The following selections are from The Cotton Kingdom by Frederick Law Olmsted, based on his travels throughout the South starting in 1852, first published as a series of letters by "Yeoman" to the New York Times in 1853, reprinted by Knopf 1953.

pages 51-52 (traveling south from Petersburg, Virginia, Dec. 28, 1852):

First, we had picked our way from the store down to the brook, through a deeply corrugated clay-road; then there was the swamp, with the fallen trees and thick underwood, beaten down and barked in the miry parts by waggons making a road for themselves, no traces of which road could we find in the harder, pebbly ground. At length, when we came to drier land, and among pine trees, we discovered a clear way cut through them, and a distinct road before us again; and this brought us soon to an old clearing, just beginning to be grown over with pines, in which was the old cabin of rotten logs, one or two of them falling out of rank on the door side, and the whole concern having a dangerous lurch to one comer, as if too much whisky had been drunk in it: then a more recent clearing, with a fenced field and another cabin, the residence of the white man we were told of, probably. No white people, however, were to be seen, but two negroes sat in the mouth of a wigwam, husking maize, and a couple of hungry bounds came bounding over the zigzag, gateless fence, as if they bad agreed with each other that they would wait no longer for the return of their master, but would straightway pull down the first traveller that passed, and have something to eat before they were quite famished. They stopped short, however, when they had got within a good cart-whip's length of us, and contented themselves with dolefully youping as long as we continued in sight. We turned the comer, following some slight traces of a road, and shortly afterwards met a curious vehicular establishment, probably belonging to the master of the hounds. It consisted of an axle-tree and wheels, and a pair of shafts made of unbarked saplings, in which was harnessed, by attachments of raw bide and rope, a single small black ox. There was a bit, made of telegraph wire, in his mouth, by which he was guided, through the mediation of a pair of much-knotted rope reins, by a white man-a dignified sovereign, wearing a brimless crown-who sat upon a two-bushel sack (of meal, I trust, for the hounds' sake), balanced upon the axle-tree, and who saluted me with a frank "How are you?" as we came opposite each other

Soon after this, we reached a small grove of much older and larger pines than we had seen before, with long and horizontally stretching branches, and duller and thinner foliage. In the middle of it was another log cabin, with a door in one of the gable ends, a stove pipe, half rusted away, protruding from the other, and, in the middle of one of the sides, a small square port-hole, closed by a wooden shutter. This must have been the schoolhouse; but there were no children then about it, and no appearance of there having been any lately. Near it was a long string of fence, and a gate and lane, which gave entrance, probably, to a large plantation, though there was no cultivated land within sight of the road.

I could remember hardly anything after this, except a continuation of pine trees, big, little, and medium in size, and hogs, and a black, crooked, burnt sapling, that we had made believe was a snake springing at us and bad jumped away from, and then we had gone on at a trot-it must have been some time ago, that-and then I was paying attentions to Jane (the filly's name was Jane Gillan), and finally my thoughts had gone wool-gathering, and we must have travelled some miles out of our way and-"Never mind," said Jane, lifting her head, and turning in the direction we had been going, "I don't think it's any great matter if we are lost; such a fine day-so long since I've been out; if you don't care, I'd just as lief be lost as not; let's go on and see what we shall come to."

"Very well, my beauty; you know the country better than I do. If you'll risk your dinner, I'm quite ready to go anywhere you choose to take me. It's quite certain we have not passed any meeting-house, or creek, or saw-mill, or negro-quarters, and, as we have been two hours on the road, it's evident we are not going straight to Mr. W.'s; I must see what we do pass after this," and I stood up in the stirrups as we walked on, to see what the country around us was like.

"Old fields"-- a coarse, yellow, sandy soil, bearing scarcely anything but pine trees and broom-sedge. In some places, for acres, the pines would not be above five feet high-that was land that had been in cultivation, used up and "turned out," not more than six or eight years before; then there were patches of every age; sometimes the trees were a hundred feet high. At long intervals, there were fields in which the pine was just beginning to spring in beautiful green plumes from the ground, and was yet hardly noticeable among the dead brown grass and sassafras bushes and blackberry vines, which nature first sends to hide the nakedness of the impoverished earth.

Of living creatures, for miles, not one was to be seen (not even a crow or a snow-bird), except hogs. These long, lank, bony, snake-headed, hairy, wild beasts -- would come dashing across our path, in packs of from three to a dozen, with short, hasty grunts, almost always at a gallop, and looking neither to right nor left, as if they were in pursuit of a fox, and were quite certain to catch him in the next hundred yards; or droves of little pigs would rise up suddenly in the sedge, and scamper off squealing into cover, while their heroic mothers would turn round and make a stand, looking fiercely at us, as if they were quite ready to fight if we advanced any further, but always breaking, as we came near, with a loud boosch!

farm in the antebellum South

pages 422-436 (traveling north from Louisiana to the river town of Natchez, Mississippi, in May 1854):

From the Homochitto to the suburbs of Natchez, a good half-day's ride, I found the country beautiful; fewer hills than before, the soil very rich, and the land almost all inclosed in plantations, the roadside boundaries of which are old rose-hedges. The road is well constructed, and often, in passing through the hills, with high banks on each side, coped with thick and dark, but free and sportive hedges, out of which grow bending trees, brooding angle-like over the traveller, the sentiment of the most charming Herefordshire lanes is reproduced. There are also frequent oakwoods, the trees often of great height. Sometimes these have been inclosed with neat palings, and slightly and tastefully thinned out, so as to form noble grounds around the residences of the planters, which are always very simple and unostentatious wooden houses. Near two of these are unusually good ranges of negro-houses. On many of the plantations, perhaps most, no residence is visible from the road, and the negro quarters, when seen, are the usual comfortless log-huts.

Within three miles of the town the country is entirely occupied by houses and grounds of a villa character; the grounds usually paltry with miniature terraces, and trees and shrubs planted and trimmed with no regard to architectural or landscape considerations. There is, however, an abundance of good trees, much beautiful shrubbery, and the best hedges and screens of evergreen shrubs that I have seen in America. The houses are cheap and shabby.

I was amused to recognize specimens of the "swell-head" fraternity, described by my nervous friend, as soon as I got into the villa district. First came two boys in a skeleton waggon, pitching along with a racking pony, which ran over Jude; she yelped, I wheeled round, and they pulled up and looked apologetic. She was only slightly hurt, but thereafter gave a quicker and broader sheer to approaching vehicles than her Texas experience had taught her to do.

Then came four youthful riders, and two old, roue-looking men, all upon a match-trot; the young fellows screaming, breaking up, and swearing. After them cantered a mulatto groom, white-gloved and neatly dressed, who, I noticed, bowed politely, lifting his hat and smiling to a very aged and ragged negro with a wheelbarrow and shovel, on the foot path.

Next came -- and it was a swelteringly hot afternoon -- an open carriage with two ladies taking an airing. Mr. S. had said that the swell-heads had "got to think that their old mammy niggers were not good enough for their young ones"; and here, on the front seat of the carriage, was a white and veritable French bonne, holding a richly-belaced baby. The ladies sat back, good-looking women enough, prettily dressed, and excessively demure. But the dignity of the turn-out chiefly reposed in the coachman, an obese old black man, who had, by some means, been set high up in the sun's face, on the bed-like cushion of the box, to display a great livery topcoat, with the wonted capes and velvet, buttoned brightly and tightly to the chin, and crowned by the proper emblazoned narrow-brimmed hat; his elbows squared, the reins and whip in his hands, the sweat in globules all over his ruefully-decorous face, and his eyes fast closed in sleep.

The houses and shops within the town itself are generally small, and always inelegant. A majority of the names on the signs are German; the hotel is unusually clean, and the servants attentive; and the stable at which I left Belshazzar is excellent, and contains several fine horses. Indeed, I never saw such a large number of fine horses as there is here, in any other town of the size. At the stable and the hotel there is a remarkable number of young men, extraordinarily dressed, like shop-boys on a Sunday excursion, all lounging or sauntering, and often calling at the bar; all smoking, all twisting lithe walking-sticks, all "talking horse."

But the grand feature of Natchez is the bluff, terminating in an abrupt precipitous bank over the river, with the public garden upon it. Of this I never had heard; and when, after seeing my horse dried off and eating his oats with great satisfaction-the first time he has ever tasted oats, I suppose, and I had not seen them before for many months -- I strolled off to see the town, I came upon it by surprise. I entered a gate and walked up a slope, supposing that I was approaching the ridge or summit of a hill, and expecting to see beyond it a corresponding slope and the town again, continuing in terraced streets to the river. I suddenly found myself on the very edge of a great cliff, and before me an indescribably vast expanse of forest, extending on every hand to a hazy horizon, in which, directly in front of me, swung the round, red, setting sun. Through the otherwise unbroken forest, the Father of Waters had opened a passage for himself, forming a perfect are, the hither shore of the middle of the curve being hidden under the crest of the cliff, and the two ends lost in the vast obscurity of the Great West. Overlooked from such an eminence, the size of the Mississippi can be realized-which is difficult under ordinary circumstances; but though the fret of a swelling torrent is not wanting, it is perceptible only as the most delicate chasing upon the broad, gleaming expanse of polished steel, which at once shamed all my previous conceptions of the appearance of the greatest of rivers.

Coming closer to the edge and looking downward, you see the lower town, of Natchez, its roofs with water flowing all around them, and its pigmy people wading, and labouring to carry upward their goods and furniture, in danger from a rising movement of the great water. Poor people, "emigrants and niggers" only.

I lay down, and would have reposed my mind in the infinite vision westward, but was presently disturbed by a hog which came grunting near me, rooting in the poor turf of this wonderful garden. I rose and walked its length. Little more has been done than to inclose a space along the edge, which it would have been dangerous to build upon, to cut out some curving alleys now recaptured by the grass and weeds, and to plant a few succulent trees. A road to the lower town, cutting through it, is crossed by slight wooden footbridges, and there are some rough plank benches, adorned with stencilled "medical" advertisements. Some shrubs are planted on the crumbling face of the cliff, so near the top that the swine can obtain access to them. A man, bearded and smoking, and a woman with him, sitting at the extreme end, were the only visitors except myself and the swine.

As I am writing there is a bustle in the street. A young man is being lifted up and carried into the bar-room. He is insensible. A beautiful mare, from which he has evidently been thrown, is led back from around the comer, quivering with excitement.

I could find no reading-room; no recent newspapers except the Natchez Free Trader, which has nothing but cotton and river news and steamboat puffs; no magazines but aged Harpers; and no recent publications of any sort are for sale or to be seen at the booksellers'; so, after supper, I went to the bluff again, and found it most solemnly beautiful; the young moon shining through rents in the clouds: the great gleaming crescent of water; the dim, ungapped horizon; the earth sensibly a mere swinging globe.

steamboats on the Miss. River

Of all the town, only five Germans, sitting together, but smoking in silence, had gathered for this evening worship.

As I returned up the main street, I stopped opposite a house from which there came the sound of excellent music -- a violin and piano. I had heard no music since I was in Western Texas, and I leaned upon a lamp-post for an hour, listening. Many stopped near me for a few minutes, and went on. At length, a man who had remained some time, addressed me, speaking in a foreign tongue. "Can't you speak English?" said 1.

"You are not an American?"


"I should tzink it not."

"I am; I am a New Yorker."

"So?-O yes, perhaps, but not zis country."

"What are you?"


"Do you live here?"


"Are there many Italians in Natchez?"

"Yes-some many-seven. All big dam rascaal. Yes. Hal hal hal True. Dam rascaal all of us."

"What do you do for a living here?"

"For me it is a cigar-store; fruit; confectionery."

"And the rest?"

"Oh, everytzing. I don't expect dem be here so much long now.

"Why-what will they do?"

"Dey all go to Cuba. Be vawr zair soon now. All go. All dam rascaal go, can go, ven ze vawr is. Good ting dat for Natchez, eh? Yes, I tzink."

He told me the names of the players; the violinist, an Italian, he asserted to be the best in America. He resided in Natchez, I understood, as a teacher; and, I presume, the town has metropolitan advantages for instruction in all fashionable accomplishments. Yet, with a population of 18,601, the number of children registered for the public schools and academies, or "Institutes," of the county seat, is but 1,015; and among these must be included many sent from other parts of the State, and from Arkansas and Louisiana; the public libraries contain but 2,000 volumes, and the churches seat but 7,700. [This may be compared with the town of Springfield, county of Sangamon, Illinois, in which, with a population of 19,228 (nearer to that of Natchez than any other town I observe in the Free States), the number of registered school children is 3,300, the public libraries contain 20,000 volumes, and the churches can accommodate 28,000 sitters.]

Franklin, the next county in the rear of the county in which Natchez is situated (Adams), has a population of 6,000, and but 132 children attending school.

southern farm social gathering

Mr. [Robert] Russell (North America: its Agriculture and Climate, page 258) states that he had been led to believe that "as refined society was to be found at Natchez as in any other part of the United States"; but his personal observation is, that "the chief frequenters of the best hotel are low, drunken fellows." I find a crowd of big, silly boys, not drunk, but drinking, smoking, chewing, and betting, and a few men who look like dissolute fourth-rate comedians, who have succeeded in swindling a swell-mob tailor.

The first night after leaving Natchez I found lodging with a German, who, when I inquired if he could accommodate me, at once said, "Yes, sir, I make it a business to lodge travellers."

He had a little farm, and owned four strong negro men and a woman with several children. All his men, however, he hired out as porters or servants in Natchez, employing a white man, a native of the country, to work with him on his farm.

To explain the economy of this arrangement, he said that one of his men earned in Natchez $30 a month clear of all expenses, and the others much more than he could ever make their labour worth to him. A negro of moderate intelligence would hire, as a house-servant, for $200 a year and his board, which was worth $8 a month; whereas he hired this white fellow, who was strong and able, for $10 a month; and he believed he got as much work out of him as he could out of a Negro. If labour were worth so much as he got for that of his negroes, why did the white man not demand more? Well -he kept him in whisky and tobacco besides his wages, and he was content. Most folks here did not like white labourers. They had only been used to have niggers do their work, and they did not know how to manage with white labourers; but he had no difficulty.

I asked if eight dollars would cover the cost of a man's board? He supposed it might cost him rather more than that to keep the white man; eight dollars was what it was generally reckoned in town to cost to keep a negro; niggers living in town or near it were expected to have "extras"; out on the plantations, where they did not get anything but bacon and meal, of course it did not cost so much. Did he know what it cost to keep a negro generally upon the plantations? It was generally reckoned, he said, that a nigger ought to have a peck of meal and three pounds of bacon a week; some didn't give so much meat, but he thought it would be better to give them more.

"You are getting rich," I said. "Are the Germans generally, hereabouts, doing well? I see there are a good many in Natchez."

"Oh yes; anybody who is not too proud to work can get rich here."

The next day, having ridden thirty tedious miles through a sombre country, with a few large plantations, about six o'clock I called at the first house standing upon or near the road which I had seen for some time, and solicited a lodging. It was refused, by a woman. How far was it to the next house? I asked her. Two miles and a half. So I found it to be, but it was a deserted house, falling to decay, on an abandoned plantation. I rode several miles further, and it was growing dark, and threatening rain, before I came in sight of another. It was a short distance off the road, and approached by a private lane, from which it was separated by a grass plat. A well dressed man stood between the gate and the house. I stopped and bowed to him, but he turned his back upon me and walked to the house. I opened a gate and rode in. Two men were upon the gallery, but as they paid no attention to my presence when I stopped near them, I doubted if either were the master of the house. I asked, "Could I obtain a lodging here to-night, gentlemen?" One of them answered, surlily, "No." I paused a moment that they might observe me-evidently a stranger benighted, with a fatigued horse, and then asked, "Can you tell me, sir, how far it is to a public-house?" "I don't know," replied the same man. I again remained silent a moment. "No public-houses in this section of the country, I reckon, sir," said the other. "Do you know how far it is to the next house on the road, north of this?" "No," answered one. "You'll find one about two miles, or two miles and a half from here," said the other. "Is it a house in which I shall be likely to get a lodging, do you know?" "I don't know, I'm sure."

"Good night, gentlemen; you'll excuse me for troubling you. I am entirely a stranger in this region."

A grunt, or inarticulate monosyllable, from one of them, was the only reply, and I rode away, glad that I had not been fated to spend an evening in such company.

Soon afterward I came to a house and stables close upon the road. There was a man on the gallery playing the fiddle. I asked, "Could you accommodate me here to-night, sir?" He stopped fiddling, and turned his head toward an open door, asking, 'Wants to know if you can accommodate him?" "Accommodate him with what?" demanded a harsh-toned woman's voice. "With a bed of course-what do you spose-hol hol hol" and he went on fiddling again. I had, during this conversation, observed ranges of negro huts behind the stables, and perceived that it must be the overseer's house of the plantation at which I had previously called. "Like master, like man," I thought, and rode on, my inquiry not having been even answered.

I met a negro boy on the road, who told me it was about two miles to the next house, but he did not reckon that I would get in there. "How far to the next house beyond that?" "About four miles, sir, and I reckon you can get in there, master; I've heerd they did take in travellers to that place."

Soon after this it began to rain and grow dark; so dark that I could not keep the road, for soon finding Belshazzar in difficulty, I got off and discovered that we were following up the dry bed of a small stream. In trying to get back I probably crossed the road, as I did not find it again, and wandered cautiously among trees for nearly an hour, at length coming to open country and a fence. Keeping this in sight, I rode on until I found a gate, entering at which, I followed a nearly straight and tolerable good road full an hour, as it seemed to me, at last coming to a large negro "settlement."

I passed through it to the end of the rows, where was a cabin larger than the rest, facing on the space between the two lines of huts. A shout brought out the overseer. I begged for a night's lodging; he was silent; I said that I had travelled far, was much fatigued and hungry; my horse was nearly knocked up, and I was a stranger in the country; I bad lost my road, and only by good fortune had found my way here. At length, as I continued urging my need, he said

"Well, I suppose you must stop. Ho, Byron! Here, Byron, take this man's horse, and put him in my stable. 'Light, sir, and come in."

Within I found his wife, a young woman, showily dressed-a caricature of the fashions of the day. Apparently, they had both been making a visit to neighbours, and but just come home. I was not received kindly, but at the request of her husband she brought out and set before me some cold corn-bread and fat bacon.

Before I had finished eating my supper, however, they both quite changed their manner, and the woman apologized for not having made coffee. The cook had gone to bed and the fire was out, she said. She presently ordered Byron, as he brought my saddle in, to get some "light-wood' and make a fire; said she was afraid I had made a poor supper, and set a chair by the fire-place for me as I drew away from the table.

I plied the man with inquiries about his business, got him interested in points of difference between Northern and Southern agriculture, and soon had him in quite a sociable and communicative humour. He gave me much overseer's lore about cotton culture, nigger and cattle maladies, the right way to keep sweet potatoes, etc.; and when I proposed to ride over the plantation with him in the morning, he said he "would be very thankful for my company."

I think they gave up their own bed to me, for it was double, and had been slept in since the sheets were last changed; the room was garnished with pistols and other arms and ammunition, rolls of negro-cloth, shoes and hats, handcuffs, a large medicine chest, and several books on medical and surgical subjects and farriery; while articles of both men's and women's wearing apparel hung against the walls, which were also decorated with some large patent-medicine posters. One of them is characteristic of the place and the times .

["THE WASHINGTON REMEDIES -- TO PLANTERS AND OTHERS. -- These Remedies, now offered to the public under the title of the Washington Remedies, are composed of ingredients, many of which are not even known to Botany. No apothecary has them for sale; they are supplied to the subscriber by the native redmen of Louisiana. The recipes by which they are compounded have descended to the present possessor, M. A. MICKLEJOHN, from ancestors who obtained them from the friendly Indian tribes, prior to and during the Revolution, and they are now offered to the public with that confidence which has been gained from a knowledge of the fact that during so long a series of years there has never been known an instance in which they have failed to perform a speedy and permanent cure. The subscribers do not profess these remedies will cure every disarrangement of the human system, but in such as are enumerated below they feel they cannot fail. The directions for use have only to be strictly followed, and however despairing the patient may have been he will find cause for blissful hope and renewed life. "These preparations are no Northern patent humbug, but are manufactured in New Orleans by a Creole, who has long used them in private practice, rescuing many unfortunate victims of disease from the grave, after they have been given up by their physicians as incurable, or have been tortured beyond endurance by laceration and painful operations.]

We had a good breakfast in the morning, and immediately afterward mounted and rode to a very large cotton-field, where the whole field-force of the plantation was engaged.

It was a first-rate plantation. On the highest ground stood a large and handsome mansion, but it had not been occupied for several years, and it was more than two years since the overseer had seen the owner. He lived several hundred miles away, and the overseer would not believe that I did not know him, for he was a rich man and an honourable, and had several times been where I came from New York.

The whole plantation, including the swamp land around it, and owned with it, covered several square miles. It was four miles from the settlement to the nearest neighbour's house. There were between thirteen and fourteen hundred acres under cultivation with cotton, corn, and other hoed crops, and two hundred hogs running at large in the swamp. It was the intention that corn and pork enough should be raised to keep the slaves and cattle. This year, however, it has been found necessary to purchase largely, and such was probably usually the case," though the overseer intimated the owner had been displeased, and he "did not mean to be caught so bad again." ["The bacon is almost entirely imported from the Northern States, as well as a considerable quantity of Indian corn. This is reckoned bad management by intelligent planters. . . . On this plantation as much Indian corn was raised as was needed, but little bacon, which was mostly imported from Ohio. The sum annually paid for this article was upwards of eight hundred pounds. Large plantations are not suited to the rearing of hogs; for it is found almost impossible to prevent the negroes from stealing and roasting the pigs." Mr. Russell, visiting the plantation of a friend near Natchez.-- North America: its Agriculture, etc., p. 265.]

There were 135 slaves, big and little, of which 67 went to field regularly -- equal, the overseer thought, to fully 60 prime hands. Besides these, there were 3 mechanics (blacksmith, carpenter, and wheelwright), 2 seamstresses, I cook, 1 stable servant, 1 cattle-tender, 1 hog-tender, 1 teamster, 1 house servant (overseer's cook), and one midwife and nurse. These were all first-class hands; most of them would be worth more, if they were for sale, the overseer said, than the best field-hands. There was also a driver of the hoe-gang who did not labour personally, and a foreman of the plough-gang. These two acted as petty officers in the field, and alternately in the quarters.

There was a nursery for sucklings at the quarters, and twenty women at this time who left their work four times each day, for half an hour, to nurse their young ones. These women, the overseer counted as half-hands -- that is, expected to do half the day's work of a prime field-hand in ordinary condition.

field hands from "Travels in the Old South"

He had just sold a bad runaway to go to Texas, he happened to remark. He was whipping the fellow, when he turned and tried to stab him-then broke from him and ran away. He had him caught almost immediately with the dogs. After catching him, he kept him in irons till he had a chance to sell him. His niggers did not very often run away, he said, because they bad found that he was almost sure to catch them. As soon as he saw that one was gone he put the dogs on, and if rain had not just fallen, they would soon find him. Sometimes they did manage to outwit the dogs, but then they almost always kept in the neighbourhood, because they did not like to go where they could not sometimes get back and see their families, and he would soon get wind of where they had been; they would come round their quarters to see their families and to get food, and as soon as he knew it, he would find their tracks and put the dogs on again. Two months was the longest time any of them ever kept out. He had dogs trained on purpose to run after niggers, and never let out for anything else.

page 432

We found in the field thirty ploughs, moving together, turning the earth from the cotton plants, and from thirty to forty hoers, the latter mainly women, with a black driver walking about among them with a whip, which he often cracked at them, sometimes allowing the lash to fall lightly upon their shoulders. He was constantly urging them also with his voice. All worked very steadily, and though the presence of a stranger on the plantation must have been a most unusual occurrence, I saw none raise or turn their heads to look at me. Each gang was attended by a "water-toter," that of the hoe-gang being a straight, sprightly, plump little black girl, whose picture, as she stood balancing the bucket upon her head, shading her bright eyes with one hand, and holding out a calabash with the other to maintain her poise, would have been a worthy study for Murillo.

I asked at what time they began to work in the morning. "Well," said the overseer, "I do better by my niggers than most. I keep 'em right smart at their work while they do work, but I generally knock 'em off at 8 o'clock in the morning, Saturdays, and give ''em all the rest of the day to themselves, and I always gives ''em Sundays, the whole day. Pickin' time, and when the crap's bad in grass, I sometimes keep 'em to it till about sunset, Saturdays, but I never work 'em Sundays."

"How early do you start them out in the morning, usually?"

"Well, I don't never start my niggers 'fore daylight, 'less 'tis in pickin' time, then maybe I get 'em. out a quarter of an hour before. But I keep 'em right smart to work through the day." He showed an evident pride in the vigilance of his driver, and called my attention to the large area of ground already hoed over that morning; well hoed, too, as be said.

"At what time do they eat?" I asked. They ate "their snacks" in their cabins, he said, before they came out in the morning (that is before daylight-the sun rising at this time at a little before five, and the day dawning, probably, an hour earlier); then at 12 o'clock their dinner was brought to them in a cart-one cart for the plough-gang and one for the hoe-gang. The hoe-gang ate its dinner in the field, and only stopped work long enough to eat it. The plough-gang drove its teams to the "weather houses"-open sheds erected for the purpose in different parts of the plantation, under which were cisterns filled with rain water, from which the water-toters carried drink to those at work. The mules were fed with as much oats (in straw), corn and fodder as they would eat in two hours; this forage having been brought to the weather houses by another cart. The ploughmen had nothing to do but eat their dinner in all this time. All worked as late as they could see to work well, and had no more food nor rest until they returned to their cabins. [This would give at this season hardly less than sixteen hours of plodding labour, relieved by but one short interval of rest, during the daylight, for the hoe-gang. It is not improbable. I was accustomed to rise early and ride late, resting during the heat of the day, while in the cotton district, but I always found the negroes in the field when I first looked out, and generally had to wait for the negroes to come from the field to have my horse fed when I stopped for the night. I am told, however, and I believe, that it is usual in the hottest weather, to give a rest of an hour or two to all hands at noon. I never happened to see it done. The legal limit of a slave's day's work in South Carolina is fifteen hours.] At half-past nine o'clock the drivers, each on an alternate night, blew a horn, and at ten visited every cabin to see that its occupants were at rest, and not lurking about and spending their strength in fooleries, and that the fires were safe-a very unusual precaution; the negroes are generally at liberty after their day's work is done till they are called in the morning. When washing and patching were done, wood hauled and cut for the fires, corn ground, etc., I did not learn: probably all chores not of daily necessity were reserved for Saturday. Custom varies in this respect. In general, with regard to fuel for the cabins, the negroes are left to look out for themselves, and they often have to go to "the swamp" for it, or at least, if it has been hauled, to cut it to a convenient size, after their day's work is done. The allowance of food was a peck of corn and four pounds of pork per week, each. When they could not get "greens" (any vegetables) he generally gave them five pounds of pork. They had gardens, and raised a good deal for themselves; they also had fowls, and usually plenty of eggs. He added, "the man who owns this plantation does more for his niggers than any other man I know. Every Christmas he sends me up a thousand or fifteen hundred dollars' [equal to eight or ten dollars each] worth of molasses and coffee, and tobacco, and calico, and Sunday tricks for 'em. Every family on this plantation gets a barrel of molasses at Christmas." [I was told by a gentleman in North Carolina, that the custom of supplying molasses to negroes in Mississippi, was usually mentioned to those sold away from his part of the country, to reconcile them to going thither.]

Besides which, the overseer added, they are able, if they choose, to buy certain comforts for themselves-tobacco for instance-with money earned by Saturday and Sunday work. Some of them went into the swamps on Sunday, and made boards (which means slabs worked out with no other instrument than an axe). One man sold last year as much as fifty dollars' worth.

Finding myself nearer the outer gate than the "quarters," when at length my curiosity was satisfied, I did not return to the house. After getting a clear direction how to find my way back to the road I had been upon the previous day, I said to the overseer, with some hesitation, "You will allow me to pay you for the trouble I have given you?" He looked a little disconcerted by my putting the question in this way, but answered in a matter-of-course tone, "It will be a dollar and a quarter, sir."

This was the only large plantation I had an opportunity of seeing at all closely, over which I was not chiefly conducted by an educated gentleman and slave owner, by whose habitual impressions and sentiments my own were probably somewhat influenced. From what I saw in passing, and from what I heard by chance of others, I suppose it to have been a very favourable specimen of those plantations on which the owners do not reside. A merchant of the vicinity recently in New York tells me that he supposes it to be a fair enough example of plantations of its class.

cotton plantation, from Currier & ives
There is nothing remarkable in its management, so far as he had heard. When I asked about the molasses and Christmas presents, he said he reckoned the overseer must have rather stretched that part of his story, but the owner was a very good man. A magistrate of the district, who had often been on the plantation, said in answer to an inquiry from me, that the negroes were very well treated upon it, though he did not think they were extraordinarily so. His comparison was with plantations in general. [In De Bow's Resources of the South, vol i., p. 150, a table is furnished by a cotton-planter to show that the expenses of raising cotton are "generally greatly underrated." It is to be inferred that they certainly are not underrated in the table. On "a well improved and properly organized plantation," the expense of feeding one hundred negroes, "as deduced from fifteen years' experience" of the writer, is asserted in this table to be $750 per annum, or seven dollars and a half each; in this sum is included, however, the expenses of the "hospital and the overseer's table." This is much less than the expense for the same purposes, if the overseer's account was true, of the plantation above described. Clothing, shoes, bedding, sacks for gathering cotton, and so forth, are estimated by the same authority to cost an equal sum -- $7.50 for each slave. I have just paid on account of a day labourer on a farm in New York, his board bill, he being a bachelor living at the house of another Irish labourer with a family. The charge is twenty-one times as large as that set down for the slave.] He also spoke well of the overseer. He had been a long time on this plantation -- think he said ever since it had begun to be cultivated. This is very rare; it was the only case I met with in which an overseer had kept the same place ten years, and it was a strong evidence of his comparative excellence, that his employer had been so long satisfied with him. Perhaps it was a stronger evidence that the owner of the negroes was a man of good temper, systematic and thorough in the management of his property. ["I was informed that some successful planters, who held several estates in this neighbourhood [Natchez] made it a rule to change their overseers every year, on the principle that the two years' service system is sure to spoil them."Russell's North America: its Agriculture, etc., p. 258. "Overseers are changed every year; a few remain four or five years, but the average time they remain on the same plantation does not exceed two years."Southern Agriculturist, vol. iv., p. 351.]

The condition of the fences, of the mules and tools, and tillage, which would have been considered admirable in the best farming district of New York -- the dress of the negroes and the neatness and spaciousness of their "quarters," which were superior to those of most of the better class of plantations on which the owners reside, all bore testimony to a very unusually prudent and provident policy.

I made no special inquiries about the advantages for education or means of religious instruction provided for the slaves. As there seems to be much public desire for definite information upon that point, I regret that I did not. I did not need to put questions to the overseer to satisfy my own mind, however. It was obvious that all natural incitements to self-advancement had been studiously removed or obstructed, in subordination to the general purpose of making the plantation profitable. Regarding only the balance-sheet of the owner's ledger, it was admirable management. I am sorry to have to confess to an impression that it is rare, where this is the uppermost object of the cotton-planter, that an equally frugal economy is maintained; and as the general character of the district along the Mississippi, which is especially noticeable for the number of large and very productive plantations which it contains, has now been sufficiently illustrated, I will here present certain observations which I wish to make upon the peculiar aspect of slavery in that and other districts where its profits to the owners of slaves are most apparent.

pages 441-442 (Godkin article on absentee owners):

An English traveller [Edwin L. Godkin] writes to the London Daily News from Mississippi (1857):

On crossing the Big Block river, I left the sandhills and began to find myself in the rich loam of the valley of the Mississippi. The plantations became larger, the clearings more numerous and extensive, and the roads less hilly, but worse. Along the Yazoo river one meets with some of the richest soil in the world, and some of the largest crops of cotton in the Union. My first night in that region was passed at the house of a planter who worked but few hands, was a fast friend of slavery, and yet drew for my benefit one of the most mournful pictures of a slave's life I have ever met with. He said, and I believe truly, that the negroes of small planters are, on the whole, well treated, or at least as well as the owners can afford to treat them. Their master not unfrequently works side by side with them in the fields. . . . But on the large plantations, where the business is carried on by an overseer, and everything is conducted with military strictness and discipline, he described matters as being widely different. The future of the overseer depends altogether on the quantity of cotton he is able to make up for the market.

Oak Alley plantation of Jacques Roman in La.
Whether the owner be resident or non-resident, if the plantation be large, and a great number of bands be employed upon it, the overseer gets credit for a large crop, and blame for a small one. His professional reputation depends in a great measure upon the number of bales or hogsheads be is able to produce, and neither his education nor his habits are such as to render it likely that he would allow any consideration for the negroes to stand in the way of his advancing it. His interest is to get as much work out of them as they can possibly perform. His skill consists in knowing exactly how hard they may be driven without incapacitating them for future exertion. The larger the plantation the less chance there is, of course, of the owner's softening the rigour of the overseer, or the sternness of discipline by personal interference. So, as Mr. H- said, a vast mass of the slaves pass their lives, from the moment they are able to go afield in the picking season till they drop worn out into the grave, in incessant labour, in all sorts of weather, at all seasons of the year, without any other change or relaxation than is furnished by sickness, without the smallest hope of any improvement either in their condition, in their food, or in their clothing, which are of the plainest and coarsest kind, and indebted solely to the forbearance or good temper of the overseer for exemption from terrible physical suffering. They are rung to bed at nine o'clock, almost immediately after bolting the food which they often have to cook after coming home from their day's labour, and are rung out of bed at four or five in the morning. The interval is one long round of toil. Life has no sunny spots for them. Their only refuge or consolation in this world is in their own stupidity and grossness. The nearer they are to the beast, the happier they are likely to be. Any mental or moral rise is nearly sure to bring unhappiness with it.

pages 451-455 (the whipping of field hands):

Each overseer regulated the hours of work on his own plantation. I saw the negroes at work before sunrise and after sunset. At about eight 0 clock they were allowed to stop for breakfast, and again about noon, to dine. The length of these rests was at the discretion of the overseer or drivers, usually, I should say, from half an hour to an hour. There was no rule.

The number of hands directed by each overseer was considerably over one hundred. The manager thought it would be better economy to have a white man over every fifty hands, but the difficulty of obtaining trustworthy overseers prevented it. Three of those he then had were the best be had ever known. He described the great majority as being passionate, careless, inefficient men, generally intemperate, and totally unfitted for the duties of the position. The best overseers, ordinarily, are young men, the sons of small planters, who take up the business temporarily, as a means of acquiring a little capital with which to purchase negroes for themselves.

The ploughs at work, both with single and double mule teams, were generally held by women, and very well held, too. I watched with some interest for any indication that their sex unfitted them for the occupation. Twenty of them were ploughing together, with double teams and heavy ploughs. They were superintended by a negro man who carried a whip, which he frequently cracked at them, permitting no dawdling or delay at the turning; and they twitched their ploughs around on the headland, jerking their reins, and yelling to their mules, with apparent ease, energy, and rapidity. Throughout the Southwest the negroes, as a rule, appear to be worked much harder than in the Eastern and Northern Slave States. I do not think they accomplish as much in the same time as agricultural labourers at the North usually do, but they certainly labour. much harder, and more unremittingly. They are constantly and steadily driven up to their work, and the stupid, plodding, machinelike manner in which they labour, is painful to witness. This was especially the case with the hoe-gangs. One of them numbered nearly two hundred hands (for the force of two plantations was working together), moving across the field in parallel lines, with a considerable degree of precision. I repeatedly rode through the lines at a canter, with other horsemen, often coming upon them suddenly, without producing the smallest change or interruption in the dogged action of the labourers, or causing one of them, so far as I could see, to lift an eye from the ground. I had noticed the same thing with smaller numbers before, but here, considering that I was a stranger, and that strangers could but very rarely visit the plantation, it amazed me very much. I think it told a more painful story than any I had ever heard, of the cruelty of slavery. It was emphasized by a tall and powerful negro who walked to and fro in the rear of the line, frequently cracking his whip, and calling out in the surliest manner, to one and another, "Shove your hoe, therel shove your hoe!" But I never saw him strike any one with the whip.

The whip was evidently in constant use, however. There were no rules on the subject, that I learned; the overseers and drivers punisbed the negroes whenever they deemed it necessary, and in such manner, and with such severity, as they thought fit. "If you don't work faster," or "If you don't work better," or "If you don't recollect what I tell you, I will have you flogged," I often heard. I said to one of the overseers, "It must be disagreeable to have to punish them as much as you do?" "Yes, it would be to those who are not used to it-but it's my business, and I think nothing of it. Why, sir, I wouldn't mind killing a nigger more than I would a dog." I asked if he had ever killed a negro? "Not quite that," he said, but overseers were often obliged to. Some negroes are determined never to let a white man whip them, and will resist you, when you attempt it; of course you must kill them in that case. ["On Monday last, as James Allen (overseer on Prothro's plantation at St. Maurice) was punishing a negro boy named Jack, for stealing hogs, the boy ran off before the overseer had chastised him sufficiently for the offence. He was immediately pursued by the overseer, who succeeded in catching him, when the negro drew a knife and inflicted a terrible gash in his abdomen. The wounds of the overseer were dressed by Dr. Stephens, who pronounces it a very critical case, but still entertains hope of his recovery."-Natchitoches Chronicle] Once a negro, whom be was about to whip in the field, struck at his head with a boe. He parried the blow with his whip, and, drawing a pistol, tried to shoot him; but the pistol missing fire, he rushed in and knocked him down with the butt of it. At another time, a negro whom he was punishing insulted and threatened him. He went to the house for his gun, and as be was returning, the negro, thinking he would be afraid of spoiling so valuable a piece of property by firing, broke for the woods. He fired at once, and put six buck-shot into his hips. He always carried a bowie-knife, but not a pistol unless he anticipated some unusual act of insubordination. He always kept a pair of pistols ready loaded over the mantel-piece, however, in case they should be needed. It was only when he first came upon a plantation that he ever bad much trouble. A great many overseers were unfit for their business, and too easy and slack with the negroes. When he succeeded such a man, be had hard work for a time to break the negroes in; but it did not take long to teach them their place. His conversation on the subject was exactly like what I have heard said, again and again, by Northern shipmasters and officers, with regard to seamen.

I happened to see the severest corporeal punishment of a negro that I witnessed at the South while visiting this estate. I suppose, however, that punishment equally severe is common; in fact, it must be necessary to the maintenance of adequate discipline on every large plantation. It is much more necessary than on shipboard, because the opportunities of hiding away and shirking labour, and of wasting and injuring the owner's property without danger to themselves, are far greater in the case of the slaves than in that of the sailors, but, above all, because there is no real moral obligation on the part of the negro to do what is demanded of him. The sailor performs his duty in obedience to a voluntary contract; the slave is in an involuntary servitude. The manner of the overseer who inflicted the punishment, and his subsequent conversation with me about it, indicated that it was by no means unusual in severity. I had accidentally encountered him, and he was showing me his plantation. In going from one side of it to the other, we had twice crossed a deep gully, at the bottom of which was a thick covert of brusbwood. We were crossing it a third time, and had nearly passed through the brush, when the overseer suddenly stopped his horse exclaiming, "What's that? Hallo! who are you, there?"

It was a girl lying at full length on the ground at the bottom of the gully, evidently intending to hide herself from us in the bushes.

"Who are you, there?"

"Sam's Sall, sir."

"What are you skulking there for?"

The girl half rose, but gave no answer.

"Have you been here all day?"

"No, sir."

"How did you get here?"

The girl made no reply.

"Where have you been all day?"

The answer was unintelligible.

After some further questioning, she said her father accidentally locked her in, when he went out in the morning.

"How did you manage to get out?"

"Pushed a plank off, sir, and crawled out."

The overseer was silent for a moment, looking at the girl, and then said, "That won't do; come out here." The girl arose at once, and walked towards him. She was about eighteen years of age. A bunch of keys bung at her waist, which the overseer espied, and he said, "Your father locked you in; but you have got the keys." After a little hesitation, she replied that these were the keys of some other locks; her father bad the door-key.

Whether her story was true or false, could have been ascertained in two minutes by riding on to the gang with which her father was at work, but the overseer had made up his mind.

contraband slaves in Virginia
"That won't do," said be; "get down." The girl knelt on the ground; he got off his horse, and holding him with his left hand, struck her thirty or forty blows across the shoulders with his tough, flexible, "raw-bide" whip (a terrible instrument for the purpose). They were well laid on, at arm's length, but with no appearance of angry excitement on the part of the overseer. At every stroke the girl winced and exclaimed, "Yes, sir!" or "Ah, Sir!" or "Please, Sir!" not groaning or screaming. At length he stopped and said, Now tell me the truth." The girl repeated the same story. "You have not got enough yet," said he; "pull up your clothes-lie down." The girl without any hesitation, without a word or look of remonstrance or entreaty, drew closely all her garments under her shoulders, and lay down upon the ground with her face toward the overseer, who continued to flog her with the raw-hide, across her naked loins and thighs, with as much strength as before. She now shrunk away from him, not rising, but writhing, grovelling, and screaming, "Oh, don't, sir! oh, please stop, master! please, sir! please, sir! oh, that's enough, masterl oh, Lord! oh, master, master! oh, God, master, do stop! oh, God, master! oh, God, master!"

A young gentleman of fifteen was with us; he had ridden in front, and now, turning on his horse, looked back with an expression only of impatience at the delay. It was the first time I had ever seen a woman flogged. I had seen a man cudgelled and beaten, in the heat of passion, before, but never flogged with a hundredth part of the severity used in this case. I glanced again at the perfectly passionless but rather grim business-like face of the overseer, and again at the young gentleman, who had turned away; if not indifferent he had evidently not the faintest sympathy with my emotion. Only my horse chafed. I gave him rein and spur and we plunged into the bushes and scrambled fiercely up the steep acclivity. The screaming yells and the whip strokes had ceased when I reached the top of the bank. Choking, sobbing, spasmodic groans only were heard. I rode on to where the road, coming diagonally up the ravine, ran out upon the cotton-field.

pages 517-521 (a different standard of comfort):

I have come to the conclusion that whatever may be the good results of slavery in the way I shall then describe, this so constantly asserted, so generally conceded, of inducing a "higher tone" of breeding, and especially of nourishing the virtue of hospitality, is chimerical.

Some reader may at once be inclined to say that the Southerners whom he has met are unquestionably better bred people than are common at the North, and that they state as their experience that they do not find that hospitality, that honesty, that guilelessness of dealing one with another among the people of the North, to which they are accustomed at home. It would remain a question, whether the Southerners whom the reader has met are of a common or an exceptional class; whether it is to slavery, or to some other circumstance, they owe their breeding; whether this other circumstance is dependent on slavery, or whether it may exist (and, if so, whether, when it does exist, it produces the same fruit) quite independently of slavery. It cannot be said that there are no gentlemen and gentlewomen of first water in free countries. A comparison, then, must be a comparison of numbers. I shall, by-and-by, offer the reader some assistance in making a comparison of this kind. And if, as we hear, free-labour society is still an experiment, and one of the results of that experiment is to be found in the low condition of portions of our community, and it is by comparing this result with the condition of the whites of the South that we must judge of the success of the experiment; it may again be a question of numbers. As to experience of hospitality, that is not a question of quantity or of quality merely. I should wish to ask the reader's Southern authorities, 'Where and with whom has your experience been, North and South?" And if with a similar class and in similar circumstances, I should wish to ask further, "What do you mean by hospitality?"

I think that the error which prevails in the South, with regard to the general condition of our working people, is much strengthened by the fact, that a different standard of comfort is used by most persons at the South from that known at the North, and that used by Northern writers. People at the South are content and happy with a condition which few accept at the North unless with great complaint, or with expressions of resignation such as are the peculiar property of slaves at the South. If, reader, you had been travelling all day through a country of the highest agricultural capability, settled more than twenty years ago, and toward nightfall should be advised by a considerate stranger to ride five miles further, in order to reach the residence of Mr. Brown, because Mr. Brown, being a well-to-do man, and a right good fellow, had built an uncommonly good house, and got it well furnished, had a score of servants, and being at a distance from neighbours, was always glad to entertain a respectable stranger-after hearing this, as you continued your ride somewhat impatiently in the evening chill, what consolations would your imagination find in the prospect before you? My New England and New York experience would not forbid the hope of a private room, where I could, in the first place, wash off the dust of the road, and make some change of clothing before being admitted to a family apartment. This family room would be curtained and carpeted, and glowing softly with the light of sperm candles or a shaded lamp. When I entered it, I could expect that a couch or an arm-chair, and a fragrant cup of tea, with refined sugar, and wholesome bread of wheaten flour, leavened, would be offered me. I should think it likely that I could then have the snatch of "Tannhauser" or "Trovatore," which had been running faintly in my head all day, fingered clearly out to my entire satisfaction upon a pianoforte. I should then look with perfect confidence to being able to refer to Shakespeare, or Longfellow, or Dickens, if anything I had seen or thought during the day had haply led me to wish to do so. I should expect, as a matter of course, a clean, sweet bed, where I could sleep alone and undisturbed, until possibly in the morning a jug of hot water should be placed at my door, to aid the removal of a traveller's rigid beard. I should expect to draw a curtain from before a window, to lift the sash without effort, to look into a garden and fill my lungs with fragrant air; and I should be certain when I came down of a royal breakfast. A man of these circumstances in this rich country, he will be asking my opinion of his fruits. A man of his disposition cannot exist in the country without ladies, and ladies cannot exist in the country without flowers; and might I not hope for the refinement which decks even the table with them? and that the breakfast would be a meal as well as a feed-an institution of mental and moral sustenance as well as of palatable nourishment to the body? My horse I need hardly look after, if he be a sound brute;-good stables, litter, oats, hay, and water, grooming, and discretion in their use, will never be wanting in such a man's house in the country.

In what civilized region, after such advice, would such thoughts be preposterous, unless in the Slave States? Not but that such men and such houses, such family and home comforts may be found in the South. I have found them -- a dozen of them, delightful homes. But then in a hundred cases where I received such advice, and heard houses and men so described, I did not find one of the things imagined above, nor anything ranging with them. In my last journey of nearly three months between the Mississippi and the Upper James River, I saw not only none of those things, received none of those attentions, but I saw and met nothing of the kind. Nine times out of ten, at least, after such a promise, I slept in a room with others, in a bed which stank, supplied with but one sheet, if with any; I washed with utensils common to the whole household; I found no garden, no flowers, no fruit, no tea, no cream, no sugar, no bread (for corn pone-let me assert, in parenthesis, though possibly as tastes differ, a very good thing of its kind for ostriches-is not bread: neither does even flour, salt, fat, and water, stirred together and warmed, constitute bread); no curtains, no lifting windows (three times out of four absolutely no windows), no couch one reclined in the family room it was on the bare floor-for there were no carpets or mats. For all that, the house swarmed with vermin. There was no hay, no straw, no oats (but mouldy corn and leaves of maize), no discretion, no care, no honesty, at the there was no stable, but a log-pen; and besides this, no other outhouse but a smoke-house, a corn-house, and a range of nigger houses.

In nine-tenths of the houses south of Virginia, in which I was obliged, making all reasonable endeavour to find the best, to spend the night, there were none of these things. And most of these had been recommended to me by disinterested persons on the road as being better than ordinary-houses where they "sot up for travellers and had things." From the banks of the Mississippi to the banks of James, I did not (that I remember) see, except perhaps in one or two towns, a thermometer, nor a book of Shakespeare, nor a pianoforte or sheet of music; nor the light of a carcel or other good centre-table or reading-lamp, nor an engraving or copy of any kind, of a work of art of the slightest merit. I am not speaking of what are commonly called "poor whites"; a large majority of all these houses were the residences of shareholders, a considerable proportion cotton-planters.

"Georgia crackers"

pages 539-541 (letter of N. C. Meeker):

The following is an extract from a letter [in the New York Times, June 7, 1861] written by a worthy farmer of Illinois, whose name and address is in my possession [N. C. Meeker, near Cairo], and who is deemed by those who have known him for many years a sound trustworthy man:

What might be made of this country if the people were free, and the labourer everywhere owned the land, one may speculate upon; and when he sees the homes of Yankees who go thither often with small means, and make old worn-out places blossom and bloom, he begins to suspect that there is something in men as well as in climate. I now come to speak of the wealth of the people of the South-western Slave States, and, for fear I may be thought to exaggerate, I here say I will not tell the whole truth. I'll keep some back for another time. Now, men who go through on boats and cars, and stop in cities and large hotels, know nothing to what I do -- I who have gone among the people of every class, I who have stayed with them hundreds of nights, Sundays and all, and gone to meetings and frolics, and travelled hours in the Woods, where sometimes there was a road, and sometimes not, trying to find a place to stay over night -- and, having visited more than a thousand plantations, and slept and eat in I know not how many hovels, and talked with them all, and, if I choose, can talk precisely as they do, and they wouldn't suspect I was born up North -- I say, I think I ought to know something about them. The impression which one gets on going South is the general dilapidation or carelessness which appears, even upon some of the best plantations. The nice white houses so common at the North, even in the remotest agricultural districts, with green blinds, with clean door-yards, and well-kept shrubbery, snug barns, green meadows, and comer schoolhouses, are nowhere seen. The furniture of the houses is of the commonest description; and to make short work with it, I estimate that there are not decent chairs enough in the whole South to give half a set to each family. For there are to-day, and there have been for every day for more than ten years past, more than 30,000 people in Tennessee alone, who have not a foot of land or a bit of work to do. I am speaking of whites, and not of negroes at all. A bushel of corn-meal, a side of bacon, and a little coffee, will be all that a family of this class can ever expect to get beforehand, and it is often they get neither coffee nor bacon. If they have a cow, and she "comes up," they may have milk, but as for butter, some have heard of it, some have seen it, few have eaten it. And the fact is, many, yes, many who own from two to five slaves, are little better off. I stayed with a man who had fifteen slaves and 400 acres of land, where he had lived forty years, and his house was not worth fifty cents; what my fare was you may guess. I have seen hundreds of families living in log cabins, ten or twelve feet square, where the children run around as naked as ever they were born, and a bedstead or chair was not in the house, and never will be. I have seen the children eat wheat and grass, growing in the field. I have seen them eat dirt. I saw children here on my own place, in Southern Illinois, last year, eat dirt, they were so hungry. Southern Illinois has been a city of refuge for the poor people of the Slave States. Folks thought Humboldt told a big story when he gave an account of the clay-eating Indians of South America. Of course where poverty is so general, and where the slaves are few, the slaves cannot fare much worse than their masters. It is generally said by the people of the Slave States that they prefer corn bread, but, place the two kinds before them, and you will see which they like best. No class of people like corn bread, and no people, as a general thing, are worth much who can get nothing else. For the most part, the people of these regions manufacture all their every-day clothing, and their garments look as though they were made for no other purpose than to keep them warm and to cover their nakedness; beauty of colouring and propriety in fitting are little regarded. Every man who is not rich is a shoemaker. Blacksmith-shops are innumerable, and yet I have sent a boy over eighty miles from shop to shop, and then did not get a horse shod. Men call themselves gunsmiths, but they only stock guns. There are carpenters, and cabinet-makers, and chair-makers, and all this working badly with poor tools.

northern traveler's drawing of "poor whites" in the South
The sum is, there is no real discipline of mind among them, no real ingenuity, no education, no comfortable houses, no good victuals, nor do they know how to cook; and when I go among them, what troubles me most is, they have no grass, no clover, no hay. And yet, as fine and well-disposed men, and as anxious to improve, are to be found in the South-western States as are to be found anywhere. They are as honest as men ever are, and they will treat a stranger the best they know how. The trouble is, the large slaveholders have got all the good land. There can be no schools, and if the son of a poor man rises above his condition there is no earthly chance for him. He can only hope to be a slave-driver, for an office is not his, or be must leave and go to a Free State. Were there no Free States, the white people of the South would to-day be slaves.

Slave and Free States in 1850

revised 2/7/2000 | Class page