households, and are daily either with their masters or some member of the white family. From this circumstance they feel themselves more identified with their owners than they can with you. I minister steadily to two different congregations. More than one hundred blacks attend.... The gallery, or a quarter of the house, is appropriated to them in all our churches, and they enjoy the preached gospel in common with the whites." Finally, from the Greenville district, on the upper edge of the Piedmont, where the Methodists and Baptists were completely dominant among whites and blacks alike, it was reported: "About one fourth of the members in the churches are negroes. In the years 1832, '3 and '4 great numbers of negroes joined the churches during a period of revival. Many, I am sorry to say, have since been excommunicated. As the general zeal in religion declined, they backslid." There were a few licensed negro preachers, this writer continued, who were thought to do some good; but the general improvement in negro character, he thought, was mainly due to the religious and moral training given by their masters, and still more largely by their mistresses. From all quarters the expression was common that the promotion of religion among the slaves was not only the duty of masters but was to their interest as well in that it elevated the morals of the workmen and improved the quality of the service they rendered.[8]
[Footnote 8: Proceedings of the Meeting in Charleston, S.C., May 13-15, 1845, on the Religious Instruction of the Negroes, together with the Report of the Committee and the Address to the Public (Charleston, 1845). The reports of the Association for the Religious Instruction of Negroes in Liberty County, Georgia, printed annually for a dozen years or more in the 'thirties and 'forties, relate the career of a particularly interesting missionary work in that county on the rice coast, under the charge of the Reverend C.C. Jones. The tenth report in the series (1845) summarizes the work of the first decade, and the twelfth (1847) surveys the conditions then prevalent. In C.F. Deems ed., Annals of Southern Methodism for 1856 (Nashville, [1857]) the ninth chapter is made up of reports on the mission activities of that church among the negroes in various quarters of the South.]
In general, the less the cleavage of creed between master and man, the better for both, since every factor conducing to solidarity of sentiment was of advantage in promoting harmony and progress. When the planter went to sit under his rector while the slave stayed at home to hear an exhorter, just so much was lost in the sense of fellowship. It was particularly unfortunate that on the rice coast the bulk of the blacks had no co-religionists except among the non-slaveholding whites with whom they had more conflict than community of economic and sentimental interest. On the whole, however, in spite of the contrary suggestion of irresponsible religious preachments and manifestations, the generality of the negroes everywhere realized, like the whites, that virtue was to be acquired by consistent self-control in the performance of duty rather man by the alternation of spasmodic reforms and relapses.

Occasionally some hard-headed negro would resist the hypnotic suggestion of his preacher, and even repudiate glorification on his death-bed. A Louisiana physician recounts the final episode in the career of "Old Uncle Caleb," who had long been a-dying. "Before his departure, Jeff, the negro preacher of the place, gathered his sable flock of saints and sinners around the bed. He read a chapter and prayed, after which they sang a hymn.... Uncle Caleb lay motionless with closed eyes, and gave no sign. Jeff approached and took his hand. 'Uncle Caleb,' said he earnestly, 'de doctor says you are dying; and all de bredderin has come in for to see you de last time. And now, Uncle Caleb, dey wants to hear from your own mouf de precious words, dat you feels prepared to meet your God, and is ready and willin' to go,' Old Caleb opened his eyes suddenly, and in a very peevish, irritable tone, rebuffed the pious functionary in the following unexpected manner: 'Jeff, don't talk your nonsense to me! You jest knows dat I an't ready to go, nor willin' neder; and dat I an't prepared to meet nobody,' Jeff expatiated largely not only on the mercy of God, but on the glories of the heavenly kingdom, as a land flowing with milk and honey, etc. 'Dis ole cabin suits me mon'sus well!' was the only reply he could elicit from the old reprobate. And so he died."[9]
[Footnote 9: William H. Holcombe, "Sketches of Plantation Life," in the Knickerbocker Magazine, LVII, 631 (June, 1861).]
The slaves not only had their own functionaries in mystic matters, including a remnant of witchcraft, but in various temporal concerns also. Foremen, chosen by masters with the necessary sanction of the slaves, had industrial and police authority; nurses were minor despots in sick rooms and plantation hospitals; many an Uncle Remus was an oracle in folklore; and many an Aunt Dinah was arbitress of style in turbans and of elegancies in general. Even in the practice of medicine a negro here and there gained a sage's reputation. The governor of Virginia reported in 1729 that he had "met with a negro, a very old man, who has performed many wonderful cures of diseases. For the sake of his freedom he has revealed the medicine, a concoction of roots and barks.... There is no room to doubt of its being a certain remedy here, and of singular use among the negroes--it is well worth the price (£60) of the negro's freedom, since it is now known how to cure slaves without mercury."[10] And in colonial South Carolina a slave named Caesar was particularly famed for his cure for poison, which was a decoction of plantain, hoar-hound and golden rod roots compounded with rum and lye, together with an application of tobacco leaves soaked in rum in case of rattlesnake bite. In 1750 the legislature ordered his prescription published for the benefit of the public, and the Charleston journal which printed it found its copies exhausted by the demand.[11] An example of more common episodes appears in a letter from William Dawson, a Potomac planter, to Robert Carter of Nomoni Hall, asking that "Brother Tom," Carter's coachman, be sent to see a sick child in his quarter. Dawson continued: "The black people at this place hath more faith in him as a doctor than any white doctor; and as I wrote you in a former letter I cannot expect you to lose your man's time, etc., for nothing, but am quite willing to pay for same."[12]
[Footnote 10: J.H. Russell, The Free Negro in Virginia (Baltimore, 1913), p. 53, note.]

[Footnote 11: South Carolina Gazette, Feb. 25, 1751.]

[Footnote 12: MS. in the Carter papers, Virginia Historical Society.]
Each plantation had a double head in the master and the mistress. The latter, mother of a romping brood of her own and over-mother of the pickaninny throng, was the chatelaine of the whole establishment. Working with a never flagging constancy, she carried the indoor keys, directed the household routine and the various domestic industries, served as head nurse for the sick, and taught morals and religion by precept and example. Her hours were long, her diversions few, her voice quiet, her influence firm.[13] Her presence made the plantation a home; her absence would have made it a factory. The master's concern was mainly with the able-bodied in the routine of the crops. He laid the plans, guessed the weather, ordered the work, and saw to its performance. He was out early and in late, directing, teaching, encouraging, and on occasion punishing. Yet he found time for going to town and for visits here and there, time for politics, and time for sports. If his duty as he saw it was sometimes grim, and his disappointments keen, hearty diversions were at hand to restore his equanimity. His horn hung near and his hounds made quick response on Reynard's trail, and his neighbors were ready to accept his invitations and give theirs lavishly in return, whether to their houses or to their fields. When their absences from home were long, as they might well be in the public service, they were not unlikely upon return to meet such a reception as Henry Laurens described: "I found nobody there but three of our old domestics--Stepney, Exeter and big Hagar. These drew tears from me by their humble and affectionate salutes. My knees were clasped, my hands kissed, my very feet embraced, and nothing less than a very--I can't say fair, but full--buss of my lips would satisfy the old man weeping and sobbing in my face.... They ... held my hands, hung upon me; I could scarce get from them. 'Ah,' said the old man, 'I never thought to see you again; now I am happy; Ah, I never thought to see you again.'"[14]
[Footnote 13: Emily J. Putnam, The Lady (New York, 1910), pp. 282-323.]

[Footnote 14: D.D. Wallace, Life of Henry Laurens, p. 436.]
Among the clearest views of plantation life extant are those of two Northern tutors who wrote of their Southern sojourns. One was Philip Fithian who went from Princeton in 1773 to teach the children of Colonel Robert Carter of Nomoni Hall in the "Northern Neck" of Virginia, probably the most aristocratic community of the whole South: the other was A. de Puy Van Buren who left Battle Creek in the eighteen-fifties to seek health and employment in Mississippi and found them both, and happiness too, amid the freshly settled folk on the banks of the Yazoo River. Each of these made jottings now and then of the work and play of the negroes, but both of them were mainly impressed by the social régime in which they found themselves among the whites. Fithian marveled at the evidences of wealth and the stratification of society, but he reckoned that a well recommended Princeton graduate, with no questions asked as to his family, fortune or business, would be rated socially as on an equal footing with the owner of a £10,000 estate, though this might be discounted one-half if he were unfashionably ignorant of dancing, boxing, fencing, fiddling and cards.[15] He was attracted by the buoyancy, the good breeding and the cordiality of those whom he met, and particularly by the sound qualities of Colonel and Mrs. Carter with whom he dwelt; but as a budding Presbyterian preacher he was a little shocked at first by the easy-going conduct of the Episcopalian planters on Sundays. The time at church, he wrote, falls into three divisions: first, that before service, which is filled by the giving and receiving of business letters, the reading of advertisements and the discussion of crop prices and the lineage and qualities of favorite horses; second, "in the church at service, prayrs read over in haste, a sermon seldom under and never over twenty minutes, but always made up of sound morality or deep, studied metaphysicks;"[16] third, "after service is over, three quarters of an hour spent in strolling round the church among the crowd, in which time you will be invited by several different gentlemen home with them to dinner."
[Footnote 15: Philip V. Fithian, Journal and Letters (Princeton, 1900), p. 287.]

[Footnote 16: Fithian Journal and Letters, p. 296.]
Van Buren found the towns in the Yazoo Valley so small as barely to be entitled to places on the map; he found the planters' houses to be commonly mere log structures, as the farmers' houses about his own home in Michigan had been twenty years before; and he found the roads so bad that the mule teams could hardly draw their wagons nor the spans of horses their chariots except in dry weather. But when on his horseback errands in search of a position he learned to halloo from the roadway and was regularly met at each gate with an extended hand and a friendly "How do you do, sir? Won't you alight, come in, take a seat and sit awhile?"; when he was invariably made a member of any circle gathered on the porch and refreshed with cool water from the cocoanut dipper or with any other beverages in circulation; when he was asked as a matter of course to share any meal in prospect and to spend the night or day, he discovered charms even in the crudities of the pegs for hanging saddles on the porch and the crevices between the logs of the wall for the keeping of pipes and tobacco, books and newspapers. Finally, when the planter whose house he had made headquarters for two months declined to accept a penny in payment, Van Buren's heart overflowed. The boys whom he then began to teach he found particularly apt in historical studies, and their parents with whom he dwelt were thorough gentlefolk.

Toward the end of his narrative, Van Buren expressed the thought that Mississippi, the newly settled home of people from all the older Southern states, exemplified the manners of all. He was therefore prompted to generalize and interpret: "A Southern gentleman is composed of the same material that a Northern gentleman is, only it is tempered by a Southern clime and mode of life. And if in this temperament there is a little more urbanity and chivalry, a little more politeness and devotion to the ladies, a little more suaviter in modo, why it is theirs--be fair and acknowledge it, and let them have it. He is from the mode of life he lives, especially at home, more or less a cavalier; he invariably goes a-horseback. His boot is always spurred, and his hand ensigned with the riding-whip. Aside from this he is known by his bearing--his frankness and firmness." Furthermore he is a man of eminent leisureliness, which Van Buren accounts for as follows: "Nature is unloosed of her stays there; she is not crowded for time; the word haste is not in her vocabulary. In none of the seasons is she stinted to so short a space to perform her work as at the North. She has leisure enough to bud and blossom--to produce and mature fruit, and do all her work. While on the other hand in the North right the reverse is true. Portions are taken off the fall and spring to lengthen out the winter, making his reign nearly half the year. This crowds the work of the whole year, you might say, into about half of it. This ... makes the essential difference between a Northerner and a Southerner. They are children of their respective climes; and this is why Southrons are so indifferent about time; they have three months more of it in a year than we have." [17]
[Footnote 17: A. de Puy Van Buren, Jottings of a Year's Sojourn in the South, pp. 232-236.]
A key to Van Buren's enthusiasm is given by a passage in the diary of the great English reporter, William H. Russell: "The more one sees of a planter's life the greater is the conviction that its charms come from a particular turn of mind, which is separated by a wide interval from modern ideas in Europe. The planter is a denomadized Arab;--he has fixed himself with horses and slaves in a fertile spot, where he guards his women with Oriental care, exercises patriarchal sway, and is at once fierce, tender and hospitable. The inner life of his household is exceedingly charming, because one is astonished to find the graces and accomplishments of womanhood displayed in a scene which has a certain sort of savage rudeness about it after all, and where all kinds of incongruous accidents are visible in the service of the table, in the furniture of the house, in its decorations, menials, and surrounding scenery."[18] The Southerners themselves took its incongruities much as a matter of course. The régime was to their minds so clearly the best attainable under the circumstances that its roughnesses chafed little. The plantations were homes to which, as they were fond of singing, their hearts turned ever; and the negroes, exasperating as they often were to visiting strangers, were an element in the home itself. The problem of accommodation, which was the central problem of the life, was on the whole happily solved.
[Footnote 18: William H. Russell, My Diary North and South (Boston, 1863), p. 285.]
The separate integration of the slaves was no more than rudimentary. They were always within the social mind and conscience of the whites, as the whites in turn were within the mind and conscience of the blacks. The adjustments and readjustments were mutually made, for although the masters had by far the major power of control, the slaves themselves were by no means devoid of influence. A sagacious employer has well said, after long experience, "a negro understands a white man better than the white man understands the negro."[19] This knowledge gave a power all its own. The general régime was in fact shaped by mutual requirements, concessions and understandings, producing reciprocal codes of conventional morality. Masters of the standard type promoted Christianity and the customs of marriage and parental care, and they instructed as much by example as by precept; they gave occasional holidays, rewards and indulgences, and permitted as large a degree of liberty as they thought the slaves could be trusted not to abuse; they refrained from selling slaves except under the stress of circumstances; they avoided cruel, vindictive and captious punishments, and endeavored to inspire effort through affection rather than through fear; and they were content with achieving quite moderate industrial results. In short their despotism, so far as it might properly be so called was benevolent in intent and on the whole beneficial in effect.
[Footnote 19: Captain L.V. Cooley, Address Before the Tulane Society of Economics [New Orleans, 1911], p. 8.]
Some planters there were who inflicted severe punishments for disobedience and particularly for the offense of running away; and the community condoned and even sanctioned a certain degree of this. Otherwise no planter would have printed such descriptions of scars and brands as were fairly common in the newspaper advertisements offering rewards for the recapture of absconders.[20] When severity went to an excess that was reckoned as positive cruelty, however, the law might be invoked if white witnesses could be had; or the white neighbors or the slaves themselves might apply extra-legal retribution. The former were fain to be content with inflicting social ostracism or with expelling the offender from the district;[21] the latter sometimes went so far as to set fire to the oppressor's house or to accomplish his death by poison, cudgel, knife or bullet.[22]
[Footnote 20: Examples are reprinted in Plantation and Frontier, II, 79-91.]

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

[Footnote 22: For instances see Plantation and Frontier, II, 117-121.]
In the typical group there was occasion for terrorism on neither side. The master was ruled by a sense of dignity, duty and moderation, and the slaves by a moral code of their own. This embraced a somewhat obsequious obedience, the avoidance of open indolence and vice, the attainment of moderate skill in industry, and the cultivation of the master's good will and affection. It winked at petty theft, loitering and other little laxities, while it stressed good manners and a fine faithfulness in major concerns. While the majority were notoriously easy-going, very many made their master's interests thoroughly their own; and many of the masters had perfect confidence in the loyalty of the bulk of their servitors. When on the eve of secession Edmund Ruffin foretold[23] the fidelity which the slaves actually showed when the war ensued, he merely voiced the faith of the planter class.
[Footnote 23: Debowfs Review, XXX, 118-120 (January, 1861).]
In general the relations on both sides were felt to be based on pleasurable responsibility. The masters occasionally expressed this in their letters. William Allason, for example, who after a long career as a merchant at Falmouth, Virginia, had retired to plantation life, declined his niece's proposal in 1787 that he return to Scotland to spend his declining years. In enumerating his reasons he concluded: "And there is another thing which in your country you can have no trial of: that is, of selling faithful slaves, which perhaps we have raised from their earliest breath. Even this, however, some can do, as with horses, etc., but I must own that it is not in my disposition."[24]
[Footnote 24: Letter dated Jan. 22, 1787, in the Allason MS. mercantile books, Virginia State Library.]
Others were yet more expressive when they came to write their wills. Thus[25] Howell Cobb of Houston County, Georgia, when framing his testament in 1817 which made his body-servant "to be what he is really deserving, a free man," and gave an annuity along with virtual freedom to another slave, of an advanced age, said that the liberation of the rest of his slaves was prevented by a belief that the care of generous and humane masters would be much better for them than a state of freedom. Accordingly he bequeathed these to his wife who he knew from her goodness of temper would treat them with unflagging kindness. But should the widow remarry, thereby putting her property under the control of a stranger, the slaves and the plantation were at once to revert to the testator's brother who was recommended to bequeath them in turn to his son Howell if he were deemed worthy of the trust. "It is my most ardent desire that in whatsoever hands fortune may place said negroes," the will enjoined, "that all the justice and indulgence may be shown them that is consistent with a state of slavery. I flatter myself with the hope that none of my relations or connections will be so ungrateful to my memory as to treat or use them otherwise." Surely upon the death of such a master the slaves might, with even more than usual unction, raise their melodious refrain:
[Footnote 25: MS. copy in the possession of Mrs. A.S. Erwin, Athens, Ga. The nephew mentioned in the will was Howell Cobb of Confederate prominence.]
  Down in de cawn fiel'
  Hear dat mo'nful soun';
  All de darkies am aweepin',
  Massa's in de col', col' ground.


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