Transcriber's note: The inconsistent spellings of the original have been retained in this etext.
THIRTY YEARS A SLAVE
From Bondage to Freedom.
THE INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY AS SEEN ON THE PLANTATION AND IN THE HOME OF THE PLANTER.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF LOUIS HUGHES.
The institution of human slavery, as it existed in this country, has long been dead; and, happily for all the sacred interests which it assailed, there is for it no resurrection. It may, therefore, be asked to what purpose is the story which follows, of the experiences of one person under that dead and accursed institution? To such question, if it be asked, it may be answered that the narrator presents his story in compliance with the suggestion of friends, and in the hope that it may add something of accurate information regarding the character and influence of an institution which for two hundred years dominated the country—exercising a potent but baneful influence in the formation of its social, civil and industrial structures, and which finally plunged it into the most stupendous civil war which the world has ever known. As the enlightenment of each generation depends upon the thoughtful study of the history of those that have gone before, everything which tends to fullness and accuracy in that history is of value, even though it be not presented with the adjuncts of literary adornment, or thrilling scenic effects.
LIFE ON A COTTON PLANTATION.
* * * * *
BIRTH—SOLD IN A RICHMOND SLAVE PEN.
I was born in Virginia, in 1832, near Charlottesville, in the beautiful valley of the Rivanna river. My father was a white man and my mother a negress, the slave of one John Martin. I was a mere child, probably not more than six years of age, as I remember, when my mother, two brothers and myself were sold to Dr. Louis, a practicing physician in the village of Scottsville. We remained with him about five years, when he died, and, in the settlement of his estate, I was sold to one Washington Fitzpatrick, a merchant of the village. He kept me a short time when he took me to Richmond, by way of canal-boat, expecting to sell me; but as the market was dull, he brought me back and kept me some three months longer, when he told me he had hired me out to work on a canal-boat running to Richmond, and to go to my mother and get my clothes ready to start on the trip. I went to her as directed, and, when she had made ready my bundle, she bade me good-by with tears in her eyes, saying: "My son, be a good boy; be polite to every one, and always behave yourself properly." It was sad to her to part with me, though she did not know that she was never to see me again, for my master had said nothing to her regarding his purpose and she only thought, as I did, that I was hired to work on the canal-boat, and that she should see me occasionally. But alas! We never met again. I can see her form still as when she bade me good-bye. That parting I can never forget. I ran off from her as quickly as I could after her parting words, for I did not want her to see me crying. I went to my master at the store, and he again told me that he had hired me to work on the canal-boat, and to go aboard immediately. Of the boat and the trip and the scenes along the route I remember little—I only thought of my mother and my leaving her.
When we arrived at Richmond, George Pullan, a "nigger-trader," as he was called, came to the boat and began to question me, asking me first if I could remember having had the chickenpox, measles or whooping-cough. I answered, yes. Then he asked me if I did not want to take a little walk with him. I said, no. "Well," said he, "you have got to go. Your master sent you down here to be sold, and told me to come and get you and take you to the trader's yard, ready to be sold." I saw that to hesitate was useless; so I at once obeyed him and went.
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A SLAVE MARKET.
The trader's establishment consisted of an office, a large show-room and a yard in the rear enclosed with a wall of brick fifteen feet high. The principal men of the establishment were the proprietor and the foreman. When slaves were to be exhibited for sale, the foreman was called to the office by means of a bell, and an order given him to bring into the show-room all the slaves in the establishment. This was the work of but a few minutes, and the women were placed in a row on one side of the room and the men on the other. Persons desirous of purchasing them passed up and down between the lines looking the poor creatures over, and questioning them in about the following manner: "What can you do?" "Are you a good cook? seamstress? dairymaid?"—this to the women, while the men would be questioned as to their line of work: "Can you plow? Are you a blacksmith? Have you ever cared for horses? Can you pick cotton rapidly?" Sometimes the slave would be required to open his mouth that the purchaser might examine the teeth and form some opinion as to his age and physical soundness; and if it was suspected that a slave had been beaten a good deal he would be required to step into another room and undress. If the person desiring to buy found the slave badly scarred by the common usage of whipping, he would say at once to the foreman; "Why! this slave is not worth much, he is all scarred up. No, I don't want him; bring me in another to look at." Slaves without scars from whipping and looking well physically always sold readily. They were never left long in the yard. It was expected that all the slaves in the yard for sale would be neatly dressed and clean before being brought into the show-room. It was the foreman's business to see that each one was presentable.
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SLAVE WHIPPING AS A BUSINESS.
Whipping was done at these markets, or trader's yards, all the time. People who lived in the city of Richmond would send their slaves here for punishment. When any one wanted a slave whipped he would send a note to that effect with the servant to the trader. Any petty offense on the part of a slave was sufficient to subject the offender to this brutal treatment. Owners who affected culture and refinement preferred to send a servant to the yard for punishment to inflicting it themselves. It saved them trouble, they said, and possibly a slight wear and tear of feeling. For this service the owner was charged a certain sum for each slave, and the earnings of the traders from this source formed a very large part of the profits of his business. The yard I was in had a regular whipping post to which they tied the slave, and gave him "nine-and-thirty," as it was called, meaning thirty-nine lashes as hard as they could lay it on. Men were stripped of their shirts in preparation for the whipping, and women had to take off their dresses from the shoulders to the waist. These whippings were not so severe as when the slaves were stripped entirely of their clothes, as was generally the case on the plantations where slaves were owned by the dozen. I saw many cases of whipping while I was in the yard. Sometimes I was so frightened that I trembled violently, for I had never seen anything like it before.
* * * * *
SOLD IN THE MARKET.
I was only in the yard a short time before I was bought by one George Reid who lived in Richmond. He had no wife, but an old lady kept house for him and his three sons. At this time he had a place in the postoffice, but soon after I came there he lost it. He then moved into the country upon a farm of about one thousand acres, enclosed by a cedar hedge. The house was a plain frame structure upon a stone basement and contained four rooms. It was surrounded with shrubbery, and was a pleasant country seat. But I did not like it here. I grieved continually about my mother. It came to me, more and more plainly, that I would never see her again. Young and lonely as I was, I could not help crying, oftentimes for hours together. It was hard to get used to being away from my mother. I remember well "Aunt Sylvia," who was the cook in the Reid household. She was very kind to me and always spoke consolingly to me, especially if I had been blue, and had had one of my fits of crying. At these times she would always bake me an ash cake for supper, saying to me; "My child, don't cry; 'Aunt Sylvia' will look after you." This ash cake was made of corn meal and water, a little salt to make it palatable, and was baked by putting it between cabbage leaves and covering it with hot ashes. A sweeter or more delicious cake one could not desire, and it was common upon the tables of all the Virginia farmers. I always considered it a great treat to get one of these cakes from "Aunt Sylvia."
The appellations of "aunt" and "uncle" for the older slaves were not only common among the blacks, but the whites also addressed them in the same way.
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ON THE AUCTION BLOCK
I was sick a great deal—in fact, I had suffered with chills and fever ever since Mr. Reid bought me. He, therefore, concluded to sell me, and, in November, 1844, he took me back to Richmond, placing me in the Exchange building, or auction rooms, for the sale of slaves. The sales were carried on in a large hall where those interested in the business sat around a large block or stand, upon which the slave to be sold was placed, the auctioneer standing beside him. When I was placed upon the block, a Mr. McGee came up and felt of me and asked me what I could do. "You look like a right smart nigger," said he, "Virginia always produces good darkies." Virginia was the mother of slavery, and it was held by many that she had the best slaves. So when Mr. McGee found I was born and bred in that state he seemed satisfied. The bidding commenced, and I remember well when the auctioneer said; "Three hundred eighty dollars—once, twice and sold to Mr. Edward McGee." He was a rich cotton planter of Pontotoc, Miss. As near as I can recollect, I was not more than twelve years of age, so did not sell for very much.
* * * * *
PRICE OF SLAVES.
Servant women sold for $500 to $700, and sometimes as high as $800 when possessing extra qualifications. A house maid, bright in looks, strong and well formed, would sell for $1,000 to $1,200. Bright mulatto girls, well versed in sewing and knitting, would sometimes bring as high as $1,800, especially if a Virginian or a Kentuckian. Good blacksmiths sold for $1,600 to $1,800. When the slaves were put upon the block they were always sold to the highest bidder. Mr. McGee, or "Boss," as I soon learned to call him, bought sixty other slaves before he bought me, and they were started in a herd for Atlanta, Ga., on foot.
* * * * *
STARTED FOR A COTTON PLANTATION.
Boss, myself and ten others met them there. We then started for Pontotoc, Miss. On our way we stopped at Edenton, Ga., where Boss sold twenty-one of the sixty slaves. We then proceeded on our way, Boss by rail and we on foot, or in the wagon. We went about twenty miles a day. I remember, as we passed along, every white man we met was yelling, "Hurrah for Polk and Dallas!" They were feeling good, for election had given them the men that they wanted. The man who had us in charge joined with those we met in the hurrahing. We were afraid to ask them the reason for their yelling, as that would have been regarded as an impertinence, and probably would have caused us all to be whipped.
* * * * *
MY MISSISSIPPI HOME.
At length, after a long and wearisome journey, we reached Pontotoc, McGee's home, on Christmas eve. Boss took me into the house and into the sitting room, where all the family were assembled, and presented me as a Christmas gift to the madam, his wife.
My boss, as I remember him, was a tall, raw-boned man, but rather distinguished in looks, with a fine carriage, brilliant in intellect, and considered one of the wealthiest and most successful planters of his time. Mrs. McGee was a handsome, stately lady, about thirty years of age, brunette in complexion, faultless in figure and imperious in manner. I think that they were of Scotch descent. There were four children, Emma, Willie, Johnnie and Jimmie. All looked at me, and thought I was "a spry little fellow." I was very shy and did not say much, as everything was strange to me. I was put to sleep that night on a pallet on the floor in the dining room, using an old quilt as a covering. The next morning was Christmas, and it seemed to be a custom to have egg-nog before breakfast. The process of making this was new and interesting to me. I saw them whip the whites of eggs, on a platter, to a stiff froth; the yolks were thoroughly beaten in a large bowl, sugar and plenty of good brandy were added, and the whites of the eggs and cream were then stirred in, a little nutmeg grated on top of each glass when filled for serving. This was a delicious drink, and the best of all was, there was plenty of it. I served this to all the family, and, as there were also visiting relatives present, many glasses were required, and I found the tray so heavy I could hardly carry it. I helped myself, after the service was finished, and I was delighted, for I had never tasted anything so fine before.
My boss told me I was to wait on the madam, do any errand necessary, attend to the dining room—in fact I was installed as general utility boy. It was different from the quiet manner of life I had seen before coming here—it kept my spirits up for some time. I thought of my mother often, but I was gradually growing to the idea that it was useless to cry, and I tried hard to overcome my feelings.
* * * * *
As already stated, it was Christmas morning, and, after breakfast, I saw the cook hurrying, and when I went out into the yard, everywhere I looked slaves met my view. I never saw so many slaves at one time before. In Virginia we did not have such large farms. There were no extensive cotton plantations, as in Mississippi. I shall never forget the dinner that day—it was a feast fit for a king, so varied and lavish was the bill of fare. The next attraction for me was the farm hands getting their Christmas rations. Each was given a pint of flour of which they made biscuit, which were called "Billy Seldom," because biscuit were very rare with them. Their daily food was corn bread, which they called "Johnny Constant," as they had it constantly. In addition to the flour each received a piece of bacon or fat meat, from which they got the shortening for their biscuit. The cracklings from the rendering of lard were also used by the slaves for shortening. The hands were allowed four days off at Christmas, and if they worked on these days, as some of them did, they got fifty cents a day for chopping. It was not common to have chopping done during the holidays; some planters, however, found it convenient thus to get it out of the way for the work which came after Christmas.
* * * * *
THE GREAT HOUSE.
I soon became familiar with my work in the house and with the neighborhood, as I often had to carry notes for Boss to neighboring farmers, as well as to carry the mail to and from the postoffice. The "great house," as the dwelling of the master was called, was two stories high, built of huge logs, chinked and daubed and whitewashed. It was divided, from front to rear, by a hall twenty-five feet long and twelve feet wide, and on each side of the hall, in each story, was one large room with a large fire-place. There were but four rooms in all, yet these were so large that they were equal to at least six of our modern rooms. The kitchen was not attached to the main building, but was about thirty feet to the rear. This was the common mode of building in the south in those days. The two bedrooms upstairs were very plain in furnishings, but neat and comfortable, judged by the standard of the times. A wing was added to the main building for dining room. In rear of the kitchen was the milk or dairy house, and beyond this the smoke house for curing the meat. In line with these buildings, and still further to the rear, was the overseer's house. Near the milk house was a large tree, and attached to the trunk was a lever; and here was where the churning was done, in which I had always to assist. This establishment will serve as a sample of many of those on the large plantations in the south. The main road from Pontotoc to Holly Springs, one of the great thoroughfares of the state and a stage route, passed near the house, and through the center of the farm. On each side of this road was a fence, and in the corners of both fences, extending for a mile, were planted peach trees, which bore excellent fruit in great profusion.
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HOUSE SERVANT AND ERRAND BOY.
My first work in the morning was to dust the parlor and hall and arrange the dining room. It came awkward to me at first, but, after the madam told me how, I soon learned to do it satisfactorily. Then I had to wait on the table, sweep the large yard every morning with a brush broom and go for the mail once a week. I used to get very tired, for I was young and consequently not strong. Aside from these things which came regularly, I had to help the madam in warping the cloth. I dreaded this work, for I always got my ears boxed if I did not or could not do the work to suit her. She always made the warp herself and put it in, and I had to hand her the thread as she put it through the harness. I would get very tired at this work and, like any child, wanted to be at play, but I could not remember that the madam ever gave me that privilege. Saddling the horse at first was troublesome to me, but Boss was constant in his efforts to teach me, and, after many trials, I learned the task satisfactorily to the master and to bring the horse to the door when he wished to go out for business or pleasure. Riding horseback was common for both ladies and gentlemen, and sometimes I would have to saddle three or more horses when Boss, the madam, a friend or friends desired a ride. Bird hunting parties were common and were greatly enjoyed, by the young people especially. Boss always invited some of the young people of the neighborhood to these parties and they never failed to put in an appearance. Williams, Bradford and Freeman were the sons of rich planters, and were always participants in this sport, and their young lady friends joined in it as on-lookers. The young men singing and whistling to the birds, I in the meantime setting the net. As soon as I had got the net in order they would approach the birds slowly, driving them into it. There was great laughter and excitement if they were successful in catching a fine flock.
* * * * *
I was but a lad, yet I can remember well the cruel treatment I received. Some weeks it seemed I was whipped for nothing, just to please my mistress' fancy. Once, when I was sent to town for the mail and had started back, it was so dark and rainy my horse got away from me and I had to stay all night in town. The next morning when I got back home I had a severe whipping, because the master was expecting a letter containing money and was disappointed in not receiving it that night, as he was going to Panola to spend Christmas. However, the day came and all the family went except me. During the time they were gone the overseer whipped a man so terribly with the "bull whip" that I had to go for the doctor, and when Dr. Heningford, the regular family physician, came, he said it was awful—such cruel treatment, and he complained about it. It was common for a slave to get an "over-threshing," that is, to be whipped too much. The poor man was cut up so badly all over that the doctor made a bran poultice and wrapped his entire body in it. This was done to draw out the inflammation. It seems the slave had been sick, and had killed a little pig when he became well enough to go to work, as his appetite craved hearty food, and he needed it to give him strength for his tasks. For this one act, comparatively trivial, he was almost killed. The idea never seemed to occur to the slave holders that these slaves were getting no wages for their work and, therefore, had nothing with which to procure what, at times, was necessary for their health and strength—palatable and nourishing food. When the slaves took anything the masters called it stealing, yet they were stealing the slaves' time year after year. When Boss came home he was called on by the town officials, for the case had been reported to them. Boss, however, got out of it by saying that he was not at home when the trouble occurred. The poor slave was sick from his ill treatment some four or five months, and when he recovered there was a running sore left on his body, from the deep cuts of the whip, which never healed. I can not forget how he looked, the sore was a sickening sight; yet, when he was able to walk he had to return to work in the field.
I had not been at Pontotoc very long when I saw the hounds run a slave, by name Ben Lyon. "Old Ben," as he was called, ran away and had been gone a week when he was seen by a woman who "told on him," and then I was sent to get the man who had trained dogs, or hounds as they were called. The dogs ran the slave about ten miles when they lost track at a creek, but he was caught that night in a farmer's house getting something to eat.
* * * * *
INSTRUCTIONS IN MEDICINE.
After some time, Boss began to tell me the names of medicines and their properties. I liked this and seemed to grasp the idea very well. After giving me a number of names he would make me repeat them. Then he would tell me the properties of each medicine named, how it was used and for what purpose and how much constituted a dose. He would drill me in all this until I knew it and, in a short time, he would add other names to the list. He always showed me each medicine named and had me smell and carefully examine it that I might know it when seen again. I liked this, and used to wish that I was as wise as my master. He was very precise, steady and gentle in any case of sickness, and, although he had long retired from the medical world, all recognized his merit wherever he went. I used to go to the woods and gather slippery elm, alum root and the roots of wild cherry and poplar, for we used all these in compounding medicines for the servants.
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THE OVERSEER—WHIPPINGS AND OTHER CRUELTIES.
The overseer was a man hired to look after the farm and whip the slaves. Very often they were not only cruel, but barbarous. Every farmer or planter considered an overseer a necessity. As a rule, there was also on each plantation, a foreman—one of the brighter slaves, who was held responsible for the slaves under him, and whipped if they did not come up to the required task. There was, too, a forewoman, who, in like manner, had charge of the female slaves, and also the boys and girls from twelve to sixteen years of age, and all the old people that were feeble. This was called the trash gang. Ah! it would make one's heart ache to see those children and how they were worked. Cold, frosty mornings, the little ones would be crying from cold; but they had to keep on. Aunt Polly, our forewoman, was afraid to allow them to run to get warm, for fear the overseer would see them. Then she would be whipped, and he would make her whip all of the gang. At length, I became used to severe treatment of the slaves; but, every little while something would happen to make me wish I were dead. Everything was in a bustle—always there was slashing and whipping. I remember when Boss made a change in our overseer. It was the beginning of the year. Riley, one of the slaves, who was a principal plower, was not on hand for work one Monday morning, having been delayed in fixing the bridle of his mule, which the animal, for lack of something better, perhaps, had been vigorously chewing and rendered nearly useless. He was, therefore, considerably behind time, when he reached the field. Without waiting to learn what was the reason for the delay, the overseer sprang upon him with his bull whip, which was about seven feet long, lashing him with all his strength, every stroke leaving its mark upon the poor man's body, and finally the knot at the end of the whip buried itself in the fleshy part of the arm, and there came around it a festering sore. He suffered greatly with it, until one night his brother took out the knot, when the poor fellow was asleep, for he could not bear any one to touch it when he was awake. It was awful to hear the cracking of that whip as it was laid about Riley—one would have thought that an ox team had gotten into the mire, and was being whipped out, so loud and sharp was the noise!
I usually slept in the dining room on the floor. Early one morning an old slave, by name of "Uncle Jim," came and knocked at the window, and upon my jumping up and going to him, he told me to tell Boss that Uncle Jim was there. He had run away, some time before, and, for some reason, had returned. Boss, upon hearing the news, got up and sent me to tell the overseer to come at once. He came, and, taking the bull whip, a cowhide and a lot of peach-tree switches, he and Boss led Uncle Jim back into the cow lot, on the side of the hill, where they drove four stakes in the ground, and, laying him flat on his face, tied his hands and feet to these stakes. After whipping him, in this position, all they wanted to, a pail of strong salt and water was brought, and the poor fellow was "washed down." This washing was customary, after whippings, as the planters claimed it drew out all the soreness, and healed the lacerated flesh.
Upon one occasion, the family being away, I was left extra work to do, being set to help three fellow slaves lay off the rows for planting corn. We did not get them quite straight. The deviation we made from the line was very little, and could scarcely be seen, even by an expert; but the least thing wrong about the work would cause any slave to be whipped, and so all four of us were flogged.
* * * * *
THE SLAVE CABIN.
There was a section of the plantation known as "the quarters," where were situated the cabins of the slaves. These cabins were built of rough logs, and daubed with the red clay or mud of the region. No attempt was made to give them a neat appearance—they were not even whitewashed. Each cabin was about fourteen feet square, containing but one room, and was covered with oak boards, three feet in length, split out of logs by hand. These boards were not nailed on, but held in their places by what were termed weight-poles laid across them at right angles. There were in each room two windows, a door and a large, rude fire-place. The door and window frames, or facings, were held in their places by wooden pins, nails being used only in putting the doors together. The interior of the cabins had nothing more attractive than the outside—there was no plastering and only a dirt floor. The furniture consisted of one bed, a plain board table and some benches made by the slaves themselves. Sometimes a cabin was occupied by two or more families, in which case the number of beds was increased proportionately. For light a grease lamp was used, which was made of iron, bowl shaped, by a blacksmith. The bowl was filled with grease and a rag or wick placed in it, one end resting on the edge for lighting. These lamps gave a good light, and were in general use among the slaves. Tallow candles were a luxury, never seen except in the "great houses" of the planters. The only light for outdoors used by the slaves was a torch made by binding together a bundle of small sticks or splinters.
* * * * *
After the selection of the soil most suitable for cotton, the preparation of it was of vital importance. The land was deeply plowed, long enough before the time for planting to allow the spring rains to settle it. Then it was thrown into beds or ridges by turning furrows both ways toward a given center. The seed was planted at the rate of one hundred pounds per acre. The plant made its appearance in about ten days after planting, if the weather was favorable. Early planting, however, followed by cold, stormy weather frequently caused the seed to rot. As soon as the third leaf appeared the process of scraping commenced, which consisted of cleaning the ridge with hoes of all superfluous plants and all weeds and grass. After this a narrow plow known as a "bull tongue," was used to turn the loose earth around the plant and cover up any grass not totally destroyed by the hoes. If the surface was very rough the hoes followed, instead of preceding, the plow to unearth those plants that may have been partially covered. The slaves often acquired great skill in these operations, running plows within two inches of the stalks, and striking down weeds within half an inch with their hoes, rarely touching a leaf of the cotton. Subsequent plowing, alternating with hoeing, usually occurred once in twenty days. There was danger in deep plowing of injuring the roots, and this was avoided, except in the middle of rows in wet seasons when it was necessary to bury and more effectually kill the grass. The implements used in the culture of cotton were shovels, hoes, sweeps, cultivators, harrows and two kinds of plows. It required four months, under the most favorable circumstances, for cotton to attain its full growth. It was usually planted about the 1st of April, or from March 20th to April 10th, bloomed about the 1st of June and the first balls opened about August 15th, when picking commenced. The blooms come out in the morning and are fully developed by noon, when they are a pure white. Soon after meridian they begin to exhibit reddish streaks, and next morning are a clear pink. They fall off by noon of the second day.
* * * * *
THE COTTON WORM.
A cut worm was troublesome sometimes; but the plants were watched very carefully, and as soon as any signs of worms were seen work for their destruction was commenced. The majority of the eggs were laid upon the calyx and involucre. The worm, after gnawing through its enclosed shell, makes its first meal upon the part of the plant upon which the egg was laid, be it leaf, stem or involucre. If it were laid upon the leaf, as was usually the case, it might be three days before the worm reached the boll; but were the eggs laid upon the involucre the worm pierced through within twenty-four hours after hatching. The newly hatched boll worm walks like a geometrical larva or looper, a measuring worm as it was called. This is easily explained by the fact that while in the full grown worm the abdominal legs, or pro legs, are nearly equal in length, in the newly hatched worm the second pair are slightly shorter than the third, and the first pair are shorter and slenderer than the second—a state of things approaching that in the full grown cotton worm, though the difference in size in the former case is not nearly so marked as in the latter. This method of walking is lost with the first or second molt. There is nothing remarkable about these young larvae. They seem to be thicker in proportion to their length than the young cotton worms, and they have not so delicate and transparent an appearance. Their heads are black and their bodies seem already to have begun to vary in color. The body above is furnished with sparse, stiff hairs, each arising from a tubercle. I have often watched the newly hatched boll while in the cotton fields. When hatched from an egg which had been deposited upon a leaf, they invariably made their first meal on the substance of the leaf, and then wandered about for a longer or shorter space of time, evidently seeking a boll or flower bud. It was always interesting to watch this seemingly aimless search of the young worm, crawling first down the leaf stem and then back, then dropping a few inches by a silken thread and then painfully working its way back again, until, at last, it found the object of its search, or fell to the ground where it was destroyed by ants. As the boll worms increase in size a most wonderful diversity of color and marking becomes apparent. In color different worms will vary from a brilliant green to a deep pink or dark brown, exhibiting almost every conceivable intermediate stage from an immaculate, unstriped specimen to one with regular spots and many stripes. The green worms were more common than those of any other color—a common variety was a very light green. When these worms put in an appearance it raised a great excitement among the planters. We did not use any poison to destroy them, as I learn is the method now employed.
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THE COTTON HARVEST.
The cotton harvest, or picking season, began about the latter part of August or first of September, and lasted till Christmas or after, but in the latter part of July picking commenced for "the first bale" to go into the market at Memphis. This picking was done by children from nine to twelve years of age and by women who were known as "sucklers," that is, women with infants. The pickers would pass through the rows getting very little, as the cotton was not yet in full bloom. From the lower part of the stalk where it opened first is where they got the first pickings. The season of first picking was always a great time, for the planter who brought the first bale of cotton into market at Memphis was presented with a basket of champagne by the commission merchants. This was a custom established throughout Mississippi. After the first pickings were secured the cotton developed very fast, continuing to bud and bloom all over the stalk until the frost falls. The season of picking was exciting to all planters, every one was zealous in pushing his slaves in order that he might reap the greatest possible harvest. The planters talked about their prospects, discussed the cotton markets, just as the farmers of the north discuss the markets for their products. I often saw Boss so excited and nervous during the season he scarcely ate. The daily task of each able-bodied slave during the cotton picking season war 250 pounds or more, and all those who did not come up to the required amount would get a whipping. When the planter wanted more cotton picked than usual, the overseer would arrange a race. The slaves would be divided into two parties, with, a leader for each party. The first leader would choose a slave for his side, then the second leader one for his, and so on alternately until all were chosen. Each leader tried to get the best on his side. They would all work like good fellows for the prize, which was a tin cup of sugar for each slave on the winning side. The contest was kept up for three days whenever the planter desired an extra amount picked. The slaves were just as interested in the races as if they were going to get a five dollar bill.
* * * * *
PREPARING COTTON FOR MARKET.
The gin-house was situated about four hundred yards from "the great house" on the main road. It was a large shed built upon square timbers, and was similar to a barn, only it stood some six feet from the ground, and underneath was located the machinery for running the gin. The cotton was put into the loft after it was dried, ready for ginning. In this process the cotton was dropped from the loft to the man who fed the machine. As it was ginned the lint would go into the lint room, and the seed would drop at the feeder's feet. The baskets used for holding lint were twice as large as those used in the picking process, and they were never taken from the gin house. These lint baskets were used in removing the lint from the lint room to the place where the cotton was baled. A bale contained 250 pounds, and the man who did the treading of the cotton into the bales would not vary ten pounds in the bale, so accustomed was he to the packing. Generally from fourteen to fifteen bales of cotton were in the lint room at a time.
* * * * *
OTHER FARM PRODUCTS.
Cotton was the chief product of the Mississippi farms and nothing else was raised to sell. Wheat, oats and rye were raised in limited quantities, but only for the slaves and the stock. All the fine flour for the master's family was bought in St. Louis. Corn was raised in abundance, as it was a staple article of food for the slaves. It was planted about the 1st of March, or about a month earlier than the cotton. It was, therefore, up and partially worked before the cotton was planted and fully tilled before the cotton was ready for cultivation. Peas were planted between the rows of corn, and hundreds of bushels were raised. These peas after being harvested, dried and beaten out of the shell, were of a reddish brown tint, not like those raised for the master's family, but they were considered a wholesome and nutritious food for the slaves. Cabbage and yams, a large sweet potato, coarser than the kind generally used by the whites and not so delicate in flavor, were also raised for the servants in liberal quantities. No hay was raised, but the leaves of the corn, stripped from the stalks while yet green, cured and bound in bundles, were used as a substitute for it in feeding horses.
* * * * *
Almost all the implements used on the plantation were made by the slaves. Very few things were bought. Boss had a skilled blacksmith, uncle Ben, for whom he paid $1,800, and there were slaves who were carpenters and workers in wood who could turn their hands to almost anything. Wagons, plows, harrows, grubbing hoes, hames, collars, baskets, bridle bits and hoe handles were all made on the farm and from the material which it produced, except the iron. The timber used in these implements was generally white or red oak, and was cut and thoroughly seasoned long before it was needed. The articles thus manufactured were not fine in form or finish, but they were durable, and answered the purposes of a rude method of agriculture. Horse collars were made from corn husks and from poplar bark which was stripped from the tree, in the spring, when the sap was up and it was soft and pliable, and separated into narrow strips which were plaited together. These collars were easy for the horse, and served the purpose of the more costly leather collar. Every season at least 200 cotton baskets were made. One man usually worked at this all the year round, but in the spring he had three assistants. The baskets were made from oak timber, grown in the home forests and prepared by the slaves. It was no small part of the work of the blacksmith and his assistant to keep the farm implements in good repair, and much of this work was done at night. All the plank used was sawed by hand from timber grown on the master's land, as there were no saw mills in that region. Almost the only things not made on the farm which were in general use there were axes, trace chains and the hoes used in cultivating the cotton.
* * * * *
THE CLEARING OF NEW LAND.
When additional land was required for cultivation the first step was to go into the forest in summer and "deaden" or girdle the trees on a given tract. This was cutting through the bark all around the trunk about thirty inches from the ground. The trees so treated soon died and in a year or two were in condition to be removed. The season selected for clearing the land was winter, beginning with January. The trees, except the larger ones, were cut down, cut into lengths convenient for handling and piled into great heaps, called "log heaps," and burned. The undergrowth was grubbed out and also piled and burned. The burning was done at night and the sight was often weird and grand. The chopping was done by the men slaves and the grubbing by women. All the trees that blew down during the summer were left as they fell till winter when they were removed. This went on, year after year, until all the trees were cleared out. The first year after the new land was cleared corn was put in, the next season cotton. As a rule corn and cotton were planted alternately, especially if the land was poor, if not, cotton would be continued year after year on the same land. Old corn stalks were always plowed under for the next year's crop and they served as an excellent fertilizer. Cotton was seldom planted on newly cleared land, as the roots and stumps rendered it difficult to cultivate the land without injury to the growing plant.
I never saw women put to the hard work of grubbing until I went to McGee's and I greatly wondered at it. Such work was not done by women slaves in Virginia. Children were required to do some work, it mattered not how many grown people were working. There were always tasks set for the boys and girls ranging in age from nine to thirteen years, beyond these ages they worked with the older slaves. After I had been in Pontotoc two years I had to help plant and hoe, and work in the cotton during the seasons, and soon learned to do everything pertaining to the farm.
* * * * *
COOKING FOR THE SLAVES.
In summer time the cooking for the slaves was done out of doors. A large fire was built under a tree, two wooden forks were driven into the ground on opposite sides of the fire, a pole laid on the forks and on this kettles were hung over the fire for the preparation of the food. Cabbage and meat, boiled, alternated with meat and peas, were the staple for summer. Bread was furnished with the meals and corn meal dumplings, that is, little balls made of meal and grease from the boiled bacon and dropped into boiling water, were also provided and considered quite palatable, especially if cooked in the water in which the bacon was boiled. In winter the cooking was done in a cabin, and sweet potatoes, dried peas and meat were the principal diet. This bill of fare was for dinner or the mid-day meal. For supper each slave received two pieces of meat and two slices of bread, but these slices were very large, as the loaves were about six inches thick and baked in an old fashioned oven. This bread was made from corn meal for, as I have said, only on holidays and special occasions did the slaves have white bread of any kind. Part of the meat and bread received at supper time was saved for the "morning bite." The slaves never had any breakfast, but went to the field at daylight and after working till the sun was well up, all would stop for their morning bite. Very often some young fellow ate his morning bite the evening before at supper and would have nothing for the morning, going without eating until noon. The stop for morning bite was very short; then all would plunge into work until mid-day, when all hands were summoned to their principal meal.
* * * * *
CARDING AND SPINNING.
Through the winter and on rainy days in summer, the women of the field had to card the wool and spin it into yarn. They generally worked in pairs, a spinning wheel and cards being assigned to each pair, and while one carded the wool into rolls, the other spun it into yarn suitable for weaving into cloth, or a coarse, heavy thread used in making bridles and lines for the mules that were used in the fields. This work was done in the cabins, and the women working together alternated in the carding and spinning. Four cuts were considered a task or day's work, and if any one failed to complete her task she received a whipping from the madam. At night when the spinners brought their work to the big house I would have it to reel. The reel was a contrivance consisting of a sort of wheel, turned on an axis, used to transfer the yarn from the spools or spindles of the spinning wheels into cuts or hunks. It was turned by hand and when enough yarn had been reeled to make a cut the reel signaled it with a snap. This process was continued until four cuts were reeled which made a hunk, and this was taken off and was ready for use. So the work went on until all was reeled. I often got very weary of this work and would almost fall asleep at it, as it was generally done at night after I had had a long day's toil at something else.
* * * * *
WEAVING—CLOTHES OF THE SLAVES.
One woman did the weaving and it was her task to weave from nine to ten yards a day. Aunt Liza was our weaver and she was taught the work by the madam. At first she did not get on so well with it and many times I have seen the madam jump at her, pinch and choke her because she was dull in understanding how to do it. The madam made the unreasonable demand that she should do the full task at first, and because she failed she was punished, as was the custom in all cases of failure, no matter how unreasonable the demand. Liza finally became equal to her task and accomplished it each day. But the trouble and worry to me was when I had to assist the madam in warping—getting the work ready for the weaver. She would warp the thread herself and place it in the loom, then I would have to hand her the threads, as she put them through the hames. For any failure in quickly comprehending or doing my work, I did not fail to receive the customary blow, or blows, from her hand.
Each piece of cloth contained forty yards, and this cloth was used in making clothes for the servants. About half of the whole amount required was thus made at home; the remainder was bought, and as it was heavier it was used for winter clothing. Each man was allowed for summer two pairs of pants and two shirts, but no coat. The women had two dresses and two chemises each for summer. For winter the men had each two pairs of pants, one coat, one hat and one pair of coarse shoes. These shoes before being worn had to be greased with tallow, with a little tar in it. It was always a happy time when the men got these winter goods—it brought many a smile to their faces, though the supply was meager and the articles of the cheapest. The women's dresses for winter were made of the heavier wool-cloth used for the men. They also had one pair of shoes each and a turban. The women who could utilize old clothes, made for themselves what were called pantalets. They had no stockings or undergarments to protect their limbs—these were never given them. The pantalets were made like a pant-leg, came just above the knee, and were caught and tied. Sometimes they looked well and comfortable. The men's old pant-legs were sometimes used.
I remember once when Boss went to Memphis and brought back a bolt of gingham for turbans for the female slaves. It was a red and yellow check, and the turbans made from it were only to be worn on Sunday. The old women were so glad that they sang and prayed. A little gift from the master was greatly appreciated by them. I always came in for my share each year, but my clothes were somewhat different. I wore pants made of Boss's old ones, and all his old coats were utilized for me. They rounded them off at the tail just a little and called them jackets. My shoes were not brogans, but made of lighter leather, and made suitable for in the house. I only worked on the farm in busy seasons, and did not have the regular wear of the farm hands. On Monday morning it was a great sight to see all the hands marching to the field. The cotton clothes worn by both men and women, and the turbans of the latter, were snowy white, as were the wool hats of the men—all contrasted with the dark faces of the wearers in a strange and striking manner.
* * * * *
SLAVE MOTHERS—CARE OF THE CHILDREN.
The women who had young babies were assigned to what was considered "light work," such as hoeing potatoes, cutting weeds from the fence corners, and any other work of like character. About nine o'clock in the forenoon, at noon, and three o'clock in the afternoon, these women, known on the farms as "the sucklers," could be seen going from work to nurse their babies. Many were the heart-sighs of these sorrowing mothers as they went to minister to their infants. Sometimes the little things would seem starved, for the mothers could only stop their toil three times a day to care for them. When old enough to receive it, the babies had milk, the liquor from boiled cabbage, and bread and milk together. A woman who was too old to do much of anything was assigned to the charge of these babies in the absence of their mothers. It was rare that she had any one to help her. The cries of these little ones, who were cut off almost entirely from motherly care and protection, were heart-rending.
The cabin used for the infants during the day was a double one, that is, double the usual size, and was located near the great house. The cradles used were made of boards, and were not more than two by three feet in size. The women carried their babies in the cradles to the baby cabin in the morning, taking them to their own cabins at night. The children ranging in age from one to seven years were numerous, and the old woman had them to look after as well as the babies. This was indeed a task, and might well have taxed the strength of a younger woman. They were always from eight to a dozen infants in the cabin. The summer season was trying on the babies and young children. Often they would drink too much liquor from cabbage, or too much buttermilk, and would be taken with a severe colic. I was always called on these occasions to go with Boss to administer medicine. I remember on one occasion a little boy had eaten too much cabbage, and was taken with cramp colic. In a few minutes his stomach was swollen as tight and hard as a balloon, and his teeth clenched. He was given an emetic, put in a mustard bath and was soon relieved. The food was too heavy for these children, and they were nearly always in need of some medical attendance. Excessive heat, with improper food, often brought on cholera infantum, from which the infants sometimes died rapidly and in considerable numbers.
* * * * *
METHODS OF PUNISHMENT.
The methods of punishment were barbarous in the extreme, and so numerous that I will not attempt to describe them all. One method was to tie the slave to a tree, strip off his clothes, and then whip him with a rawhide, or long, limber switches, or the terrible bull whip. Another was to put the slave in stocks, or to buck him, that is, fasten his feet together, draw up his knees to his chin, tie his hands together, draw them down over the knees, and put a stick under the latter and over the arms. In either of these ways the slave was entirely at the mercy of his tormentors, and the whipping could proceed at their pleasure. After these whippings the slave was often left helpless and bleeding upon the ground, until the master, or overseer, saw fit to let him up. The most common method of punishment was to have the servants form a ring, called the "bull ring," into which the one to be punished was led naked. The slaves were then each given a switch, rawhide, strap or whip, and each one was compelled to cut at the poor victim as he ran around the ring. The ring was composed of men, women and children; and, as they numbered from forty to fifty, each circuit of the ring would result in that number of lashes, and by the time the victim had made two or three rounds his condition can be readily imagined. The overseer was always one of the ring, vigorously using the whip, and seeing that all the slaves did the same. Some of the victims fainted before they had passed once around the ring. Women slaves were punished in the same manner as the men. The salt water bath was given after each punishment. Runaway slaves were usually caught by means of hounds, trained for the purpose by men who made it a business and a source of revenue, notwithstanding its brutal features and degrading influence.
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FOURTH OF JULY BARBECUE.
Barbecue originally meant to dress and roast a hog whole, but has come to mean the cooking of a food animal in this manner for the feeding of a great company. A feast of this kind was always given to us, by Boss, on the 4th of July. The anticipation of it acted as a stimulant through the entire year. Each one looked forward to this great day of recreation with pleasure. Even the older slaves would join in the discussion of the coming event. It mattered not what trouble or hardship the year had brought, this feast and its attendant pleasure would dissipate all gloom. Some, probably, would be punished on the morning of the 4th, but this did not matter; the men thought of the good things in store for them, and that made them forget that they had been punished. All the week previous to the great day, the slaves were in high spirits, the young girls and boys, each evening, congregating, in front of the cabins, to talk of the feast, while others would sing and dance. The older slaves were not less happy, but would only say; "Ah! God has blessed us in permitting us to see another feast day." The day before the 4th was a busy one. The slaves worked with all their might. The children who were large enough were engaged in bringing wood and bark to the spot where the barbecue was to take place. They worked eagerly, all day long; and, by the time the sun was setting, a huge pile of fuel was beside the trench, ready for use in the morning. At an early hour of the great day, the servants were up, and the men whom Boss had appointed to look after the killing of the hogs and sheep were quickly at their work, and, by the time they had the meat dressed and ready, most of the slaves had arrived at the center of attraction. They gathered in groups, talking, laughing, telling tales that they had from their grandfather, or relating practical jokes that they had played or seen played by others. These tales were received with peals of laughter. But however much they seemed to enjoy these stories and social interchanges, they never lost sight of the trench or the spot where the sweetmeats were to be cooked.
The method of cooking the meat was to dig a trench in the ground about six feet long and eighteen inches deep. This trench was filled with wood and bark which was set on fire, and, when it was burned to a great bed of coals, the hog was split through the back bone, and laid on poles which had been placed across the trench. The sheep were treated in the same way, and both were turned from side to side as they cooked. During the process of roasting the cooks basted the carcasses with a preparation furnished from the great house, consisting of butter, pepper, salt and vinegar, and this was continued until the meat was ready to serve. Not far from this trench were the iron ovens, where the sweetmeats were cooked. Three or four women were assigned to this work. Peach cobbler and apple dumpling were the two dishes that made old slaves smile for joy and the young fairly dance. The crust or pastry of the cobbler was prepared in large earthen bowls, then rolled out like any pie crust, only it was almost twice as thick. A layer of this crust was laid in the oven, then a half peck of peaches poured, in, followed by a layer of sugar; then a covering of pastry was laid over all and smoothed around with a knife. The oven was then put over a bed of coals, the cover put on and coals thrown on it, and the process of baking began. Four of these ovens were usually in use at these feasts, so that enough of the pastry might be baked to supply all. The ovens were filled and refilled until there was no doubt about the quantity. The apple dumplings were made in the usual way, only larger, and served with sauce made from brown sugar. It lacked flavoring, such as cinnamon or lemon, yet it was a dish highly relished by all the slaves. I know that these feasts made me so excited, I could scarcely do my house duties, and I would never fail to stop and look out of the window from the dining room down into the quarters. I was eager to get through with my work and be with the feasters. About noon everything was ready to serve. The table was set in a grove near the quarters, a place set aside for these occasions. The tableware was not fine, being of tin, but it served the purpose, and did not detract from the slaves' relish for the feast. The drinks were strictly temperance drinks—buttermilk and water. Some of the nicest portions of the meat were sliced off and put on a platter to send to the great house for Boss and his family. It was a pleasure for the slaves to do this, for Boss always enjoyed it. It was said that the slaves could barbecue meats best, and when the whites had barbecues slaves always did the cooking. When dinner was all on the table, the invitation was given for all to come; and when all were in a good way eating, Boss and the madam would go out to witness the progress of the feast, and seemed pleased to see the servants so happy. Everything was in abundance, so all could have plenty—Boss always insisted on this. The slaves had the whole day off, and could do as they liked. After dinner some of the women would wash, sew or iron. It was a day of harmless riot for all the slaves, and I can not express the happiness it brought them. Old and young, for months, would rejoice in the memory of the day and its festivities, and "bless" Boss for this ray of sunlight in their darkened lives.
* * * * *
ATTENDANCE AT CHURCH.
There was an observance of religious forms at least by the occupants of both the great house and the cabins. The McGee family were church-going people, and, except in very inclement weather, never failed to attend service on Sunday. They were Methodists, and their church was four miles from their residence. The Baptist church was but two miles distant, and the family usually alternated in their attendance between the two places of worship. I always attended them to church, generally riding behind while the Boss drove. Upon reaching church, my first duty was to run to a spring for a pitcher of fresh water, which I passed not only to the members of our party, but to any others desiring drink. Whatever may be thought of the religious professions of the slave-holders, there can be no question that many of the slaves were sincere believers in the Christian religion, and endeavored to obey the precepts according to their light.
* * * * *
RELIGIOUS MEETINGS OF THE SLAVES.
Saturday evening on the farm was always hailed with delight. The air was filled with happy shouts from men and boys, so glad were they that Sunday, their only day of rest, was near. In the cabins the women were washing and fixing garments for Sunday, that they might honor the Lord in cleanliness and decency. It was astonishing how they utilized what they had, and with what skill and industry they performed these self-imposed tasks. Where the family was large it was often after midnight before this work was done. While this preparation for the Sabbath was in progress in most of the cabins, the old men would gather in one for a prayer-meeting. As they began to sing some familiar hymn, the air would ring with their voices, and it was not long before the cabin was filled with both old and young, who came in their simple yet sincere way to give praise to God. It was common to have one or two exhorters on the plantation who claimed to be called to do service for God, by teaching their fellow men the principles of religion. God certainly must have revealed himself to these poor souls, for they were very ignorant—they did not know a letter of the Bible. But when they opened their mouths they were filled, and the plan of Salvation was explained in a way that all could receive it. It was always a mystery to the white brethren how the slaves could line out hymns, preach Christ and redemption, yet have no knowledge even of how the name of Christ was spelled. They were illiterate to the last degree, so there is but one theory, they were inspired. God revealed unto them just what they should teach their flock, the same as he did to Moses. I remember very well that there was always a solemnity about the services—a certain harmony, which had a peculiar effect—a certain pathetic tone which quickened the emotions as they sang those old plantation hymns. It mattered not what their troubles had been during the week—how much they had been lashed, the prayer-meeting on Saturday evening never failed to be held. Their faith was tried and true. On Sunday afternoons, they would all congregate again to praise God, and the congregation was enthusiastic. It was pathetic to hear them pray, from the depths of their hearts, for them who "despitefully used them and persecuted them." This injunction of our Saviour was strictly adhered to. The words that came from the minister were always of a consolatory kind. He knew the crosses of his fellow slaves and their hardships, for he had shared them himself. I was always touched in hearing him give out the hymns. I can hear old Uncle Ben now, as he solemnly worded out the following lines:
Must I be carried to the skies, On flowery beds of ease, While others fought to win the prize, And sailed through bloody seas?
After singing he would always speak to them of the necessity for patience in bearing the crosses, urging them to endure "as good soldiers." Many tears were shed, and many glad shouts of praise would burst forth during the sermon. A hymn usually followed the sermon, then all retired. Their faces seemed to shine with a happy light—their very countenance showed that their souls had been refreshed and that it had been "good for them to be there." These meetings were the joy and comfort of the slaves, and even those who did not profess Christianity were calm and thoughtful while in attendance.
* * * * *
A NEIGHBORHOOD QUARREL
Opposite our farm was one owned by a Mr. Juval, and adjoining that was another belonging to one White. The McGees and the Whites were very fast friends, visiting each other regularly—indeed they had grown up together, and Mr. White at one time was the lover of the madam, and engaged to be married to her. This friendship had existed for years, when McGee bought the Juval farm, for which White had also been negotiating, but which he failed to get on account of McGee having out-bid him. From this circumstance ill feeling was engendered between the two men, and they soon became bitter enemies. McGee had decided to build a fence between the farm he had purchased and that of White, and, during the winter, his teamsters were set to hauling the rails; and, in unloading them, they accidentally threw some of them over the line on to White's land. The latter said nothing about the matter until spring, when he wrote McGee a letter, asking him to remove the rails from his land. McGee paid no attention to the request, and he soon received a second note, when he said to his wife: "That fellow is about to turn himself a fool—I'll give him a cow-hiding." A third and more emphatic note followed, in which White told the Boss that the rails must be removed within twenty-four hours. He grew indignant, and, in true Southern style, he went immediately to town and bought arms, and prepared himself for the fray. When he returned he had every hand on the plantation stop regular work, and put them all to building the fence. I was of the number. Boss and the overseer came out to overlook the work and hurry it on. About four o'clock in the afternoon White put in an appearance, and came face to face with McGee, sitting on his horse and having a double barreled shot gun lying across the pummel of his saddle. White passed on without saying a word, but Boss yelled at him; "Hello! I see you are about to turn yourself a d—d fool." White checked up and began to swear, saying: "You are a coward to attack an unarmed man." He grew furious, took off his hat, ran his fingers through his hair, saying: "Here I am, blow me to h—l, and I'll have some one blow you there before night." During White's rage he said: "I'll fight you anywhere—bowie-knife fight, shot gun fight or any other." He called, in his excitement, for his nephew, who was working on his farm, to come, and immediately sent him to Billy Duncan's to get him a double barreled shot gun. Meantime, Mrs. McGee appeared on the scene, and began to cry, begging White to stop and allow her to speak to him. But he replied: "Go off, go off, I don't want to speak to you." Boss grew weak and sick, and through his excitement, was taken violently ill, vomiting as if he had taken an emetic. He said to White; "I'll return as soon as I take my wife home," but he never came back. As Boss and the madam rode off, White came galloping back, and said to Brooks, our overseer: "If I am shot down on foul play would you speak of it?" Brooks replied: "No, I don't care to interfere—I don't wish to have anything to do with it." White was bloodthirsty, and came back at intervals during the entire night, where we were working, to see if he could find Boss. It is quite probable that White may have long cherished a secret grudge against Boss, because he had robbed him of his first love; and, brooding over these offenses, he became so excited as to be almost insane. Had McGee returned that night, White would certainly have shot him. Boss became so uneasy over the situation that he sent one of his slaves, a foreman, to Panola county, some seventy-five miles distant, to Mrs. McGee's father, to get her brother, a lawyer, to come and endeavor to effect a settlement. He came, but all his efforts were unavailing. The men met at a magistrate's office, but they came to no understanding. Our folks became dissatisfied, and did not care to remain longer in the place, so they began to look out for other quarters. Boss finally decided to buy a farm in Bolivar, Miss., and to remove his family to Memphis, where he secured a fine place, just outside of the city.
SOCIAL AND OTHER ASPECTS OF SLAVERY.
* * * * *
REMOVAL TO MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE.
McGee had decided to build a new house upon the property which he had purchased at Memphis; and, in August 1850, he sent twenty-five of his slaves to the city, to make brick for the structure, and I went along as cook. After the bricks were burned, the work of clearing the ground for the buildings was commenced. There were many large and beautiful trees that had to be taken up and removed; and, when this work was completed, the excavations for the foundations and the cellar were undertaken. All of this work was done by the slaves. The site was a beautiful one, embracing fourteen acres, situated two miles southeast from the city, on the Memphis and Charleston railroad. The road ran in front of the place and the Boss built a flag-station there, for the accommodation of himself and his neighbors, which was named McGee Station.
* * * * *
A NEW AND SPLENDID HOUSE.
The house was one of the most pretentious in that region, and was a year and a half in building. It was two stories in height, and built of brick, the exterior surface being coated with cement and marked off in blocks, about two feet square, to represent stone. It was then whitewashed. There was a veranda in front with six large columns, and, above, a balcony. On the back there were also a veranda and a balcony, extending across that end to the servants' wing. A large hall led from front to rear, on one side of which were double parlors, and on the other a sitting room, a bedroom and a dining room. In the second story were a hall and four rooms, similar in all respects to those below, and above these was a large attic. The interior woodwork was of black walnut. The walls were white, and the centerpieces in the ceilings of all the rooms were very fine, being the work of an English artisan, who had been only a short time in this country. This work was so superior, in design and finish, to anything before seen in that region that local artisans were much excited over it; and some offered to purchase the right to reproduce it, but Boss refused the offer. However, some one, while the house was finishing, helped himself to the design, and it was reproduced, in whole or in part, in other buildings in the city. This employment of a foreign artist was unusual there and caused much comment. The parlors were furnished with mahogany sets, the upholstering being in red brocade satin. The dining room was also furnished in mahogany. The bedrooms had mahogany bedsteads of the old-fashioned pattern with canopies. Costly bric-a-brac, which Boss and the madam had purchased while traveling in foreign countries, was in great profusion. Money was no object to Edmund McGee, and he added every modern improvement and luxury to his home; the decorations and furnishings were throughout of the most costly and elegant; and in the whole of Tennessee there was not a mansion more sumptuously complete in all its appointments, or more palatial in its general appearance. When all was finished—pictures, bric-a-brac, statuary and flowers all in their places, Mrs. McGee was brought home.
In this new house Boss opened up in grand style; everything was changed, and the family entered upon a new, more formal and more pretentious manner of living. I was known no longer as errand boy, but installed as butler and body-servant to my master. I had the same routine of morning work, only it was more extensive. There was a great deal to be done in so spacious a mansion. Looking after the parlors, halls and dining rooms, arranging flowers in the rooms, waiting on the table, and going after the mail was my regular morning work, the year round. Then there were my duties to perform, night and morning, for my master; these were to brush his clothes, black his shoes, assist him to arrange his toilet, and do any little thing that he wanted me to. Aside from these regular duties, there were windows to wash, silver to polish and steps to stone on certain days in the week. I was called to do any errand necessary, and sometimes to assist in the garden. A new staff of house servants was installed, as follows: Aunt Delia, cook; Louisa, chambermaid; Puss, lady's maid to wait on the madam; Celia, nurse; Lethia, wet nurse; Sarah, dairymaid; Julia, laundress; Uncle Gooden, gardener; Thomas, coachman.
* * * * *
THE NEW STYLE OF LIVING.
The servants, at first, were dazed with the splendor of the new house, and laughed and chuckled to themselves a good deal about mars' fine house, and really seemed pleased; for, strange to say, the slaves of rich people always rejoiced in that fact. A servant owned by a man in moderate circumstances was hooted at by rich men's slaves. It was common for them to say: "Oh! don't mind that darkey, he belongs to po'r white trash." So, as I said, our slaves rejoiced in master's good luck. Each of the women servants wore a new, gay colored turban, which was tied differently from that of the ordinary servant, in some fancy knot. Their frocks and aprons were new, and really the servants themselves looked new. My outfit was a new cloth suit, and my aprons for wearing when waiting on the table were of snowy white linen, the style being copied from that of the New York waiters. I felt big, for I never knew what a white bosom shirt was before; and even though the grief at the separation from my dear mother was almost unbearable at times, and my sense of loneliness in having no relative near me often made me sad, there was consolation, if not compensation, in this little change. I had known no comforts, and had been so cowed and broken in spirits, by cruel lashings, that I really felt light-hearted at this improvement in my personal appearance, although it was merely for the gratification of my master's pride; and I thought I would do all I could to please Boss.
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THE ADORNMENT OF THE GROUNDS.
For some time before all the appointments of the new home were completed, a great number of mechanics and workmen, besides our own servants, were employed; and there was much bustle and stir about the premises. Considerable out-door work was yet to be done—fences to be made, gardens and orchards to be arranged and planted, and the grounds about the house to be laid out and adorned with shrubbery and flower beds. When this work was finally accomplished, the grounds were indeed beautiful. The walks were graveled, and led through a profusion of shrubbery and flower beds. There was almost every variety of roses; while, scattered over the grounds, there were spruce, pine and juniper trees, and some rare varieties, seldom seen in this northern climate. Around the grounds was set a cedar hedge, and, in time, the place became noted for the beauty of its shrubbery; the roses especially were marvelous in the richness and variety of their colors, their fragrance and the luxuriousness of their growth. People who have never traveled in the South have little idea of the richness and profusion of its flowers, especially of its roses. Among the climbing plants, which adorned the house, the most beautiful and fragrant was the African honeysuckle—its odor was indeed delightful.
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One of the institutions of the place was the vegetable garden. This was established not only for the convenience and comfort of the family, but to furnish employment for the slaves. Under the care of Uncle Gooden, the gardener, it flourished greatly; and there was so much more produced than the family could use, Boss concluded to sell the surplus. The gardener, therefore, went to the city, every morning, with a load of vegetables, which brought from eight to ten dollars daily, and this the madam took for "pin money." In the spring I had always to help the gardener in setting out plants and preparing beds; and, as this was in connection with my other work, I became so tired sometimes that I could hardly stand. All the vegetables raised were fine, and at that time brought a good price. The first cabbage that we sold in the markets brought twenty-five cents a head. The first sweet potatoes marketed always brought a dollar a peck, or four dollars a bushel. The Memphis market regulations required that all vegetables be washed before being exposed for sale. Corn was husked, and everything was clean and inviting. Any one found guilty of selling, or exhibiting for sale, vegetables of a previous day was fined, at once, by the market master. This rule was carried out to the letter. Nothing stale could be sold, or even come into market. The rules required that all poultry be dressed before being brought to market. The entrails were cleaned and strung and sold separately—usually for about ten cents a string.
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PROFUSION OF FLOWERS.
Flowers grew in profusion everywhere through the south, and it has, properly, been called the land of flowers. But flowers had no such sale there as have our flowers here in the north. The pansy and many of our highly prized plants and flowers grew wild in the south. The people there did not seem to care for flowers as we do. I have sold many bouquets for a dime, and very beautiful ones for fifteen and twenty cents, that would sell in the north for fifty to seventy-five cents.
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THE FRUIT ORCHARD.
The new place had an orchard of about four acres, consisting of a variety of apple, peach, pear and plum trees. Boss hired an expert gardener to teach me the art of grafting, and, after some practice, I became quite skilled in this work. Some of the pear trees that had been grafted had three different kinds of fruit on them, and others had three kinds of apples on them besides the pears. This grafting I did myself, and the trees were considered very fine by Boss. Another part of my work was the trimming of the hedge and the care of all the shrubbery.
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I PRACTICE MEDICINE AMONG THE SLAVES.
McGee had a medicine chest built into the wall of the new house. The shelves for medicine were of wood, and the arrangement was very convenient. It was really a small drug store. It contained everything in the way of drugs that was necessary to use in doctoring the slaves. We had quinine, castor-oil, alcohol and ipecac in great quantities, as these were the principal drugs used in the limited practice in the home establishment. If a servant came from the field to the house with a chill, which was frequent, the first thing we did was to give him a dose of ipecac to vomit him. On the evening after, we would give him two or three of Cook's pills. These pills we made at home, I always had to prepare the medicines, and give the dose, the Boss standing by dictating. Working with medicine, giving it and caring for the sick were the parts of my work that I liked best. Boss used Dr. Gunn's book altogether for recipes in putting up medicines. He read me the recipe, while I compounded it.
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A SWELL RECEPTION.
In celebration of the opening of the new house, McGee gave an elaborate reception and dinner. The menu embraced nearly everything that one could think of or desire, and all in the greatest profusion. It was a custom, not only with the McGees but among the southern people generally, to make much of eating—it was one of their hobbies. Everything was cooked well, and highly seasoned. Scarcity was foreign to the homes of the wealthy southerners.
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RELATIVES VISIT AT THE MANSION.
After the family had been settled about a month in the new home, their relatives in Panola Co., Miss., Mr. Jack McGee, known among the servants as "Old Jack," Mrs. Melinda McGee, his wife, Mrs. Farrington, their daughter who was a widow, and their other children Louisa, Ella and William, all came up for a visit, and to see the wonderful house. Mr. Jack McGee was the father of madam and the uncle of Boss. My master and mistress were therefore first cousins, and Boss sometimes called the old man father and at other times, uncle. Old Master Jack, as he alighted, said to those behind him: "Now be careful, step lightly, Louisa, this is the finest house you ever set foot in." When all had come into the house, and the old man had begun to look around, he said: "I don't know what Edmund is thinking about-out to build such a house-house." He was very old, and had never lost all of his Scotch dialect, and he had a habit of repeating a part or all of some words, as in the foregoing quotation. The other members of the visiting family were well pleased with the house, and said it was grand. They laughed and talked merrily over the many novel things which they saw. Mrs. Farrington, who was a gay widow, was naturally interested in everything. I busied myself waiting upon them, and it was late that night before I was through. So many made extra work for me.
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ONE OF THE VISITORS DISTRUSTS ME.
The next morning, after breakfast, Boss and old Master Jack went out to view the grounds. They took me along so that if anything was wanted I could do it. Boss would have me drive a stake in some place to mark where he desired to put something, perhaps some flowers, or a tree. He went on through the grounds, showing his father how everything was to be arranged. The old man shook his head, and said: "Well, it's good, but I am afraid you'll spoil these niggers-niggers. Keep you eye on that boy Lou, (meaning me) he is slippery-slippery, too smart-art." "Oh! I'll manage that, Father," said Boss. "Well, see that you do-oo, for I see running away in his eyes." One of the things that interested old Master Jack was the ringing of the dinner bell. "Well, I do think," said the old man, "that boy can ring a bell better than anybody I ever heard. Why, its got a regular tune." I used to try to see how near I could come to making it say, come to dinner.
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THE MADAM IN A RAGE.
The four days soon passed, and all the company gone, we were once more at our regular work. Delia, the cook, seemingly had not pleased the madam in her cooking while the company were there; so, the morning after they left, she went toward the kitchen, calling: "Delia, Delia." Delia said: "Dah! I wonder what she wants now." By this time she was in the kitchen, confronting Delia. Her face was flushed as she screamed out: "What kind of biscuits were those you baked this week?" "I think they were all right, Mis Sarh." "Hush!" screamed out the madam, stamping her foot to make it more emphatic. "You did not half cook them," said she; "they were not beat enough. Those waffles were ridiculous," said the madam. "Well, Mis Sarh, I tried." "Stop!" cried Madam in a rage, "I'll give you thunder if you dictate to me." Not a very elegant display in language or manner for a great lady! Old Aunt Delia, who was used to these occurrences, said: "My Lord! dat woman dunno what she wants. Ah! Lou, there is nothing but the devil up here, (meaning the new home); can't do nothin to please her up here in dis fine house. I tell you Satan neber git his own til he git her." They did not use baking powder, as we do now, but the biscuits were beaten until light enough. Twenty minutes was the time allotted for this work; but when company came there was so much to be done—so many more dishes to prepare, that Delia would, perhaps, not have so much time for each meal. But there was no allowance made. It was never thought reasonable that a servant should make a mistake—things must always be the same. I was listening to this quarrel between madam and Delia, supposing my time would come next; but for that once she said nothing to me.
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THE MADAM'S SEVERITY.
Mrs. McGee was naturally irritable. Servants always got an extra whipping when she had any personal trouble, as though they could help it. Every morning little Kate, Aunt Delia's little girl, would have to go with the madam on her rounds to the different buildings of the establishment, to carry the key basket. So many were the keys that they were kept in a basket especially provided for them, and the child was its regular bearer. The madam, with this little attendant, was everywhere—in the barn, in the hennery, in the smokehouse—and she always made trouble with the servants wherever she went. Indeed, she rarely returned to the house from these rounds without having whipped two or three servants, whether there was really any cause for the punishment or not. She seldom let a day pass without beating some poor woman unmercifully. The number and severity of these whippings depended more upon the humor of the madam than upon the conduct of the slaves. Of course, I always came in for a share in this brutal treatment. She continued her old habit of boxing my jaws, pinching my ears: no day ever passing without her indulging in this exercise of her physical powers. So long had I endured this, I came to expect it, no matter how well I did my duties; and it had its natural effect upon me, making me a coward, even though I was now growing into manhood. I remember once, in particular, when I had tried to please her by arranging the parlor, I overheard her say: "They soon get spirit—it don't do to praise servants." My heart sank within me. What good was it for me to try to please? She would find fault anyway. Her usual morning greeting was: "Well, Lou, have you dusted the parlors?" "Oh, yes," I would answer. "Have the flowers been arranged?" "Yes, all is in readiness," I would say. Once I had stoned the steps as usual, but the madam grew angry as soon as she saw them. I had labored hard, and thought she would be pleased. The result, however, was very far from that. She took me out, stripped me of my shirt and began thrashing me, saying I was spoiled. I was no longer a child, but old enough to be treated differently. I began to cry, for it seemed to me my heart would break. But, after the first burst of tears, the feeling came over me that I was a man, and it was an outrage to treat me so—to keep me under the lash day after day.
* * * * *
A SHOCKING ACCIDENT.
Not long after Mrs. Farrington had made her first visit to our house, she came there to live. Celia had been acting as her maid. When Mrs. Farrington had been up some months, it was decided that all the family should go down to old Master Jack's for a visit. Celia, the maid, had been so hurried in the preparations for this visit that she had done nothing for herself. The night before the family was to leave, therefore, she was getting ready a garment for herself to wear on the trip; and it was supposed that she sewed until midnight, or after, when she fell asleep, letting the goods fall into the candle. All at once, a little after twelve o'clock, I heard a scream, then a cry of "fire! fire!" and Boss yelling: "Louis! Louis!" I jumped up, throwing an old coat over me, and ran up stairs, in the direction of Mrs. Farrington's room, I encountered Boss in the hall; and, as it was dark and the smoke stifling, I could hardly make any headway. At this moment Mrs. Farrington threw her door open, and screamed for "Cousin Eddie," meaning McGee. He hurriedly called to me to get a pitcher of water quick. I grasped the pitcher from the stand, and he attempted to throw the water on Celia, who was all in a blaze, running around like a mad woman; but the pitcher slipped from his hand and broke, very little of the water reaching her. She was at last wrapped in an old blanket, to extinguish the flames; but she was burned too badly to recover. Boss, being a physician, said at once: "Poor girl, poor girl! she is burned to death." He did all he could for her, wrapped her in linen sheets, and endeavored to relieve her sufferings, but all was of no avail—she had inhaled the flame, injuring her internally, and lived only a few days.
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MASTER'S NEW COTTON PLANTATION.
Shortly after Boss bought his home in Memphis, he bought a large farm in Bolivar, Miss. It was a regular cotton farm, on the Mississippi river, embracing 200 acres. The houses built for the slaves were frame, eighteen in number, each to contain three or four families, and arranged on each side of a street that ran through the farm. This street was all grassed over, but there were no sidewalks. All the buildings—the barn, gin-house, slaves' quarters and overseers' house—were whitewashed, and on this grass-grown street they made a neat and pretty appearance. The house where the Boss and the madam staid, when they went down to the farm, was about two hundred yards from the slaves' quarters. It was arranged in two apartments, one for the overseer and wife, and the other for the master and mistress upon the occasion of their visits. This building was separated from the other buildings by a fence. There was what was called the cook house, where was cooked all the food for the hands. Aunt Matilda was cook in charge. Besides the buildings already named, there were stables, a blacksmith shop and sawmill; and the general order of arrangement was carried out with respect to all—the appearance was that of a village. Everything was raised in abundance, to last from one crop to the next. Vegetables and meat were provided from the farm, and a dairy of fifty cows furnished all the milk and butter needed.
The cane brakes were so heavy that it was common for bears to hide there, and, at night, come out and carry off hogs. Wolves were plenty in the woods behind the farm, and could be heard at any time. The cane was so thick that when they were clearing up new ground, it would have to be set on fire, and the cracking that would ensue was like the continuous explosion of small fire crackers.
About one hundred and sixty slaves, besides children, all owned by McGee, were worked on the farm. Instead of ginning two or three bales of cotton a day, as at Pontotoc, they ginned six to seven bales here.
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I remember well the time when the great Swedish singer, Jenny Lind, came to Memphis. It was during her famous tour through America, in 1851. Our folks were all enthused over her. Boss went in and secured tickets to her concert, and I was summoned to drive them to the hall. It was a great event. People swarmed the streets like bees. The carriages and hacks were stacked back from the hall as far as the eye could reach.
On another occasion, when the great prodigy, Blind Tom, came to Memphis, there was a similar stir among the people. Tom was very young then, and he was called the Blind Boy. People came from far and near to hear him. Those coming from the villages and small towns, who could not get passage on the regular trains, came in freight or on flat bottom cars. The tickets were $5.00 each, as I remember, Boss said it was expensive, but all must hear this boy pianist. Many were the comments on this boy of such wonderful talents. As I drove our people home they seemed to talk of nothing else. They declared that he was indeed a wonder.
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LONGING FOR FREEDOM.
Sometimes when the farm hands were at work, peddlers would come along; and, as they were treated badly by the rich planters, they hated them, and talked to the slaves in a way to excite them and set them thinking of freedom. They would say encouragingly to them: "Ah! You will be free some day." But the down-trodden slaves, some of whom were bowed with age, with frosted hair and furrowed cheek, would answer, looking up from their work: "We don't blieve dat; my grandfather said we was to be free, but we aint free yet." It had been talked of (this freedom) from generation to generation. Perhaps they would not have thought of freedom, if their owners had not been so cruel. Had my mistress been more kind to me, I should have thought less of liberty. I know the cruel treatment which I received was the main thing that made me wish to be free. Besides this, it was inhuman to separate families as they did. Think of a mother being sold from all her children—separated for life! This separation was common, and many died heart-broken, by reason of it. Ah! I cannot forget the cruel separation from my mother. I know not what became of her, but I have always believed her dead many years ago. Hundreds were separated, as my mother and I were, and never met again. Though freedom was yearned for by some because the treatment was so bad, others, who were bright and had looked into the matter, knew it was a curse to be held a slave—they longed to stand out in true manhood—allowed to express their opinions as were white men. Others still desired freedom, thinking they could then reclaim a wife, or husband, or children. The mother would again see her child. All these promptings of the heart made them yearn for freedom. New Year's was always a heart-rending time, for it was then the slaves were bought and sold; and they stood in constant fear of losing some one dear to them—a child, a husband, or wife.
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MY FIRST BREAK FOR FREEDOM.
In the new home my duties were harder than ever. The McGees held me with tighter grip, and it was nothing but cruel abuse, from morning till night. So I made up my mind to try and run away to a free country. I used to hear Boss read sometimes, in the papers, about runaway slaves who had gone to Canada, and it always made me long to go; yet I never appeared as if I paid the slightest attention to what the family read or said on such matters; but I felt that I could be like others, and try at least to get away. One morning, when Boss had gone to town, Madam had threatened to whip me, and told me to come to the house. When she called me I did not go, but went off down through the garden and through the woods, and made my way for the city. When I got into Memphis, I found at the landing a boat called the Statesman, and I sneaked aboard. It was not expected that the boat would stay more than a few hours, but, for some reason, it stayed all night. The boat was loaded with sugar, and I hid myself behind four hogsheads. I could see both engineers, one each side of me. When night came on, I crept out from my hiding place, and went forward to search for food and water, for I was thirsty and very hungry. I found the table where the deck hands had been eating, and managed to get a little food, left from their meal, and some water. This was by no means enough, but I had to be content, and went back to my place of concealment. I had been on board the boat three days; and, on the third night, when I came out to hunt food, the second mate saw me. In a minute he eyed me over and said: "Why, I have a reward for you." In a second he had me go up stairs to the captain. This raised a great excitement among the passengers; and, in a minute, I was besieged with numerous questions. Some spoke as if they were sorry for me, and said if they had known I was a poor runaway slave they would have slipped me ashore. The whole boat was in alarm. It seemed to me they were consulting slips of paper. One said: "Yes, he is the same. Listen how this reads:"