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.


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

  1. Pingback: Excerpt- Phillips on the Character of Southern Slavery, Pt. II | Losing The Creek

  2. Pingback: Excerpt- Phillips on the Character of Southern Slavery, Pt. III | Losing The Creek

  3. Pingback: This Week in Reaction Aesthetics (2015/05/08) | The Reactivity Place

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