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Chapter 29:

  • Talk about Slavery
  • -- comparison of the slave system with the free -- labor system of Europe -- comfortable condition of negroes on the plantations -- their indifference and even Dislike to freedom -- Insincerity of the Northern fanatics -- their treatment of free negroes -- Crucial Tests of the Doctrine that all men are born free and equal -- the question considered on religious and social grounds -- Attachment of negroes to their masters -- anecdotes.

“Well, Tom, I have just received a letter from home, which informs me there is scarcely a white person in our whole parish” said Frank, one evening after supper. “What if the darkeys should grow discontented and rise?”

“If there had been any such possibility,” one replied, “ the Yankee Government would soon have seized upon it for our destruction or chastisement. There is no likelihood of such an event, however. I know districts in Mississippi where there are not more than one or two old white men to a slave population of from three to five thousand. In fact, all our plantations are conducted by the negroes themselves, in the absence of overseers or masters. I have offered large salaries for overseers for my places, but they never stay long — they are all off to the wars. My wife informs me that all things are progressing quietly and favorably as ever-my mulatto boy Bob superintends the Upper, and Black Jim the Lower Place, and have raised excellent crops in. my absence. Talk to me of our darkeys rising to massacre the whites! Why, I wager my life that all the inducements in the world could not draw off my servants from me. Most have grown up from childhood with me, and lived as I have done; and when one of these rabid Abolitionists counts the cost of keeping servants, he would be 10th to expend as much upon white labor. Just look at Nick out there, round the camp-fire, kicking up his heels in.a dance! that boy costs me much more — yes, double what I should have to pay for cook hire in Europe; and more than that, when he gets old, [274] no matter how much money he may have by him, I am compelled by law to provide for all his wants.

“Think you that the Major's boy would buy his freedom, although to my knowledge he has two thousand dollars in gold, hid away in an old stocking? You know as well as I do that all our boys are making money — some as much as twenty dollars per week — by washing, cooking, selling things, and the like, but reason with them about buying their freedom, at ever so low a figure, and they grin, jingle the dimes in their greasy pockets, and tell you: ‘Massa libs better dan I kin, and when dis chile gets ole, Massa must take care ob him.’ And sure enough we must. They argue, and to the point it seems to me, thus: ‘I am Master's boy, and must do what he tells me. No matter what the price of things may be, I must be well fed and clothed, and my health carefully attended to by his own physician, or some other, even should he have to pay ten dollars for a visit. He gives me from one to two dollars every week for spending-money: I live in the house with him, grow up with him, attend him in all his sports: my wife lives with me, and he takes care of both, in sickness or health, in youth or age. If I do not act properly, he sells me, but few negroes are sold who mind their business.’

“Count up — the cost, in times of peace, and tell me whether this, and my other boys, do not cost me more than two and a half or three dollars per week, the average wages of two thirds the laborers in Europe? And more than this, I cannot tell one of my boys, ‘I don't need your services,’ when grown old — the law forbids it, if even I were so inclined. But who would be inclined to part with a boy, even like grumbling Nick yonder, who played with him when a child, whose mother rocked him in the cradle, and whose father taught him the first use of a gun, how to swim, how to catch and ride a horse, and a thousand other things? There may be, and no doubt are, many who feel differently, but speaking for myself, I could not part with my negroes, even if assured that the capital invested in them would return me five times as much in ordinary commerce. They receive three suits of clothes every year, and shoes as often as they need; their holidays are fixed by law; in wet weather they are kept within doors; they have good, [275] comfortable cabins, plenty of fuel, and little garden-patches to cultivate for themselves; as for their hen-roosts, they are better stocked than my own. If I want eggs or garden-stuff, I buy from them, while Nick yonder, and several other of my boys, have full license to cut all the timber they desire into cordwood, and sell it to steamboats for their own pocket-money. Three of these fellows have soled four hundred dollars' worth of cord-wood to the boats in one year; many other boys also, and none of the masters ever get a cent for the timber. In fact, I have frequently acted as clerk for them when in the field, and sold hundreds of cords to steamboats — the money being handed over to the black rascals, who trot off to the first show and spend it. I tell you, Tom, you cannot induce one of my boys to leave me, at any price. My motto is: ‘If my servants are discontented with all I do for them, let them run off if they choose.’ They always come back again, I notice, and behave better than before.

“It would seem,” said one, “ that the Federals are greatly mistaken in their estimate of the negro. But if they are equal to the whites, why do not Northern fanatics give their fair daughters in marriage to them? They talk much of the equality of the races, but tell me, are Hottentots socially your equals? Would you be bothered with them as gratuitous servants? I think not. Lincoln, the high-priest of Northern anti-slavery fanatics, has publicly declared to a deputation of colored folks, that they are ‘unfit to pretend’ to equality, and that the best he could advise them was ‘to go to Africa, their original land, or some other place, and raise settlements for themselves!’ Arguments may be multiplied, but the same conclusion is arrived at, namely, that they are an inferior race, and unfitted to cope with the whites. Northern fanatics groan, and say we should instruct them and elevate them. Why do not they do so? Is not Sambo their servant as well as mine? And are his colored servants paid, and fed, and clothed, and provided for in old age as mine are — as mine are obliged to be by law? No! When Sambo the waiter loses his robust appearance and solemnity of behavior, or Nancy, the cook, grows feeble over pots and pans in the kitchen, they are ‘discharged ’ --no further responsibility rests with the employer, who has drawn from [276] them all the wear and tear of years. Not so with us. We must take care of them-their misdemeanors are visited upon us, and disgrace those who own them.

“As for going to church, there are no objections — there can be none; and, believe me, my darkeys go more frequently than I do, and have trisweekly meetings among themselves. This is encouraged; for the more pious a negro is, the better servant he becomes in every sense of the word. If he chooses to leave me, and pay for his hire, he can follow any business that pleases him best. I have now two boys who have so hired themselves from me at five dollars per week, who in barbering or blacksmithing make thrice that sum, and have large savings in the bank. Think you I could ‘prevail’ upon either of them to buy their freedom at one thousand dollars or fifteen hundred dollars each? Why, they would laugh at the proposition. They know well that as long as they do their duty, I have nothing to say, but protect them against every one; but if they get ‘their back up,’ as we say, put on airs, or disobey, I thrash them as I would my own son.

“In running off our negroes,” said another, “ the Federals are much in the situation of a man who bought an elephant at a sale because it was cheaply they do not know what to do with Sambo. They make him work incessantly at breastworks and feed him indifferently; but, as yet, we have done all the ditching ourselves, and Nick yonder laughs when we return to camp wet and hungry. Of the two, he is by far the better off. Do you know that these boys charge ten cents per piece for washing clothes, and without soap? By Jupiter, they are making money, and I have serious thoughts of entering that business myself. But jokes aside, old Alick, who was offered his free papers for a three hundred dollar bill, has made fifteen hundred dollars this past year, and now does business with a horse and cart, charging his master five prices for every thing, the old rogue!

“What the Federals will do with the darkeys is difficult to say. When peace is declared they will nearly all return home; some of them have already escaped from the tender mercies of the Yankee, and are in ‘Dixie’ once again, fully determined to travel away no more. You know Pete? Well, when I was in [277] Canada, the little fool took up a notion that he must be ‘free,’ and accordingly ran off. I did not trouble myself about him, but hired a white boy to wait on me, and found it much more inexpensive. When I was about to return South again, up turns the rogue Pete, and with tears in his eyes begged me to take him home! he had spent all his money, and found it difficult to live as a ‘ free’ man. I know several wealthy darkeys in Louisiana-much richer by far than I am — who own plantations and make splendid crops of sugar and cotton. In fact, the free boys of New-Orleans raised a battalion fifteen hundred strong, and offered themselves for service to Davis, but were refused! Their flag had for motto: ‘We never surrender.’ Think you one could prevail upon any of those fellows to leave home? Freedom, however, does them no good — they hate all the vices, but few virtues of the white, and are rather a nuisance to communities than otherwise. The free State of Illinois forbids negroes of any stamp to reside there, under heavy penalties. State Legislatures have enacted laws forbidding free darkies to remain in many of the cotton States, for their habits are injurious to the morals of those in servitude. But,how do they evade it? Why, rather than leave, and live in free States, ninety-nine out of every hundred bind themselves to masters again for form's sake, and thus remain with us.

” “If the negro is really so unhappy as Northern orators proclaim, why do our servants go to battle with us?-how comes it that officers cannot keep them from the front? You know as well as I, that Dave behaved gallantly at Manassas, and received his free papers from the State of Mississippi-passed in full legislative style-his price being paid to the owner by the State treasurer; but what did Dave do? He still keeps to his old master as before, and tells him to burn his papers if he chooses, ‘ he's as free as he wants to be, while old massa libs!’ What induces these servants to fight for us? I ask again. Who induced those two boys to leave their pots and pans, and shoulder a musket the other day, and get shot? Not their owners, certainly. What keeps our darkeys so quiet and industrious at home, now that we are away, tempted as they're by Lincoln's emissaries? Surely one old white man cannot [278] subdue three thousand blacks if they are discontented! Why, there are thousands of plantations in the South at this moment with no white person to look after them, save our wives or grandmothers! Do you find darkeys shouldering muskets and going forth to fight for Lincoln? In all my observations I never knew of but three negroes who were found in arms for Lincoln, and they were in the Fifteenth Massachusetts, and pretended to be dead when our black boys found them on the battle-field.1 Do you think Nick out there considers a Northern darkey his equal? Tell him so — you could not insult him more grossly than to insinuate such a thing!”

“There cannot be a doubt,” said another, “ that blacks have occasionally been treated very barbarously by owners, but it is against all logic to suppose that any one, let him be ever so brutally inclined, would wilfully cut, maim, or habitually ill-treat, that or those which were to him a source of profit or income. It is the interest of a master to protect and well treat those that augment his riches, and to sustain, improve, and cultivate their physical powers, that they may continue to do so, even if State laws, heavy fines, or confiscation of property did not enforce it. This may account for the greater longevity of blacks over the whites.

“In out whole army there must be at least thirty thousand colored servants who do nothing but cook and wash-nine tenths of the ditching falls to our share-yet in all these thousands I have yet to hear of more than one hundred who have run away from their owners! This is true, although they are continually moving about with ‘passes’ at all hours, and ten times more frequently than masters: what greater opportunities could be presented for escape? They are roaming in and out of the lines at all times, tramping over every acre of country daily, and I have not heard of more than six instances of runaways in our whole brigade, which has a cooking and washing corps of negroes at least one hundred and fifty strong! Bostick lost one in a singular manner. The boy was sick, and his kind, brave old master gave Joe a ‘pass’ to go to his mistress in Georgia--a thousand miles away-together with fifty dollars [279] for his expenses, and fifty dollars pocket-money-all in gold. Joe went safely as far as Knoxville, when some of Parson Brownlow's disciples persuaded him to leave the cars, and stay in East-Tennessee as a ‘ free’ man . That same night some of these Abolitionists waylaid the ‘free’ man Joe, their recognized colored ‘brother,’ robbed him, and then beat his skull in pieces! Bostick, the ‘ slaveholder!’ --that term which horrifies Northern free-thinkers-paid the best detectives he could procure, to find-heavily fee'd the ablest counsel to prosecute, if found-and finally offered a reward of five thousand dollars for the arrest of the murderers of his slave-boy Joe Another boy ran away from our regiment, and crossed over to the enemy; he found how things were, and returned across the river to ‘Dixie’ again, under a shower of bullets. These are not solitary instances. Examples as much to the point as these might be cited by all.

Major Walton, Chief of the Washington (New-Orleans) Artillery Corps, had a boy who ran away,” said another, “ and the rogue informed the enemy how things stood at Centreville during the winter months of 1861 and 1862. His description of our batteries was pretty accurate as to name and number, but when he attempted to describe their positions and bearings, his, head was at fault. I know an instance of a boy who ran from the Eighteenth Mississippi, just before Manassas, July, 1861. He was recaptured during the engagement; for the Yankees putting him in the front, together with other run-aways, made him very uneasy, so he slipped into our lines again, but was seized by two colored men, who observed the manoeuvre, and was handed over to his master, His owner refused to see him, and the general wish of our servants was, that he should be hung or shot for a traitor! He was given over to them, and met a death at their hands more violent than any white person's anger could have suggested. Incidents of this kind, however, illustrative of the colored people's loyalty to the South, are too numerous and tedious for enumeration.

“Northern fanatics use the opening clause of the old Declaration of Independence, and say, ‘All men are free and equal.’ They pervert the true meaning of what Jefferson wrote, but if they believe it, in its widest sense, as they preach, why do not [280] opulent Abolitionists equally divide their riches with negroes who brush boots? Jefferson was a scholar, a gentleman, and a Virginian, and could not mean it to apply in a social sense, or otherwise his own, and every other Southern State, would have seceded at that early day. It is from a wrong, fanatical construction put upon these words that Abolitionism has grown so rampant in the North, and been converted into an instrument for securing place and favor, and therewith the emoluments of office. If ‘all men are free and equal’ in the sense they pretend, the Hottentot, Aztec, Digger Indian, Cannibal, and Barbarian are our brothers, and should eat, drink, intermarry, and share riches with us.

“True, in a spiritual sense, ‘ all men are free and equal ;’ each has a soul of immortal price to save, and the servant may rise higher than his master in spirituality — which many undoubtedly do. Against this we have nothing to say. But even here we see there is some kind of ‘inequality,’ or all men would be born under the Christian dispensation, and not require the labors of missionaries. One soul is equal to another before its Creator only in so far as each fulfils the law prescribed for it, but in every other sense the idea is a profound absurdity.

“Test the assertion that all are born equal in a social sense by a practical illustration. Does the black butler North marry his employer's daughter? Such an idea would turn the head of Lincoln himself! Or fancy a Northern cotton-spinner telling the poor boys and girls who work over seventy hours in the week for some three or four dollars of wages, that ‘ all men are born free and equal!’ Would he not be amazed to find his poor emaciated employes demanding an equal partition of his profits? The difference of Capital and Labor is well understood by Yankees when it affects themselves; but although they eat sugar, rice, molasses, and grow rich from the produce of slave-labor, without the slightest qualm of conscience, they treat the negro, when amongst them, as absolutely below the relationship of consanguinity and social rights-yet insist that we are barbarians for treating them more humanely, because not admitting their chimerical absurdities regarding the abstract questions of human freedom. We are all slaves in some degree. Sovereign to sovereign, and man to man — it is in courts as it is on plantations; place holds its head above place, power above [281] power, merit above demerit. There are inferior and superior animals; there are angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim, all of God's ordaining; but while all harmonize in the grand conceptions of an all-powerful, all-wise Creator, talent and merit can always break the bonds of class, or of sphere,.and ascend higher and higher forever!

“ Did you ever remark our servants on a march? They make me laugh. Soon as the word ‘march’ is whispered abroad, these fellows bundle up their traps, and get them into the wagons, ‘by some sort of sleight of hand, for I know that my baggage, with ‘little tricks’ added, far outweighs the authorized sixty pounds--a captain's allowance. After safely stowing away all they can, the’ cooks shoulder some large bundle of curiosities of their own, and with a saucepan, skillet, or frying-pan, all march some fifty yards in front of the band, whistling and singing, forming in regular or irregular files, commanded by some big black rogue who, with a stick and a loud voice, enforces discipline, among his heavy-heeled corps. And thus they proceed far ahead, monopolizing all attention as we pass through towns and villages, grinning and singing as they go, and frequently dressed up in the full regimentals of some unfortunate Yankee or other. They scour the country far and wide for chickens, milk, butter, eggs, and bread, for which they pay little or nothing; always stoutly swearing they have expended all ‘massa’ gave them, and unblushingly asking for more. Why, sir, I am positive Nick and our other boys beg or steal half they pretend to purchase; and yet do not fail to charge us, the cruel masters, five times the ordinary value of the articles. Such is the wastefulness of these fellows, that our pay of one hundred and thirty dollars per month does not begin to furnish the table as they would have it even for their own eating. The other day I gave Andy .ten dollars for market money, and the wretch brought me back two antiquated hens, and a pound of fresh butter, ‘without a cent to spare,’ as he solemnly swore! There is no such thing as making one joint serve twice — it doesn't suit them; and if you preach economy, the villains grumble without end, and think you are stingy, or, what is worse, whisper that ‘Massa's gettin‘ like de Yankees, now he's up Norf!’

” [282]

“There's Benton yonder, singing a song among the pots,” said another; “ for two months he regularly went over the fields to Dr. Edward's, and asked for milk and butter ‘for the sick,’ and on returning to camp sold the former at one dollar fifty cents per gallon, and the butter at one dollar per pound! His master was enraged when informed of it, and made his hide tingle, for he is well treated and has enough to spend. Besides, these fellows not only cook for us, but hire themselves out to different messes, and what with charging the poor boys ten cents each for washing a pair of socks or a handkerchief, bartering, buying whiskey at five dollars per gallon, and retailing it at fifty cents each drink of one eighth pint, they are making lots of money, and frequently loan it out at heavy interest.

“I received a letter a few days ago which informed me that the darkeys of Vicksburgh gave a ball, and realizing one thousand dollars, handed it over ‘for de boys in Varginny! ’ --for us their ‘inhuman masters,’ as Northern cant will have it. Not only in Mississippi, but the colored folks of every town in the South have given balls, parties, and fairs, for our benefit, and sent thousands of dollars, clothes, blankets, shoes, etc., for ‘young massa and de boys.’ In truth, our servants feel as much pride in this holy war as we do, and are ever ready, as we have frequently seen, to prove in battle ‘ dat de Soufern colored man can whip a Norfern nigger and de Yankee to back him!’

“Until the present,” said Frank,--“I never thought our boys possessed half so much spirit as they do. Fight! why, you might as well endeavor to keep ducks from water as to attempt to hold in the cooks of our company, when firing or fighting is on hand. In fact, an order has been frequently issued to keep darkeys to the rear in time of battle, but although I lectured my boy about it, I was surprised to find him behind me at Manassas, rifle in hand, shouting out: ‘ Go in, massa! give it to 'em, boys! now you've got 'em, and give 'em h — ll!’ ”

“ There was a very old, gray-haired cook in an Alabama regiment,” Jenkins remarked, “ who would follow his young master to the war, and had the reputation of a saint among the colored boys of the brigade; and as he could read the Bible, and was given to preaching, he invariably assembled the darkeys on Sunday afternoon, and held meetings in the [283] woods. He used to lecture them unmercifully, but could not keep them from singing and dancing after ‘tattoo.’ Uncle Pompey, as he was called, was an excellent servant, and an admirable cook, and went on from day to day singing hymns among his pots round the camp-fire, until the battle of ‘Seven Pines’ opened, when the regiment moved up to the front, and was soon engaged.

“Uncle Pompey, contrary to orders, persisted in going also, but was met by another darkey, who asked: ‘Whar's you gwine, uncle Pomp? You isn't gwine up dar to have all de har scorched off yer head, is you?’ Uncle Pompey still persisted in advancing, and shouldering a rifle, soon overtook his regiment. ‘De Lor‘ hab marcy on us all, boys! here dey comes agin! take car, massa, and hole your rifle square, as I showed you in de swamp! Dar it is,’ he exclaimed, as the Yankees fired an over-shot, ‘just as I taught! can't shoot worth a bad five-cent piece! Now's de time, boys!’ and as the Alabamians returned a withering volley and closed up with the enemy, charging them furiously, Uncle Pompey forgot all about his church, his ministry, and sanctity, and while firing and dodging, as best he could, was heard to shout out: ‘Pitch in, white folks-uncle Pomp's behind yer. Send all de Yankees to de ‘ternal flames, whar dere's weeping and gnashing of — sail in Alabamy; stick 'em wid de bayonet, and send all de blue ornary cusses to de state ob eternal fire and brimstone! Push 'em hard, boys!--push 'em hard; and when dey's gone, may de Lor’ hab marcy on de last one on 'em, and send dem to h — ll farder nor a pigin kin fly in a month Stick de d-d sons of--! don't spar none on 'em, for de good Lor ‘ neber made such as dem, no how you kin fix it; for it am said in de two-eyed chapter of de one-eyed John, somewhar in Collusions, dat — Hurray, boys! dat's you, sure — now you've got 'em; give 'em goss! show 'em a taste of ole Alabamy!’ etc. The person who saw Uncle Pompey,

” added Jenkins, “was wounded, and sat behind a tree, but said, although his hurt was extremely painful, the eloquence, rage, and impetuosity of Pomp, as he loaded and fired rapidly, was so ludicrous, being an incoherent jumble [284] of oaths, snatches of Scripture, and prayers, that the tears ran down his cheeks, and he burst out into a roar of laughter.” 2

“Their devotion to dead or wounded masters,” said another, “ has been exhibited on so many trying occasions, that allusion to it may be unnecessary; but I have seen examples of it, which were never exhibited by brothers or relations. They would search for whole nights and days for a wounded master, and pull off their own coats to keep him warm, tear up their shirts for bandages, and in lieu of a stretcher, carry him to hospital on their backs! Nor did danger terrify them. Directly the fact was known that ‘Massa’ had fallen, the hunt for him immediately commenced, whether the action was over or not; and I have seen several instances where the poor boys have been wounded while dragging their masters out of action. At present, little notice is taken of these things, for matters of greater importance attract attention, but it cannot be that acts of such self-sacrifice and devotion will escape notice in times to come. Although more bother, expense, and anxiety than they are worth, I am sure that old associations are so strong, we would not part with our negro servants for any price. In sickness they are ever watchful for our safety, as in the hour of danger; and many a score of boys have I seen weeping by the road-side, when it was known master had fallen.

“The stories our boys send home about the war are vastly amusing. Some of the young soldiers frequently write for them; a few nights ago, while I was reading, Sergeant Smith, [285] in the next tent to me, was good-naturedly writing an epistle to the wife of Yellow Jim, who stood by, dictating what to say. ‘Tell her, Massa Smif, ef yer please, dat I'se gettin‘ on blazing, dat de Yanks is scared an‘ won't fight. Tell her I'se gwine to save all my money, an‘ will bring home lots of tings from de battle-fiel. Tell her I'se got a big shell what fell among de dishes todder day, and dat when it busted, it knocked de turkey an‘ soup higher dan a kite — which it did: but dis chile wasn't on hand about dat time, for he heern it screechin‘ an‘ comin‘ along, an‘ he just lay low behin‘ a big oak, four feet thick! but you needna tell her dat, Massa Smif, kase she mought tink I was one ob dem skary darkies, which ebery body knows is a lie; for I woughpt big black Bill todder ebenin‘ in less nor no time, Massa Smif, an‘ made dat black nigger's head bigger dan de soupkettle-ask all de boys ef I didn't! And tell her, Massa Smif, ef you please, dat de kernal and all de big boys sez I'm de best cook on de place, ‘cept your nigger, Massa Smif. And tell her I'se been totin‘ about a whul lot o‘ tings for her, an‘ has a Yankee gineral's clothes, which I'se gwine to ware de fust time I sees her; and say I sends ‘spects to ole massa and all de folks up to de house, an‘ dat young massa hasn't woughpt me neary once since I'se been in ole Virginny, and says he's goin‘ to give me my ‘papers’ when de war is over, if I wants to. You needn't tell her, Massa Smif, dat de guard put me in de Calaboose for getting tight, for young massa's been in clere twice for the same ting. Any body gets tight once in a while,’ etc.

1 This was written before the negro regiments were raised under General Banks at New-Orleans.

2 Among the incidents of battle near Richmond, the following amusing scene is said to have occurred near the Mechanicsville road. The Eighth and Ninth Georgia were ordered out to repel the enemy, when, upon the men falling in, one of the Ninth stepped from the ranks and told the captain, “he wasn't able to face the music.” “You are scared,” said the captain; “lay down your gun and accoutrements, and retire, sir.” The chicken-hearted gentleman did so, when shortly afterwards there stepped forward a good-looking darkey, named Westley, well known in camp, who asked permission to put on the deserted accoutrements, and shoulder his gun. The request being granted, Westley followed the company into action, and though the shells and Minie balls of the enemy were falling thick and fast about him, Westley never wavered, but brought down a Yankee at every fire. Such a deed is worthy of remembrance, and should inspire our soldiery with tenfold energy and courage, if possible, for if servants will do this, what may not be accomplished by the master?

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