Camp-Fire and Cotton-Field
Thomas W. Knox
Part 5 out of 8
St. Paul is one of the few cities of the world whose foundation
furnishes the material for their construction. The limestone rock on
which it is built is in layers of about a foot in thickness, and very
easy to quarry. The blocks require little dressing to fit them for
use. Though very soft at first, the stone soon hardens by exposure to
the air, and forms a neat and durable wall. In digging a cellar one
will obtain more than sufficient stone for the walls of his house.
At the time of my visit the Indian expedition of 1863 had just
returned, and was camped near Fort Snelling. This expedition was sent
out by General Pope, for the purpose of chastising the Sioux Indians.
It was under command of General Sibley, and accomplished a march of
nearly six hundred miles. As it lay in camp at Fort Snelling, the men
and animals presented the finest appearance I had ever observed in an
army just returned from a long campaign.
The Sioux massacres of 1862, and the campaign of General Pope in the
autumn of that year, attracted much attention. Nearly all the settlers
in the valley of the Minnesota above Fort Snelling were killed or
driven off. Other localities suffered to a considerable extent. The
murders--like nearly all murders of whites by the Indians--were of
the most atrocious character. The history of those massacres is a
chronicle of horrors rarely equaled during the present century. Whole
counties were made desolate, and the young State, just recovering from
its financial misfortunes, received a severe blow to its prosperity.
Various causes were assigned for the outbreak of hostilities on the
part of the Sioux Indians. Very few residents of Minnesota, in view
of the atrocities committed by the Indians, could speak calmly of the
troubles. All were agreed that there could be no peace and security
until the white men were the undisputed possessors of the land.
Before the difficulties began, there was for some time a growing
discontent on the part of the Indians, on account of repeated
grievances. Just previous to the outbreak, these Indians were summoned
to one of the Government Agencies to receive their annuities. These
annuities had been promised them at a certain time, but were not
forthcoming. The agents, as I was informed, had the money (in coin) as
it was sent from Washington, but were arranging to pay the Indians in
Treasury notes and pocket the premium on the gold. The Indians were
kept waiting while the gold was being exchanged for greenbacks. There
was a delay in making this exchange, and the Indians were put off from
day to day with promises instead of money.
An Indian knows nothing about days of grace, protests, insolvency,
expansions, and the other technical terms with which Wall Street is
familiar. He can take no explanation of broken promises, especially
when those promises are made by individuals who claim to represent the
Great Father at Washington. In this case the Sioux lost all confidence
in the agents, who had broken their word from day to day. Added to the
mental annoyance, there was great physical suffering. The traders at
the post would sell nothing without cash payment, and, without money,
the Indians were unable to procure what the stores contained in
The annuities were not paid, and the traders refused to sell on
credit. Some of the Indians were actually starving, and one day they
forced their way into a store to obtain food. Taking possession, they
supplied themselves with what they desired. Among other things, they
found whisky, of the worst and most fiery quality. Once intoxicated,
all the bad passions of the savages were let loose. In their drunken
frenzy, the Indians killed one of the traders. The sight of blood made
them furious. Other white men at the Agency were killed, and thus the
From the Agency the murderers spread through the valley of the St.
Peter's, proclaiming war against the whites. They made no distinction
of age or sex. The atrocities they committed are among the most
fiendish ever recorded.
The outbreak of these troubles was due to the conduct of the agents
who were dealing with the Indians. Knowing, as they should have known,
the character of the red man everywhere, and aware that the Sioux were
at that time discontented, it was the duty of those agents to treat
them with the utmost kindness and generosity. I do not believe the
Indians, when they plundered the store at the Agency, had any design
beyond satisfying their hunger. But with one murder committed, there
was no restraint upon their passions.
Many of our transactions with the Indians, in the past twenty years,
have not been characterized by the most scrupulous honesty. The
Department of the Interior has an interior history that would not bear
investigation. It is well known that the furnishing of supplies to the
Indians often enriches the agents and their political friends.
There is hardly a tribe along our whole frontier that has not been
defrauded. Dishonesty in our Indian Department was notorious during
Buchanan's Administration. The retirement of Buchanan and his cabinet
did not entirely bring this dishonesty to an end.
An officer of the Hudson Bay Company told me, in St. Paul, that it
was the strict order of the British Government, enforced in letter
and spirit by the Company, to keep full faith with the Indians.
Every stipulation is most scrupulously carried out. The slightest
infringement by a white man upon the rights of the Indians is punished
with great severity. They are furnished with the best qualities
of goods, and the quantity never falls below the stipulations.
Consequently the Indian has no cause of complaint, and is kept on the
most friendly terms. This officer said, "A white man can travel from
one end to the other of our territory, with no fear of molestation. It
is forty years since any trouble occurred between us and the Indians,
while on your side of the line you have frequent difficulties."
The autumn of '62 witnessed the campaign for the chastisement of
these Indians. Twenty-five thousand men were sent to Minnesota, under
General Pope, and employed against the Sioux. In a wild country, like
the interior of Minnesota, infantry cannot be used to advantage. On
this account, the punishment of the Indians was not as complete as our
Some of the Indians were captured, some killed, and others
surrendered. Thirty-nine of the captives were hanged. A hundred others
were sent to prison at Davenport, Iowa, for confinement during life.
The coming of Winter caused a suspension of hostilities.
The spring of 1863 opened with the outfitting of two expeditions--one
to proceed through Minnesota, under General Sibley, and the other
up the Missouri River, under General Sully. These expeditions were
designed to unite somewhere on the Missouri River, and, by inclosing
the Indians between them, to bring them to battle. If the plan was
successful, the Indians would be severely chastised.
General Sibley moved across Minnesota, according to agreement, and
General Sully advanced up the Missouri. The march of the latter was
delayed on account of the unprecedented low water in the Missouri,
which retarded the boats laden with supplies. Although the two columns
failed to unite, they were partially successful in their primary
object. Each column engaged the Indians and routed them with
After the return of General Sibley's expedition, a portion of the
troops composing it were sent to the Southwest, and attached to the
armies operating in Louisiana.
The Indian war in Minnesota dwindled to a fight on the part of
politicians respecting its merits in the past, and the best mode of
conducting it in the future. General Pope, General Sibley, and General
Sully were praised and abused to the satisfaction of every resident
of the State. Laudation and denunciation were poured out with equal
liberality. The contest was nearly as fierce as the struggle between
the whites and Indians. If epithets had been as fatal as bullets, the
loss of life would have been terrible. Happily, the wordy battle was
devoid of danger, and the State of Minnesota, her politicians, her
generals, and her men emerged from it without harm.
Various schemes have been devised for placing the Sioux Indians where
they will not be in our way. No spot of land can be found between
the Mississippi and the Pacific where their presence would not be an
annoyance to somebody. General Pope proposed to disarm these Indians,
allot no more reservations to them, and allow no traders among them.
He recommended that they be placed on Isle Royale, in Lake Superior,
and there furnished with barracks, rations, and clothing, just as the
same number of soldiers would be furnished. They should have no arms,
and no means of escaping to the main-land. They would thus be secluded
from all evil influence, and comfortably housed and cared for at
Government expense. If this plan should be adopted, it would be a
great relief to the people of our Northwestern frontier.
Minnesota has fixed its desires upon a railway to the Pacific. The
"St. Paul and Pacific Railway" is already in operation about forty
miles west of St. Paul, and its projectors hope, in time, to extend it
to the shores of the "peaceful sea." It has called British capital to
its aid, and is slowly but steadily progressing.
In the latter part of 1858 several enterprising citizens of St.
Paul took a small steamer in midwinter from the upper waters of the
Mississippi to the head of navigation, on the Red River of the North.
The distance was two hundred and fifty miles, and the route lay
through a wilderness. Forty yoke of oxen were required for moving the
boat. When navigation was open in the spring of 1859, the boat (the
_Anson Northrup_) steamed down to Fort Garry, the principal post of
the Hudson Bay Company, taking all the inhabitants by surprise. None
of them had any intimation of its coming, and were, consequently, as
much astonished as if the steamer had dropped from the clouds.
The agents of the Hudson Bay Company purchased the steamer, a few
hours after its arrival, for about four times its value. They hoped
to continue their seclusion by so doing; but were doomed to
disappointment. Another and larger boat was built in the following
year at Georgetown, Minnesota, the spot where the _Northrup_ was
launched. The isolation of the fur-traders was ended. The owners of
the second steamer (the _International_) were the proprietors of a
stage and express line to all parts of Minnesota. They extended their
line to Fort Garry, and soon established a profitable business.
From its organization in 1670, down to 1860, the Hudson Bay Company
sent its supplies, and received its furs in return, by way of the
Arctic Ocean and Hudson's Bay. There are only two months in the year
in which a ship can enter or leave Hudson's Bay. A ship sailing
from London in January, enters the Bay in August. When the cargo is
delivered at York Factory, at the mouth of Nelson's River, it is
too late in the season to send the goods to the great lakes of
Northwestern America, where the trading posts are located. In the
following May the goods are forwarded. They go by canoes where the
river is navigable, and are carried on the backs of men around the
frequent and sometimes long rapids. The journey requires three months.
The furs purchased with these goods cannot be sent to York Factory
until a year later, and another year passes away before they leave
Hudson's Bay. Thus, returns for a cargo were not received in London
until four years after its shipment from that port.
Since American enterprise took control of the carrying trade, goods
are sent from London to Fort Garry by way of New York and St. Paul,
and are only four months in transit. Four or five months will be
required to return a cargo of furs to London, making a saving of three
years over the old route. Stupid as our English cousin sometimes shows
himself, he cannot fail to perceive the advantages of the new route,
and has promptly embraced them. The people of Minnesota are becoming
well acquainted with the residents of the country on their northern
boundary. Many of the Northwestern politicians are studying the policy
The settlement at Pembina, near Pembina Mountain, lies in Minnesota, a
few miles only from the international line. The settlers supposed they
were on British soil until the establishment of the boundary showed
them their mistake. Every year the settlement sends a train to
St. Paul, nearly seven hundred miles distant, to exchange its
buffalo-robes, furs, etc., for various articles of necessity that the
Pembina region does not produce. This annual train is made up of "Red
River carts"--vehicles that would be regarded with curiosity in New
York or Washington.
A Red River cart is about the size of a two-wheeled dray, and is
built entirely of wood--not a particle of iron entering into its
composition. It is propelled by a single ox or horse, generally the
former, driven by a half-breed native. Sometimes, though not usually,
the wheels are furnished with tires of rawhide, placed upon them when
green and shrunk closely in drying. Each cart carries about a thousand
pounds of freight, and the train will ordinarily make from fifteen to
twenty miles a day. It was estimated that five hundred of these carts
would visit St. Paul and St. Cloud in the autumn of 1863.
The settlements of which Fort Garry is the center are scattered for
several miles along the Red River of the North. They have schools,
churches, flouring and saw mills, and their houses are comfortably and
often luxuriously furnished. They have pianos imported from St. Paul,
and their principal church, has an organ. At St. Cloud I saw evidences
of extreme civilization on their way to Fort Garry. These were a
whisky-still, two sewing-machines, and a grain-reaper. No people can
remain in darkness after adopting these modern inventions.
The monopoly which the Hudson Bay Company formerly held, has ceased
to exist. Under its charter, granted by Charles II. in 1670, it had
exclusive control of all the country drained by Hudson's Bay. In
addition to its privilege of trade, it possessed the "right of eminent
domain" and the full political management of the country. Crime
in this territory was not punished by the officers of the British
Government, but by the courts and officers of the Company. All
settlements of farmers and artisans were discouraged, as it was
the desire of the Company to maintain the territory solely as a fur
preserve, from the Arctic Ocean to the United States boundary.
The profits of this fur-trade were enormous, as the Company had
it under full control. The furs were purchased of the Indians and
trappers at very low rates, and paid for in goods at enormous prices.
An industrious trapper could earn a comfortable support, and nothing
Having full control of the fur market in Europe, the directors could
regulate the selling prices as they chose. Frequently they issued
orders forbidding the killing of a certain class of animals for
several years. The fur from these animals would become scarce and
very high, and at the same time the animals would increase in numbers.
Suddenly, when the market was at its uppermost point, the order would
be countermanded and a large supply brought forward for sale. This
course was followed with all classes of fur in succession. The
Company's dividends in the prosperous days would shame the best oil
wells or Nevada silver mines of our time.
Though its charter was perpetual, the Hudson Bay Company was obliged
to obtain once in twenty-one years a renewal of its license for
exclusive trade. From 1670 to 1838 it had no difficulty in obtaining
the desired renewal. The last license expired in 1859. Though a
renewal was earnestly sought, it was not attained. The territory
is now open to all traders, and the power of the old Company is
The first explorations in Minnesota were made shortly after the
discovery of the Mississippi River by Marquette and Hennepin. St. Paul
was originally a French trading post, and the resort of the Indians
throughout the Northwest. Fort Snelling was established by the United
Suites Government in 1819, but no settlements were made until 1844.
After the current of emigration began, the territory was rapidly
While Minnesota was a wilderness, the American Fur Company established
posts on the upper waters of the Mississippi. The old trading-house
below the Falls of St. Anthony, the first frame building erected in
the territory, is yet standing, though it exhibits many symptoms of
At one time the emigration to Minnesota was very great, but it has
considerably fallen off during the last eight years. The State is too
far north to hold out great inducements to settlers. The winters
are long and severe, and the productions of the soil are limited in
character and quantity. In summer the climate is excellent, attracting
large numbers of pleasure-seekers. The Falls of St. Anthony and the
Minnehaha have a world-wide reputation.
INAUGURATION OF A GREAT ENTERPRISE.
Plans for Arming the Negroes along the Mississippi.--Opposition to the
Movement.--Plantations Deserted by their Owners.--Gathering Abandoned
Cotton.--Rules and Regulations.--Speculation.--Widows and Orphans
in Demand.--Arrival of Adjutant-General Thomas.--Designs of the
I have elsewhere alluded to the orders of General Grant at Lagrange,
Tennessee, in the autumn of 1862, relative to the care of the negroes
where his army was then operating.
The plan was successful in providing for the negroes in Tennessee
and Northern Mississippi, where the number, though large, was not
excessive. At that time, the policy of arming the blacks was being
discussed in various quarters. It found much opposition. Many persons
thought it would be an infringement upon the "rights" of the South,
both unconstitutional and unjust. Others cared nothing for the South,
or its likes and dislikes, but opposed the measure on the ground of
policy. They feared its adoption would breed discontent among the
white soldiers of the army, and cause so many desertions and so much
uneasiness that the importance of the new element would be more than
neutralized. Others, again, doubted the courage of the negroes,
and thought their first use under fire would result in disgrace and
disaster to our arms. They opposed the experiment on account of this
In South Carolina and in Kansas the negroes had been put under arms
and mustered into service as Union soldiers. In engagements of a minor
character they had shown coolness and courage worthy of veterans.
There was no valid reason why the negroes along the Mississippi would
not be just as valuable in the army, as the men of the same race
in other parts of the country. Our Government determined to try the
experiment, and make the _Corps d'Afrique_ a recognized and important
adjunct of our forces in the field.
When General Grant encamped his army at Milliken's Bend and Young's
Point, preparatory to commencing the siege of Vicksburg, many of the
cotton plantations were abandoned by their owners. Before our advent
nearly all the white males able to bear arms had, willingly or
unwillingly, gone to aid in filling the ranks of the insurgents. On
nearly every plantation there was a white man not liable to military
service, who remained to look after the interests of the property.
When our army appeared, the majority of these white men fled to the
interior of Louisiana, leaving the plantations and the negroes to the
tender mercy of the invaders. In some cases the fugitives took the
negroes with them, thus leaving the plantations entirely deserted.
When the negroes remained, and the plantations were not supplied with
provisions, it became necessary for the Commissary Department to issue
rations for the subsistence of the blacks. As nearly all the planters
cared nothing for the negroes they had abandoned, there was a very
large number that required the attention of the Government.
On many plantations the cotton crop of 1862 was still in the field,
somewhat damaged by the winter rains; but well worth gathering at the
prices which then ruled the market. General Grant gave authority for
the gathering of this cotton by any parties who were willing to take
the contract. The contractors were required to feed the negroes and
pay them for their labor. One-half the cotton went to the Government,
the balance to the contractor. There was no lack of men to undertake
the collection of abandoned cotton on these terms, as the enterprise
could not fail to be exceedingly remunerative.
This cotton, gathered by Government authority, was, with a few
exceptions, the only cotton which could be shipped to market. There
were large quantities of "old" cotton--gathered and baled in previous
years--which the owners were anxious to sell, and speculators ready to
buy. Numerous applications were made for shipping-permits, but nearly
all were rejected. A few cases were pressed upon General Grant's
attention, as deserving exception from the ordinary rule.
There was one case of two young girls, whose parents had recently
died, and who were destitute of all comforts on the plantation where
they lived. They had a quantity of cotton which they wished to take to
Memphis, for sale in that market. Thus provided with money, they would
proceed North, and remain there till the end of the war.
A speculator became interested in these girls, and plead with all his
eloquence for official favor in their behalf. General Grant softened
his heart and gave this man a written permit to ship whatever cotton
belonged to the orphans. It was understood, and so stated in the
application, that the amount was between two hundred and three
hundred bales. The exact number not being known, there was no quantity
specified in the permit.
The speculator soon discovered that the penniless orphans could claim
two thousand instead of two hundred bales, and thought it possible
they would find three thousand bales and upward. On the strength
of his permit without special limit, he had purchased, or otherwise
procured, all the cotton he could find in the immediate vicinity. He
was allowed to make shipment of a few hundred bales; the balance was
Immediately, as this transaction became known, every speculator was on
the _qui vive_ to discover a widow or an orphan. Each plantation
was visited, and the status of the owners, if any remained, became
speedily known. Orphans and widows, the former in particular, were at
a high premium. Never in the history of Louisiana did the children
of tender years, bereft of parents, receive such attention from
strangers. A spectator might have imagined the Millennium close at
hand, and the dealers in cotton about to be humbled at the feet of
babes and sucklings. Widows, neither young nor comely, received the
warmest attention from men of Northern birth. The family of John
Rodgers, had it then lived at Milliken's Bend, would have been hailed
as a "big thing." Everywhere in that region there were men seeking
"healthy orphans for adoption."
The majority of the speculators found the widows and orphans of whom
they were in search. Some were able to obtain permits, while others
were not. Several officers of the army became interested in these
speculations, and gave their aid to obtain shipping privileges. Some
who were innocent were accused of dealing in the forbidden fiber,
while others, guilty of the transaction, escaped without suspicion.
The temptation was great. Many refused to be concerned in the traffic;
but there were some who yielded.
The contractors who gathered the abandoned cotton were enabled to
accumulate small fortunes. Some of them acted honestly, but others
made use of their contracts to cover large shipments of purchased or
stolen cotton, baled two or three years before. The ordinary yield of
an acre of ground is from a bale to a bale and a half. The contractors
were sometimes able to show a yield of ten or twenty bales to the
About the first of April, Adjutant-General Thomas arrived at
Milliken's Bend, bringing, as he declared, authority to regulate every
thing as he saw fit. Under his auspices, arrangements were made
for putting the able-bodied male negroes into the army. In a speech
delivered at a review of the troops at Lake Providence, he announced
the determination of the Government to use every just measure to
suppress the Rebellion.
The Rebels indirectly made use of the negroes against the Government,
by employing them in the production of supplies for their armies in
the field. "In this way," he said, "they can bring to bear against us
all the power of their so-called Confederacy. At the same time we are
compelled to retain at home a portion of our fighting force to furnish
supplies for the men at the front. The Administration has determined
to take the negroes belonging to disloyal men, and make them a part
of the army. This is the policy that has been fixed and will be fully
General Thomas announced that he brought authority to raise as many
regiments as possible, and to give commissions to all proper persons
who desired them. The speech was listened to with attention, and
loudly cheered at its close. The general officers declared themselves
favorable to the new movement, and gave it their co-operation. In a
few days a half-dozen regiments were in process of organization. This
was the beginning of the scheme for raising a large force of colored
soldiers along the Mississippi.
The disposition to be made of the negro women and children in our
lines, was a subject of great importance. Their numbers were very
large, and constantly increasing. Not a tenth of these persons could
find employment in gathering abandoned cotton. Those that found such
employment were only temporarily provided for. It would be a heavy
burden upon the Government to support them in idleness during the
entire summer. It would be manifestly wrong to send them to the
already overcrowded camps at Memphis and Helena. They were upon our
hands by the fortune of war, and must be cared for in some way.
The plantations which their owners had abandoned were supposed to
afford the means of providing homes for the negroes, where they could
be sheltered, fed, and clothed without expense to the Government. It
was proposed to lease these plantations for the term of one year, to
persons who would undertake the production of a crop of cotton. Those
negroes who were unfit for military service were to be distributed
on these plantations, where the lessees would furnish them all needed
supplies, and pay them for their labor at certain stipulated rates.
The farming tools and other necessary property on the plantations were
to be appraised at a fair valuation, and turned over to the lessees.
Where the plantations were destitute of the requisite number of
mules for working them, condemned horses and mules were loaned to
the lessees, who should return them whenever called for. There were
promises of protection against Rebel raids, and of all assistance that
the Government could consistently give. General Thomas announced that
the measure was fully decided upon at Washington, and should receive
The plantations were readily taken, the prospects being excellent
for enormous profits if the scheme proved successful. The cost of
producing cotton varies from three to eight cents a pound. The staple
would find ready sale at fifty cents, and might possibly command a
higher figure. The prospects of a large percentage on the investment
were alluring in the extreme. The plantations, the negroes, the
farming utensils, and the working stock were to require no outlay. All
that was demanded before returns would be received, were the necessary
expenditures for feeding and clothing the negroes until the crop
was made and gathered. From five to thirty thousand dollars was the
estimated yearly expense of a plantation of a thousand acres. If
successful, the products for a year might be set down at two hundred
thousand dollars; and should cotton appreciate, the return would be
COTTON-PLANTING IN 1863.
Leasing the Plantations.--Interference of the
Rebels.--Raids.--Treatment of Prisoners.--The Attack upon Milliken's
Bend.--A Novel Breast-Work.--Murder o four Officers.--Profits of
Cotton-Planting.--Dishonesty of Lessees.--Negroes Planting on their
It was late in the season before the plantations were leased and the
work of planting commenced. The ground was hastily plowed and the seed
as hastily sown. The work was prosecuted with the design of obtaining
as much as possible in a single season. In their eagerness to
accumulate fortunes, the lessees frequently planted more ground than
they could care for, and allowed much of it to run to waste.
Of course, it could not be expected the Rebels would favor the
enterprise. They had prophesied the negro would not work when free,
and were determined to break up any effort to induce him to labor.
They were not even willing to give him a fair trial. Late in June they
visited the plantations at Milliken's Bend and vicinity.
They stripped many of the plantations of all the mules and horses that
could be found, frightened some of the negroes into seeking safety
at the nearest military posts, and carried away others. Some of the
lessees were captured; others, having timely warning, made good their
escape. Of those captured, some were released on a regular parole not
to take up arms against the "Confederacy." Others were liberated on a
promise to go North and remain there, after being allowed a reasonable
time for settling their business. Others were carried into captivity
and retained as prisoners of war until late in the summer. A Mr.
Walker was taken to Brownsville, Texas, and there released, with the
privilege of crossing to Matamoras, and sailing thence to New Orleans.
It was six months from the time of his capture before he reached New
Orleans on his return home.
The Rebels made a fierce attack upon the garrison at Milliken's Bend.
For a few moments during the fight the prospects of their success were
very good. The negroes composing the garrison had not been long under
arms, and their discipline was far from perfect. The Rebels obtained
possession of a part of our works, but were held at bay by the
garrison, until the arrival of a gun-boat turned the scale in our
favor. The odds were against us at the outset, but we succeeded in
putting the enemy to flight.
In this attack the Rebels made use of a movable breast-work,
consisting of a large drove of mules, which they kept in their front
as they advanced upon the fort. This breast-work served very well at
first, but grew unmanageable as our fire became severe. It finally
broke and fled to the rear, throwing the Rebel lines into confusion.
I believe it was the first instance on record where the defenses
ran away, leaving the defenders uncovered. It marked a new, but
unsuccessful, phase of war. An officer who was present at the defense
of Milliken's Bend vouches for the truth of the story.
The Rebels captured a portion of the garrison, including some of
the white officers holding commissions in negro regiments. The negro
prisoners were variously disposed of. Some were butchered on the
spot while pleading for quarter; others were taken a few miles on the
retreat, and then shot by the wayside. A few were driven away by their
masters, who formed a part of the raiding force, but they soon
escaped and returned to our lines. Of the officers who surrendered as
prisoners of war, some were shot or hanged within a short distance
of their place of capture. Two were taken to Shreveport and lodged in
jail with one of the captured lessees. One night these officers were
taken from the jail by order of General Kirby Smith, and delivered
into the hands of the provost-marshal, to be shot for the crime of
accepting commissions in negro regiments. Before morning they were
Similar raids were made at other points along the river, where
plantations were being cultivated under the new system. At all these
places the mules were stolen and the negroes either frightened or
driven away. Work was suspended until the plantations could be newly
stocked and equipped. This suspension occurred at the busiest time in
the season. The production of the cotton was, consequently, greatly
retarded. On some plantations the weeds grew faster than the cotton,
and refused to be put down. On others, the excellent progress the
weeds had made, during the period of idleness, rendered the yield
of the cotton-plant very small. Some of the plantations were not
restocked after the raid, and speedily ran to waste.
In 1863, no lessee made more than half an ordinary crop of _cotton_,
and very few secured even this return. Some obtained a quarter or an
eighth of a bale to the acre, and some gathered only one bale where
they should have gathered twelve or twenty. A few lost money in the
speculation. Some made a fair profit on their investment, and others
realized their expectations of an enormous reward. Several parties
united their interest on three or four plantations in different
localities, so that a failure in one quarter was offset by success in
The majority of the lessees were unprincipled men, who undertook the
enterprise solely as a speculation. They had as little regard for the
rights of the negro as the most brutal slaveholder had ever shown.
Very few of them paid the negroes for their labor, except in
furnishing them small quantities of goods, for which they charged five
times the value. One man, who realized a profit of eighty thousand
dollars, never paid his negroes a penny. Some of the lessees made open
boast of having swindled their negroes out of their summer's wages, by
taking advantage of their ignorance.
The experiment did not materially improve the condition of the negro,
save in the matter of physical treatment. As a slave the black man
received no compensation for his labor. As a free man, he received
He was well fed, and, generally, well clothed. He received no severe
punishment for non-performance of duty, as had been the case before
the war. The difference between working for nothing as a slave,
and working for the same wages under the Yankees, was not always
perceptible to the unsophisticated negro.
Several persons leased plantations that they might use them as points
for shipping purchased or stolen cotton. Some were quite successful
in this, while others were unable to find any cotton to bring out.
Various parties united with the plantation-owners, and agreed
to obtain all facilities from the Government officials, if their
associates would secure protection against Rebel raids. In some cases
this experiment was successful, and the plantations prospered, while
those around them were repeatedly plundered. In others, the Rebels
were enraged at the plantation-owners for making any arrangements with
"the Yankees," and treated them with merciless severity. There was no
course that promised absolute safety, and there was no man who could
devise a plan of operations that would cover all contingencies.
Every thing considered, the result of the free-labor enterprise was
favorable to the pockets of the avaricious lessees, though it was not
encouraging to the negro and to the friends of justice and humanity.
All who had been successful desired to renew their leases for another
season. Some who were losers were willing to try again and hope for
All the available plantations in the vicinity of Vicksburg, Milliken's
Bend, and other points along that portion of the Mississippi were
applied for before the beginning of the New Year. Application for
these places were generally made by the former lessees or their
friends. The prospects were good for a vigorous prosecution of the
free-labor enterprise during 1864.
In the latter part of 1863, I passed down the Mississippi, _en
route_ to New Orleans. At Vicksburg I met a gentleman who had been
investigating the treatment of the negroes under the new system, and
was about making a report to the proper authorities. He claimed to
have proof that the agents appointed by General Thomas had not been
honest in their administration of affairs.
One of these agents had taken five plantations under his control, and
was proposing to retain them for another year. It was charged that he
had not paid his negroes for their labor, except in scanty supplies
of clothing, for which exorbitant prices were charged. He had been
successful with his plantations, but delivered very little cotton to
the Government agents.
The investigations into the conduct of agents and lessees were
expected to make a change in the situation. Up to that time the War
Department had controlled the whole system of plantation management.
The Treasury Department was seeking the control, on the ground that
the plantations were a source of revenue to the Government, and should
be under its financial and commercial policy. If it could be proved
that the system pursued was an unfair and dishonest one, there was
probability of a change.
I pressed forward on my visit to New Orleans. On my return, two weeks
later, the agents of General Thomas were pushing their plans for the
coming year. There was no indication of an immediate change in the
management. The duties of these agents had been enlarged, and the
region which they controlled extended from Lake Providence, sixty
miles above Vicksburg, to the mouth of Red River, nearly two hundred
miles below. One of the agents had his office at Lake Providence, a
second was located at Vicksburg, while the third was at Natchez.
Nearly all the plantations near Lake Providence had been leased or
applied for. The same was the case with most of those near Vicksburg.
In some instances, there were several applicants for the same
plantation. The agents announced their determination to sell the
choice of plantations to the highest bidder. The competition for the
best places was expected to be very active.
There was one pleasing feature. Some of the applicants for plantations
were not like the sharp-eyed speculators who had hitherto controlled
the business. They seemed to be men of character, desirous of
experimenting with free labor for the sake of demonstrating its
feasibility when skillfully and honestly managed. They hoped and
believed it would be profitable, but they were not undertaking the
enterprise solely with a view to money-making. The number of these
men was not large, but their presence, although in small force, was
I regret to say that these men were outstripped in the struggle for
good locations by their more unscrupulous competitors. Before the
season was ended, the majority of the honest men abandoned the field.
During 1863, many negroes cultivated small lots of ground on their own
account. Sometimes a whole family engaged in the enterprise, a single
individual having control of the matter. In other cases, two, three,
or a half-dozen negroes would unite their labor, and divide the
returns. One family of four persons sold twelve bales of cotton, at
two hundred dollars per bale, as the result of eight months' labor.
Six negroes who united their labor were able to sell twenty bales. The
average was about one and a half or two bales to each of those persons
who attempted the planting enterprise on their own account. A few
made as high as four bales each, while others did not make more than
a single bale. One negro, who was quite successful in planting on his
own account, proposed to take a small plantation in 1864, and employ
twenty or more colored laborers. How he succeeded I was not able to
The commissioners in charge of the freedmen gave the negroes every
encouragement to plant on their own account. In 1864 there were thirty
colored lessees near Milliken's Bend, and about the same number at
Helena. Ten of these persons at Helena realized $31,000 for their
year's labor. Two of them planted forty acres in cotton; their
expenses were about $1,200; they sold their crop for $8,000. Another
leased twenty-four acres. His expenses were less than $2,000, and he
sold his crop for $6,000. Another leased seventeen acres. He earned
by the season's work enough to purchase a good house, and leave him
a cash balance of $300. Another leased thirteen and a half acres,
expended about $600 in its cultivation, and sold his crop for $4,000.
At Milliken's Bend the negroes were not as successful as at
Helena--much of the cotton crop being destroyed by the "army worm." It
is possible that the return of peace may cause a discontinuance of the
policy of leasing land to negroes.
The planters are bitterly opposed to the policy of dividing
plantations into small parcels, and allowing them to be cultivated
by freedmen. They believe in extensive tracts of land under a single
management, and endeavor to make the production of cotton a business
for the few rather than the many. It has always been the rule to
discourage small planters. No aristocratic proprietor, if he could
avoid it, would sell any portion of his estate to a man of limited
means. In the hilly portions of the South, the rich men were unable to
carry out their policy. Consequently, there were many who cultivated
cotton on a small scale. On the lower Mississippi this was not the
When the Southern States are fairly "reconstructed," and the political
control is placed in the hands of the ruling race, every effort will
be made to maintain the old policy. Plantations of a thousand or of
three thousand acres will be kept intact, unless the hardest necessity
compels their division. If possible, the negroes will not be permitted
to possess or cultivate land on their own account. To allow them to
hold real estate will be partially admitting their claim to humanity.
No true scion of chivalry can permit such an innovation, so long as he
is able to make successful opposition.
I have heard Southern men declare that a statute law should, and
would, be made to prevent the negroes holding real estate. I have
no doubt of the disposition of the late Rebels in favor of such
enactment, and believe they would display the greatest energy in its
enforcement. It would be a labor of love on their part, as well as of
duty. Its success would be an obstacle in the way of the much-dreaded
AMONG THE OFFICIALS.
Reasons for Trying an Experiment.--Activity among Lessees.--Opinions
of the Residents.--Rebel Hopes in 1863.--Removal of Negroes to West
Louisiana.--Visiting Natchez.--The City and its Business.--"The
In my visit to Vicksburg I was accompanied by my fellow-journalist,
Mr. Colburn, of _The World_. Mr. Colburn and myself had taken more
than an ordinary interest in the free-labor enterprise. We had watched
its inception eight months before, with many hopes for its success,
and with as many fears for the result. The experiment of 1863, under
all its disadvantages, gave us convincing proof that the production of
cotton and sugar by free labor was both possible and profitable. The
negro had proved the incorrectness of the slaveholders' assertion that
no black man would labor on a plantation except as a slave. So much we
had seen accomplished. It was the result of a single year's trial. We
desired to see a further and more extensive test.
While studying the new system in the hands of others, we were urged to
bring it under our personal observation. Various inducements were held
out. We were convinced of the general feasibility of the enterprise,
wherever it received proper attention. As a philanthropic undertaking,
it was commendable. As a financial experiment, it promised success. We
looked at the matter in all its aspects, and finally decided to gain
an intimate knowledge of plantation life in war-time. Whether we
succeeded or failed, we would learn more about the freedmen than we
had hitherto known, and would assist, in some degree, to solve
the great problem before the country. Success would be personally
profitable, while failure could not be disastrous.
We determined to lease a plantation, but had selected none. In her
directions for cooking a hare, Mrs. Glass says: "First, catch your
hare." Our animal was to be caught, and the labor of securing it
proved greater than we anticipated.
All the eligible locations around Vicksburg had been taken by the
lessees of the previous season, or by newly-arrived persons who
preceded us. There were several residents of the neighboring region
who desired persons from the North to join them in tilling their
plantations. They were confident of obtaining Rebel protection, though
by no means certain of securing perfect immunity. In each case they
demanded a cash advance of a few thousands, for the purpose of hiring
the guerrillas to keep the peace. As it was evident that the purchase
of one marauding band would require the purchase of others, until
the entire "Confederacy" had been bought up, we declined all these
Some of these residents, who wished Northern men to join them, claimed
to have excellent plantations along the Yazoo, or near some of its
tributary bayous. These men were confident a fine cotton crop could be
made, "if there were some Northern man to manage the niggers." It was
the general complaint with the people who lived in that region that,
with few exceptions, no Southern man could induce the negroes to
continue at work. One of these plantation proprietors said his
location was such that no guerrilla could get near it without
endangering his life. An investigation showed that no other person
could reach the plantation without incurring a risk nearly as great.
Very few of these owners of remote plantations were able to induce
strangers to join them.
We procured a map of the Mississippi and the country bordering its
banks. Whenever we found a good location and made inquiry about it at
the office of the leasing agents, we were sure to ascertain that some
one had already filed an application. It was plain that Vicksburg was
not the proper field for our researches. We shook its dust from our
feet and went to Natchez, a hundred and twenty-five miles below, where
a better prospect was afforded.
In the spring of 1863, the Rebels felt confident of retaining
permanent possession of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, two hundred and
fifty miles apart. Whatever might be the result elsewhere, this
portion of the Mississippi should not be abandoned. In the belief that
the progress of the Yankees had been permanently stopped, the planters
in the locality mentioned endeavored to make as full crops as possible
of the great staple of the South. Accordingly, they plowed and
planted, and tended the growing cotton until midsummer came. On the
fourth of July, Vicksburg surrendered, and opened the river to Port
Hudson. General Herron's Division was sent to re-enforce General
Banks, who was besieging the latter place. In a few days, General
Gardner hauled down his flag and gave Port Hudson to the nation. "The
Father of Waters went unvexed to the Sea."
The rich region that the Rebels had thought to hold was, by the
fortune of war, in the possession of the National army. The planters
suspended their operations, through fear that the Yankees would
possess the land.
Some of them sent their negroes to the interior of Louisiana for
safety. Others removed to Texas, carrying all their human property
with them. On some plantations the cotton had been so well cared for
that it came to maturity in fine condition. On others it had been very
slightly cultivated, and was almost choked out of existence by weeds
and grass. Nearly every plantation could boast of more or less cotton
in the field--the quantity varying from twenty bales to five hundred.
On some plantations cotton had been neglected, and a large crop of
corn grown in its place. Everywhere the Rebel law had been obeyed
by the production of more corn than usual. There was enough for the
sustenance of our armies for many months.
Natchez was the center of this newly-opened region. Before the war it
was the home of wealthy slave-owners, who believed the formation of a
Southern Confederacy would be the formation of a terrestrial paradise.
On both banks of the Mississippi, above and below Natchez, were the
finest cotton plantations of the great valley. One family owned nine
plantations, from which eight thousand bales of cotton were annually
sent to market. Another family owned seven plantations, and others
were the owners of from three to six, respectively.
The plantations were in the care of overseers and agents, and rarely
visited by their owners. The profits were large, and money was poured
out in profusion. The books of one of the Natchez banks showed a daily
business, in the picking season, of two or three million dollars,
generally on the accounts of planters and their factors.
Prior to the Rebellion, cotton was usually shipped to New Orleans, and
sold in that market. There were some of the planters who sent their
cotton to Liverpool or Havre, without passing it through the hands of
New Orleans factors. A large balance of the proceeds of such shipments
remained to the credit of the shippers when the war broke out, and
saved them from financial ruin. The business of Natchez amounted,
according to the season, from a hundred thousand to three hundred
thousand bales. This included a great quantity that was sent to New
Orleans from plantations above and below the city, without touching at
all upon the levee at Natchez.
Natchez consists of Natchez-on-the-Hill and Natchez-under-the-Hill.
A bluff, nearly two hundred feet high, faces the Mississippi, where
there is an eastward bend of the stream. Toward the river this bluff
is almost perpendicular, and is climbed by three roads cut into its
face like inclined shelves. The French established a settlement at
this point a hundred and fifty years ago, and erected a fortification
for its defense. This work, known as Fort Rosalie, can still be traced
with distinctness, though it has fallen into extreme decay. It was
evidently a rectangular, bastioned work, and the location of the
bastions and magazine can be readily made out.
Natchez-under-the-Hill is a small, straggling village, having a few
commission houses and stores, and dwellings of a suspicious character.
It was once a resort of gamblers and other _chevaliers d'industrie_,
whose livelihood was derived from the travelers along the Mississippi.
At present it is somewhat shorn of its glory.
Natchez-on-the-Hill is a pleasant and well-built city, of about ten
thousand inhabitants. The buildings display wealth and good taste,
the streets are wide and finely shaded, and the abundance of churches
speaks in praise of the religious sentiment of the people. Near the
edge of the bluff there was formerly a fine park, commanding a view of
the river for several miles in either direction, and overlooking
the plantations and cypress forests on the opposite shore. This
pleasure-ground was reserved for the white people alone, no negro
being allowed to enter the inclosure under severe penalties. A
regiment of our soldiers encamped near this park, and used its fence
for fuel. The park is now free to persons of whatever color.
Natchez suffered less from the war than most other places of its size
along the Mississippi. The Rebels never erected fortifications in or
around Natchez, having relied upon Vicksburg and Port Hudson for their
protection. When Admiral Farragut ascended the river, in 1862, after
the fall of New Orleans, he promised that Natchez should not be
disturbed, so long as the people offered no molestation to our
gun-boats or army transports. This neutrality was carefully observed,
except on one occasion. A party which landed from the gun-boat _Essex_
was fired upon by a militia company that desired to distinguish
itself. Natchez was shelled for two hours, in retaliation for this
outrage. From that time until our troops occupied the city there was
When we arrived at Natchez, we found several Northern men already
there, whose business was similar to our own. Some had secured
plantations, and were preparing to take possession. Others were
watching the situation and surveying the ground before making their
selections. We found that the best plantations in the vicinity had
been taken by the friends of Adjutant-General Thomas, and were gone
past our securing. At Vidalia, Louisiana, directly opposite Natchez,
were two fine plantations, "Arnuldia" and "Whitehall," which had been
thus appropriated. Others in their vicinity had been taken in one way
or another, and were out of our reach. Some of the lessees declared
they had been forced to promise a division with certain parties in
authority before obtaining possession, while others maintained a
discreet silence on the subject. Many plantations owned by widows and
semi-loyal persons, would not be placed in the market as "abandoned
property." There were many whose status had not been decided, so
that they were practically out of the market. In consequence of these
various drawbacks, the number of desirable locations that were open
for selection was not large.
One of the leasing agents gave us a letter to a young widow who
resided in the city, and owned a large plantation in Louisiana,
fifteen miles from Natchez. We lost no time in calling upon the lady.
Other parties had already seen her with a view to leasing her
plantation. Though she had promised the lease to one of these
visitors, she had no objections to treating with ourselves, provided
she could make a more advantageous contract.
In a few days we repeated our visit. Our rival had urged his reasons
for consideration, and was evidently in favor. He had claimed to be
a Secessionist, and assured her he could obtain a safeguard from the
Rebel authorities. The lady finally consented to close a contract with
him, and placed us in the position of discarded suitors. We thought of
issuing a new edition of "The Rejected Addresses."
A JOURNEY OUTSIDE THE LINES.
Passing the Pickets.--Cold Weather in the South.--Effect of Climate
upon the Constitution.--Surrounded and Captured.--Prevarication
and Explanation.--Among the Natives.--The Game for the
Confederacy.--Courtesy of the Planters.--Condition of the
Mr. Colburn went to St. Louis, on business in which both were
interested, and left me to look out a plantation. I determined to make
a tour of exploration in Louisiana, in the region above Vidalia. With
two or three gentlemen, who were bound on similar business, I passed
our pickets one morning, and struck out into the region which was
dominated by neither army. The weather was intensely cold, the ground
frozen solid, and a light snow falling.
Cold weather in the South has one peculiarity: it can seem more
intense than the same temperature at the North. It is the effect of
the Southern climate to unfit the system for any thing but a warm
atmosphere. The chill penetrates the whole body with a severity I have
never known north of the Ohio River. In a cold day, the "Sunny South"
possesses very few attractions in the eyes of a stranger.
In that day's ride, and in the night which followed, I suffered more
than ever before from cold. I once passed a night in the open air in
the Rocky Mountains, with the thermometer ten degrees below zero.
I think it was more endurable than Louisiana, with the mercury ten
degrees above zero. On my plantation hunt I was thickly clad, but the
cold _would_ penetrate, in spite of every thing. An hour by a fire
might bring some warmth, but the first step into the open air would
drive it away. Fluid extract of corn failed to have its ordinary
effect. The people of the vicinity said the weather was unusually
severe on that occasion. For the sake of those who reside there
hereafter, I hope their statement was true.
Our party stopped for the night at a plantation near Waterproof, a
small village on the bank of the river, twenty-two miles from Natchez.
Just as we were comfortably seated by the fire in the overseer's
house, one of the negroes announced that a person at the door wished
to see us.
I stepped to the door, and found a half-dozen mounted men in blue
uniforms. Each man had a carbine or revolver drawn on me. One of my
companions followed me outside, and found that the strange party had
weapons enough to cover both of us. It had been rumored that several
guerrillas, wearing United States uniforms, were lurking in the
vicinity. Our conclusions concerning the character of our captors were
Resistance was useless, but there were considerations that led us to
parley as long as possible. Three officers, and as many soldiers,
from Natchez, had overtaken us in the afternoon, and borne us company
during the latter part of our ride. When we stopped for the night,
they concluded to go forward two or three miles, and return in the
morning. Supposing ourselves fairly taken, we wished to give
our friends opportunity to escape. With this object in view, we
endeavored, by much talking, to consume time.
I believe it does not make a man eloquent to compel him to peer into
the muzzles of a half-dozen cocked revolvers, that may be discharged
at any instant on the will of the holders. Prevarication is a
difficult task, when time, place, and circumstances are favorable. It
is no easy matter to convince your hearers of the truth of a story
you know to be false, even when those hearers are inclined to be
credulous. Surrounded by strangers, and with your life in peril, the
difficulties are greatly increased. I am satisfied that I made a sad
failure on that particular occasion.
My friend and myself answered, indiscriminately, the questions that
were propounded. Our responses did not always agree. Possibly we might
have done better if only one of us had spoken.
"Come out of that house," was the first request that was made.
We came out.
"Tell those soldiers to come out."
"There are no soldiers here," I responded.
"That's a d--d lie."
"There are none here."
"Yes, there are," said the spokesman of the party. "Some Yankee
soldiers came here a little while ago."
"We have been here only a few minutes."
"Where did you come from?"
This was what the lawyers call a leading question. We did not desire
to acknowledge we were from Natchez, as that would reveal us at once.
We did not wish to say we were from Shreveport, as it would soon be
proved we were not telling the truth. I replied that we had come from
a plantation a few miles below. Simultaneously my companion said we
had just crossed the river.
Here was a lack of corroborative testimony which our captors commented
upon, somewhat to our discredit. So the conversation went on, our
answers becoming more confused each time we spoke. At last the leader
of the group dismounted, and prepared to search the house. He turned
us over to the care of his companions, saying, as he did so:
"If I find any soldiers here, you may shoot these d--d fellows for
During all the colloquy we had been carefully covered by the weapons
of the group. We knew no soldiers could be found about the premises,
and felt no fear concerning the result of the search.
Just as the leader finished his search, a lieutenant and twenty men
"Well," said our captor, "you are saved from shooting. I will turn you
over to the lieutenant."
I recognized in that individual an officer to whom I had received
introduction a day or two before. The recognition was mutual.
We had fallen into the hands of a scouting party of our own forces.
Each mistook the other for Rebels. The contemplated shooting was
indefinitely postponed. The lieutenant in command concluded to encamp
near us, and we passed the evening in becoming acquainted with each
On the following day the scouting party returned to Natchez. With
my two companions I proceeded ten miles further up the river-bank,
calling, on the way, at several plantations. All the inhabitants
supposed we were Rebel officers, going to or from Kirby Smith's
department. At one house we found two old gentlemen indulging in a
game of chess. In response to a comment upon their mode of amusement,
one of them said:
"We play a very slow and cautious game, sir. Such a game as the
Confederacy ought to play at this time."
To this I assented.
"How did you cross the river, gentlemen?" was the first interrogatory.
"We crossed it at Natchez."
"At Natchez! We do not often see Confederates from Natchez. You must
have been very fortunate to get through."
Then we explained who and what we were. The explanation was followed
by a little period of silence on the part of our new acquaintances.
Very soon, however, the ice was broken, and our conversation became
free. We were assured that we might travel anywhere in that region
as officers of the Rebel army, without the slightest suspicion of our
real character. They treated us courteously, and prevailed upon us to
join them at dinner. Many apologies were given for the scantiness of
the repast. Corn-bread, bacon, and potatoes were the only articles
set before us. Our host said he was utterly unable to procure flour,
sugar, coffee, or any thing else not produced upon his plantation.
He thought the good times would return when the war ended, and was
particularly anxious for that moment to arrive. He pressed us to pass
the night at his house, but we were unable to do so. On the following
day we returned to Natchez.
Everywhere on the road from Vidalia to the farthest point of our
journey, we found the plantations running to waste. The negroes had
been sent to Texas or West Louisiana for safety, or were remaining
quietly in their quarters. Some had left their masters, and were
gone to the camps of the National army at Vicksburg and Natchez. The
planters had suspended work, partly because they deemed it useless
to do any thing in the prevailing uncertainty, and partly because the
negroes were unwilling to perform any labor. Squads of Rebel cavalry
had visited some of the plantations, and threatened punishment to
the negroes if they did any thing whatever toward the production of
cotton. Of course, the negroes would heed such advice if they heeded
On all the plantations we found cotton and corn, principally the
latter, standing in the field. Sometimes there were single inclosures
of several hundred acres. The owners were desirous of making any
arrangement that would secure the tilling of their soil, while it
did not involve them in any trouble with their neighbors or the Rebel
They deplored the reverses which the Rebel cause had suffered, and
confessed that the times were out of joint. One of the men we visited
was a judge in the courts of Louisiana, and looked at the question
in a legal light. After lamenting the severity of the storm which was
passing over the South, and expressing his fear that the Rebellion
would be a failure, he referred to his own situation.
"I own a plantation," said he, "and have combined my planting interest
with the practice of law. The fortune of war has materially changed my
circumstances. My niggers used to do as I told them, but that time is
passed. Your Northern people have made soldiers of our servants, and
will, I presume, make voters of them. In five years, if I continue the
practice of law, I suppose I shall be addressing a dozen negroes as
gentlemen of the jury."
"If you had a negro on trial," said one of our party, "that would be
correct enough. Is it not acknowledged everywhere that a man shall be
tried by his peers?"
The lawyer admitted that he never thought of that point before.
He said he would insist upon having negroes admitted into court as
counsel for negroes that were to be tried by a jury of their race. He
did not believe they would ever be available as laborers in the field
if they were set free, and thought so many of them would engage in
theft that negro courts would be constantly busy.
Generally speaking, the planters that I saw were not violent
Secessionists, though none of them were unconditional Union men. All
said they had favored secession at the beginning of the movement,
because they thought it would strengthen and perpetuate slavery. Most
of them had lost faith in its ultimate success, but clung to it as
their only hope. The few Union men among them, or those who claimed
to be loyal, were friends of the nation with many conditions. They
desired slavery to be restored to its former status, the rights of the
States left intact, and a full pardon extended to all who had taken
part in the Rebellion. Under these conditions they would be willing to
see the Union restored. Otherwise, the war must go on.
We visited several plantations on our tour of observation, and
compared their respective merits. One plantation contained three
thousand acres of land, but was said to be very old and worn out. Near
it was one of twelve hundred acres, three-fourths covered with corn,
but with no standing cotton. One had six hundred acres of cotton
in the field. This place belonged to a Spaniard, who would not be
disturbed by Government, and who refused to allow any work done until
after the end of the war. Another had four hundred acres of standing
cotton, but the plantation had been secured by a lessee, who was about
All had merits, and all had demerits. On some there was a sufficient
force for the season's work, while on others there was scarcely an
able field-hand. On some the gin-houses had been burned, and on others
they were standing, but disabled. A few plantations were in good
order, but there was always some drawback against our securing
them. Some were liable to overflow during the expected flood of the
Mississippi; others were in the hands of their owners, and would not
be leased by the Government. Some that had been abandoned were
so thoroughly abandoned that we would hesitate to attempt their
cultivation. There were several plantations more desirable than
others, and I busied myself to ascertain the status of their owners,
and the probabilities concerning their disposal.
Some of the semi-loyal owners of plantations were able to make very
good speculations in leasing their property. There was an earnest
competition among the lessees to secure promising plantations. One
owner made a contract, by which he received five thousand dollars in
cash and half the product of the year's labor.
A week after the lessee took possession, he was frightened by the
near approach of a company of Rebel cavalry. He broke his contract and
departed for the North, forfeiting the five thousand dollars he had
advanced. Another lessee was ready to make a new contract with the
owner, paying five thousand dollars as his predecessor had done. Four
weeks later, this lessee abandoned the field, and the owner was at
liberty to begin anew.
To widows and orphans the agents of the Government displayed a
commendable liberality. Nearly all of these persons were allowed to
retain control of their plantations, leasing them as they saw fit, and
enjoying the income. Some were required to subscribe to the oath of
allegiance, and promise to show no more sympathy for the crumbling
Confederacy. In many cases no pledge of any kind was exacted.
I knew one widow whose disloyalty was of the most violent character.
On a visit to New Orleans she was required to take the oath of
allegiance before she could leave the steamboat at the levee. She
signed the printed oath under protest. A month later, she brought this
document forward to prove her loyalty and secure the control of her
OH THE PLANTATION.
Military Protection.--Promises.--Another Widow.--Securing
a Plantation.--Its Locality and Appearance.--Gardening in
Louisiana.--How Cotton is Picked.--"The Tell-Tale."--A Southerner's
Opinion of the Negro Character.--Causes and Consequences.
Parties who proposed to lease and cultivate abandoned plantations were
anxious to know what protection would be afforded them. General Thomas
and his agents assured them that proper military posts would soon be
established at points within easy distance of each other along the
river, so that all plantations in certain limits would be amply
protected. This would be done, not as a courtesy to the lessees, but
as a part of the policy of providing for the care of the negroes.
If the lessees would undertake to feed and clothe several thousand
negroes, besides paying them for their labor, they would relieve
the Government authorities of a great responsibility. They would
demonstrate the feasibility of employing the negroes as free laborers.
The cotton which they would throw into market would serve to reduce
the prices of that staple, and be a partial supply to the Northern
factories. All these things considered, the Government was anxious to
foster the enterprise, and would give it every proper assistance. The
agents were profuse in their promises of protection, and assured us it
would be speedily forthcoming.
There was a military post at Vidalia, opposite Natchez, which afforded
protection to the plantations in which General Thomas's family and
friends were interested. Another was promised at Waterproof, twenty
miles above, with a stockade midway between the two places. There was
to be a force of cavalry to make a daily journey over the road between
Vidalia and Waterproof. I selected two plantations about two miles
below Waterproof, and on the bank of the Mississippi. They were
separated by a strip of wood-land half a mile in width, and by a
small bayou reaching from the river to the head of Lake St. John. Both
plantations belonged to the same person, a widow, living near Natchez.
The authorities had not decided what they would do with these
plantations--whether they would hold them as Government property, or
allow the owner to control them. In consideration of her being a widow
of fifteen years' standing, they at length determined upon the latter
course. It would be necessary to take out a lease from the authorities
after obtaining one from the owner. I proceeded at once to make the
Another widow! My first experience in seeking to obtain a widow's
plantation was not encouraging. The first widow was young, the second
was old. Both were anxious to make a good bargain. In the first
instance I had a rival, who proved victorious. In the second affair I
had no rival at the outset, but was confronted with one when my suit
was fairly under way. Before he came I obtained a promise of the
widow's plantations. My rival made her a better offer than I had done.
At this she proposed to desert me. I caused the elder Weller's advice
to be whispered to him, hoping it might induce his withdrawal. He did
not retire, and we, therefore, continued our struggle. _He_ was making
proposals on his own behalf; I was proposing for myself and for Mr.
Colburn, who was then a thousand miles away.
My widow (I call her mine, for I won at last) desired us to give her
all the corn and cotton then on the plantations, and half of what
should be produced under our management. I offered her half the former
and one-fourth the latter. These were the terms on which nearly
all private plantations were being leased. She agreed to the offer
respecting the corn and cotton then standing in the field, and
demanded a third of the coming year's products. After some hesitation,
we decided upon "splitting the difference." Upon many minor points,
such as the sale of wood, stock, wool, etc., she had her own way.
A contract was drawn up, which gave Colburn and myself the lease of
the two plantations, "Aquasco" and "Monono," for the period of one
year. We were to gather the crops then standing in the field, both
cotton and corn, selling all the former and such portion of the latter
as was not needed for the use of the plantations. We were to cultivate
the plantations to the best of our abilities, subject to the fortunes
of flood, fire, and pestilence, and the operations of military and
marauding forces. We agreed to give up the plantations at the end of
the year in as good condition as we found them in respect to stock,
tools, etc., unless prevented by circumstances beyond our control. We
were to have full supervision of the plantations, and manage them
as we saw fit. We were to furnish such stock and tools as might be
needed, with the privilege of removing the same at the time of our
Our widow (whom I shall call Mrs. B.) was to have one-half the
proceeds of the corn and cotton then on the plantations, and seven
twenty-fourths of such as might be produced during the year. She
was to have the privilege of obtaining, once a week, the supplies of
butter, chickens, meal, vegetables, and similar articles she might
need for her family use. There were other provisions in the contract,
but the essential points were those I have mentioned. The two
plantations were to be under a single management. I shall have
occasion to speak of them jointly, as "the plantation."
With this contract duly signed, sealed, and stamped, I went to the
"Agent for Abandoned Plantations." After some delay, and a payment
of liberal fees, I obtained the Government lease. These preliminaries
concluded, I proceeded to the locality of our temporary home. Colburn
had not returned from the North, but was expected daily.
The bayou which I have mentioned, running through the strip of woods
which separated the plantations, formed the dividing line between the
parishes "Concordia" and "Tensas," in the State of Louisiana. Lake St.
John lay directly in rear of "Monono," our lower plantation. This lake
was five or six miles long by one in width, and was, doubtless, the
bed of the Mississippi many years ago.
On each plantation there were ten dwelling-houses for the negroes. On
one they were arranged in a double row, and on the other in a single
row. There was a larger house for the overseer, and there were
blacksmith shops, carpenter shops, stables, corn-cribs, meat-houses,
cattle-yards, and gin-houses.
On Aquasco there was a dwelling-house containing five large rooms, and
having a wide veranda along its entire front. This dwelling-house was
in a spacious inclosure, by the side of a fine garden. Inside this
inclosure, and not far from the dwelling, were the quarters for the
house-servants, the carriage-house and private stable, the smoke-house
and the kitchen, which lay detached from the main building, according
to the custom prevailing in the South.
Our garden could boast of fig and orange trees, and other tropical
productions. Pinks and roses we possessed in abundance. Of the latter
we had enough in their season to furnish all the flower-girls on
Broadway with a stock in trade. Our gardener "made his garden" in
February. By the middle of March, his potatoes, cabbages, beets, and
other vegetables under his care were making fine progress. Before
the jingle of sleigh-bells had ceased in the Eastern States, we were
feasting upon delicious strawberries from our own garden, ripened in
the open air. The region where plowing begins in January, and corn is
planted in February or early March, impresses a New Englander with its
contrast to his boyhood home.
When I took possession of our new property, the state of affairs was
not the most pleasing. Mrs. B. had sent the best of her negroes to
Texas shortly after the fall of Vicksburg. Those remaining on the
plantations were not sufficient for our work. There were four mules
where we needed fifty, and there was not a sufficient supply of
oxen and wagons. Farming tools, plows, etc., were abundant, but many
repairs must be made. There was enough of nearly every thing for a
commencement. The rest would be secured in due season.
Cotton and corn were in the field. The former was to receive immediate
attention. On the day after my arrival I mustered thirty-four laborers
of all ages and both sexes, and placed them at work, under the
superintendence of a foreman. During the afternoon I visited them in
the field, to observe the progress they were making. It was the first
time I had ever witnessed the operation, but I am confident I did not
betray my inexperience in the presence of my colored laborers. The
foreman asked my opinion upon various points of plantation management,
but I deferred making answer until a subsequent occasion. In every
case I told him to do for the present as they had been accustomed, and
I would make such changes as I saw fit from time to time.
Cotton-picking requires skill rather than strength. The young women
are usually the best pickers, on account of their superior dexterity.
The cotton-stalk, or bush, is from two to five or six feet high. It is
unlike any plant with which we are familiar in the North. It resembles
a large currant-bush more nearly than any thing else I can think of.
Where the branches are widest the plant is three or four feet from
side to side. The lowest branches are the longest, and the plant,
standing by itself, has a shape similar to that of the Northern
spruce. The stalk is sometimes an inch and a half in diameter where
it leaves the ground. Before the leaves have fallen, the rows in
a cotton-field bear a strong resemblance to a series of untrimmed
When fully opened, the cotton-bolls almost envelop the plant in their
snow-white fiber. At a distance a cotton-field ready for the pickers
forcibly reminds a Northerner of an expanse covered with snow. Our
Northern expression, "white as snow," is not in use in the Gulf
States. "White as cotton" is the form of comparison which takes its
The pickers walk between the rows, and gather the cotton from the
stalks on either side. Each one gathers half the cotton from the row
on his right, and half of that on his left. Sometimes, when the stalks
are low, one person takes an entire row to himself, and gathers from
both sides of it. A bag is suspended by a strap over the shoulder, the
end of the bag reaching the ground, so that its weight may not be
an inconvenience. The open boll is somewhat like a fully bloomed
water-lily. The skill in picking lies in thrusting the fingers
into the boll so as to remove all the cotton with a single motion.
Ordinary-pickers grasp the boll with one hand and pluck out the cotton
with the other. Skillful pickers work with both hands, never touching
the bolls, but removing the cotton by a single dextrous twist of the
fingers. They can thus operate with great rapidity.
As fast as the bags are filled, they are emptied into large baskets,
which are placed at a corner of the field or at the ends of the rows.
When the day's work is ended the cotton is weighed. The amount
brought forward by each person is noted on a slate, from which it is
subsequently recorded on the account-book of the plantation.
From one to four hundred pounds, according to the state of the plants,
is the proper allowance for each hand per day.
In the days of slavery the "stint" was fixed by the overseer, and was
required to be picked under severe penalties. It is needless to say
that this stint was sufficiently large to allow of no loitering during
the entire day. If the slave exceeded the quantity required of him,
the excess was sometimes placed to his credit and deducted from a
subsequent day. This was by no means the universal custom. Sometimes
he received a small present or was granted some especial favor. By
some masters the stint was increased by the addition of the excess.
The task was always regulated by the condition of the cotton in the
field. Where it would sometimes be three hundred pounds, at others it
would not exceed one hundred.
At the time I commenced my cotton-picking, the circumstances were not
favorable to a large return. The picking season begins in August or
September, and is supposed to end before Christmas. In my case it was
late in January, and the winter rain had washed much of the cotton
from the stalks. Under the circumstances I could not expect more than
fifty or seventy-five pounds per day for each person engaged.
During the first few days I did not weigh the cotton. I knew the
average was not more than fifty pounds to each person, but the
estimates which the negroes made fixed it at two hundred pounds. One
night I astonished them by taking the weighing apparatus to the field
and carefully weighing each basket. There was much disappointment
among all parties at the result. The next day's picking showed a
surprising improvement. After that time, each day's work was tested
and the result announced. The "tell-tale," as the scales were
sometimes called, was an overseer from whom there was no escape. I
think the negroes worked faithfully as soon as they found there was no
opportunity for deception.
I was visited by Mrs. B.'s agent a few days after I became a
cotton-planter. We took an inventory of the portable property that
belonged to the establishment, and arranged some plans for our mutual
advantage. This agent was a resident of Natchez. He was born in the
North, but had lived so long in the slave States that his sympathies
were wholly Southern. He assured me the negroes were the greatest
liars in the world, and required continual watching. They would take
every opportunity to neglect their work, and were always planning new
modes of deception. They would steal every thing of which they could
make any use, and many articles that they could not possibly dispose
of. Pretending illness was among the most frequent devices for
avoiding labor, and the overseer was constantly obliged to contend
against such deception. In short, as far as I could ascertain
from this gentleman, the negro was the embodiment of all earthly
wickedness. Theft, falsehood, idleness, deceit, and many other sins
which afflict mortals, were the especial heritance of the negro.
In looking about me, I found that many of these charges against
the negro were true. The black man was deceptive, and he was often
dishonest. There can be no effect without a cause, and the reasons
for this deception and dishonesty were apparent, without difficult
research. The system of slavery necessitated a constant struggle
between the slave and his overseer. It was the duty of the latter to
obtain the greatest amount of labor from the sinews of the slave. It
was the business of the slave to perform as little labor as possible.
It made no difference to him whether the plantation produced a hundred
or a thousand bales. He received nothing beyond his subsistence and
clothing. His labor had no compensation, and his balance-sheet at the
end of the month or year was the same, whether he had been idle or
industrious. It was plainly to his personal interest to do nothing he
could in any way avoid. The negro displayed his sagacity by deceiving
the overseer whenever he could do so. The best white man in the world
would have shunned all labor under such circumstances. The negro
evinced a pardonable weakness in pretending to be ill whenever he
could hope to make the pretense successful.
Receiving no compensation for his services, beyond his necessary
support, the negro occasionally sought to compensate himself. He was
fond of roasted pork, but that article did not appear on the list
of plantation rations. Consequently some of the negroes would make
clandestine seizure of the fattest pigs when the chance of detection
was not too great. It was hard to convince them that the use of one
piece of property for the benefit of another piece, belonging to the
same person, was a serious offense.
"You see, Mr. K----," said a negro to me, admitting that he had
sometimes stolen his master's hogs, "you see, master owns his
saddle-horse, and he owns lots of corn. Master would be very mad if I
didn't give the horse all the corn he wanted. Now, he owns me, and he
owns a great many hogs. I like hog, just as much as the horse likes
corn, but when master catches me killing the hogs he is very mad, and
he makes the overseer whip me."
Corn, chickens, flour, meal, in fact, every thing edible, became
legitimate plunder for the negroes when the rations furnished them
were scanty. I believe that in nine cases out of ten the petty thefts
which the negroes committed were designed to supply personal wants,
rather than for any other purpose. What the negro stole was usually an
article of food, and it was nearly always stolen from the plantation
where he belonged.
Sometimes there was a specially bad negro--one who had been caught in
some extraordinary dishonesty. One in my employ was reported to
have been shot at while stealing from a dwelling-house several years
before. Among two hundred negroes, he was the only noted rascal. I
did not attribute his dishonesty to his complexion alone. I have known
worse men than he, in whose veins there was not a drop of African
blood. The police records everywhere show that wickedness of heart
"dwells in white and black the same."
With his disadvantages of position, the absence of all moral training,
and the dishonesty which was the natural result of the old system
of labor, the negro could not be expected to observe all the rules
prescribed for his guidance, but which were never explained. Like
ignorant and degraded people everywhere, many of the negroes believed
that guilt lay mainly in detection. There was little wickedness in
stealing a pig or a chicken, if the theft were never discovered, and
there was no occasion for allowing twinges of conscience to disturb
I do not intend to intimate, by the above, that all were dishonest,
even in these small peculations. There were many whose sense of right
and wrong was very clear, and whose knowledge of their duties had been
derived from the instructions of the white preachers. These negroes
"obeyed their masters" in every thing, and considered it a religious
obligation to be always faithful. They never avoided their tasks, in
the field or elsewhere, and were never discovered doing any wrong.
Under the new system of labor at the South, this portion of the negro
population will prove of great advantage in teaching their kindred the
duties they owe to each other. When all are trained to think and
act for themselves, the negroes will, doubtless, prove as correct in
morals as the white people around them.
Early in the present year, the authorities at Davies' Bend, below
Vicksburg, established a negro court, in which all petty cases were
tried. The judge, jury, counsel, and officers were negroes, and no
white man was allowed to interfere during the progress of a trial.
After the decisions were made, the statement of the case and the
action thereon were referred to the superintendent of the Government
plantations at that point.
It was a noticeable feature that the punishments which the negroes
decreed for each other were of a severe character. Very frequently it
was necessary for the authorities to modify the sentences after the
colored judge had rendered them. The cases tried by the court related
to offenses of a minor character, such as theft, fraud, and various
delinquencies of the freed negroes.
The experiment of a negro court is said to have been very successful,
though it required careful watching. It was made in consequence of
a desire of the authorities to teach the freedmen how to govern
themselves. The planters in the vicinity were as bitterly opposed to
the movement as to any other effort that lifts the negro above his old
At the present time, several parties in Vicksburg have leased three
plantations, in as many localities, and are managing them on different
plans. On the first they furnish the negroes with food and clothing,
and divide the year's income with them. On the second they pay wages
at the rate of ten dollars per month, furnishing rations free, and
retaining half the money until the end of the year. On the third they
pay daily wages of one dollar, having the money ready at nightfall,
the negro buying his own rations at a neighboring store.
On the first plantation, the negroes are wasteful of their supplies,
as they are not liable for any part of their cost. They are inclined
to be idle, as their share in the division will not be materially
affected by the loss of a few days' labor. On the second they are less
wasteful and more industrious, but the distance of the day of payment
is not calculated to develop notions of strict economy. On the third
they generally display great frugality, and are far more inclined to
labor than on the other plantations.
The reason is apparent. On the first plantation their condition is
not greatly changed from that of slavery, except in the promise of
compensation and the absence of compulsory control. In the last case
they are made responsible both for their labor and expenses, and are
learning how to care for themselves as freemen.
RULES AND REGULATIONS UNDER THE OLD AND NEW SYSTEMS.
The Plantation Record.--Its Uses.--Interesting Memoranda.--Dogs,
Jail, and Stocks.--Instructions to the Overseer.--His Duties and
Responsibilities.--The Order of General Banks.--Management of
Plantations in the Department of the Gulf.--The two Documents
Contrasted.--One of the Effects of "an Abolition War."
Nearly every planter in the South required the manager of his
plantation to keep a record of all events of importance. Books were
prepared by a publishing house in New Orleans, with special reference
to their use by overseers. These books had a blank for every day in
the year, in which the amount and kind of work performed were to be
recorded by the overseer. There were blanks for noting the progress
during the picking season, and the amount picked by each person daily.
There were blanks for monthly and yearly inventories of stock, tools,
etc., statements of supplies received and distributed, lists of births
and deaths (there were no blanks for marriages), time and amount
of shipments of cotton, and for all the ordinary business of a
plantation. In the directions for the use of this book, I found the
"On the pages marked I, the planter himself will make a careful record
of all the negroes upon the plantation, stating their ages as nearly
as possible, and their cash value, at the commencement of the year.
At the close, he will again enter their individual value at that time,
adding the year's increase, and omitting those that may have died. The
difference can then be transferred to the balance-sheet. The year's
crop is chargeable with any depreciation in the value of the negroes,
occasioned by overwork and improper management, in the effort,
perhaps, to make an extra crop independent of every other
consideration. On the other hand, should the number of children have
greatly increased during the year; the strength and usefulness of the
old been sustained by kind treatment and care; the youngsters taught
to be useful, and, perhaps, some of the men instructed in trades and
the women in home manufactures, the increased value of the entire
force will form a handsome addition to the side of _profits_."
On the pages where the daily incidents of the plantation were
recorded, I frequently discovered entries that illustrated the
"peculiar institution." Some of them read thus:--
Whipped Harry and Sarah to-day, because they didn't keep up their
rows. _July 7th_. Aleck ran away to the woods, because I threatened
to whip him.
Got Mr. Hall's dogs and hunted Aleck. Didn't find him. Think he is in
the swamp back of Brandon's.
Took Aleck out of Vidalia jail. Paid $4.50 for jail fees. Put him in
the stocks when we got home.
Moses died this morning. Charles and Henry buried him. His wife was
allowed to keep out of the field until noon.
Sent six mules and four negroes down to the lower plantation. They
will come back to-morrow.
John said he was sick this morning, but I made him go to the field.
They brought him in before noon. He has a bad fever. Am afraid he
won't be able to go out again soon.
Whipped Susan, because she didn't pick as much cotton as she did
Put William in the stocks and kept him till sunset, for telling
Charles he wanted to run away.
_October 8th_. William and Susan want to be married. Told them I
should not allow it, but they might live together if they wanted to.
(The above memorandum was explained to me by one of the negroes. The
owner of the plantation did not approve of marriages, because they
were inconvenient in case it was desired to sell a portion of the
_October 1st_. Took an inventory of the negroes and stock. Their value
is about the same as when the last inventory was taken.
_December 3d_. Finished picking. Gave the negroes half a holiday.
Nearly every day's entry shows the character and amount of work
performed. Thus we have:--
_February 10th_. Fifteen plows running, five hands piling logs, four
hands ditching, six hands in trash-gang.
In the planting, hoeing, and picking seasons, the result of the labor
was recorded in the same manner. Whippings were more or less frequent,
according to the character of the overseer. Under one overseer I found
that whippings were rare. Under other overseers they were of common
The individual who prepared the "_Plantation Record_" for the
publishers, gave, in addition to directions for its use, instructions
for the overseer's general conduct.
I copy them below, preserving the author's language throughout.
THE DUTIES OF AN OVERSEER.
It is here supposed that the overseer is not immediately under his
employer's eye, but is left for days or weeks, perhaps months, to the
exercise of his own judgment in the management of the plantation. To
him we would say--
Bear in mind, that you have engaged for a stated sum of money, to
devote your time and energies, for an entire year, _to one object_--to
carry out the orders of your employer, strictly, cheerfully, and
to the best of your ability; and, in all things, to study his
interests--requiring something more than your mere presence on the
plantation, and that at such times as suits your own pleasure and
On entering upon your duties, inform yourself thoroughly of the
condition of the plantation, negroes, stock, implements, etc. Learn
the views of your employer as to the general course of management he
wishes pursued, and make up your mind to carry out these views fully,
as far as in your power. If any objections occur to you, state them
distinctly, that they may either be yielded to or overcome.
Where full and particular directions are not given to you, but you are
left, in a great measure, to the exercise of your own judgment, you
will find the following hints of service. They are compiled from
excellent sources--from able articles in the agricultural journals
of the day, from Washington's Directions to his Overseers, and from
"I do, in explicit terms, enjoin it upon you to remain constantly at
home (unless called off by unavoidable business, or to attend Divine
worship), and to be constantly with your people when there. There is
no other sure way of getting work well done, and quietly, by negroes;
for when an overlooker's back is turned the most of them will slight
their work, or be idle altogether. In which case correction cannot
retrieve either, but often produces evils which are worse than the
disease. Nor is there any other mode than this to prevent thieving and
other disorders, the consequences of opportunities. You will recollect
that your time is paid for by me, and if I am deprived of it, it
is worse even than robbing my purse, because it is also a breach of
trust, which every honest man ought to hold most sacred. You have
found me, and you will continue to find me, faithful to my part of the
agreement which was made with you, whilst you are attentive to your
part; but it is to be remembered that a breach on one side releases
the obligation on the other."
Neither is it right that you should entertain a constant run of
company at your house, incurring unnecessary expense, taking up your
own time and that of the servants beyond what is needful for your own
comfort--a woman to cook and wash for you, milk, make butter, and so
on. More than this you have no claim to.
Endeavor to take the same interest in every thing upon the place,
as if it were your own; indeed, the responsibility in this case is
greater than if it were all your own--having been intrusted to you by
another. Unless you feel thus, it is impossible that you can do your
The health of the negroes under your charge is an important matter.
Much of the usual sickness among them is the result of carelessness
and mismanagement. Overwork or unnecessary exposure to rain,
insufficient clothing, improper or badly-cooked food, and night
rambles, are all fruitful causes of disease. A great majority of the
cases you should be yourself competent to manage, or you are unfit for
the place you hold; but whenever you find that the case is one you do
not understand, send for a physician, if such is the general order of
the owner. By exerting yourself to have their clothing ready in good
season; to arrange profitable in-door employment in wet weather;
to see that an abundant supply of wholesome, _well-cooked food_,
including plenty of vegetables, be supplied to them _at regular
hours_; that the sick be cheered and encouraged, and some extra
comforts allowed them, and the convalescent not exposed to the chances
of a relapse; that women, whilst nursing, be kept as near to the
nursery as possible, but at no time allowed to suckle their children
when overheated; that the infant be nursed three times during the day,
in addition to the morning and evening; that no whisky be allowed upon
the place at any time or under any circumstances; but that they have,
whilst heated and at work, plenty of pure, _cool_ water; that care be
taken to prevent the hands from carrying their baskets full of cotton
on their head--a most injurious practice; and, in short, that such
means be used for their comfort as every judicious, humane man will
readily think of, you will find the amount of sickness gradually
Next to the negroes, the stock on the place will require your constant
attention. You can, however, spare yourself much trouble by your
choice of a stock-minder, and by adopting and enforcing a strict
system in the care of the stock. It is a part of their duty in which
overseers are generally most careless.
The horse and mule stock are first in importance. Unless these are
kept in good condition, it is impossible that the work can go on
smoothly, or your crop be properly tended. Put your stable in good
order; and, if possible, inclose it so that it can be kept under
lock. Place a steady, careful old man there as hostler, making him
responsible for every thing, and that directly to yourself. The
foreman of the plow-gang, and the hands under his care, should be made
answerable to the hostler--whose business it is to have the feed cut
up, ground, and ready; the stalls well littered and cleaned out at
proper intervals; to attend to sick or maimed animals; to see that the
gears are always hung in their proper place, kept in good order, and
It is an easy matter to keep horses or mules fat, with a full and open
corn-crib and abundance of fodder. But that overseer shows his good
management who can keep his teams fat at the least expense of corn
and fodder. The waste of those articles in the South, through shameful
carelessness and neglect, is immense; as food for stock, they are most
expensive articles. Oats, millet, peas (vine and all), broadcast corn,
Bermuda and crab-grass hay, are all much cheaper and equally good.
Any one of these crops, fed whilst green--the oats and millet as they
begin to shoot, the peas to blossom, and the corn when tasseling--with
a feed of dry oats, corn, or corn-chop at noon, will keep a plow-team
in fine order all the season. In England, where they have the finest
teams in the world, this course _is invariably pursued_, for its
economy. From eight to nine hours per day is as long as the team
should be at actual work. They will perform more upon less feed, and
keep in better order for a _push_ when needful, worked briskly in that
way, than when kept dragging a plow all day long at a slow pace.
And the hands have leisure to rest, to cut up feed, clean and repair
gears, and so on.
Oxen. No more work oxen should be retained than can be kept at all
times in good order. An abundant supply of green feed during
spring and summer, cut and fed as recommended above, and in winter
well-boiled cotton-seed, with a couple of quarts of meal in it per
head; turnips, raw or cooked; corn-cobs soaked twenty-four hours
in salt and water; shucks, pea-vines, etc., passed through a
cutting-box--any thing of the kind, in short, is cheaper food for them
in winter, and will keep them in better order than dry corn and shucks
Indeed, the fewer cattle are kept on any place the better, unless the
range is remarkably good. When young stock of any kind are stinted of
their proper food, and their growth receives a check, they never can
wholly recover it. Let the calves have a fair share of milk, and also
as much of the cooked food prepared for the cows and oxen as they will
eat; with at times a little dry meal to lick. When cows or oxen show
symptoms of failing, from age or otherwise, fatten them off at
once; and if killed for the use of the place, _save the hide
carefully_--rubbing at least two quarts of salt upon it; then roll up
for a day or two, when it may be stretched and dried.
Hogs are generally sadly mismanaged. Too many are kept, and kept
badly. One good brood sow for every five hands on a place, is amply
sufficient--indeed, more pork will be cured from these than from a
greater number. Provide at least two good grazing lots for them, with
Bermuda, crab-grass, or clover, which does as well at Washington,
Miss., as anywhere in the world, with two bushels of ground plaster to
the acre, sowed over it. Give a steady, trusty hand no other work to
do but to feed and care for them. With a large set kettle or two, an
old mule and cart to haul his wood for fuel, cotton-seed, turnips,
etc., for feed, and leaves for bedding, he can do full justice to one
hundred head, old and young. They will increase and thrive finely,
with good grazing, and a full mess, twice a day, of swill prepared as
follows: Sound cotton-seed, with a gallon of corn-meal to the bushel,
a quart of oak or hickory ashes, a handful of salt, and a good
proportion of turnips or green food of any kind, even clover or peas;
the whole thoroughly--mind you, _thoroughly_ cooked--then thrown into
a large trough, and there allowed _to become sour before being fed_.
Sheep may be under the charge of the stock-minder; from ten to twenty
to the hand may be generally kept with advantage.
Sick animals require close and judicious attention. Too frequently
they are either left to get well or to die of themselves, or are bled
and dosed with nauseous mixtures indiscriminately. Study the subject
of the diseases of animals during your leisure evenings, which you
can do from some of the many excellent works on the subject. _Think_
before you _act_. When your animal has fever, nature would dictate
that all stimulating articles of diet or medicine should be avoided.
Bleeding may be necessary to reduce the force of the circulation;
purging, to remove irritating substances from the bowels; moist,
light, and easily-digested food, that his weakened digestion may not
be oppressed; cool drinks, to allay his thirst, and, to some extent,
compensate for diminished secretions; rest and quiet, to prevent undue
excitement in his system, and so on through the whole catalogue of
diseases--but do nothing without a reason. Carry out this principle,
and you will probably do much good--hardly great harm; go upon any
other, and your measures are more likely to be productive of injury
The implements and tools require a good deal of looking after. By
keeping a memorandum of the distribution of any set of tools, they
will be much more likely to be forthcoming at the end of the month.
Axes, hoes, and other small tools, of which every hand has his own,
should have his number marked upon it with a steel punch. The strict
enforcement of one single rule will keep every thing straight: "Have a
place for every thing, and see that every thing is in its place."
Few instances of good management will better please an employer than
that of having all of the winter clothing spun and woven on the place.
By having a room devoted to that purpose, under charge of some one
of the old women, where those who may be complaining a little, or
convalescent after sickness, may be employed in some light work, and
where all of the women may be sent in wet weather, more than enough of
both cotton and woolen yarn can be spun for the supply of the place.
Of the principal staple crop of the plantation, whether cotton, sugar,
or rice, we shall not here speak.
Of the others--the provision crops--there is most commonly enough made
upon most plantations for their own supply. Rarely, however, is it
saved without great and inexcusable waste, and fed out without still
greater. And this, to their lasting shame be it said, is too often the
case to a disgraceful extent, when an overseer feels satisfied that he
will not remain another year upon the place. His conduct should be the
very opposite of this--an honorable, right-thinking man will feel a
particular degree of pride in leaving every thing in thorough order,
and especially an abundant supply of all kinds of feed. He thus
establishes a character for himself which _must_ have its effect.
Few plantations are so rich in soil as not to be improved by manure.
Inform yourself of the best means, suited to the location and soil
of the place under, your charge, of improving it in this and in every
other way. When an opportunity offers, carry out these improvements.
Rely upon it there are few employers who will not see and reward such
efforts. Draining, ditching, circling, hedging, road-making, building,
etc., may all be effected to a greater or less extent every season.
During the long evenings of winter improve your own mind and the
knowledge of your profession by reading and study. The many excellent
agricultural periodicals and books now published afford good and cheap
opportunities for this.
It is indispensable that you exercise judgment and consideration in
the management of the negroes under your charge. Be _firm_, and, at
the same time, _gentle_ in your control. Never display yourself before
them in a passion; and even if inflicting the severest punishment, do
so in a mild, cool manner, and it will produce a tenfold effect. When
you find it necessary to use the whip--and desirable as it would be to
dispense with it entirely, it _is_ necessary at times--apply it slowly
and deliberately, and to the extent you had determined, in your own
mind, to be needful before you began. The indiscriminate, constant,
and excessive use of the whip is altogether unnecessary and
inexcusable. When it can be done without a too great loss of time,
the stocks offer a means of punishment greatly to be preferred. So
secured, in a lonely, quiet place, where no communication can be held
with any one, nothing but bread and water allowed, and the confinement
extending from Saturday, when they drop work, until Sabbath evening,
will prove much more effectual in preventing a repetition of the
offense, than any amount of whipping. Never threaten a negro, but if
you have occasion to punish, do it at once, or say nothing until
ready to do so. A violent and passionate threat will often scare the
best-disposed negro to the woods. Always keep your word with them, in
punishments as well as in rewards. If you have named the penalty for
any certain offense, inflict it without listening to a word of excuse.
Never forgive that in one that you would punish in another, but treat
all alike, showing no favoritism. By pursuing such a course, you
convince them that you act from principle and not from impulse, and
will certainly enforce your rules. Whenever an opportunity is
afforded you for rewarding continued good behavior, do not let it
pass--occasional rewards have a much better effect than frequent
Never be induced by a course of good behavior on the part of the
negroes to relax the strictness of your discipline; but, when you have
by judicious management brought them to that state, keep them so
by the same means. By taking frequent strolls about the premises,
including of course the quarter and stock yards, during the evening,
and at least twice a week during the night, you will put a more
Back to Full Books