Excerpt- MacDonald on European Individualism and Altruism

The following is taken from the Preface to Kevin MacDonald’s 1998 book The Culture of Critique (free download here). Here MacDonald lays out the basic theory behind the European penchant for pathological altruism. Note that the epicenter – Nordic and Germanic Europe – excludes Celtic Britain and Ireland, the erstwhile source of much of Southern culture. Contrary to the more Germanic North, the South developed an anti-individualistic society (I hesitate to use the word collectivist, though it fits with MacDonald’s usage below), where close extended families, and suspicion of outsiders, were the rule rather than the exception – a major reason for the South’s historical resistance to overly-altruistic strains of Progressivism.

THE basic idea is that European groups are highly vulnerable to invasion by strongly collectivist, ethnocentric groups because individualists have less powerful defenses against such groups. The competitive advantage of cohesive, cooperating groups is obvious and is a theme that recurs throughout my trilogy on Judaism. This scenario implies that European peoples are more prone to individualism. Individualist cultures show little emotional attachment to ingroups. Personal goals are paramount, and socialization emphasizes the importance of self-reliance, independence, individual responsibility, and “finding yourself.” Individualists have more positive attitudes toward strangers and outgroup members and are more likely to behave in a pro-social, altruistic manner to strangers. People in individualist cultures are less aware of ingroup/outgroup boundaries and thus do not have highly negative attitudes toward outgroup members. They often disagree with ingroup policy, show little emotional commitment or loyalty to ingroups, and do not have a sense of common fate with other ingroup members. Opposition to outgroups occurs in individualist societies, but the opposition is more “rational” in the sense that there is less of a tendency to suppose that all of the outgroup members are culpable. Individualists form mild attachments to many groups, while collectivists have an intense attachment and identification to a few ingroups. Individualists are therefore relatively ill-prepared for between-group competition so characteristic of the history of Judaism.

Historically Judaism has been far more ethnocentric and collectivist than typical Western societies. I make this argument in Separation and Its Discontents and especially in A People That Shall Dwell Alone, where I suggest that over the course of their recent evolution, Europeans were less subjected to between-group natural selection than Jews and other Middle Eastern populations. This was originally proposed by Fritz Lenz, who suggested that, because of the harsh environment of the Ice Age, the Nordic peoples evolved in small groups and have a tendency toward social isolation rather than cohesive groups. This perspective would not imply that Northern Europeans lack collectivist mechanisms for group competition, but only that these mechanisms are relatively less elaborated and/or require a higher level of group conflict to trigger their expression.

This perspective is consistent with ecological theory. Under ecologically adverse circumstances, adaptations are directed more at coping with the adverse physical environment than at competing with other groups, and in such an environment, there would be less pressure for selection for extended kinship networks and highly collectivist groups. Evolutionary conceptualizations of ethnocentrism emphasize the utility of ethnocentrism in group competition. Ethnocentrism would thus be of no importance at all in combating the physical environment, and such an environment would not support large groups.

European groups are part of what Burton et al. term the North Eurasian and Circumpolar culture area. This culture area derives from hunter-gatherers adapted to cold, ecologically adverse climates. In such climates there is pressure for male provisioning of the family and a tendency toward monogamy because the ecology did not support either polygyny or large groups for an evolutionarily significant period. These cultures are characterized by bilateral kinship relationships which recognize both the male and female lines, suggesting a more equal contribution for each sex as would be expected under conditions of monogamy. There is also less emphasis on extended kinship relationships and marriage tends to be exogamous (i.e., outside the kinship group). As discussed below, all of these characteristics are opposite those found among Jews.

The historical evidence shows that Europeans, and especially Northwest Europeans, were relatively quick to abandon extended kinship networks and collectivist social structures when their interests were protected with the rise of strong centralized governments. There is indeed a general tendency throughout the world for a decline in extended kinship networks with the rise of central authority. But in the case of Northwest Europe this tendency quickly gave rise long before the industrial revolution to the unique Western European “simple household” type. The simple household type is based on a single married couple and their children. It contrasts with the joint family structure typical of the rest of Eurasia in which the household consists of two or more related couples, typically brothers and their wives and other members of the extended family. (An example of the joint household would be the families of the patriarchs described in the Old Testament) Before the industrial revolution, the simple household system was characterized by methods of keeping unmarried young people occupied as servants. It was not just the children of the poor and landless who became servants, but even large, successful farmers sent their children to be servants elsewhere. In the 17th and 18th centuries individuals often took in servants early in their marriage, before their own children could help out, and then passed their children to others when the children were older and there was more than enough help.

This suggests a deeply ingrained cultural practice which resulted in a high level of non-kinship based reciprocity. The practice also bespeaks a relative lack of ethnocentrism because people are taking in non-relatives as household members whereas in the rest of Eurasia people tend to surround themselves with biological relatives. Simply put, genetic relatedness was less important in Europe and especially in the Nordic areas of Europe. The unique feature of the simple household system was the high percentage of non-relatives. Unlike the rest of Eurasia, the pre-industrial societies of northwestern Europe were not organized around extended kinship relationships, and it is easy to see that they are preadapted to the industrial revolution and modern world generally.

This simple household system is a fundamental feature of individualist culture. The individualist family was able to pursue its interests freed from the obligations and constraints of extended kinship relationships and free of the suffocating collectivism of the social structures typical of so much of the rest of the world. Monogamous marriage based on individual consent and conjugal affection quickly replaced marriage based on kinship and family strategizing.

This relatively greater proneness to forming a simple household type may well be ethnically based. During the pre-industrial era, this household system was found only within Nordic Europe: The simple household type is based on a single married couple and their children and characterized Scandinavia (except Finland), British Isles, Low Countries, German-speaking areas, and northern France. Within France, the simple household occurred in areas inhabited by the Germanic peoples who lived northeast of “the eternal line” running from Saint Malo on the English Channel coast to Geneva in French-speaking Switzerland. This area developed large scale agriculture capable of feeding the growing towns and cities, and did so prior to the agricultural revolution of the 18th century. It was supported by a large array of skilled craftsmen in the towns, and a large class of medium-sized ploughmen who “owned horses, copper bowls, glass goblets and often shoes; their children had fat cheeks and broad shoulders, and their babies wore tiny shoes. None of these children had the swollen bellies of the rachitics of the Third World.” The northeast became the center of French industrialization and world trade.

The northeast also differed from the southwest in literacy rates. In the early 19th century, while literacy rates for France as a whole were approximately 50%, the rate in the northeast was close to 100%, and differences occurred at least from the 17th century. Moreover, there was a pronounced difference in stature, with the northeasterners being taller by almost 2 centimeters in an 18th century sample of military recruits. Ladurie notes that the difference in the entire population was probably larger because the army would not accept many of the shorter men from the southwest. In addition, Laslett and other family historians have noted that the trend toward the economically independent nuclear family was more prominent in the north, while there was a tendency toward joint families as one moves to the south and east.

These findings are compatible with the interpretation that ethnic differences are a contributing factor to the geographical variation in family forms within Europe. The findings suggest that the Germanic peoples had a greater biological tendency toward a suite of traits that predisposed them to individualism— including a greater tendency toward the simple household because of natural selection occurring in a prolonged resource-limited period of their evolution in the north of Europe. Similar tendencies toward exogamy, monogamy, individualism, and relative de-emphasis on the extended family were also characteristic of Roman civilization, again suggesting an ethnic tendency that pervades Western cultures generally.

Current data indicate that around 80% of European genes are derived from people who settled in Europe 30–40,000 years ago and therefore persisted through the Ice Ages. This is sufficient time for the adverse ecology of the north to have had a powerful shaping influence on European psychological and cultural tendencies. These European groups were less attracted to extended kinship groups, so that when the context altered with the rise of powerful central governments able to guarantee individual interests, the simple household structure quickly became dominant. This simple family structure was adopted relatively easily because Europeans already had relatively powerful psychological predispositions toward the simple family resulting from its prolonged evolutionary history in the north of Europe.

Although these differences within the Western European system are important, they do not belie the general difference between Western Europe and the rest of Eurasia. Although the trend toward simple households occurred first in the northwest of Europe, they spread relatively quickly among all the Western European countries.

The establishment of the simple household freed from enmeshment in the wider kinship community was then followed in short order by all the other markers of Western modernization: limited governments in which individuals have rights against the state, capitalist economic enterprise based on individual economic rights, moral universalism, and science as individualist truth seeking. Individualist societies develop republican political institutions and institutions of scientific inquiry that assume that groups are maximally permeable and highly subject to defection when individual needs are not met.

Recent research by evolutionary economists provides fascinating insight on the differences between individualistic cultures versus collectivist cultures. An important aspect of this research is to model the evolution of cooperation among individualistic peoples. Fehr and Gächter (2002) found that people will altruistically punish defectors in a “one-shot” game—a game in which participants only interact once and are thus not influenced by the reputations of the people with whom they are interacting. This situation therefore models an individualistic culture because participants are strangers with no kinship ties. The surprising finding was that subjects who made high levels of public goods donations tended to punish people who did not even though they did not receive any benefit from doing so. Moreover, the punished individuals changed their ways and donated more in future games even though they knew that the participants in later rounds were not the same as in previous rounds. Fehr and Gächter suggest that people from individualistic cultures have an evolved negative emotional reaction to free riding that results in their punishing such people even at a cost to themselves—hence the term “altruistic punishment.”

Essentially Fehr and Gächter provide a model of the evolution of cooperation among individualistic peoples. Their results are most applicable to individualistic groups because such groups are not based on extended kinship relationships and are therefore much more prone to defection. In general, high levels of altruistic punishment are more likely to be found among individualistic, hunter-gather societies than in kinship based societies based on the extended family. Their results are least applicable to groups such as Jewish groups or other highly collectivist groups which in traditional societies were based on extended kinship relationships, known kinship linkages, and repeated interactions among members. In such situations, actors know the people with whom they are cooperating and anticipate future cooperation because they are enmeshed in extended kinship networks, or, as in the case of Jews, they are in the same group.

Similarly, in the ultimatum game, one subject (the ‘proposer’) is assigned a sum of money equal to two days’ wages and required to propose an offer to a second person (the ‘respondent’). The respondent may then accept the offer or reject the offer, and if the offer is rejected neither player wins anything. As in the previously described public goods game, the game is intended to model economic interactions between strangers, so players are anonymous. Henrich et al. found that two variables, payoffs to cooperation and the extent of market exchange, predicted offers and rejections in the game. Societies with an emphasis on cooperation and on market exchange had the highest offers—results interpreted as reflecting the fact that they have extensive experience of the principle of cooperation and sharing with strangers. These are individualistic societies. On the other hand, subjects from societies where all interactions are among family members made low offers in the ultimatum game and contributed low amounts to public goods in similarly anonymous conditions.

Europeans are thus exactly the sort of groups modeled by Fehr and Gächter and Henrich et al: They are groups with high levels of cooperation with strangers rather than with extended family members, and they are prone to market relations and individualism. On the other hand, Jewish culture derives from the Middle Old World culture area characterized by extended kinship networks and the extended family. Such cultures are prone to ingroup-outgroup relationships in which cooperation involves repeated interactions with ingroup members and the ingroup is composed of extended family members.

This suggests the fascinating possibility that the key for a group intending to turn Europeans against themselves is to trigger their strong tendency toward altruistic punishment by convincing them of the evil of their own people. Because Europeans are individualists at heart, they readily rise up in moral anger against their own people once they are seen as free riders and therefore morally blameworthy—a manifestation of their much stronger tendency toward altruistic punishment deriving from their evolutionary past as hunter gatherers. In making judgments of altruistic punishment, relative genetic distance is irrelevant. Freeriders are seen as strangers in a market situation; i.e., they have no familial or tribal connection with the altruistic punisher.

Thus the current altruistic punishment so characteristic of contemporary Western civilization: Once Europeans were convinced that their own people were morally bankrupt, any and all means of punishment should be used against their own people. Rather than see other Europeans as part of an encompassing ethnic and tribal community, fellow Europeans were seen as morally blameworthy and the appropriate target of altruistic punishment. For Westerners, morality is individualistic—violations of communal norms by free-riders are punished by altruistic aggression.

On the other hand, group strategies deriving from collectivist cultures, such as the Jews, are immune to such a maneuver because kinship and group ties come first. Morality is particularistic—whatever is good for the group. There is no tradition of altruistic punishment because the evolutionary history of these groups centers around cooperation of close kin, not strangers (see below).

The best strategy for a collectivist group like the Jews for destroying Europeans therefore is to convince the Europeans of their own moral bankruptcy. A major theme of CofC is that this is exactly what Jewish intellectual movements have done. They have presented Judaism as morally superior to European civilization and European civilization as morally bankrupt and the proper target of altruistic punishment. The consequence is that once Europeans are convinced of their own moral depravity, they will destroy their own people in a fit of altruistic punishment. The general dismantling of the culture of the West and eventually its demise as anything resembling an ethnic entity will occur as a result of a moral onslaught triggering a paroxysm of altruistic punishment. And thus the intense effort among Jewish intellectuals to continue the ideology of the moral superiority of Judaism and its role as undeserving historical victim while at the same time continuing the onslaught on the moral legitimacy of the West.

Individualist societies are therefore an ideal environment for Judaism as a highly collectivist, group-oriented strategy. Indeed, a major theme of Chapter 5 is that the Frankfurt School of Social Research advocated radical individualism among non-Jews while at the same time retaining their own powerful group allegiance to Judaism. Jews benefit from open, individualistic societies in which barriers to upward mobility are removed, in which people are viewed as individuals rather than as members of groups, in which intellectual discourse is not prescribed by institutions like the Catholic Church that are not dominated by Jews, and in which mechanisms of altruistic punishment may be exploited to divide the European majority. This is also why, apart from periods in which Jews served as middlemen between alien elites and native populations, Middle Eastern societies were much more efficient than Western individualistic societies at keeping Jews in a powerless position where they did not pose a competitive threat.

A Slight Interruption

Due to an upcoming significant transitional period in my personal life, I’ll need to take some time off of blogging. This is not a negative thing for me, quite the opposite; but it will entail a somewhat undefined period of shifted priorities. A couple of months at minimum; possibly several. I’m not sure yet if posts will stop completely or only become somewhat sporadic over this time – I’ve got a mounting number of posts started and half-done. I’ll get to them when I get to them. I’ll still be around on Twitter. Thanks to everyone for the constant support thus far, it is hugely appreciated!

Book Review: Cracker Culture by Grady McWhiney

Bottom Line Up Front: Required reading for anyone interested in the origins and essence of Southern culture. Go here to buy.

Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South is an essential book for understanding the “mind of the South” which has flummoxed and eluded outsiders for centuries. Grady McWhiney, born in Louisiana and educated at Columbia, clearly and concisely presents the evidence for his oft-overlooked and underappreciated thesis – that Southern culture, at least that of the lower-class “Crackers,” is primarily an evolution of the ancient Celtic culture of early Southern settlers, who largely came from Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, and Wales. Mr. McWhiney goes about his task systematically and categorically, presenting reams of evidence which, while mostly anecdotal, tend to press his points home by sheer force of weight.

For the unfamiliar, it should be noted at the start that there has never existed a singular “Southern culture.” Deep Appalachia, for example, shares few commonalities with the coastal South, and there exists thousands of variations in between, dictated by geographical, historical, and biological peculiarities. With some exceptions, the glue which binds these varieties together is their shared lineage, cultural and biological, with their Celtic forebears. This has also been among the most significant dividing lines between the Northern and Southern cultures. McWhiney uses various methods of analysis, but taken as a whole is seems the South was settled mostly by Scot-Irish and other Celts – among British settlers, the Celtic to English ratio in the South tends to range from 60%-80%, with the ratio more-or-less reversed for the early Northern states.

McWhiney introduces what will become a prevailing theme early – Northern and English abhorrence of Celtic ways. He writes:

The English, in general, found Celtic ways barbarous and disgusting; they spoke of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales as “frightful” places and of Celtic people as being “wicked,” “savage,” and “indolent drunkards.” ….

The New England Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson summed up English as well as Yankee views on the subject when he explained that “what we think of when we talk of English traits really narrows itself to a small district. It excludes Ireland, and Scotland, and Wales…. As you go north into … Yorkshire, or you enter Scotland, there is a rapid loss of all grandeur of mien and manners; a provincial eagerness and acuteness appear; the poverty of the country makes itself remarked, and a coarseness of manners [prevails]…. In Ireland, are the same climate and soil as in England, but less food, no right relation to the land,… and an inferior or misplaced race.”

Celts, in turn, despised the English. They resented English self-glorification, English attempts to outlaw and to abolish Celtic culture and traditions, and English claims that they were responsible for what civilization existed in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Stop me when it starts sounding familiar.

While Yankees felt a special kinship towards England – Emerson said that the Yankee “is only the continuation of the English genius into new conditions, more or less propitious” – Southerners found little to admire. Mary Chesnut was typical when she wrote, “The British is the most conceited nation in the world, the most self-sufficient, self-satisfied, and arrogant.” This was no accident of history. In Mr. McWhiney’s words, the Celtic and English worldviews of the 17th and 18th centuries “were not just different – they were antagonistic.” It was inevitable that their animosity would be imported into the Americas.

The Celts brought with them to the Old South leisurely ways that fostered idleness and gaiety, a society in which people favored the spoken word over the written and enjoyed such sensual pleasures as drinking, smoking, fighting, gambling, fishing, hunting, and loafing. In Celtic Britain and in the antebellum South family ties were much stronger than in England and in the antebellum North; Celts and Southerners, whose values were more agrarian than those of Englishmen and Northerners, wasted more time and consumed more liquor and tobacco and were less concerned with the useful and the material. Englishmen and Northerners, who favored urban villages and nuclear families, were just the opposite; imbued with a work ethic and commercial values, they were neater, cleaner, read and wrote more, worked harder, and considered themselves more progressive and advanced than Celts and Southerners.

Mr. McWhiney does an admirable job of explaining that many of the so-called “negatives” of Celtic Southern culture, such as nomadic lifestyle, indolence, and substandard living conditions, were not byproducts of the slave society but simply imported from the Old World. Even if slavery did suppress white labor, it is not at all clear that these Crackers would have eschewed their leisure time for additional work. When one Yankee do-gooder told a Southern farmer that “a set of books on scientific agriculture” could teach him to “farm twice as good as you do,” the Southerner replied, “Hell, son, I don’t farm half as good as I know how now.” Celtic Southerners commonly worked for only the amount of time it would take to procure the necessities of life and a minimum amount of comfort, preferring to devote the rest of their time to hunting, visiting, drinking, and other leisure activities – little different from 18th century Scotland and Ireland.

Northerners were often perplexed by this perceived Southern laziness. Mr. McWhiney explains:

Like his Celtic ancestors, the Southerner cared little for what outsiders thought of him; he was pleased enough with where and how he lived. Though he was perhaps not as opulent as he might have liked, his condition represented a compromise between the comforts desired and his unwillingness to work especially hard to obtain them. His rural and pastoral traditions shaped his needs and wants in housing as it did in other things.

A far cry indeed from Yankee industry. This satisfied and fulfilled existence is an integral component to John Crowe Ransom’s concept of the “Established Society” – one that makes a steady and conservative peace with nature, rather than one in which the “pioneering spirit” takes a permanent hold. Yankee austerity and industry presented many material benefits, truly, but at the cost of a churning and constant transformation of their lifestyle until it becomes – as today – unrecognizable. Celtic “laziness,” while perhaps not conducive to luxurious civilization on a grand scale, results in a contented person who spends his days in the simple enjoyment of life, rather than an everlasting striving for more, more, more.

Another manifestation of Celtic simplicity was in the use – or lack thereof – of money and economics. Whereas the English and Yankees placed primary importance on monetary worth – one German questioned “the spiritual state of a country which… estimates a man’s value in terms of his income” – Southerners “disdained people who devoted their lives to the making of money.” As one Englishman put it, there was “no part of the world where great wealth confers so little rank, or is attended with so few advantages” as in the South. As a result, many ignorant and trusting Crackers were routinely exploited by Northern “dollar-chasers.” However, Mr. McWhiney cautions against believing that the Crackers were stupid, or simpletons. While they disdained reading and education, they were often very witty, demonstrated a “quickness of comprehension,” and were “well supplied with common sense.” Theirs was simply an intelligence adapted to their surroundings and mode of life – a funny quip was more conducive to their happiness than a library of scientific tomes.

I would not recommend Cracker Culture to a newcomer to Southern history or culture. Because Mr. McWhiney primarily uses contemporary accounts from Northerners and Englishmen to make his case, one can get the impression that the antebellum South was simply a great miserable mudpit in which wholly uncivilized barbarians drank, stabbed, shot, and lazed themselves to death. As I said, Mr. McWhiney is categorical and systematic; he is concerned with his subject alone and does not stray from it. While the case for his thesis is the better for it, this book simply must be supplemented with other studies in order to receive a holistic picture of what antebellum Southern life was like.

Mr. McWhiney discusses in detail Celtic vs. English, and Southern vs. Northern, work habits, drinking, clannishness, fighting spirit, hospitality, values, and morals, in each instance demonstrating the strong connections between the Old World and the New. He closes with an explicit statement on the innate and essential differences between the Northern and South civilizations, something we here at LTC like to harp on. By 1861, both Northerners and Southerners were ready to put their two great worldviews to the test of battle:

In 1860 George Fitzhugh announced that the division between Southerners and Northerners was more than a “sectional issue” – it was a clash between “conservatives and revolutionaries;… between those who believe in the past, in history, in human experience,… and those who … foolishly, rashly, and profanely attempt to ‘expel human nature,’ to bring about a millennium, and inaugurate a future wholly unlike anything that has preceded it.” That same year William H. Herndon proclaimed that “Civilization and barbarism are absolute antagonisms. One or the other must perish on this Continent…. There is no dodging the question. Let the natural struggle, heaven high and ‘hell’ deep, gon on…. I am thoroughly convinced that two such civilizations as the North and the South cannot coexist on the same soil…. to expect otherwise would be to expect the Absolute to sleep with and tolerate ‘hell.’”

The Celtic influence on the Southern mind persists today, even if many of its manifestations have been mitigated by our modern society. “The South” today is strongest in those small towns which have seen little outside immigration and thus have by-and-large protected their Celtic blood. Mr. McWhiney’s book does us a valuable service in tracing our cultural heritage back into the Old World.

Excerpt- Phillips on the Character of Southern Slavery, Pt. III

Introduction and Part I here. Part II here. This section is taken from Chapter XVI, “Plantation Life.”

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


The lives of the whites and the blacks were partly segregate, partly intertwined. If any special link were needed, the children supplied it. The whites ones, hardly knowing their mothers from their mammies or their uncles by blood from their “uncles” by courtesy, had the freedom of the kitchen and the cabins, and the black ones were their playmates in the shaded sandy yard the livelong day. Together they were regaled with folklore in the quarters, with Bible and fairy stories in the “big house,” with pastry in the kitchen, with grapes at the scuppernong arbor, with melons at the spring house and with peaches in the orchard. The half-grown boys were likewise almost as undiscriminating among themselves as the dogs with which they chased rabbits by day and ‘possums by night. Indeed, when the fork in the road of life was reached, the white youths found something to envy in the freedom of their fellows’ feet from the cramping weight of shoes and the freedom of their minds from the restraints of school. With the approach of maturity came routine and responsibility for the whites, routine alone for the generality of the blacks. Some of the males of each race grew into ruffians, others into gentlemen in the literal sense, some of the females into viragoes, others into gentlewomen; but most of both races and sexes merely became plain, wholesome folk of a somewhat distinctive plantation type. In amusements and in religion the activities of the whites and blacks were both mingled and separate. Fox hunts when occurring by day were as a rule diversions only for the planters and their sons and guests, but when they occurred by moonlight the chase was joined by the negroes on foot with halloos which rivalled the music of the hounds. By night also the blacks, with the whites occasionally joining in, sought the canny ‘possum and the embattled ‘coon; in spare times by day they hied their curs after the fleeing Brer Rabbit, or built and baited seductive traps for turkeys and quail; and fishing was available both by day and by night. At the horse races of the whites the jockeys and many of the spectators were negroes; while from the cock fights and even the “crap” games of the blacks, white men and boys were not always absent.

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


The churches which had the greatest influence upon the negroes were those which relied least upon ritual and most upon exhilaration. The Baptist and Methodist were foremost, and the latter had the special advantage of the chain of camp meetings which extended throughout the inland regions. At each chosen spot the planters and farmers of the countryside would jointly erect a great shed or “stand” in the midst of a grove, and would severally build wooden shelters or “tents” in a great square surrounding it. When the crops were laid by in August, the households would remove thither, their wagons piled high with bedding, chairs and utensils to keep “open house” with heavy-laden tables for all who might come to the meeting. With less elaborate equipment the negroes also would camp in the neighborhood and attend the same service as the whites, sitting generally in a section of the stand set apart for them. The camp meeting, in short, was the chief social and religious event of the year for all the Methodist whites and blacks within reach of the ground and for such non-Methodists as cared to attend. For some of the whites this occasion was highly festive, for others, intensely religious; but for any negro it might easily be both at once. Preachers in relays delivered sermons at brief intervals from sunrise until after nightfall; and most of the sermons were followed by exhortations for sinners to advance to the mourners’ benches to receive the more intimate and individual suasion of the clergy and their corps of assisting brethren and sisters. The condition was highly hypnotic, and the professions of conversion were often quite as ecstatic as the most fervid ministrant could wish. The negroes were particularly welcome to the preachers, for they were likely to give the promptest response to the pulpit’s challenge and set the frenzy going. A Georgia preacher, for instance, in reporting from one of these camps in 1807, wrote: “The first day of the meeting, we had a gentle and comfortable moving of the spirit of the Lord among us; and at night it was much more powerful than before, and the meeting was kept up all night without intermission. However, before day the white people retired, and the meeting was continued by the black people.” It is easy to see who led the way to the mourners’ bench. “Next day,” the preacher continued, “at ten o’clock the meeting was remarkably lively, and many souls were deeply wrought upon; and at the close of the sermon there was a general cry for mercy, and before night there were a good many persons who professed to get converted. That night the meeting continued all night, both by the white and black people, and many souls were converted before day.” The next day the stir was still more general. Finally, “Friday was the greatest day of all. We had the Lord’s Supper at night, . . . and such a solemn time I have seldom seen on the like occasion. Three of the preachers fell helpless within the altar, and one lay a considerable time before he came to himself. From that the work of convictions and conversions spread, and a large number were converted during the night, and there was no intermission until the break of day. At that time many stout hearted sinners were conquered. On Saturday we had preaching at the rising of the sun; and then with many tears we took leave of each other.


In these manifestations the negroes merely followed and enlarged upon the example of some of the whites. The similarity of practices, however, did not promote a permanent mingling of the two races in the same congregations, for either would feel some restraint upon its rhapsody imposed by the presence of the other. To relieve this there developed in greater or less degree a separation of the races for purposes of worship, white ministers preaching to the blacks from time to time in plantation missions, and home talent among the negroes filling the intervals. While some of the black exhorters were viewed with suspicion by the whites, others were highly esteemed and unusually privileged. One of these at Lexington, Kentucky, for example, was given the following pass duly signed by his master: “Tom is my slave, and has permission to go to Louisville for two or three weeks and return here after he has made his visit. Tom is a preacher of the reformed Baptist church, and has always been a faithful servant.”7 As a rule the greater the proportion of negroes in a district or a church connection, the greater the segregation in worship. If the whites were many and the negroes few, the latter would be given the gallery or some other group of pews; but if the whites were few and the negroes many, the two elements would probably worship in separate buildings. Even in such case, however, it was very common for a parcel of black domestics to flock with their masters rather than with their fellows.


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

From the upland cotton belt a Presbyterian minister in the Chester district wrote: “You are all aware, gentlemen, that the relation and intercourse between the whites and the blacks in the up-country are very different from what they are in the lowcountry. With us they are neither so numerous nor kept so entirely separate, but constitute a part of our households, and are daily either with their masters or some member of the white family. From this circumstance they feel themselves more identified with their owners than they can with you. I minister steadily to two different congregations. More than one hundred blacks attend. . . . The gallery, or a quarter of the house, is appropriated to them in all our churches, and they enjoy the preached gospel in common with the whites.” Finally, from the Greenville district, on the upper edge of the Piedmont, where the Methodists and Baptists were completely dominant among whites and blacks alike, it was reported: “About one fourth of the members in the churches are negroes. In the years 1832, ‘3 and ‘4 great numbers of negroes joined the churches during a period of revival. Many, I am sorry to say, have since been excommunicated. As the general zeal in religion declined, they backslid.” There were a few licensed negro preachers, this writer continued, who were thought to do some good; but the general improvement in negro character, he thought, was mainly due to the religious and moral training given by their masters, and still more largely by their mistresses. From all quarters the expression was common that the promotion of religion among the slaves was not only the duty of masters but was to their interest as well in that it elevated the morals of the workmen and improved the quality of the service they rendered.

In general, the less the cleavage of creed between master and man, the better for both, since every factor conducing to solidarity of sentiment was of advantage in promoting harmony and progress. When the planter went to sit under his rector while the slave stayed at home to hear an exhorter, just so much was lost in the sense of fellowship. It was particularly unfortunate that on the rice coast the bulk of the blacks had no co-religionists except among the non-slaveholding whites with whom they had more conflict than community of economic and sentimental interest. On the whole, however, in spite of the contrary suggestion of irresponsible religious preachments and manifestations, the generality of the negroes everywhere realized, like the whites, that virtue was to be acquired by consistent self-control in the performance of duty rather than by the alternation of spasmodic reforms and relapses.


The slaves not only had their own functionaries in mystic matters, including a remnant of witchcraft, but in various temporal concerns also. Foremen, chosen by masters with the necessary sanction of the slaves, had industrial and police authority; nurses were minor despots in sick rooms and plantation hospitals; many an Uncle Remus was an oracle in folklore; and many an Aunt Dinah was arbitress of style in turbans and of elegancies in general. Even in the practice of medicine a negro here and there gained a sage’s reputation. The governor of Virginia reported in 1729 that he had “met with a negro, a very old man, who has performed many wonderful cures of diseases. For the sake of his freedom he has revealed the medicine, a concoction of roots and barks. . . . There is no room to doubt of its being a certain remedy here, and of singular use among the negroes—it is well worth the price (£60) of the negro’s freedom, since it is now known how to cure slaves without mercury.” And in colonial South Carolina a slave named Caesar was particularly famed for his cure for poison, which was a decoction of plantain, hoarhound and golden rod roots compounded with rum and lye, together with an application of tobacco leaves soaked in rum in case of rattlesnake bite. In 1750 the legislature ordered his prescription published for the benefit of the public, and the Charleston journal which printed it found its copies exhausted by the demand. An example of more common episodes appears in a letter from William Dawson, a Potomac planter, to Robert Carter of Nomoni Hall, asking that “Brother Tom,” Carter’s coachman, be sent to see a sick child in his quarter. Dawson continued: “The black people at this place hath more faith in him as a doctor than any white doctor; and as I wrote you in a former letter I cannot expect you to lose your man’s time, etc., for nothing, but am quite willing to pay for same.””

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


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

Toward the end of his narrative, Van Buren expressed the thought that Mississippi, the newly settled home of people from all the older Southern states, exemplified the manners of all. He was therefore prompted to generalize and interpret: “A Southern gentleman is composed of the same material that a Northern gentleman is, only it is tempered by a Southern clime and mode of life. And if in this temperament there is a little more urbanity and chivalry, a little more politeness and devotion to the ladies, a little more suaviter in modo, why it is theirs—be fair and acknowledge it, and let them have it. He is from the mode of life he lives, especially at home, more or less a cavalier; he invariably goes a-horseback. His boot is always spurred, and his hand ensigned with the riding-whip. Aside from this he is known by his bearing—his frankness and firmness.” Furthermore he is a man of eminent leisureliness, which Van Buren accounts for as follows: “Nature is unloosed of her stays there; she is not crowded for time; the word haste is not in her vocabulary. In none of the seasons is she stinted to so short a space to perform her work as at the North. She has leisure enough to bud and blossom—to produce and mature fruit, and do all her work. While on the other hand in the North right the reverse is true. Portions are taken off the fall and spring to lengthen out the winter, making his reign nearly half the year. This crowds the work of the whole year, you might say, into about half of it. This . . . makes the essential difference between a Northerner and a Southerner. They are children of their respective climes; and this is why Southrons are so indifferent about time; they have three months more of it in a year than we have.

A key to Van Buren’s enthusiasm is given by a passage in the diary of the great English reporter, William H. Russell: “The more one sees of a planter’s life the greater is the conviction that its charms come from a particular turn of mind, which is separated by a wide interval from modern ideas in Europe. The planter is a denomadized Arab;—he has fixed himself with horses and slaves in a fertile spot, where he guards his women with Oriental care, exercises patriarchal sway, and is at once fierce, tender and hospitable. The inner life of his household is exceedingly charming, because one is astonished to find the graces and accomplishments of womanhood displayed in a scene which has a certain sort of savage rudeness about it after all, and where all kinds of incongruous accidents are visible in the service of the table, in the furniture of the house, in its decorations, menials, and surrounding scenery.” The Southerners themselves took its incongruities much as a matter of course. The regime was to their minds so clearly the best attainable under the circumstances that its roughnesses chafed little. The plantations were homes to which, as they were fond of singing, their hearts turned ever; and the negroes, exasperating as they often were to visiting strangers, were an element in the home itself. The problem of accommodation, which was the central problem of the life, was on the whole happily solved.

The separate integration of the slaves was no more than rudimentary. They were always within the social mind and conscience of the whites, as the whites in turn were within the mind and conscience of the blacks. The adjustments and readjustments were mutually made, for although the masters had by far the major power of control, the slaves themselves were by no means devoid of influence. A sagacious employer has well said, after long experience, “a negro understands a white man better than the white man understands the negro.”” This knowledge gave a power all its own. The general regime was in fact shaped by mutual requirements, concessions and understandings, producing reciprocal codes of conventional morality. Masters of the standard type promoted Christianity and the customs of marriage and parental care, and they instructed as much by example as by precept; they gave occasional holidays, rewards and indulgences, and permitted as large a degree of liberty as they thought the slaves could be trusted not to abuse; they refrained from selling slaves except under the stress of circumstances; they avoided cruel, vindictive and captious punishments, and endeavored to inspire effort through affection rather than through fear; and they were content with achieving quite moderate industrial results. In short their despotism, so far as it might properly be so called, was benevolent in intent and on the whole beneficial in effect.

Some planters there were who inflicted severe punishments for disobedience and particularly for the offense of running away; and the community condoned and even sanctioned a certain degree of this. Otherwise no planter would have printed such descriptions of scars and brands as were fairly common in the newspaper advertisements offering rewards for the recapture of absconders. When severity went to an excess that was reckoned as positive cruelty, however, the law might be invoked if white witnesses could be had; or the white neighbors or the slaves themselves might apply extra-legal retribution. The former were fain to be content with inflicting social ostracism or with expelling the offender from the district; the latter sometimes went so far as to set fire to the oppressor’s house or to accomplish his death by poison, cudgel, knife or bullet.”

In the typical group there was occasion for terrorism on neither side. The master was ruled by a sense of dignity, duty and moderation, and the slaves by a moral code of their own. This embraced a somewhat obsequious obedience, the avoidance of open indolence and vice, the attainment of moderate skill in industry, and the cultivation of the master’s good will and affection. It winked at petty theft, loitering and other little laxities, while it stressed good manners and a fine faithfulness in major concerns. While the majority were notoriously easy-going, very many made their master’s interests thoroughly their own; and many of the masters had perfect confidence in the loyalty of the bulk of their servitors. When on the eve of secession Edmund Ruffin foretold the fidelity which the slaves actually showed when the war ensued, he merely voiced the faith of the planter class.

In general the relations on both sides were felt to be based on pleasurable responsibility. The masters occasionally expressed this in their letters. William Allason, for example, who after a long career as a merchant at Falmouth, Virginia, had retired to plantation life, declined his niece’s proposal in 1787 that he return to Scotland to spend his declining years. In enumerating his reasons he concluded: “And there is another thing which in your country you can have no trial of: that is, of selling faithful slaves, which perhaps we have raised from their earliest breath. Even this, however, some can do, as with horses, etc., but I must own that it is not in my disposition.”

Excerpt- Phillips on the Character of Southern Slavery, Pt. II

Introduction and Part I here. The following excerpt is taken from Chapter XV, “Plantation Labor.”

WHILE produced only in America, the plantation slave was a product of old-world forces. His nature was an African’s profoundly modified but hardly transformed by the requirements of European civilization. The wrench from Africa and the subjection to the new discipline while uprooting his ancient language and customs had little more effect upon his temperament than upon his complexion. Ceasing to be Foulah, Coromantee, Ebo or Angola, he became instead the American negro. The Caucasian was also changed by the contact in a far from negligible degree; but the negro’s conversion was much the more thorough, partly because the process in his case was coercive, partly because his genius was imitative.

The planters had a saying, always of course with an implicit reservation as to limits, that a negro was what a white man made him. The molding, however, was accomplished more by groups than by individuals. The purposes and policies of the masters were fairly uniform, and in consequence the negroes, though with many variants, became largely standardized into the predominant plantation type. The traits which prevailed were an eagerness for society, music and merriment, a fondness for display whether of person, dress, vocabulary or emotion, a not flagrant sensuality, a receptiveness toward any religion whose exercises were exhilarating, a proneness to superstition, a courteous acceptance of subordination, an avidity for praise, a readiness for loyalty of a feudal sort, and last but not least, a healthy human repugnance toward overwork. “It don’t do no good to hurry,” was a negro saying, ‘”caze you’re liable to run by mo’n you overtake.” Likewise painstaking was reckoned painful; and tomorrow was always waiting for today’s work, while today was ready for tomorrow’s share of play. On the other hand it was a satisfaction to work sturdily for a hard boss, and so be able to say in an interchange of amenities: “Go long, half-priced nigger! You wouldn’t fotch fifty dollars, an’ I’m wuth a thousand!”

Contrasts were abundant. John B. Lamar, on the one hand, wrote: “My man Ned the carpenter is idle or nearly so at the plantation. He is fixing gates and, like the idle groom in Pickwick, trying to fool himself into the belief that he is doing something. . . . He is an eye servant. If I was with him I could have the work done soon and cheap; but I am afraid to trust him off where there is no one he fears.” On the other hand, M. W. Philips inscribed a page of his plantation diary as follows:


July 10, 1853

Peyton is no more Aged 42

Though he was a bad man in many respects yet he was a most excellent field hand, always at his post.

On this place for 21 years. Except the measles and its sequence, the injury rec’d by the mule last Nov’r and its sequence, he has not lost 15 days’ work, I verily believe, in the remaining 19 years. I wish we could hope for his eternal state.


Theoretically the master might be expected perhaps to expend the minimum possible to keep his slaves in strength, to discard the weaklings and the aged, to drive his gang early and late, to scourge the laggards hourly, to secure the whole with fetters by day and with bolts by night, and to keep them in perpetual terror of his wrath. But Olmsted, who seems to have gone South with the thought of finding some such theory in application, wrote: “I saw much more of what I had not anticipated and less of what I had in the slave states than, with a somewhat extended travelling experience, in any other country I ever visited”; and Nehemiah Adams, who went from Boston to Georgia prepared to weep with the slaves who wept, found himself laughing with the laughing ones instead.

The theory of rigid coercion and complete exploitation was as strange to the bulk of the planters as the doctrine and practice of moderation was to those who viewed the regime from afar and with the mind’s eye. A planter in explaining his mildness might well have said it was due to his being neither a knave nor a fool. He refrained from the use of fetters not so much because they would have hampered the slaves in their work as because the general use of them never crossed his mind. And since chains and bolts were out of the question, the whole system of control must be moderate; slaves must be impelled as little as possible by fear, and as much as might be by loyalty, pride and the prospect of reward.

Here and there a planter applied this policy in an exceptional degree. A certain Z. Kingsley followed it with marked success even when his whole force was of fresh Africans. In a pamphlet of the late eighteen-twenties he told of his method as follows: “About twenty-five years ago I settled a plantation on St . John’s River in Florida with about fifty new negroes, many of whom I brought from the Coast myself. They were mostly fine young men and women, and nearly in equal numbers. I never interfered in their connubial concerns nor domestic affairs, but let them regulate these after their own manner. I taught them nothing but what was useful, and what I thought would add to their physical and moral happiness. I encouraged as much as possible dancing, merriment and dress, for which Saturday afternoon and night and Sunday morning were dedicated. [Part of their leisure] was usually employed in hoeing their corn and getting a supply of fish for the week. Both men and women were very industrious. Many of them made twenty bushels of corn to sell, and they vied with each other in dress and dancing. . . . They were perfectly honest and obedient, and appeared perfectly happy, having no fear but that of offending me; and I hardly ever had to apply other correction than shaming them. If I exceeded this, the punishment was quite light, for they hardly ever failed in doing their work well. My object was to excite their ambition and attachment by kindness, not to depress their spirits by fear and punishment. . . . Perfect confidence, friendship and good understanding reigned between us.” During the War of 1812 most of these negroes were killed or carried off in a Seminole raid. When peace returned and Kingsley attempted to restore his Eden with a mixture of African and American negroes, a serpent entered in the guise of a negro preacher who taught the sinfulness of dancing, fishing on Sunday and eating the catfish which had no scales. In consequence the slaves “became poor, ragged, hungry and disconsolate. To steal from me was only to do justice—to take what belonged to them, because I kept them in unjust bondage.” They came to believe “that all pastime or pleasure in this iniquitous world was sinful; that this was only a place of sorrow and repentance, and the sooner they were out of it the better; that they would then go to a good country where they would experience no want of anything, and have no work nor cruel taskmaster, for that God was merciful and would pardon any sin they committed; only it was necessary to pray and ask forgiveness, and have prayer meetings and contribute what they could to the church, etc. . . . Finally myself and the overseer became completely divested of all authority over the negroes. . . . Severity had no effect; it only made it worse.” This experience left Kingsley undaunted in his belief that liberalism and profit-sharing were the soundest basis for the plantation regime. To support this contention further he cited an experiment by a South Carolinian who established four or five plantations in a group on Broad River, with a slave foreman on each and a single overseer with very limited functions over the whole. The cotton crop was the master’s, while the hogs, corn and other produce belonged to the slaves for their sustenance and the sale of any surplus. The output proved large, “and the owner had no further trouble nor expense than furnishing the ordinary clothing and paying the overseer’s wages, so that he could fairly be called free, seeing that he could realize his annual income wherever he chose to reside, without paying the customary homage to servitude of personal attendance on the operation of his slaves.” In Kingsley’s opinion the system “answered extremely well, and offers to us a strong case in favor of exciting ambition by cultivating utility, local attachment and moral improvement among the slaves.

The most thoroughgoing application on record of self-government by slaves is probably that of the brothers Joseph and Jefferson Davis on their plantations, Hurricane and Brierfield, in Warren County, Mississippi. There the slaves were not only encouraged to earn money for themselves in every way they might, but the discipline of the plantations was vested in courts composed wholly of slaves, proceeding formally and imposing penalties to be inflicted by slave constables except when the master intervened with his power of pardon. The regime was maintained for a number of years in full effect until in 1862 when the district was invaded by Federal troops.

These several instances were of course exceptional, and they merely tend to counterbalance the examples of systematic severity at the other extreme. In general, though compulsion was always available in last resort, the relation of planter and slave was largely shaped by a sense of propriety, proportion and cooperation.

As to food, clothing and shelter, a few concrete items will reinforce the indications in the preceding chapters that crude comfort was the rule. Bartram the naturalist observed in 1776 that a Georgia slaveholder with whom he stopped sold no dairy products from his forty cows in milk. The proprietor explained this by saying: “I have a considerable family of black people who though they are slaves must be fed and cared for. Those I have were either chosen for their good qualities or born in the family; and I find from long experience and observation that the better they are fed, clothed and treated, the more service and profit we may expect to derive from their labour. In short, I find my stock produces no more milk, or any article of food or nourishment, than what is expended to the best advantage amongst my family and slaves.” At another place Bartram noted the arrival at a plantation of horse loads of wild pigeons taken by torchlight from their roosts in a neighboring swamp.

On Charles Cotesworth Pinckney’s two plantations on the South Carolina coast, as appears from his diary of 1818, a detail of four slaves was shifted from the field work each week for a useful holiday in angling for the huge drumfish which abounded in those waters; and their catches augmented the fare of the white and black families alike. Game and fish, however, were extras. The staple meat was bacon, which combined the virtues of easy production, ready curing and constant savoriness. On Fowler’s “Prairie” plantation, where the field hands numbered a little less than half a hundred, the pork harvest throughout the eighteen-fifties, except for a single year of hog cholera, yielded from eleven to twenty-three hundred pounds; and when the yield was less than the normal, northwestern bacon or barreled pork made up the deficit.

As for housing, the vestiges of the old slave quarters, some of which have stood abandoned for half a century, denote in many cases a sounder construction and greater comfort than most of the negroes in freedom have since been able to command.

The death rate was a subject of more active solicitude. This may be illustrated from the journal for 1859-1860 of the Magnolia plantation, forty miles below New Orleans. Along with its record of rations to 138 hands, and of the occasional births, deaths, runaways and recaptures, and of the purchase of a man slave for $2300, it contains the following summary under date of October 4, 1860: “We have had during the past eighteen months over 150 cases of measles and numerous cases of whooping cough, and then the diphtheria, all of which we have gone through with but little loss save in the whooping cough when we lost some twelve children.” This entry was in the spirit of rejoicing at escape from disasters. But on December 18 there were two items of another tone. One of these was entered by an overseer named Kellett: “[I] shot the negro boy Frank for attempting to cut at me and three boys with his cane knife with intent to kill.” The other, in a different handwriting, recorded tersely: “J. A. Randall commenst buisnass this mornung. J. Kellett discharged this morning.” The owner could not afford to keep an overseer who killed negroes even though it might be in self defence. Of epidemics, yellow fever was of minor concern as regards the slaves, for negroes were largely immune to it; but cholera sometimes threatened to exterminate the slaves and bankrupt their masters. After a visitation of this in and about New Orleans in 1832, John McDonogh wrote to a friend: “All that you have seen of yellow fever was nothing in comparison. It is supposed that five or six thousand souls, black and white, were carried off in fourteen days.” The pecuniary loss in Louisiana from slave deaths in that epidemic was estimated at four million dollars. Two years afterward it raged in the Savannah neighborhood. On Mr. Wightman’s plantation, ten miles above the city, there were in the first week of September fifty-three cases and eighteen deaths. The overseer then checked the spread by isolating the afflicted ones in the church, the barn and the mill. The neighboring planters awaited only the first appearance of the disease on their places to abandon their crops and hurry their slaves to lodges in the wilderness. Plagues of smallpox were sometimes of similar dimensions. Even without pestilence, deaths might bring a planter’s ruin. A series of them drove M. W. Philips to exclaim in his plantation journal: “Oh! my losses almost make me crazy. God alone can help.” In short, planters must guard their slaves’ health and life as among the most vital of their own interests; for while crops were merely income, slaves were capital. The tendency appears to have been common, indeed, to employ free immigrant labor when available for such work as would involve strain and exposure. The documents bearing on this theme are scattering but convincing. Thus E. J. Forstall when writing in 1845 of the extension of the sugar fields, said thousands of Irishmen were seen in every direction digging plantation ditches. T. B. Thorpe when describing plantation life on the Mississippi in 1853 said the Irish proved the best ditchers; and a Georgia planter when describing his drainage of a swamp in 1855 said that Irish were hired for the work in order that the slaves might continue at their usual routine. Olmsted noted on the Virginia seaboard that “Mr. W. . . . had an Irish gang draining for him by contract.” Olmsted asked, “why he should employ Irishmen in preference to doing the work with his own hands. ‘It’s dangerous work,’ the planter replied, ‘and a negro’s life is too valuable to be risked at it. If a negro dies, it is a considerable loss you know.‘” On a Louisiana plantation W. H. Russell wrote in 1860: “The labor of ditching, trenching, cleaning the waste lands and hewing down the forests is generally done by Irish laborers who travel about the country under contractors or are engaged by resident gangsmen for the task. Mr. Seal lamented the high prices of this work; but then, as he said, ‘It was much better to have Irish do it, who cost nothing to the planter if they died, than to use up good field-hands in such severe employment.'” Russell added on his own score: “There is a wonderful mine of truth in this observation. Heaven knows how many poor Hibernians have been consumed and buried in these Louisianian swamps, leaving their earnings to the dramshop keeper and the contractor, and the results of their toil to the planter.” On another plantation the same traveller was shown the debris left by the last Irish gang and was regaled by an account of the methods by which their contractor made them work. Robert Russell made a similar observation on a plantation near New Orleans, and was told that even at high wages Irish laborers were advisable for the work because they would do twice as much ditching as would an equal number of negroes in the same time. Furthermore, A. de Puy Van Buren, noted as a common sight in the Yazoo district, “especially in the ditching season, wandering ‘exiles of Erin,’ straggling along the road”; and remarked also that the Irish were the chief element among the straining roustabouts, on the steamboats of that day.ss Likewise Olmsted noted on the Alabama River that in lading his boat with cotton from a towering bluff, a slave squad was appointed for the work at the top of the chute, while Irish deck hands were kept below to capture the wildly bounding bales and stow them. As to the reason for this division of labor and concentration of risk, the traveller had his own surmise confirmed when the captain answered his question by saying, “The niggers are worth too much to be risked here; if the Paddies are knocked overboard, or get their backs broke, nobody loses anything!” To these chance observations it may be added that many newspaper items and canal and railroad company reports from the ‘thirties to the ‘fifties record that the construction gangs were largely of Irish and Germans. The pay attracted those whose labor was their life; the risk repelled those whose labor was their capital. There can be no doubt that the planters cherished the lives of their slaves.

Most of the runaways went singly, but some of them went often. Such chronic offenders were likely to be given exemplary punishment when recaptured. In the earlier decades branding and shackling were fairly frequent. Some of the punishments were unquestionably barbarous, the more so when inflicted upon talented and sensitive mulattoes and quadroons who might be quite as fit for freedom as their masters. In the later period the more common resorts were to whipping, and particularly to sale. The menace of this last was shrewdly used by making a bogey man of the trader and a reputed hell on earth of any district whither he was supposed to carry his merchandise. “They are taking her to Georgia for to wear her life away” was a slave refrain welcome to the ears of masters outside that state; and the slanderous imputation gave no offence even to Georgians, for they recognized that the intention was benevolent, and they were in turn blackening the reputations of the more westerly states in the amiable purpose of keeping their own slaves content.

Virtually all the plantations whose records are available suffered more or less from truancy, and the abundance of newspaper advertisements for fugitives reinforces the impression that the need of deterrence was vital. Whippings, instead of proving a cure, might bring revenge in the form of sabotage, arson or murder. Adequacy in food, clothing and shelter might prove of no avail, for contentment must be mental as well as physical. The preventives mainly relied upon were holidays, gifts and festivities to create lightness of heart; overtime and overtask payments to promote zeal and satisfaction; kindliness and care to call forth loyalty in return; and the special device of crop patches to give every hand a stake in the plantation. This last raised a minor problem of its own, for if slaves were allowed to raise and sell the plantation staples, pilfering might be stimulated more than industry and punishments become more necessary than before. In the cotton belt a solution was found at last in nankeen cotton. This variety had been widely grown for domestic use as early as the beginning of the nineteenth century, but it was left largely in neglect until when in the thirties it was hit upon for negro crops. While the prices it brought were about the same as those of the standard upland staple, its distinctive brown color prevented the admixture of the planter’s own white variety without certain detection when it reached the gin. The scale which the slave crops attained on some plantations is indicated by the proceeds of $1,969.65 in 1859 from the nankeen of the negroes on the estate of Allen McWalker in Taylor County, Georgia. Such returns might be distributed in cash; but planters generally preferred for the sake of sobriety that money should not be freely handled by the slaves. Earnings as well as gifts were therefore likely to be issued in the form of tickets for merchandise. David Ross, for example, addressed the following to the firm of Allen and Ellis at Fredericksburg in the Christmas season of 1802: “Gentlemen: Please to let the bearer George have ten dollars value in anything he chooses”; and the merchants entered a memorandum that George chose two handkerchiefs, two hats, three and a half yards of linen, a pair of hose, and six shillings in cash.”

In general the most obvious way of preventing trouble was to avoid the occasion for it. If tasks were complained of as too heavy, the simplest recourse was to reduce the schedule. If jobs were slackly done, acquiescence was easier than correction. The easy-going and plausible disposition of the blacks conspired with the heat of the climate to soften the resolution of the whites and make them patient. Severe and unyielding requirements would keep everyone on edge; concession when accompanied with geniality and not indulged so far as to cause demoralization would make plantation life not only tolerable but charming. In the actual regime severity was clearly the exception, and kindliness the rule. The Englishman Welby, for example, wrote in 1820: “After travelling through three slave states I am obliged to go back to theory to raise any abhorrence of it. Not once during the journey did I witness an instance of cruel treatment, nor could I discover anything to excite commiseration in the faces or gait of the people of colour. They walk, talk and appear at least as independent as their masters; in animal spirits they have greatly the advantage.” Basil Hall wrote in 1828: “I have no wish, God knows! to defend slavery in the abstract; . . . but . . . nothing during my recent journey gave me more satisfaction than the conclusion to which I was gradually brought that the planters of the Southern states of America, generally speaking, have a sincere desire to manage their estates with the least possible severity. I do not say that undue severity is nowhere exercised; but the discipline, taken upon the average, as far as I could learn, is not more strict than is necessary for the maintenance of a proper degree of authority, without which the whole framework of society in that quarter would be blown to atoms.” And Olmsted wrote: “The only whipping of slaves that I have seen in Virginia has been of these wild, lazy children as they are being broke in to work.” As to the rate and character of the work, Hall said that in contrast with the hustle prevailing on the Northern farms, “in Carolina all mankind appeared comparatively idle.” Olmsted, when citing a Virginian’s remark that his negroes never worked enough to tire themselves, said on his own account: “This is just what I have thought when I have seen slaves at work—they seem to go through the motions of labor without putting strength into them. They keep their powers in reserve for their own use at night, perhaps.” And Solon Robinson reported tersely from a rice plantation that the negroes plied their hoes “at so slow a rate, the motion would have given a quick- working Yankee convulsions.”

There was clearly no general prevalence of severity and strain in the regime. There was, furthermore, little of that curse of impersonality and indifference which too commonly prevails in the factories of the present-day world where power-driven machinery sets the pace, where the employers have no relations with the employed outside of work hours, where the proprietors indeed are scattered to the four winds, where the directors confine their attention to finance, and where the one duty of the superintendent is to procure a maximum output at a minimum cost. No, the planters were commonly in residence, their slaves were their chief property to be conserved, and the slaves themselves would not permit indifference even if the masters were so disposed. The generality of the negroes insisted upon possessing and being possessed in a cordial but respectful intimacy. While by no means every plantation was an Arcadia there were many on which the industrial and racial relations deserved almost as glowing accounts as that which the Englishman William Faux wrote in 1819 of the “goodly plantation” of the venerable Mr. Mickle in the uplands of South Carolina. “This gentleman,” said he, “appears to me to be a rare example of pure and undefiled religion, kind and gentle in manners. . . . Seeing a swarm, or rather herd, of young negroes creeping and dancing about the door and yard of his mansion, all appearing healthy, happy and frolicsome and withal fat and decently clothed, both young and old, I felt induced to praise the economy under which they lived. ‘Aye,’ said he, ‘I have many black people, but I have never bought nor sold any in my life. All that you see came to me with my estate by virtue of my father’s will. They are all, old and young, true and faithful to my interests. They need no taskmaster, no overseer. They will do all and more than I expect them to do, and I can trust them with untold gold. All the adults are well instructed, and all are members of Christian churches in the neighbourhood; and their conduct is becoming their professions. I respect them as my children, and they look on me as their friend and father. Were they to be taken from me it would be the most unhappy event of their lives.’ This conversation induced me to view more attentively the faces of the adult slaves; and I was astonished at the free, easy, sober, intelligent and thoughtful impression which such an economy as Mr. Mickle’s had indelibly made on their countenances.”

Excerpt- Phillips on the Character of Southern Slavery, Pt. I

The following excerpt is taken from U.B. Phillips’ American Negro Slavery, first published in 1918. Phillips was a somewhat Progressive but relatively unbiased historian, originally from Georgia and educated at Columbia. I have chosen him because his works came during a time when scholarly honesty and academic quality were still prioritized over conformation to official historical Narrative. This exceptionally (or excessively) long excerpt, taken from Chapter XIV “Plantation Management,” is meant to shed light on the actual workings of plantation slavery in the Old South, so often misrepresented in modern discourse. Here is demonstrated the general humaneness of Southern slavery as dictated by the aristocrats themselves, stemming from both their humanitarian instincts and utilitarian interests. Other vantage points will be added in parts II and III. Bear in mind that the plantation system incorporated about 40-50% of slaves in the South, the remainder of which were owned by yeomen operating small farms. The plantation system is generally regarded as the harsher form. To assist with skimming, I have bolded the most relevant passages.

TYPICAL planters though facile in conversation seldom resorted to their pens. Few of them put their standards into writing except in the form of instructions to their stewards and overseers. These counsels of perfection, drafted in widely separated periods and localities, and varying much in detail, concurred strikingly in their main provisions. Their initial topic was usually the care of the slaves. Richard Corbin of Virginia wrote in 1759 for the guidance of his steward: “The care of negroes is the first thing to be recommended, that you give me timely notice of their wants that they may be provided with all necessarys. The breeding wenches more particularly you must instruct the overseers to be kind and indulgent to, and not force them when with child upon any service or hardship that will be injurious to them, . . . and the children to be well looked after, . . . and that none of them suffer in time of sickness for want of proper care.” P. C. Weston of South Carolina wrote in 1856: “The proprietor, in the first place, wishes the overseer most distinctly to understand that his first object is to be, under all circumstances, the care and well being of the negroes. The proprietor is always ready to excuse such errors as may proceed from want of judgment; but he never can or will excuse any cruelty, severity or want of care towards the negroes. For the well being, however, of the negroes it is absolutely necessary to maintain obedience, order and discipline, to see that the tasks are punctually and carefully performed, and to conduct the business steadily and firmly, without weakness on the one hand or harshness on the other.” Charles Manigault likewise required of his overseer in Georgia a pledge to treat his negroes “all with kindness and consideration in sickness and health.” On J. W. Fowler’s plantation in the Yazoo-Mississippi delta from which we have seen in a preceding chapter such excellent records of cotton picking, the preamble to the rules framed in 1857 ran as follows: “The health, happiness, good discipline and obedience, good, sufficient and comfortable clothing, a sufficiency of good, wholesome and nutritious food for both man and beast being indispensably necessary to successful planting, as well as for reasonable dividends for the amount of capital invested, without saying anything about the Master’s duty to his dependents, to himself, and his God, I do hereby establish the following rules and regulations for the management of my Prairie plantation, and require an observance of the same by any and all overseers I may at any time have in charge thereof.”

Joseph A. S. Acklen had his own rules printed in 1861 for the information of applicants and the guidance of those who were employed as his overseers. His estate was one of the greatest in Louisiana, his residence one of the most pretentious, and his rules the most sharply phrased. They read in part: “Order and system must be the aim of everyone on this estate, and the maxim strictly pursued of a time for everything and everything done in its time, a place for everything and everything kept in its place, a rule for everything and everything done according to rule. In this way labor becomes easy and pleasant. No man can enforce a system of discipline unless he himself conforms strictly to rules. . . . No man should attempt to manage negroes who is not perfectly firm and fearless and [in] entire control of his temper.

James H. Hammond’s “plantation manual” which is the fullest of such documents available, began with the subject of the crop, only to subordinate it at once to the care of the slaves and outfit: “A good crop means one that is good taking into consideration everything, negroes, land, mules, stock, fences, ditches, farming utensils, etc., etc., all of which must be kept up and improved in value. The effort must therefore not be merely to make so many cotton bales or such an amount of other produce, but as much as can be made without interrupting the steady increase in value of the rest of the property. . . . There should be an increase in number and improvement in condition of negroes.

For the care of the sick, of course, all these planters were solicitous. Acklen, Manigault and Weston provided that mild cases be prescribed for by the overseer in the master’s absence, but that for any serious illness a doctor be summoned. One of Telfair’s women was a semi-professional midwife and general practitioner, permitted by her master to serve blacks and whites in the neighborhood. For home needs Telfair wrote of her: “Elsey is the doctoress of the plantation. In case of extraordinary illness, when she thinks she can do no more for the sick, you will employ a physician.” Hammond, however, was such a devotee of homeopathy that in the lack of an available physician of that school he was his own practitioner. He wrote in his manual: “No negro will be allowed to remain at his own house when sick, but must be confined to the hospital. Every reasonable complaint must be promptly attended to; and with any marked or general symptom of sickness, however trivial, a negro may lie up a day or so at least. . . . Each case has to be examined carefully by the master or overseer to ascertain the disease. The remedies next are to be chosen with the utmost discrimination; . . . the directions for treatment, diet, etc., most implicitly followed; the effects and changes cautiously observed. … In cases where there is the slightest uncertainty, the books must be taken to the bedside and a careful and thorough examination of the case and comparison of remedies made before administering them. The overseer must record in the prescription book every dose of medicine administered.” Weston said he would never grudge a doctor’s bill, however large; but he was anxious to prevent idleness under pretence of illness. “Nothing,” said he, “is so subversive of discipline, or so unjust, as to allow people to sham, for this causes the well-disposed to do the work of the lazy.”


The instructions with one accord required that the rations issued to the negroes be never skimped. Corbin wrote, “They ought to have their belly full, but care must be taken with this plenty that no waste is committed.” Acklen, closely followed by Fowler, ordered his overseer to “see that their necessities be supplied, that their food and clothing be good and sufficient, their houses comfortable; and be kind and attentive to them in sickness and old age.” And further: “There will be stated hours for the negroes to breakfast and dine [in the field], and those hours must be regularly observed. The manager will frequently inspect the meals as they are brought by the cook—see that they have been properly prepared, and that vegetables be at all times served with the meat and bread.” At the same time he forbade his slaves to use ardent spirits or to have such about their houses. Weston wrote: “Great care should be taken that the negroes should never have less than their regular allowance. In all cases of doubt, it should be given in favor of the largest quantity. The measure should not be struck, but rather heaped up over. None but provisions of the best quality should be used.” Telfair specified as follows: “The allowance for every grown negro, however old and good for nothing, and every young one that works in the field, is a peck of corn each week and a pint of salt, and a piece of meat, not exceeding fourteen pounds, per month. . . . The suckling children, and all other small ones who do not work in the field, draw a half allowance of corn and salt. …. Feed everything plentifully, but waste nothing.” He added that beeves were to be killed for the negroes in July, August and September. Hammond’s allowance to each working hand was a heaping peck of meal and three pounds of bacon or pickled pork every week. In the winter, sweet potatoes were issued when preferred, at the rate of a bushel of them in lieu of the peck of meal; and fresh beef, mutton or pork, at increased weights, were to be substituted for the salt pork from time to time. The ditchers and drivers were to have extra allowances in meat and molasses. Furthermore, “Each ditcher receives every night, when ditching, a dram (jigger) consisting of twothirds whiskey and one-third water, with as much asafoetida as it will absorb, and several strings of red peppers added in the barrel. The dram is a large wine-glass full. In cotton picking time when sickness begins to be prevalent, every field hand gets a dram in the morning before leaving for the field. After a soaking rain all exposed to it get a dram before changing their clothes; also those exposed to the dust from the sheller and fan in corn shelling, on reaching the quarter at night; or anyone at any time required to keep watch in the night. Drams are not given as rewards, but only as medicinal. From the second hoeing, or early in May, every work hand who uses it gets an occasional allowance of tobacco, about one sixth of a pound, usually after some general operation, as a hoeing, plowing, etc. This is continued until their crops are gathered, when they can provide for themselves.” The families, furthermore, shared in the distribution of the plantation’s peanut crop every fall. Each child was allowed one third as much meal and meat as was given to each field hand, and an abundance of vegetables to be cooked with their meat. The cooking and feeding was to be done at the day nursery. For breakfast they were to have hominy and milk and cold corn bread; for dinner, vegetable soup and dumplings or bread; and cold bread or potatoes were to be kept on hand for demands between meals. They were also to have molasses once or twice a week. Each child was provided with a pan and spoon in charge of the nurse.

In the matter of sanitation, Acklen directed the overseer to see that the negroes kept clean in person, to inspect their houses at least once a week and especially during the summer, to examine their bedding and see to its being well aired, to require that their clothes be mended, “and everything attended to which conduces to their comfort and happiness.” In these regards, as in various others, Fowler incorporated Acklen’s rules in his own, almost verbatim. Hammond scheduled an elaborate cleaning of the houses every spring and fall. The houses were to be completely emptied and their contents sunned, the walls and floors were to be scrubbed, the mattresses to be emptied and stuffed with fresh hay or shucks, the yards swept and the ground under the houses sprinkled with lime. Furthermore, every house was to be whitewashed inside and out once a year; and the negroes must appear once a week in clean clothes, “and every negro habitually uncleanly in person must be washed and scrubbed by order of the overseer—the driver and two other negroes officiating.”

As to schedules of work, the Carolina and Georgia lowlanders dealt in tasks; all the rest in hours. Telfair wrote briefly: “The negroes to be tasked when the work allows it. I require a reasonable day’s work, well done—the task to be regulated by the state of the ground and the strength of the negro.” Weston wrote with more elaboration: “A task is as much work as the meanest full hand can do in nine hours, working industriously. . . . This task is never to be increased, and no work is to be done over task except under the most urgent necessity; which over-work is to be reported to the proprietor, who will pay for it. No negro is to be put into a task which [he] cannot finish with tolerable ease. It is a bad plan to punish for not finishing tasks; it is subversive of discipline to leave tasks unfinished, and contrary to justice to punish for what cannot be done. In nothing does a good manager so much excel a bad as in being able to discern what a hand is capable of doing, and in never attempting to make him do more.” In Hammond’s schedule the first horn was blown an hour before daylight as a summons for work-hands to rise and do their cooking and other preparations for the day. Then at the summons of the plow driver, at first break of day, the plowmen went to the stables whose doors the overseer opened. At the second horn, “just at good daylight,” the hoe gang set out for the field. At half past eleven the plowmen carried their mules to a shelter house in the fields, and at noon the hoe hands laid off for dinner, to resume work at one o’clock, except that in hot weather the intermission was extended to a maximum of three and a half hours. The plowmen led the way home by a quarter of an hour in the evening, and the hoe hands followed at sunset. “No work,” said Hammond, “must ever be required after dark.” Acklen contented himself with specifying that “the negroes must all rise at the ringing of the first bell in the morning, and retire when the last bell rings at night, and not leave their houses after that hour unless on business or called.” Fowler’s rule was of the same tenor: “All hands should be required to retire to rest and sleep at a suitable hour and permitted to remain there until such time as it will be necessary to get out in time to reach their work by the time they can see well how to work.” Telfair, Fowler and Hammond authorized the assignment of gardens and patches to such slaves as wanted to cultivate them at leisure times. To prevent these from becoming a cloak for thefts from the planter’s crops, Telfair and Fowler forbade the growing of cotton in the slaves’ private patches, and Hammond forbade both cotton and corn. Fowler specifically gave his negroes the privilege of marketing their produce and poultry “at suitable leisure times.” Hammond had a rule permitting each work hand to go to Augusta on some Sunday after harvest; but for some reason he noted in pencil below it: “This is objectionable and must be altered.” Telfair and Weston directed that their slaves be given passes on application, authorizing them to go at proper times to places in the neighborhood. The negroes, however, were to be at home by the time of the curfew horn about nine o’clock each night. Mating with slaves on other plantations was discouraged as giving occasion for too much journeying.

“Marriage is to be encouraged,” wrote Hammond, “as it adds to the comfort, happiness and health of those who enter upon it, besides insuring a greater increase. Permission must always be obtained from the master before marriage, but no marriage will be allowed with negroes not belonging to the master. When sufficient cause can be shewn on either side, a marriage may be annulled; but the offending party must be severely punished. Where both are in wrong, both must be punished, and if they insist on separating must have a hundred lashes apiece. After such a separation, neither can marry again for three years. For first marriage a bounty of $5.00, to be invested in household articles, or an equivalent of articles, shall be given. If either has been married before, the bounty shall be $2.50. A third marriage shall be not allowed but in extreme cases, and in such cases, or where both have been married before, no bounty will be given.”

“Christianity, humanity and order elevate all, injure none,” wrote Fowler, “whilst infidelity, selfishness and disorder curse some, delude others and degrade all. I therefore want all of my people encouraged to cultivate religious feeling and morality, and punished for inhumanity to their children or stock, for profanity, lying and stealing.” And again: “I would that every human being have the gospel preached to them in its original purity and simplicity. It therefore devolves upon me to have these dependants properly instructed in all that pertains to the salvation of their souls. To this end whenever the services of a suitable person can be secured, have them instructed in these things. In view of the fanaticism of the age, it behooves the master or overseer to be present on all such occasions. They should be instructed on Sundays in the day time if practicable; if not, then on Sunday night.” Acklen wrote in his usual peremptory tone: “No negro preachers but my own will be permitted to preach or remain on any of my places. The regularly appointed minister for my places must preach on Sundays during daylight, or quit. The negroes must not be suffered to continue their night meetings beyond ten o’clock.” Telfair in his rules merely permitted religious meetings on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. Hammond encouraged his negroes to go to church on Sundays, but permitted no exercises on the plantation beyond singing and praying. He, and many others, encouraged his negroes to bring him their complaints against drivers and overseers, and even against their own ecclesiastical authorities in the matter of interference with recreations.

Fighting among the negroes was a common bane of planters. Telfair prescribed: “If there is any fighting on the plantation, whip all engaged in it, for no matter what the cause may have been, all are in the wrong.” Weston wrote: “Fighting, particularly amongst women, and obscene or abusive language, is to be always rigorously punished.” “Punishment must never be cruel or abusive,” wrote Acklen, closely followed by Fowler, “for it is absolutely mean and unmanly to whip a negro from mere passion and malice, and any man who can do so is utterly unfit to have control of negroes; and if ever any of my negroes are cruelly or inhumanly treated, bruised, maimed or otherwise injured, the overseer will be promptly discharged and his salary withheld.” Weston recommended the lapse of a day between the discovery of an offense and the punishment, and he restricted the overseer’s power in general to fifteen lashes. He continued: “Confinement (not in the stocks) is to be preferred to whipping; but the stoppage of Saturday’s allowance, and doing whole task on Saturday, will suffice to prevent ordinary offenses. Special care must be taken to prevent any indecency in punishing women. No driver or other negro is to be allowed to punish any person in any way except by order of the overseer and in his presence.” And again: “Every person should be made perfectly to understand what they are punished for, and should be made to perceive that they are not punished in anger or through caprice. All abusive language or violence of demeanor should be avoided; they reduce the man who uses them to a level with the negro, and are hardly ever forgotten by those to whom they are addressed.” Hammond directed that the overseer “must never threaten a negro, but punish offences immediately on knowing them; otherwise he will soon have runaways.” As a schedule he wrote: “The following is the order in which offences must be estimated and punished: 1st, running away; 2d, getting drunk or having spirits; 3d, stealing hogs; 4th, stealing; 5th, leaving plantation without permission; 6th, absence from house after horn-blow at night; 7th, unclean house or person; 8th, neglect of tools; 9th, neglect of work. The highest punishment must not exceed a hundred lashes in one day, and to that extent only in extreme cases. The whip lash must be one inch in width, or a strap of one thickness of leather 1 1/2 inches in width, and never severely administered. In general fifteen to twenty lashes will be a sufficient flogging. The hands in every case must be secured by a cord. Punishment must always be given calmly, and never when angry or excited.” Telfair was as usual terse: “No negro to have more than fifty lashes for any offense, no matter how great the crime.” Manigault said nothing of punishments in his general instructions, buj,sent special directions when a case of incorrigibility was reported: “You had best think carefully respecting him, and always keep in mind the important old plantation maxim, viz: ‘never to threaten a negro,’ or he will do as you and I would when at school—he will run. But with such a one, … if you wish to make an example of him, take him down to the Savannah jail and give him prison discipline, and by all means solitary confinement, for three weeks, when he will be glad to get home again. . . . Mind then and tell him that you and he are quits, that you will never dwell on old quarrels with him, that he has now a clear track before him and all depends on himself, for he now sees how easy it is to fix ‘a bad disposed nigger.’ Then give my compliments to him and tell him that you wrote me of his conduct, and say if he don’t change for the better I’ll sell him to a slave trader who will send him to New Orleans, where I have already sent several of the gang for misconduct, or their running away for no cause.” In one case Manigault lost a slave by suicide in the river when a driver brought him up for punishment but allowed him to run before it was administered.


In the overseer all the virtues of a master were desired, with a deputy’s obedience added. Corbin enjoined upon his staff that they “attend their business with diligence, keep the negroes in good order, and enforce obedience by the example of their own industry, which is a more effectual method in every respect than hurry and severity. The ways of industry,” he continued, “are constant and regular, not to be in a hurry at one time and do nothing at another, but to be always usefully and steadily employed. A man who carries on business in this manner will be prepared for every incident that happens. He will see what work may be proper at the distance of some time and be gradually and leisurely preparing for it. By this foresight he will never be in confusion himself, and his business, instead of a labor, will be a pleasure to him.” Weston wrote: “The proprietor wishes particularly to impress upon the overseer the criterions by which he will judge of his usefullness and capacity. First, by the general well-being of all the negroes; their cleanly appearance, respectful manners, active and vigorous obedience; their completion of their tasks well and early; the small amount of punishment; the excess of births over deaths; the small number of persons in hospital; and the health of the children. Secondly, the condition and fatness of the cattle and mules; the good repair of all the fences and buildings, harness, boats, flats and ploughs; more particularly the good order of the banks and trunks, and the freedom of the fields from grass and volunteer [rice]. Thirdly, the amount and quality of the rice and provision crops. . . . The overseer is expressly forbidden from three things, viz.: bleeding, giving spirits to any negro without a doctor’s order, and letting any negro on the place have or keep any gun, powder or shot.” One of Acklen’s prohibitions upon his overseers was: “Having connection with any of my female servants will most certainly be visited with a dismissal from my employment, and no excuse can or will be taken.

Hammond described the functions as follows: “The overseer will never be expected to work in the field, but he must always be with the hands when not otherwise engaged in the employer’s business. . . . The overseer must never be absent a single night, nor an entire day, without permission previously obtained. Whenever absent at church or elsewhere he must be on the plantation by sundown without fail. He must attend every night and morning at the stables and see that the mules are watered, cleaned and fed, and the doors locked. He must keep the stable keys at night, and all the keys, in a safe place, and never allow anyone to unlock a barn, smoke-house or other depository of plantation stores but himself. He must endeavor, also, to be with the plough hands always at noon.” He must also see that the negroes are out promptly in the morning, and in their houses after curfew, and must show no favoritism among the negroes. He must carry on all experiments as directed by the employer, and use all new implements and methods which the employer may determine upon; and he must keep a full plantation diary and make monthly inventories. Finally, “The negroes must be made to obey and to work, which may be done, by an overseer who attends regularly to his business, with very little whipping. Much whipping indicates a bad tempered or inattentive manager, and will not be allowed.” His overseer might quit employment on a month’s notice, and might be discharged without notice. Acklen’s dicta were to the same general effect. As to the relative importance of the several functions of an overseer, all these planters were in substantial agreement. As Fowler put it: “After taking proper care of the negroes, stock, etc., the next most important duty of the overseer is to make, if practicable, a sufficient quantity of corn, hay, fodder, meat, potatoes and other vegetables for the consumption of the plantation, and then as much cotton as can be made by requiring good and reasonable labor of operatives and teams.” Likewise Henry Laurens, himself a prosperous planter of the earlier time as a statesman, wrote to an overseer of whose heavy tasking he had learned: “Submit to make less rice and keep my negroes at home in some degree of happiness in preference to large crops acquired by rigour and barbarity to those poor creatures.” And to a new incumbent: “I have now to recommend to you the care of my negroes in general, but particularly the sick ones. Desire Mrs. White not to be sparing of red wine for those who have the flux or bad loosenesses; let them be well attended night and day, and if one wench is not sufficient add another to nurse them. With the well ones use gentle means mixed with easy authority first—if that does not succeed, make choice of the most stubborn one or two and chastise them severely but properly and with mercy, that they may be convinced that the end of correction is to be amendment.” Again, alluding to one of his slaves who had been gathering the pennies of his fellows: “Amos has a great inclination to turn rum merchant. If his confederate comes to that plantation, I charge you to discipline him with thirty-nine sound lashes and turn him out of the gate and see that he goes quite off.”

The published advice of planters to their fellows was quite in keeping with these instructions to overseers. About 1809, for example, John Taylor, of Caroline, the leading Virginian advocate of soil improvement in his day, wrote of the care and control of slaves as follows: “The addition of comfort to mere necessaries is a price paid by the master for the advantages he will derive from binding his slave to his service by a ligament stronger than chains, far beneath their value in a pecuniary point of view; and he will moreover gain a stream of agreeable reflections throughout life, which will cost him nothing.” He recommended fireproof brick houses, warm clothing, and abundant, varied food. Customary plenty in meat and vegetables, he said, would not only remove occasions for pilfering, but would give the master effective power to discourage it; for upon discovering the loss of any goods by theft he might put his whole force of slaves upon a limited diet for a time and thus suggest to the thief that on any future occasion his fellows would be under pressure to inform on him as a means of relieving their own privations. “A daily allowance of cyder,” Taylor continued, “will extend the success of this system for the management of slaves, and particularly its effect of diminishing corporal punishments. But the reader is warned that a stern authority, strict discipline and complete subordination must be combined with it to gain any success at all.”

Another Virginian’s essay, of 1834, ran as follows: Virginia negroes are generally better tempered than any other people; they are kindly, grateful, attached to persons and places, enduring and patient in fatigue and hardship, contented and cheerful. Their control should be uniform and consistent, not an alternation of rigor and laxity. Punishment for real faults should be invariable but moderate. “The best evidence of the good management of slaves is the keeping up of good discipline with little or no punishment.” The treatment should be impartial except for good conduct which should bring rewards. Praise is often a better cure for laziness than stripes. The manager should know the temper of each slave. The proud and high spirited are easily handled: “Your slow and sulky negro, alIthough he may have an even temper, is the devil to manage. The negro women are all harder to manage than the men. The only way to get along with them is by kind words and flattery. If you want to cure a sloven, give her something nice occasionally to wear, and praise her up to the skies whenever she has on anything tolerably decent.” Eschew suspicion, for it breeds dishonesty. Promote harmony and sound methods among your neighbors. “A good disciplinarian in the midst of bad managers of slaves cannot do much; and without discipline there cannot be profit to the master or comfort to the slaves.” Feed and clothe your slaves well. The best preventive of theft is plenty of pork. Let them have poultry and gardens and fruit trees to attach them to their houses and promote amenability. “The greatest bar to good discipline in Virginia is the number of grog shops in every farmer’s neighborhood.” There is no severity in the state, and there will be no occasion for it again if the fanatics will only let us alone.

An essay written after long experience by Robert Collins, of Macon, Georgia, which was widely circulated in the ‘fifties, was in the same tone: “The best interests of all parties are promoted by a kind and liberal treatment on the part of the owner, and the requirement of proper discipline and strict obedience on the part of the slave. . . . Every attempt to force the slave beyond the limits of reasonable service by cruelty or hard treatment, so far from extorting more work, only tends to make him unprofitable, unmanageable, a vexation and a curse.” The quarters should be well shaded, the houses free of the ground, well ventilated, and large enough for comfort; the bedding and blankets fully adequate. “In former years the writer tried many ways and expedients to economize in the provision of slaves by using more of the vegetable and cheap articles of diet, and less of the costly and substantial. But time and experience have fully proven the error of a stinted policy. . . . The allowance now given per week to each hand … is five pounds of good clean bacon and one quart of molasses, with as much good bread as they require; and in the fall, or sickly season of the year, or on sickly places, the addition of one pint of strong coffee, sweetened with sugar, every morning before going to work.” The slaves may well have gardens, but the assignment of patches for market produce too greatly “encourages a traffic on their own account, and presents a temptation and opportunity, during the process of gathering, for an unscrupulous fellow to mix a little of his master’s produce with his own. It is much better to give each hand whose conduct has been such as to merit it an equivalent in money at the end of the year; it is much less trouble, and more advantageous to both parties.” Collins further advocated plenty of clothing, moderate hours, work by tasks in cotton picking and elsewhere when feasible, and firm though kindly discipline. “Slaves,” he said, “have no respect or affection for a master who indulges them over much. . . . Negroes are by nature tyrannical in their dispositions, and if allowed, the stronger will abuse the weaker, husbands will often abuse their wives and mothers their children, so that it becomes a prominent duty of owners and overseers to keep peace and prevent quarrelling and disputes among them; and summary punishment should follow any violation of this rule. Slaves are also a people that enjoy religious privileges. Many of them place much value upon it; and to every reasonable extent that advantage should be allowed them. They are never injured by preaching, but thousands become wiser and better people and more trustworthy servants by their attendance at church. Religious services should be provided and encouraged on every plantation. A zealous and vehement style, both in doctrine and manner, is best adapted to their temperament. They are good believers in mysteries and miracles, ready converts, and adhere with much pertinacity to their opinions when formed.” It is clear that Collins had observed plantation negroes long and well. Advice very similar to the foregoing examples was also printed in the form of manuals at the front of blank books for the keeping of plantation records; and various planters described their own methods in operation as based on the same principles. One of these living at Chunnennuggee, Alabama, signing himself “N. B. P.,” wrote in 1852 an account of the problems he had met and the solutions he had applied. Owning some 150 slaves, he had lived away from his plantation until about a decade prior to this writing; but in spite of careful selection he could never get an overseer combining the qualities necessary in a good manager. “They were generally on extremes; those celebrated for making large crops were often too severe, and did everything by coercion. Hence turmoil and strife ensued. The negroes were ill treated and ran away. On the other hand, when he employed a good-natured man there was a want of proper discipline; the negroes became unmanageable and, as a natural result, the farm was brought into debt.” The owner then entered residence himself and applied methods which resulted in contentment, health and prolific increase among the slaves, and in consistently good crops. The men were supplied with wives at home so far as was practicable; each family had a dry and airy house to itself, with a poultry house and a vegetable garden behind; the rations issued weekly were three and a half pounds of bacon to each hand over ten years old, together with a peck of meal, or more if required; the children in the day nursery were fed from the master’s kitchen with soup, milk, bacon, vegetables and bread; the hands had three suits of working clothes a year; the women were given time off for washing, and did their mending in bad weather; all hands had to dress up and go to church on Sunday when preaching was near; and a clean outfit of working clothes was required every Monday. The chief distinction of this plantation, however, lay in its device for profit sharing. To each slave was assigned a half-acre plot with the promise that if he worked with diligence in the master’s crop the whole gang would in turn be set to work his crop. This was useful in preventing night and Sunday work by the negroes. The proceeds of their crops, ranging from ten to fifty dollars, were expended by the master at their direction for Sunday clothing and other supplies. On a sugar plantation visited by Olmsted a sum of as many dollars as there were hogsheads in the year’s crop was distributed among the slaves every Christmas.

The Duality of the Southern Thing

In my song, I discussed the dualities of being from a region that is known for great music and literature and art and something called “Southern hospitality,” but is also known for Jim Crow laws, slavery, racism and the Ku Klux Klan. I talked about being fiercely proud of the good parts of my heritage and mortified and ashamed of the bad parts, the ones that too often define how other people perceive us.

Patterson Hood

Most thought and writing concerning the South and its history, including my own, references the Southern tradition, singular. While “tradition” in this sense generally always means the conservative tradition, it is a bit of a misnomer; at least, it simplifies the subject to a degree which can hamper proper delineation of Left and Right. In reality, the intelligent Southerner today who is not sui generis has essentially two traditions from which he can choose without losing much Southern or traditionalist credibility.

The great centuries-long battle for the preservation of the Southern worldview is normally framed as the South vs. the North, Southern whites vs. Southern blacks, or maybe the South vs. the Western World. I assert that the true conflict is better framed as Southern liberalism vs. Southern conservatism, or more properly labelled Southern Leftism vs. Southern Rightism, in which outside forces in nearly every instance support the former. This frame is more historically illuminating and also discourages the mistaken belief, common to Right-leaning Southerners, that the South itself is not susceptible to the ever tempting and false promises of Leftism.

The Southern liberal tradition can be traced from Thomas Jefferson and John Taylor on through Hinton Helper, Cassius Clay, Andrew Johnson, the New South, Harper Lee, LBJ, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton; today ably represented by such as Rod Dreher, Patterson Hood and Lindsay Graham. The driving impulse behind Southern liberals has always been to reform Southern society (to varying degrees) along Progressivist lines, usually by using mainstream American society as a guiding light.  These are generally lite-Leftists; they recognize much of the craziness inherent to high-test Leftism as well as much of the good inherent to Rightism. They are idealistic and intelligent but refrain from radicalism. Generally their stated motivation is to “save the South from itself,” which in practice means to destroy the very things that make the South Southern.

They primarily err in that their chosen reforms of Southern society inevitably chip away at the foundation which gives the South its benevolent and noble qualities. (Sometimes this acknowledged goodness is unspoken, but is evidenced by the fact that many Southern liberals never move out of the South, or do and end up returning.) The few Southern radicals are generally driven by an excessive urge to stand out from their somewhat homogenous surroundings – to gain the detached haughty aura of the iconoclast.

The Southern liberal tradition occupies a strange position on the American political spectrum. They are nearly always a minority within the South, but consistently win because they have the undying support of mainstream American society. Southern liberals act as a sort of proxy forward guard for the campaign to Americanize the South. Sans the Southern liberal tradition, USG would likely have had to utilize much more autocratic methods in its governance of the South if it hoped to effect any cultural reforms at all.

Where perhaps Southern liberals do their most harm is when they normalize inherently anti-Southern beliefs for their fellow Southerners, which confuses the heretofore beneficial prejudicial impulse. This has reached its apex in recent times, as it’s becoming increasingly acceptable for plebeian and proletarian Southerners to support racial equality, women’s rights, and (to a lesser degree) homosexual normality, among other Progressive pillars. This has the effect of lowering the line of demarcation which separates lower-class prejudicial impulses from the middle-class tendency to fall in with the mainstream, ensuring the downward spiral of Rightist marginalization.

On the other hand, there is the Southern conservative tradition. It has always been the dominant force within Southern society itself. As with all conservative impulses, it is mostly prejudicial – but the prejudices by which it is characterized have generally been beneficial, because they were sourced from the dominant characteristics of the Old South civilization. Since the Revolutionary period, Southern conservatives were generally composed of the aristocrats and the proletariat, the former due to vested interest in the status quo, the latter due to aforementioned prejudice. The intellectual tradition of Southern Rightism was most ably set down by the antebellum “Reactionary Enlightenment” figures, then more or less continued by the Southern Agrarians, Richard Weaver, ME Bradford, and Clyde Wilson. Political representatives include John C. Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, Wade Hampton III, and George Wallace.

The conflict between the Southern Right and Left has passed through fairly distinct phases, which it is necessary to outline here in order to assist with the occasionally difficult identification of the different elements. These phases also demonstrate my assertion that to attempt to reform only “bad” aspects of Southern culture inevitably leads to unintended and wholesale transformation of Southern society towards the distasteful American mainstream.

From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, the point of contention was, of course, slavery. Southern liberals found the system either immoral or inefficient, and generally expressed a desire for gradual emancipation and/or slave repatriation to Africa. However, they failed to provide anything like a concrete plan for the attainment of these goals, and almost without exception found the Garrisonian abolitionists fanatical and unsavory. Late antebellum was the sole period in which the Southern Rightist element almost wholly dictated Southern policy and thought, and the liberal element was duly marginalized. The Reactionary Enlightenment was the purest expression of Southern Rightist thought ever put forth; it, of course, being relegated to seeming obsolescence by Civil War defeat.

From the Civil War until World War Two, the conflict shifted to industrialism vs. agrarianism, and populism vs. aristocratical elitism. Southern liberals now possessed the material and political support of Northern demagogues and capitalists, and the New South slowly ground down opposition to its Progressive vision for Southern society. It is worth noting that almost every Southern liberal of the antebellum period would have reckoned this development as an almost unqualified evil. Class warfare, hitherto unknown, was introduced; Southern cities became home to the newly empowered bourgeois element, and lost no time in developing a capitalist character unknown to the Old South.

Between World War Two and the 1970s, the conflict again shifted, now to the question of racial equality and integration; again, an agenda that would have horrified and dismayed the Southern liberals of the previous period. Contrary to popular belief, Southern conservatives were able to mount only token resistance to the Civil Rights movement, as integration came about quietly and smoothly throughout most of the South. In some ways, this second Reconstruction was the final chance for the Southern conservatives to utilize widespread popular support to regain control over Southern society; but in reality, this avenue had been doomed a hundred years prior.

Today, the battle between Southern Leftism and Rightism has reached a strange sort of stalemate. The conservative element is almost wholly restricted to the small rural communities which dot the countryside; few urban areas in the geographical South maintain any recognizable Southerness. While this element has lost nearly all power to influence the direction of the greater South, it has also developed defenses which inhibit gross Progressivization to a great degree. These defenses are often the very things which prevent greater influence over the direction of society, but that is another topic which needs further exploration.

The convolution which has characterized Southern history must be reckoned in the proper light if we hope to use history to inform our views for the present and plans for the future. It is all too easy for today’s Rightist Southerners to blame the North, the US Government, blacks, the Jews, or the greater direction of the Occident for our present predicament, but in reality the crux of the battle has always been in our hands. We’ve lost battle after battle against ourselves, and without an accurate and unflinching analysis of our own faults there is little doubt that this pattern will perpetuate into oblivion.