W. C. G. says of the situation at this time:
May 27. Between the gradual settling of affairs, the people's growing confidence in us and in the Government as paymasters, and the absence of the unruly men, the plantations are getting on quite nicely. The land, both corn and cotton, has been divided and allotted to the hands,—so a new system of labor is—on our places—already inaugurated.
FROM H. W.
Monday, May 26. Had quite a talk with Flora over the bed-making; she asked me to hem her a muslin head-hankercher which York had sent her from Hilton Head, and re-string some beads which had come too and been broken. I promised to do it, telling her she would have things enough to remember me by—to which she responded, "Neber forget you, long as I hab breath for draw." I find they are all beginning to feel badly at our leaving, now they know we shall really go so soon.
This is 'lowance day, and school is always late Monday P. M., but to-day, as they were all together, after they got through their corn, Ranty distributed some salt and mackerel Mr. Philbrick had for them, which kept them till six, our dinner-time, and they lost school altogether, greatly to their regret. We went to the porch to watch the groups, and as they passed us with their baskets on their heads and fish wrapped in green leaves in their hands, they all looked up and curtseyed, with a "tank 'ee, Massa."
When Flora came in with the tea just after, she was muttering, "Neber see a marn so payshun as Mr. Philbri'," and then, turning to H. as if she was afraid she did not appreciate his virtue,—"Miss Helen, not two body in de worl' so payshun as him." I don't know what had excited her admiration just then, but she probably never saw a white man before who did not swear, at least. For even her favorite Mass' Clan's she does not consider as immaculate, though he would "nebber drive nigger."
May 28. To the [Pine Grove] quarters to say good-bye all round, stopping at each house. They seemed quite sorry to have us go, expressing their regret by presents of eggs. I filled my pockets and H. her hands; then Mily held her apron and walked home with us; she counted over three dozen in all. My children came in the evening, and we went to bed early; and so passed the last day at William Fripp's Pine Grove Plantation.
Coffin's Point, May 29. Before ten the two carts were ready, and Flora and Joe mounted one to help us get to rights. Then H. and Mr. Philbrick went off in the buggy with the span. I was to have gone in the sulky, but harness fell short, and I had to wait till Tom could come back with the mule-cart. So I collected the children and had a last school for them, and when Tom came, locked the door, mounted the sulky (with the white umbrella) onto which the saddles had been tied, and, followed to the gate by the whole tribe singing "A, B, C," took my departure, the children shouting as I bid them good-bye, "We come for see you!"
As I drove up to the house [at Coffin's] the yard really looked attractive, as it has some grass in it, though I had not thought the house so. But a day's work has made a vast change, and to-night it looks quite habitable. It was built in good style originally, but it is very old, and has been so abused by the negroes in the first place, and then from having had soldiers living in it for so many months, it is very shabby. It must have been handsomely furnished, to judge from the relics, for they are nothing more—rosewood tables, sideboards and washstands with marble tops, drawers and doors broken in and half gone, sofas that must have been of the best, nothing left but the frame; no one can conceive of the destruction who has not seen it. The rooms are twelve feet high, and the lower story is more than that from the ground. The air is delicious, and we shall find the blinds which are on the second story a luxury. I have my own little bed, bureau, marble-top washstand, three chairs and a large wardrobe, to say nothing of a piano, in my chamber, which is I should think eighteen feet square.
FROM W. C. G.
May 30. Schools are getting on pretty well, I suppose,—slowly, of course. A few are really bright,—a few really dull; the larger part—like the same proportion of white children—could creep, walk, or trot, according to the regularity with which they are driven, and the time devoted to their books. While we have been living at Pine Grove, there have been five schools daily, teaching about one hundred and forty scholars.
FROM H. W.
May 30. We have moved just in time, I guess, for the weather will grow warmer now. Between eight and eleven is the warmest part of the day; after that the sea-breeze is sure to come up.
May 31. There is a line cut through the trees all across the islands so that they can see the light-house from Beaufort. I asked Tom who cut it, as I rode over the other day, and he said, "Yankee cut it." "Since the Fort was taken?" "Long time ago." "The old Masters cut it, then?" "No, Secesh neber cut down trees, make nigger do it; poor white men cut 'em." I finally came to the conclusion that it must have been done by the Coast Survey. I daresay they think we are all "poor white." Mary, a mulatto here, told Mr. G. his clothes would be fifty cents per dozen for washing; that she used to have seventy-five cents in Charleston, "for real gentle folks!"
Sunday, June 1. H. called in Betty, Joe, and Uncle Sam while she read, and after Mr. Philbrick had repeated the Lord's Prayer, Uncle Sam of his own accord offered a very simple, touching prayer. He is an Elder, and as honest and true as "Uncle Tom" himself—a genuine specimen of that class among the negroes, which exists in reality as well as in story. The younger ones do not seem to be quite so religious a class, though perhaps they are too young to tell, for young married men like Joe and Cuffy seem to have genuine principle, and belong to the church. H. told Joe, when he had been sulky for the first time, that she hoped he felt better; she did not like to see him so. "Yes, Marm, feel better now, Marm; you know de ole marn will rise sometimes." And he told Mr. G. once that he should not cry if his baby died, "'cause de Lord take him to a better place—not punish him, 'cause he have no sin;" but he said he should cry hard if Wil'by died, because he knew she would be punished. (His wife is not a "professor.")
June 2. An officer from the gunboat off here came ashore to see if he could hire some men, but Mr. Philbrick told him that General Hunter had taken off more than he could spare. The officer seemed to think that Hunter would be recalled and the regiment disbanded—in which case Mr. Philbrick told him he did not want the men and he might take what he needed. We hear they are made sick by the change of diet; army rations can't be very good for men who have lived on hominy all their lives. He told us, moreover, a most interesting piece of news; that the firing we heard the other day was from the blockading fleet off Charleston, which captured six and sunk three of a fleet of English steamers, ten in number, laden with arms and munitions of war, which were making an attempt to run in to Charleston—thus letting only one escape. I don't know whether it got in or off.
A semiweekly Advertiser and Tribune of May 14th, with full accounts of the taking of New Orleans and the battle of Williamsburg, which we have not heard about, and the splendid doings have roused me all up to full war pitch again. We have been so peaceful I could not realize all that was going on.
E. S. P. TO EDWARD ATKINSON
Coffin's Point, June 3. I suppose we shall lose General Hunter, for even if not recalled I don't see how he could stay after Lincoln's proclamation. I must say I think his, Hunter's action, premature and uncalled for. It seemed to me very like the tadpole resolution in "Festina lente." In this case, too, the tadpoles were quite out of our reach except the small number in these islands, who had virtually shed their tails in course of nature already. I have great faith in Lincoln and am ready to leave the question with him. I think the effect of Hunter's proclamation upon the slaves of these states would be inconsiderable. They don't hear of it, to begin with, and if they did they wouldn't care for it. I am surprised to find how little most of these people appreciate their present prospects. Once in a while you find an intelligent man who does so, but the mass plod along in the beaten track with little thought about the future and no sort of feeling of responsibility. They feel a sense of relief that no one stands to force them to labor, and they fall back with a feeling of indifference as to whether they exert themselves beyond what is necessary to supply the demands of necessity. No better result can be hoped for till the time comes for each to see the reward for his labor. At present they are working upon faith, without even a definite promise as to what that payment shall be. Hunter's course is of far greater importance in its effect upon the political world in the North than in its immediate influence upon the status of the negroes in the districts to which it applies. The secret of such exploits as the crew of the Planter have lately performed lies in the fact that the men were forcibly taken from this region last November and wanted to get back home again. If their old home had been in Charleston, they would not have left it at the risk they incurred. In short, I don't regard the blacks as of any account in a military light, for they are not a military race, and have not sufficient intelligence to act in concert in any way where firmness of purpose is required.
FROM H. W.
June 5. Mr. Philbrick brought one unwelcome letter—an appointment from Mr. Pierce to Mr. G. to some plantation at the other end of the island. He is too valuable to be here. He is going to a hard place, ten or twelve plantations, though with fewer negroes in all than on these three.
The mule-cart came up and was loaded with all Mr. G.'s things, and by nine o'clock he took his departure on horseback, in his red flannel shirt and palm-leaf hat looking quite Southern and picturesque.
[Later.] Here came my morning school, for the first time, under Bacchus' conduct. I heard them singing and went to the window to watch and see how he was bringing them from the quarters. He is a cripple in his hands, which turn backwards, and he has but little control of his arms, but is much looked up to by the other children. Of course he cannot do any work, and Mr. G. has made him a sort of schoolmaster, and he has always kept school when Mr. G. was away. He manages them nicely, after his fashion—leaving them in the midst if he happens to want to eat some hominy! They never have regular meals, but each one eats hominy when he happens to want it. Well, soldiers have been stationed on the place, and Bacchus had got some notion of drill, so he marched up the thirty-five children, six or seven in a row, holding hands to keep them straight, and with two of the oldest boys for captains on each side to administer raps with their sticks if they did not keep in line, walking backwards himself to oversee the whole company, with a soldier's cap on his head, and shouting out his orders for them to sing their different tunes all the way,—the funniest spectacle himself imaginable.
Monday, June 9. Found that Bacchus' brother Lester had been taken sick Sunday morning and died at night, so he did not bring up the school. Just after dinner we saw the people assembling at their burying-place, and H. and I went down to witness the services. Uncle Sam followed us, book in hand and spectacles on nose, reading as he walked. As we drew near to the grave we heard all the children singing their A, B, C, through and through again, as they stood waiting round the grave for the rest to assemble and for Uncle Sam to begin. Each child had his school-book or picture-book Mr. G. had given him in his hand,—another proof that they consider their lessons as in some sort religious exercise. We were joined at once by Mr. Philbrick, and stood uncovered with the rest about the grave, at the mouth of which rested the coffin, a rough board one, but well shaped and closed. Uncle Sam took off his hat, tied a red handkerchief round his head and, adjusting his glasses, read the hymn through, and then deaconed out two lines at a time for the people to sing. He repeated the process with a second hymn, when Abel made a prayer; then Uncle Sam read from the Burial Service and began his exordium, apologizing for his inability to speak much on account of a sore throat, but holding forth for about half an hour upon the necessity for all to prepare for "dis bed," filling his discourse with Scripture illustrations and quotations aptly and with force, using the story of "Antoninus and Suffirus" as a proof that God would not have any "half religions"—that if anybody had "hid his Lord's money in de eart' he must grabble for it before 'twas too late." He read from the service again, one of the men throwing on earth at the usual place. When they came to cover up the grave, the men constantly changed hoes with those who had not handled them before, that each might aid, women and old men stooping to throw in a handful. Abel made another prayer, they sang again and dispersed.
It was of this scene that W. C. G. wrote the following lines:
THE NEGRO BURYING-GROUND.
'Mid the sunny flat of the cotton-field Lies an acre of forest-tangle still; A cloister dim, where the grey moss waves And the live-oaks lock their arms at will.
Here in the shadows the slaves would hide As they dropped the hoe at death's release, And leave no sign but a sinking mound To show where they passed on their way to peace.
This was the Gate—there was none but this— To a Happy Land where men were men; And the dusky fugitives, one by one, Stole in from the bruise of the prison-pen.
When, lo! in the distance boomed the guns, The bruise was over, and "Massa" had fled! But Death is the "Massa" that never flees, And still to the oaks they bore the dead.
'Twas at set of sun; a tattered troop Of children circled a little grave, Chanting an anthem rich in its peace As ever pealed in cathedral-nave,—
The A, B, C, that the lips below Had learnt with them in the school to shout. Over and over they sung it slow, Crooning a mystic meaning out.
A, B, C, D, E, F, G,— Down solemn alphabets they swept: The oaks leaned close, the moss swung low,— What strange new sound among them crept?
The holiest hymn that the children knew! 'Twas dreams come real, and heaven come near; 'Twas light, and liberty, and joy, And "white-folks' sense,"—and God right here!
Over and over; they dimly felt This was the charm could make black white, This was the secret of "Massa's" pride, And this, unknown, made the negro's night.
What could they sing of braver cheer To speed on his unseen way the friend? The children were facing the mystery Death With the deepest prayer that their hearts could send.
Children, too, and the mysteries last! We are but comrades with them there,— Stammering over a meaning vast, Crooning our guesses of how and where.
But the children were right with their A, B, C; In our stammering guess so much we say! The singers were happy, and so are we: Deep as our wants are the prayers we pray.
FROM W. C. G.
Captain Oliver Fripp's Plantation, June 9. I came here, in consequence of a letter received from Mr. Pierce, asking me to take charge over some plantations here. There is a Mr. Sumner here,—lately arrived,—who is teaching. The place is quite at the other end of the island from Coffin's Point. At present I am by no means settled; it seems like jumping from the 19th century into the Middle Ages to return from the civilization and refinement which the ladies instituted at Coffin's to the ruggedness of bachelor existence.
June 22. In regard to danger of sickness, I hear much about it,—but I think it is exaggerated. The white overseer stayed on Edgar Fripp's Plantation—close by—all summer. The planters generally went to Beaufort or the Village, but I think very much as we go out of town in summer. The summer was the fashionable and social time here, when the rich people lived together, gave parties, etc.
July 6. The people do not work very willingly,—things are not so steady as they have become at Coffin's. The district is even more exposed to the influence of visits to and from the camps.
We had quite a celebration for the people on the Fourth. A stage was erected near the old Episcopal church in a cool grove of live-oaks, all grey with long trails of Southern moss. A large flag was obtained and suspended between trees across the road—it was good to see the old flag again. The people had been notified the previous Sunday, and I should think about a thousand were present, in gala dress and mood, from all parts of the island. When the ladies, the invited superintendents from Port Royal, and the General (Saxton) had taken their seats, the people marched up in two processions from each direction, carrying green branches and singing. Under the flag they gave three rousing cheers, then grouped around the stage. The children from three or four of the schools marched in separately. After a prayer and some native songs, Mr. Philbrick, the General, and the Times reporter addressed them, and then one of the old darkies got on the stage and in an ecstasy of obedience and gratitude exhorted them to share his feelings, I believe.
For an hour and a half there was a general press for the hard bread, herring, and molasses and water. When everything was devoured, the superintendents rode up to "the Oaks,"—Pierce's headquarters,—and had a collation. So much for Fourth of July. It was strange and moving down here on South Carolina ground, with the old flag waving above us, to tell a thousand slaves that they were freemen, that that flag was theirs, that our country now meant their country, and to tell them how Northerners read the Declaration—"All men are born free and equal." The people had a grand time, they say, and seem really grateful for it. It was a new thing for them, a Fourth of July for the negro. In old times they worked, if with any difference, harder than usual, while their masters met and feasted and drank.
The rest of this extract is an expression—which will be followed later by many like it—of the sense that people in the North were getting too complacent a notion of what had been done and what could be done for the Sea Island negroes.
Pierce's report has too much sugar in it. His statements are facts, but facts with the silver lining out. The starving, naked condition of the blacks was much exaggerated when we started to come down here.
July 25. On the whole, affairs conduct themselves pretty quietly and regularly. The cases of discipline are the most vexing and amusing. It is a peculiar experience to be detective, policeman, judge, jury, and jailer,—all at once,—sometimes in cases of assault and battery, and general, plantation squows,—then in a divorce case,—last Sunday in a whiskey-selling affair; a calf-murder is still on the docket.
The next letter is the first from C. P. W., who went to Port Royal early in July, on the same steamer with Charles F. Folsom of Harvard, '62, who is often mentioned in the letters that follow, and with several other young Massachusetts men who had volunteered as superintendents.
FROM C. P. W.
Beaufort, July 7. We got our luggage into the Mayflower and started for this place [from Hilton Head] about six o'clock. It was droll enough to find a party of Boston men taking a sail in the old Hingham boat up Beaufort River under United States passes, to superintend South Carolina plantations.
July 15. Coffin's Point. The nearest of my five plantations is three miles distant, along the shore road, and the four on that road extend about two miles; my fifth is on the upper road, to Beaufort, about four and a half miles from the Point. The roads are mere tracks worn in the fields, sometimes through woods, like our wood roads, only more sandy. In front of my plantations there are bushes on the right-hand side, for some distance, the field being bounded on the other side by woods. Fields usually very long, sometimes three quarters of a mile, divided across the road by fences, gates occurring at every passage from one to another; the plantation houses and quarters at an average of one third of a mile from the road, paths through cotton-fields leading to them. Imagine a perfectly flat country, relieved by belts of trees, and intersected by rows of brush, single trees standing here and there in the bare, hot fields. Very little fresh water either in brooks or pools. Salt-water creeks are to be crossed on the shore roads; the richest lands in the adjoining meadows. A cotton-field looks not unlike a potato-field, the rows higher and more distinct, the plants further apart, usually two feet; the rows five feet. Corn planted on rows like cotton. You would be surprised to see the soil in which these flourish; beach sand, in many places, is the principal ingredient. The fields are very much the colour of the sea-beach.
We live on the fat of the land. We are allowed $5.24 per month for rations, but I do not use even that. Rice, sugar, and molasses are our principal draughts from the Commissary.
The colonists referred to at the beginning of the next letter were a thousand blacks from the island of Edisto, which the United States Government, after taking, had evacuated, as too troublesome to hold. The place where they were quartered, as described in the first sentence, was St. Helena Village.
FROM C. P. W.
July 20. The Secesh houses there are insufficient to accommodate them all, and they stow themselves in sheds, tents, and even in the open air, as best they can. Many of them are to be distributed on plantations where there are quarters; they will probably be set to planting slip-potatoes and cow-pease.
Everything needs personal supervision here; every barrel or parcel must be kept under your eye from the time it leaves the storehouse in Beaufort till it is put in your mule-cart, on Ladies Island. Then you must be at home when the team arrives and see everything brought into the storeroom. There is a good deal of red tape, too, at Beaufort, the untying and retying of which is a tedious and vexatious operation. They are becoming more strict here in Beaufort in several respects; passes are needed by every one. There is a great deal of running to Hilton Head and Bay Point, which is to be stopped as far as possible.
July 30. I ride right through the morning, from nine till four, without suffering from the heat so much as in one trip to town and back one of our warm, still days at home. I have my white umbrella, there is usually some breeze, often a very cool one; the motion of the sulky puts me to sleep, but the heat of the sun has not been oppressive more than once or twice on this island. If I had attempted to follow all the directions I received before leaving, concerning my health, I should have been by this time a lunatic.
Rust is such a common thing here that we get used to it. Mrs. Philbrick's needles rust in her work-bag; our guns, even after cleaning and oiling, are soon covered with a thin coating. Food moulds here very rapidly, crackers soften and dried beef spoils. Hominy, of course, is the chief article of food. I think it tastes best hot in the negro cabins, without accompaniment of molasses, sugar, or salt.
Our life here is, necessarily, very monotonous: the hired people come and go, or we go and come to and from them, and the mosquitoes and flies do very much as we do. Mosquitoes are really a great annoyance at times. They introduce themselves under the netting at night in a very mysterious way, and wake us up early with their singing and stinging. My theory is that those that can lick the others get themselves boosted through the apertures; the animal is smaller than ours at the North. I think that they are unaccustomed to human treatment; they will not be brushed away, and slapping, if not fatal, only excites their curiosity. There is also a small fly which appears on warm days after a rain in great numbers. Driving on my beat the other day, and holding my umbrella in one hand and newspaper scrap in the other, I was driven nearly wild by their continuous attentions. It is very easy to read driving here; the roads are so sandy that the horse has to walk a great part of the way and one is glad to be able to employ the weary hours with literature.
This is the greatest country for false rumors that I ever was in. Communication is very uncertain, nothing but special messengers to bring us news from the outside world. An occasional visit to Mr. Soule or to Beaufort enlivens the long weeks, and we welcome the gathering at church on Sunday, with the gossip and the mail and the queer collection of black beings in gay toggery, as the great event of our lives. If it were not for the newspapers, I might forget the time of year. It is very amusing to be appealed to by a negro to know how soon the 1st of August is; to tell them it is the 20th of July gives them very little idea.
I should like to look in upon you and bring you some of the delicacies of the tropical clime, watermēlions, as the "inhabitants" call them, rich and red; huge, mellow figs, seedy but succulent; plump quails, sweet curlew, delicate squirrels, fat rabbits, tender chickens. We fare well here. If the wretched country only had more rocks and less sand, better horses, more tolerable staff officers, and just a little more frequent communication with New England, I should perhaps be content to make quite a long stay, if I were wanted.
I will only remark at present that I find the nigs rather more agreeable, on the whole, than I expected; that they are much to be preferred to the Irish; that their blackness is soon forgotten, and as it disappears their expression grows upon one, so that, after a week or so of intercourse with a plantation, the people are as easily distinguished and as individual as white people; I have even noticed resemblances in some of them to white people I have seen. They are about as offensively servile as I expected. The continual "sur," "maussa," with which their remarks are besprinkled is trying, but soon ceases to be noticed. "Bauss" is the most singular appellation, used by a few only.
"M's Hayyet's brudder" passed through the Pine Grove "nigger-house" one day and retired, after a distinguished ovation, incubating, like a hen, upon a sulky-box full of eggs. Promises to show Miss Harriet's picture, not yet fulfilled, were received with the greatest satisfaction.
We have been making out our pay-rolls for May and June; the blanks, delayed in the printing, have just arrived. Red Tape. The money has been ready a long time. We ought to pay for July at the same time. This, understand, is only a partial payment, on account; the full payment is to be made when the crop comes in.
Aug. 7. Last Friday Mr. Philbrick and I got our money. The people generally took the payment in excellent spirit. A few seemed surprised, not knowing what to do with so much money; a few, of course, grumbled at the amount, though a clear explanation was always understood and received with reasonable satisfaction. I thought that one or two were disposed to take advantage of the fact that I had not taken the account of acres, and so tried to make a difficulty by telling strange tales. But there was a great deal of manliness and fairness shown, with a degree of patience and foresight that was very gratifying.
Aug. 16. Perhaps the best way to give you a satisfactory notion of "what my work is, how I like it," etc., is to give an account of a day's work on my plantations.
Thursday, Aug. 14. I allow Mr. Philbrick to have his horse saddled first,—this was polite,—and as soon as he is out of the gate—"Robert!"—"Surr!" "Put my smallest horse into the sulky." I retire within, and collect the necessary equipment for a day "out," viz.: white umbrella, whip (riding, long enough for sulky use), plantation-book, spring-balance (some rations to be delivered), much stout twine, for mending harness if need be, paper of turnip-seeds, two thirds of a pound of powder, and one novel, "An Only Son," for occupation during the first weary hour, consumed in a three miles walk over a sandy road. The young horse, caught at last,—our stud of four graze on the turfy acre fenced in about the house,—is a little restive at first in the unwonted restraint of the harness, but soon gets broken in to steady work by the heavy roads. Somewhat over an hour's slow progress brings me to the rude portal which spans the entrance of the McTureous estate. The houses of all the plantations on the Sea Side road are to be found on the eastern, or left-hand as one rides towards Hilton Head. The character of the fields and quarters between the road and the water is very much the same on all the places. The "water" is a creek, separating the island proper from salt-water marshes and the higher islands outside, against which latter the ocean itself beats. The distance from the road to the creek averages half a mile. The quarters, universally called "nigger-houses," are strung along the bank of the creek, at about 100 feet from the water, on a ridge between the water and the corn. The "big house" is a two-story affair, old, dirty, rickety, poorly put together and shabbily kept. Here lived old Mrs. Martha E. McTureous, with a large household. The James McTureous place—the other half of this one—is all in one and the same field. On both these places the houses are terribly out of repair, with wooden chimneys and mud floors, the people dirty and suffering from the effects of much confusion and discouragement in the spring. Limus, their old driver, did much mischief by striving to keep up the old system, and at the same time neglected the place to go and earn money for himself. Then they suffered severely from the black draft, their four best men being taken, from a population furnishing only "eight men working cotton," and thirteen full hands in all. Arriving as I did after all the mischief was done, I have had rather a discouraging time with them.
Entering the plantation, I am aware of old Nat. He is hoeing pease. As I approach, he shouts, and comes to the road, and lays before me a case of menace, ill usage, and threatened assault. I inspected convalescent boy, ascertained what work had been done,—in a general way, that is, learning that corn-blades had been, and were being, stripped, that all the able-bodied men were cutting marsh-grass for manure, that Tirah had planted a task of cow-pease for the Government, but had allowed them to go to grass,—whereupon, after personal inspection of said task, with an injunction to strip some corn which was getting dry, I drove over to the James McTureous place. Having received from Mr. Soule two packages of Swedish turnip-seed, I enquired concerning the manner of planting, how much seed was required for a task, etc. Dismounting from the sulky, and leaving it in charge of a returned volunteer (I like the sarcastic phrase), who was unwell and therefore lounging under the trees in front of one of the nigger-houses, I went forth to the field to count the acres of Government corn with the driver. On the way, I counted up the tasks of pease, slip, etc., to see if they coincided with the account given me by the people. Found one and a half of corn worthless, except for fodder. Conversed concerning marsh-grass, found another hook for cutting would be acceptable, gladdened their hearts with promise of turnip-seed, and drove off.
Not the least curious part of the curious state of things described in the next paragraph is the matter-of-course view of it taken by the youthful superintendent.
By the way, Jim, driver on the James McTureous place, used to be slave of Mr. Pritchard, residing in Hunting Island, which runs along just outside of St. Helena. He was a very cruel man,—there are stories of his burning negroes,—so when the "guns fired at Bay Point," as he couldn't run from his negroes, as the other masters did, for lack of transportation, his negroes ran from him, and settled among their friends on St. Helena. When matters were established at Hilton Head, Pritchard went and took the oath and got a pass, and has since lived at home, supporting himself by fishing and raising hogs. He often visits Jim and others of his old slaves, getting them to go fishing with him. Now one day last year, Jim and Mr. Pritchard found a four-oared boat—I give Jim's story—on the beach. Pritchard promised Jim half the value of the boat, but has since refused to fulfill his promise. Jim referred the matter to me. I told him to send Pritchard up to me. I think there will be no trouble, if Jim's story is straight.
Cherry Hill, one of T. A. Coffin's places, comes next to McTureous'. Cherry Hill is one of the most encouraging places I have. The people are of a more sensible caste, old people, almost entirely, who see the sense and propriety of right measures, and display a most comforting willingness to work and be content, though with less energy, of course, than younger men. The place owes much of its success this year to Tony, the driver, a person of great discretion, energy, and influence. The ingenious method by which he induced the people to plant more cotton than they wanted to is entertaining, though a little troublesome to us in making out the pay-roll. Mr. Palmer, Mr. Soule's assistant, counted sixteen acres of cotton on the place. But the several accounts of the people on the place added up only fourteen and a half acres. In this perplexity, Tony was appealed to, who explained the difficulty thus. The land was laid off in rows, twenty-one to the task, each row being one hundred and five feet long. Tony staked off the tasks anew, throwing twenty-four instead of twenty-one rows into the task, thus adding twelve rows to every acre, which the people blindly tilled, never suspecting but that they were having their own way about their cotton.
Mulberry Hill, owned by Captain John Fripp, is a little place, with not many more hands than Cherry Hill, but they are younger. The driver here is an extremely nice person, hardly energetic enough, I should think, for the old system, but a very quiet, gentlemanly man, perfectly frank and open in his manner, and a little superior in his conversation to those by whom he is surrounded. He is much respected in the dark community. It is to his bounty that I owe several huge watermelons which I have brought home for our table, besides several partial favors of the same kind, enjoyed under his own roof.
To these people I was to deliver one month's rations of hard bread. It comes in fifty-pound boxes; and as a day's ration is three quarters of a pound, and there are thirty-one days in August, it requires but a simple calculation to determine that each person entitled to a full ration should receive twenty-three and one quarter pounds, and that, one child being reckoned one sixth of a grown person (monstrous, you will say, when eating is concerned,—but such is law), one box must be delivered to every two grown-persons-and-one-child. Having the people together, I took the opportunity to enquire of them the number of tasks of cow-pease, slip-potatoes, etc., they had planted, likewise the amount of cotton they had hoed, "since Mr. Palmer took the last account." It will be a great job making up the next pay-roll. I hope the people won't lie worse than usual. If they do, if the drivers should fail me, especially,—if, as will probably happen, their own accounts, added up, do not tally within several tasks with my count of the whole, and if at the same time I shall be required to make out the whole roll in two days, and both my horses should have sore backs at once—you can imagine what a comfortable, easy time I shall have of it.
From Mulberry Hill, after looking at some doubtful cotton in the field with the driver, Paris, and finally setting it down as not properly hoed, I proceeded to the next plantation, Alvirah Fripp's, commonly called the Hope Place. It is the largest, the most distant, and, in many respects, the toughest plantation I have. There are a great many men of twenty-five to forty, "tough-nuts" many of them, and all looking so much alike that it is impossible to remember the name that belongs to any one face, though all their names and all their faces are familiar enough. I can see that it is a great drawback to my obtaining their confidence to have to ask one and another, as I ask, "how many tasks of slip have you planted for the Government, and how many for your own use?" to have to ask also, in variously modified phrase, "What's your name?" Recognize a negro, remember anything in which he has any interest, and you have his confidence at once. I not only surprised but made my fast friend a fellow on one of my places by calling him by his name the second time I saw him.
The men on the Hope Place are not all of a poor stamp, of course. The driver, Isaac, is my very ideal of a nigger-driver on a large place, made alive. Strong of body and up to all the dodges of the plantation life, he shows the effect—not apparent, in such a disagreeable manner at least, in Tony and Paris—of having a good many rough fellows to manage. I do not think he is liked on the place; I doubt his frankness; I think he is somewhat disposed to kick against the new authorities, disputing, e. g., their right to take away "his" horse, the little one Mr. Palmer and I foraged from him the first day I came.
Charles, the carpenter, is a man after my own heart. He attracted me first by his dignified and respectful demeanor, and by his superior culture. He has a little touch of self-consideration. He, more than any other negro I know, seems to me like a white person. I forget his color entirely while talking with him, and am often surprised, on approaching a black man, to recognize Charles' features. I think he is a pretty able fellow,—I should like to give him some regular employment in his trade. It seems an imposition to expect such a man to work cotton and corn.
Beaufort is neither Bofort nor Boofort nor Biufort, but Bueft, the u pronounced like the umlauted u in German. Sometimes one hears Biffut. Hooper, extremist in ridicule, says Biffit. A letter of Mrs. Philbrick's went, "missent," to Beaufort, N. C., which is, I believe, Bofort. Had the pronunciation been written on the envelope, as one hears it among the "black inhabitants," it would have gone to the Dead Letter Office, unless, by good luck, the S. C. had brought it as far as Hilton Head.
We get, first or last, a pretty good notion of one another (you understand I am speaking of the white population only), though we see very little of each other, except when we are on adjoining plantations. The Oaks is a rendezvous where we see each other at times; we meet occasionally in Biffut; but church is the principal meeting-house on the island, of course, and all the gossip of the week is fully aired on Sunday.
There is very little to tell about General Saxton, except that it is a great pity that he does not come onto the plantations himself and learn something, personally, of their state and their wants. He was extremely surprised the other day when Mr. Philbrick represented to him the necessity of making the last payment promptly; it was then twenty days behind time. A good deal of ignorance is shown in various ways in the orders sent from headquarters—e. g., the order that has been issued concerning marketing, nothing to be sold on the plantations except by leave of the superintendents and no boats to go to Hilton Head or Beaufort without a "Market Pass" from the superintendent. Until I hear that a guard is stationed [at Hilton Head],—which I shall the day after it is done,—I shall not order men to report to me before going over. I have no idea of making a rule I cannot enforce.
On the whole, our work is succeeding as well as the disappointments and hindrances of the year allow us to expect. A great deal will depend on the manner and promptness of the next payments and the treatment of the people at harvest-time.
FROM W. C. G.
Sept. 2. There is one frightful contingency,—a much talked of evacuation. Where the people will go, I know not; but possibly to Hayti. In that case I presume the superintendents will go with them,—I certainly shall. General Saxton, I am sorry to say, goes to-morrow in a gunboat—for his health. It leaves us without a head and worse—renders evacuation all the more likely. It is thought that his presence and words prevented it several weeks ago. I doubt if he comes back,—he is not satisfied with his work here, does not enjoy it. It is properly the duty of a civilian, who should have military rank merely to give him a position. Saxton and his staff understand little or nothing of the real wants of the plantations, and though affairs have of course been improved by his presence and authority, very little in proportion to our hopes and our needs has been accomplished. We need a civilian, who is a first-rate business man,—of force, of forethought, of devoted interest in this undertaking. But there is no use in writing this,—rather some harm.
FROM C. P. W.
Sept. 6. Things are in a state of suspension generally; I confess that a decidedly azure hue has prevailed during the last week. Talk of evacuation, General Saxton's departure, threatened attacks, and even successful forays on an island behind Hilton Head by the rebels, the increased inconvenience and vexation of red-tape-ism, threatened changes in the policy to be pursued towards the people in some minor matters, involving, however, infringement of our authority with them, it is feared, besides the breaking of promises already made; the difficulty of getting them promptly and properly paid, and of getting the value of their work fairly estimated; the general inefficiency, ignorance, and indecision of the authorities, wanting a defined system and hampered by prejudice and ignorance and selfishness,—all these things make the aspect of affairs dark enough at times, and one gets discouraged and disheartened and disgusted and disappointed, and is ready to part and have nothing more to do with the concern. When, in addition to actual evils, one feels that there is a strong opposition to the enterprise, and that the difficulties are made as vexatious as possible, by jealous and hostile army officers, so that, in short, the spirit of the stronger party here is against us; and when, added to injury, one has to bear
"the law's delays, The insolence of office, and the spurns, Which patient merit of th' unworthy takes, One almost swears his homeward voyage to make, In the next steamer."
Ignorance and want of confidence are the two evils which we suffer; want of confidence by the powers in us, by us in the negroes. It is painful to note how distrust must be the rule; how every one must take it for granted that those under him are cheats and liars. Hence the necessity of red tape, and its delays and vexatious inconveniences. Mr. Philbrick says, "Working for a Corporation is bad enough, but working for the Government is very much worse." However, it wouldn't be so bad if the Government officers knew enough of the plantation work to do the proper thing at the proper time, even though they use the red-tape method in doing it. I believe I knew more after being two weeks on my places than the Heads do at Beaufort now about the details of the work.
Sept. 9. General Saxton went North last Friday. It is more than hinted that his principal purpose is to obtain greater powers for himself. Hunter has gone North too, "in disgust," it is said, and General Brannan, who is said to befriend the enemies of the United States, and has given Saxton a deal of trouble, is left at the head of the Department.
Brigadier-General John M. Brannan was in command for a fortnight only, pending the arrival of Major-General Ormsby M. Mitchel.
Sept. 18. The President having sent word not to evacuate, you need not be anxious about us. I was a little afraid that A. L. would give in to Hunter, evacuate all but Hilton Head, and colonize the negroes from the other islands; glad he has more sense.
Here follows a detailed account of the kind of magisterial power which the superintendents found themselves called upon to "assume," though they "had it not."
FROM E. S. P.
Sept. 23. Alex sent Finnie here before breakfast to request me to come over at once, for Cato was driving his, Alex's daughter Rose, his own wife, out of the house. I rode over after breakfast. Found the whole plantation excited and on the qui vive. Cato had broken up Rose's bedstead and thrown it out of doors and bundled up all her things. I began to talk with him, but he was very saucy and threatened to kill the first man who interfered with him in "his own house." I thought it quite time to test him, and taking hold of his arm told him he must go home with me. He hung back sulkily at first, but in a minute yielded and said he would do so. I stepped out of the house and he after. Caroline asked me to read her a letter from John at Hilton Head, and while preparing to do so Cato dodged about the house and made for the woods across the cornfield. I cried out for him to halt, but he ran the faster. I pulled out my revolver and fired two shots over his head, but he only ran the harder, and never stopped till he reached the woods. I then had a talk with his father, old Toby, who "wished I had shot him and stopped the confusion," and with Alex, both of whom I enjoined to hold their tongues in future. When halfway home Cato stood waiting for me in the road, opening a gate as I approached, touched his hat and said he was very sorry for what he had done and was willing to go with me. I told him to follow me to the house and I would talk with him. I found him very humble. I reasoned with him, telling him I was sure Rose's child was his and that he had done her great wrong, that he ought not to listen to such scandal after living peaceably with her for eight or nine years. Cato said he hoped he should never do so again. I told him that if I ever found him making any more trouble here I should send him to work on Fort Pulaski.
Mr. Philbrick's next letter shows him trying to arouse the slothful by "sharing out" a bale of white cotton cloth, in bonus form, to the industrious.
FROM E. S. P.
Sept. 27. I gave one yard for every task of cotton hoed in July, requiring about 600 yards. The Coffin people all got some, but about half the people on the Fripp plantations had to go without, having neglected the last hoeing. The people who were too lazy to hoe their cotton in July looked rather glum, and those who got their cloth laughed and looked exultant. Some people here got twenty-two yards, and many got only two or three, but all took it thankfully and seemed content that they got any. Those who got so little will have to buy more, which they are doing already. I sell it at about half the price that is asked by our own quartermaster, so I shall be liberally patronized. In dividing up this cotton cloth I deducted from the shares of those people to whom clothing was given last spring the value of that clothing. The only cases were those of Martha, Amaritta, and Rosetta, to each of whom Mr. G. gave a dress. Rosetta's cotton was only one acre and her share of cloth was therefore but four yards, which was fully paid for last spring. So she got nothing now. She didn't take it very kindly, and growled about the dress being too small for her, so she couldn't wear it, whereupon I offered to take it back, but I haven't heard anything more about it. The more I see of these people, the more I am opposed to the practice of giving them anything except in payment for services actually performed. The cases of destitution are comparatively very few.
At this time some of the superintendents were trying hard to instruct the negroes in military drill. A young enthusiast on one of the Fripp places was very proud of his little squad of black recruits, but found their attendance on the daily drill amazingly irregular. Apropos of his own efforts in this direction, Mr. Philbrick pursues his letter as follows:
I have tried in vain to get my young men together to drill for self-defense; my twenty-five guns are lying useless. One might as well think of a combination among the Boston kittens to scratch the eyes out of all the Boston dogs as to look for an insurrection in this State, if the negroes on these islands are a fair sample of those on the main. If there should be any insurrection in the South, it will not be in this State. The negroes in the sugar plantation districts are different, I suppose, being, a larger portion of them, Kentucky and Virginia born, torn from their old homes or sent South for bad behavior, and therefore more revengeful. But you know the people here are too timid to do any fighting unless driven to it. If General Hunter had not forced them into his regiment last May, we might do more at drilling now. As it is, my men won't listen to me when I talk about it; they only suspect me of wanting to press them into service by stealth, and lose what little confidence they have in my sincerity.
C. P. W. opens the next letter with a melancholy comparison between the autumnal glories of "home" and the absence thereof on the Sea Islands of South Carolina.
FROM C. P. W.
Oct. 3. Here there are no stones but grindstones, no elevation that can be called a hill except one mound, forty feet long and ten feet high, and that is artificial. The roads are sandy, the fields are broad and flat and full of weeds, the water stands about in great pools, not running off, but absorbing into the sandy soil.
I find myself often using nigger idioms, especially in conversation with them. It is often very difficult to make them understand English, and one slips into the form of speech which they can most easily comprehend. O how deliciously obtuse they are on occasions! A boy came to me for a curry-comb for a Government mule this morning, which I was to send to the driver on his place. While scratching my name on it, I asked him if Jim had sent for some tobacco, as he said he should. "Yes, sarr." "Did he send the money?" "Sarr?" Repeated. "No, Sarr." "How much does he want?" "Don't know, Sarr." "How can I send the tobacco, if I don't know how much he wants?" "He send for him, Sarr." "Did he send you for it?" "No, Sarr." "Whom did he send?" "I dunno, Sarr." "How will he get his tobacco?" "He come himself, Sarr." "Where is he?" "Him at home, Sarr." "He is coming to get it himself, is he?" "Sarr?" Repeated, in nigger phrase. "Yes, Sarr." "Did Bruce send you for anything beside the curry-comb?" "Yes, Sarr." "What else?" "Sarr?" "Did Bruce tell you fetch anything beside this?" "No, Sarr." "Is this all Bruce told you to get?" "Yes, Sarr," with intelligence. "Go home, then, and give that to Bruce. Good-morning."
This delay in payments is outrageous. It was bad enough to pay for May and June work the second week in August; but here is the work of July and August unpaid for yet, and with no prospect of its being paid for for six weeks to come.
FROM E. S. P.
Sunday morning, Oct. 5. The President's proclamation does not seem to have made a great deal of stir anywhere. Here the people don't take the slightest interest in it. They have been free already for nearly a year, as far as they could see, and have so little comprehension about the magnitude of our country and are so supremely selfish that you can't beat it into their heads that any one else is to be provided for beyond St. Helena Island. After telling them of the proclamation and its probable effects, they all ask if they would be given up to their masters in case South Carolina comes back to the Union. I tell them there is little chance of such a thing, but a strong probability that there will be a long, bloody war, and that they ought to prepare to do their share of the fighting. I can't get one man to come up and drill yet. They say they would like to have guns to shoot with, but are afraid of being sent off into the "big fight," though willing to fight any one who comes onto this island to molest them. Of course their defense would amount to nothing unless they were organized and drilled. I do not, however, feel any uneasiness about the rebels coming here. If they came at all they would attack our forces at Beaufort or Hilton Head, where I am confident they would be whipped. Refugees continue to come in from the mainland every week. They all agree in saying that there are no troops left about here but boys, and that it would be an easy matter to take Charleston now.
I am anxious to get the winter clothing here before next pay-day, so the people may buy it in preference to the trash they see in the shops at Beaufort, etc. Nothing is heard of our money yet. Some say that General Saxton will probably bring it. I only wish he would come; his picket-guard at St. Helena amuses itself hunting cattle on the Fripp Point Plantation. As I have no positive proof against them I can't do anything but watch the cattle to prevent a repetition of it.
October 7. I received on Sunday a copy of President Lincoln's proclamation. I now feel more than ever the importance of our mission here, not so much for the sake of the few hundreds under my own eyes as for the sake of the success of the experiment we are now trying. It is, you know, a question even with our good President whether negroes can be made available as free laborers on this soil. I, for one, believe they can, and I am more than ever in earnest to show it, for the importance of this question is greater than ever, now that we are so near a general crash of the whole social fabric in the Southern States. I don't think the old masters will ever be successful in employing the blacks, but I do believe that Yankees can be.
Our people are picking the cotton very industriously, and though they have only about one third of last year's crop to gather, they are determined to make the most of it, and allow none to waste. It is interesting to see how much more economical of food they are this year than formerly. Every family now feels the responsibility of providing food for itself. The same rule should be followed with all tools. I would make the men pay a low price for every tool they want to use, and pay wages enough to enable them to do so.
Oct. 8. I succeeded day before yesterday in getting thirteen of the young men on this plantation to come up and drill, but they did not come again yesterday. I don't believe there is sufficient zeal among them to enable them to go through the tedious routine of drill with any regularity, unless held together by some stronger motive than now exists. I find them rather stupid. About half didn't know which their right foot was, and kept facing to the left when I told them to face to the right. They seemed to enjoy it, however.
FROM C. P. W.
Oct. 9. We need people at headquarters who understand the details of plantation work. There is no one now who knows anything about the plantations except Hooper, and he knows very little. He confesses and mourns at it himself; but he has done nothing but go back and forth between the Oaks and Beaufort ever since he came down. There is a general want of concerted system on all the places. Each superintendent has to do as he thinks best in all cases himself. General plans are usually determined on just too late.
Oct. 14. The steamer which brought your letter brought also the General. It is said that he comes with additional powers. This question will probably be settled soon, as a difficulty has already arisen between him and his old antagonist, Brannan, on a point of authority, and our General has gone to Hilton Head, probably to see Mitchel about it. This interference of the military authorities with our work and our privileges is going to make trouble. One of Mitchel's first acts was to send to Judd, as Superintendent of Port Royal Island, for 10,000 bushels of corn for army purposes. Poor Judd had been rationing his people for some time, owing to a lack of provisions occasioned by the depredations of the soldiers. We have none too much provision now, and any considerable drain must throw the plantations, sooner or later, upon the Government for support.
In the next letter (October 21) Mr. Philbrick says that the corn harvest, which is so light on St. Helena as a whole that it will hardly feed the people in the interval between old and new potatoes, will nevertheless amount to a surplus at Coffin's, adding:
I attribute the greater comparative success on my plantations to my having abandoned the system of working a common field early in the season. I now measure the yield of each family's corn-patch separately, with a view to pay them for it, if they have enough for their support in their private fields, or to regulate their allowance, if they need any, by the quantity they raise.
We had a case of imprisonment here last week. I learned that old Nat's boy, Antony, who wanted to marry Phillis, had given her up and taken Mary Ann, July's daughter, without saying a word to me or any other white man. I called him up to me one afternoon when I was there and told him he must go to church and be married by the minister according to law. He flatly refused, with a good deal of impertinence, using some profane language learned in camp. I thereupon told him he must go home with me, showing him I had a pistol, which I put in my outside pocket. He came along, swearing all the way and muttering his determination not to comply. I gave him lodging in the dark hole under the stairs, with nothing to eat. Next morning old Nat came and expostulated with him, joined by old Ben and Uncle Sam, all of whom pitched into him and told him he was very foolish and ought to be proud of such a chance. He finally gave up and promised to go. So I let him off with an apology. Next Sunday he appeared and was married before a whole church full of people. The wedding took place between the regular church service and the funeral, allowing an hour of interval, however.
Cato never went back to Rose as he promised. 'Siah tells me he is afraid of his father, old Toby, who has been in a state of chronic feud with Rose's father, old Alex, and does all in his power to make trouble. Cato has gone over to Pine Grove and begun to build a house. I daresay he will take Rose into it bye and bye, when it is done.
I have been very busy lately weighing pease and cotton and measuring corn. The latter is not very pleasant, for I have to stay in the corn-house and keep tally from nine to three o'clock, and the weevils are more numerous than were the fleas the first week we came here to live. Mosquitoes are about gone, but we have sand-flies again. No fleas yet that I am aware of.
FROM C. P. W.
Oct. 23. General Saxton returned, as you know, with full powers from the President to raise one or if possible five negro regiments. I think it will be difficult to induce the men to enlist. Their treatment in the spring and summer was such as to prejudice them against military duty under any circumstances. They were forcibly drafted, were ill-treated by at least one officer,—who is a terror to the whole black population,—have never been paid a cent; they suffered from the change of diet, and quite as much from homesickness. I think if their treatment in the spring had been different, it would be possible to raise a regiment on these islands; as it is, I think it will be surprising if they fill a company from St. Helena. I think, too, that it would be very difficult, under any circumstances, to train them into fighting condition under six months, and if they had at the first the prospect of coming into actual conflict with the Secesh, the number who would be willing to enlist would be extremely small. They have not, generally speaking, the pluck to look in the face the prospect of actual fighting, nor have they the character to enlist for their own defense. They can understand the necessity of their knowing how to defend themselves, they acknowledge their obligations to help the Yankees, and do their part in keeping the islands against their old masters; a good many of them express their willingness to fight under white officers, and some have intimated a desire to know something of drill and how to handle a musket. But they are very timid and cautious. They fear that when they have learned their drill they will be drafted. They are very reluctant to leave their homes to go and live on Hilton Head or Port Royal, in camp, away from their families and crops. The mere mention of "Captain Tobey," with a hint that "General Saxton wants the black people to help the white soldiers keep the Secesh off the islands," sends them in panic into the woods. Mr. Philbrick saw the General this morning, and was told that if the regiment were not raised we should have to give up the whole enterprise; that the President and the people of the North were looking to the raising of this regiment as a test experiment. That if it succeeded and it was found that the negroes could and would aid the Government, then the Government would be encouraged to hold the islands, trusting not only that the negroes could aid in defending them, but that as fast as negroes were freed, they could be used effectively against the rebels. Moreover, that the success of one regiment here would make the President's proclamation a more terribly effective weapon against the Southerners. (There is no doubt that in many parts of the South, especially on the Mississippi, the negroes are much more intelligent than here. Those from the main seem a superior class to those who have always lived on the islands. The success of armed negroes of this inferior class would indicate the danger of the masters of other slaves of a higher class, when they learn that "all slaves of rebel masters who enter into the service of the United States are forever free," with their families.)
If, on the other hand, no black troops can be raised, the General says that the Government will be discouraged from attempting any longer to protect at such an expense a people who cannot or will not aid in defending themselves. I hope that General Saxton has not held out too grand hopes of the success of this undertaking to the President and to others at the North, and I hope he is exaggerating the importance of the movement. Perhaps the President wants to try his colonization scheme on these people. He had better lose a campaign than evacuate these islands and give up this experiment. This experiment and the war must go on side by side. I hope that before the war is done we shall have furnished the Government with sufficient facts to enable them to form a policy for the treatment of the millions whom the conclusion of the war, if not its continuance, must throw into our hands.
I am very much afraid that the Government will look too much to the material results of the year's occupation for determining the success of free labor among the slaves. They will neglect to take into account the discouragements and drawbacks of the year. The sudden reaction consequent upon the change from slavery to what they hardly knew as freedom; the confusion incident upon military occupation (and the contradictory directions given concerning the year's crops); the abundance of money where the cotton-agents and officers were stationed, and the high wages promised and often obtained, at Hilton Head and Beaufort; the lateness of the cotton crop, the poorness of the seed, the uncertainty and doubt and want of system in regard to the management of the crops; the drafting of the able-bodied men at a critical period, their hardships and subsequent distrust and fear, or idleness and insubordination; the changing of superintendents, the fewness of both superintendents and teachers; and lastly, the shameful delay in the payments, causing distrust, carelessness, neglect of plantation work, and in some few cases, suffering for want of the means to purchase clothing. It is too bad to treat people so, and it is wonderful how much they have done and in what an excellent state they are, under these discouraging circumstances. If they were assured of a market at the end of the year, and sufficient money advanced them to enable them to get "sweetening" and clothes through the year, I would trust my plantations to go right ahead, put their crops into the ground, and insure to the Government a handsome surplus next November.
The cheerfulness and hopefulness of the people in regard to next year's crops, and the interest they take in their success, is surprising. "If we live to see," "if God spare life," they say, "we will plant early, and begin in time, and then you will see. O—yes, sar."
Mr. Philbrick is appointed cotton-agent for this crop. He is going to have the cotton ginned here, not at New York. Good seed is scarce. The improved seed, the result of many years' cultivation and selection, was lost to the island by the policy of ginning last year's crop in New York.
FROM E. S. P.
Oct. 27. When in Beaufort last Wednesday, I got leave to pay off my people with my own funds, through the paymaster, Mr. Lee. So he came here next day, and I advanced the funds, $649. I sent Joe out to tell the people to come and get their money, but they didn't come with the usual promptness; bye and bye two men came to sound the way, the rest held back. I laughed at them and sent them off with the chink in their pockets, after which the rest came fast enough. They were evidently afraid of some trap to press them into United States service as General Hunter did. I didn't have the slightest difficulty in collecting what I had advanced last September. Every one paid it cheerfully and thanked us for what they got. This payment was all in specie. I don't think I shall be refunded in coin, and shall probably lose the difference, which is now about $120, but I don't grudge them this. I had rather let it go than see them paid in the paper currency which they can't read or judge of. It will come to that bye and bye, however, for I can't get any more coin here, and half of this money may not come back again into my hands.
General Saxton is striving earnestly to fill up his brigade with negroes, but finds it very slow work. The people are so well off on the plantations they don't see why they should go and expose themselves. Moreover, the way they were treated last summer is not very attractive to them. Many of their officers abused them, and they were very generally insulted by every white man they met. It will now require a good deal of time and very judicious, careful treatment to get rid of these impressions, particularly as some of the very officers who abused and maltreated the men are still in General Saxton's confidence and have places in his new organization.
I took this place more because I want to see the work properly done and to keep it out of the hands of speculators and sharks than because I wanted the position. It is a useful position, however, and I mean to make it so.
A meeting of superintendents is to be held at the Episcopal Church next Wednesday, which I shall attend, and employ the occasion by trying to start some more methodical system of employing the negroes than heretofore.
Nov. 2. At the meeting we discussed several methods of dealing with the corn crop, and several of the superintendents reported that the negroes had raised hardly enough corn to feed the plantation horses and mules on when at work. The small yield of cotton was also talked over and its causes discussed. I do not think it will pay expenses even on this island. My own plantations will yield about $5000 worth, when I expected $15,000, a good share of my crop having rotted in the pods during the rains in the early part of October and another share having dropped off the plant before filling, probably from lack of drainage after the heavy July rains.
After returning from the meeting I found a large box of woolen goods forwarded by Edward Atkinson. I sold $100 worth the next day. Though providing for their wants quite freely, the people seem more frugal with their money than last summer, and I am glad to see them so.
As far as I can learn now there are very few gins able to work in the department. I have some very good seed here and at Pine Grove which I think I can gin on the spot. Mr. S. came and spent a night here. He came to hire some men to go with him to pick up a lot of stray timber on commission for the Government. So my plans for ginning cotton here are postponed for a while. I had flattered myself that we were fairly rid of him, and the men were beginning to take an interest in plantation work in his absence, but he turns up again just as disagreeable as ever.
There have been great exertions made the week past to fill the ranks of the first negro regiment. A Rev. Mr. Fowler has been appointed chaplain and is at work recruiting, appealing to their religious feelings. He spent two nights here and talked in the praise-house, both evenings. The women came to hear him, but the young men were shy. Not one came near him, nor would they come near me when he was present.
The last time I saw General Saxton he seemed to think our whole destiny depended on the success of this negro recruitment. It is certainly a very important matter, but I think as before that it is doomed to fail here at present, from the imbecile character of the people. I thought while at work with Mr. Fowler that if I were to go as Captain I might get a company without trouble, but I failed to get a single man when seriously proposing it to them. If I had been able to raise a company to follow me and the same men would not have gone without me, I think I should have accepted General Saxton's offer, but although I consider the arming of the negroes the most important question of the day, I don't feel bound to take hold unless I can give an impetus to the undertaking. I think it would have been attended with some degree of success a year ago at this place, directly after the masters left, when the negroes had more spite in them and had seen less of their facilities for making money which they have enjoyed this summer, and if General Hunter had not made his lamentable blunder, the men would not have been disgusted with camp-life at least, but it is difficult enough to get any one of them to feel any pluck. We succeeded in getting Ranty to promise to go, and he seemed quite earnest, but when he came to start next morning he suddenly found he had a pain in his chest! his heart failed him and he backed square out. Next day he came over here and, after begging some time for me to give him a shirt, without success, offered me in payment for it a counterfeit half-dollar which I had told him a week ago was such, but which he had meantime polished up and hoped to pass. So you see when a man's heart fails him he will stoop to almost anything.
We had four couples married after church to-day, Andrew and Phoebe of Pine Grove among the rest. Mr. Phillips tried to tie all four knots at one twitch, but found he had his hands full with two couples at once and concluded to take them in detail. They all behaved very well and seemed impressed with the ceremony, so it certainly has an excellent effect. We also had an address from Prince Rivers, a black coachman from Beaufort, who has been in General Hunter's regiment all summer, and is of sufficient intelligence to take a lively interest in the cause of enlistment. He has been to Philadelphia lately and comes back duly impressed with the magnitude of the country and the importance of the "negro question," but has not sufficient eloquence to get many recruits. Of course the young men kept away from church and will keep away, so long as the subject is discussed. They have made up their silly minds and don't want to be convinced or persuaded to any change.
You can imagine what a comfort it is to see Mr. G. again and looking so well.
W. C. G., he who in June spoke so lightly of the dangers of the Sea Island climate, had been dangerously ill during the summer and had been obliged to go North for some weeks. In a letter written October 30 he refers to the death of one of the superintendents, adding, "It greatly startled me." A month later another of the superintendents died in the same house, which later proved fatal to still a third white man. These three were cases of typhoid, but the malarial fever of the district not infrequently was as deadly; on October 30 General Mitchel himself died of it. The fact as to the climate is expressed in one of the letters by the statement that fevers were "common among the negroes" and "universal among the whites." A letter of Mr. Philbrick's, written early in October, speaks of Captain Hooper's "indisposition" as having cut down "the trio of tough ones" to himself and Mr. Soule.
FROM E. S. P.
Nov. 7. Everybody has been at work this week digging their winter crop of sweet potatoes, planted with slips in July. They bear famously on all three of my plantations, yielding in some cases two hundred bushels per acre. You know I told every man to plant for his own family separately, so that each one takes the potatoes home to his own yard and buries them, for winter use. They dig a hole about four or five feet in diameter and one foot deep, in which they pack the potatoes and pile them up above ground in a conical heap about four feet high. So when done they look like a sort of overgrown muskrat's nest, or small wigwam. Large families have in some cases seven or eight of these conical heaps in their back yards.
The mellowing effect of the potato harvest upon the hearts of the people is manifest. Yesterday was a rainy day and the women kept straggling up here in squads all day. Each one brought a basket of potatoes on her head, from a peck to half a bushel, as a present to me. Uncle Sam and Joe are making a cone of them in the yard. Many of the children bring ground-nuts, of which I now have half a bushel. They have raised a good crop of them this year, and we amuse ourselves evenings by roasting them in the ashes of our open fire and munching them at leisure. I endeavor to acknowledge all these good-will offerings in kind, by making deposits of sugar or coffee in the baskets after emptying the nuts.
We live in the dining-room now, that being the only room without broken glass, and even there I can't get the thermometer above 60 deg. with all the fire I can build.
FROM C. P. W.
Nov. 8. The only interesting event the day that I was in Beaufort I was obliged to leave without beholding, viz.: the mustering in of the first full company of the new regiment, Captain James! They marched through the streets just before I came away, making a fine appearance. Many of them were in the first regiment, and the regularity and steadiness of their marching was very creditable. They are a fine body of men. The regiment is filling fast, its friends are much encouraged. A number of men from the regiment (now numbering about four hundred) have been allowed to return home for a few days, and I think they will carry back quite a number with them.
We have been in occupation just a year. The future, with the prospect of sale, or removal, or renewed blunders and mismanagement, is not very cheerful.
FROM W. C. G.
Nov. 15. Our island work is acquiring a little more system, but I'm not sure that the people are as good as they were six months ago. Great mistakes have been made, and I'm afraid the experiment so far only shows the absolute necessity of avoiding errors which common sense pointed out before any experience. Still, my belief isn't altered that the slaves would speedily become a self-supporting people, either by a system of wise and humane care, or by the opposite method of letting them alone to feel the misery consequent on idleness and the comfort that with very many would at once result from industry.
FROM E. S. P.
Nov. 16. I had a talk with General Saxton. He was feeling very blue, had just been to Hilton Head to get some tents for his new recruits of which he enlisted about a hundred on his recent expedition to St. Mary's. There are some 3000 tents in warehouse there, but General Brannan refused to open it for him, alleging the advice of the Medical Department, which closed it because yellow fever had been near it. Now it is notorious that whenever one of General Brannan's men wants anything from the same warehouse, he gives a special order and it is opened for him, but not for General Saxton, the Abolitionist. So the new recruits have to sleep in open air these frosty nights, dampening their ardor somewhat. General Saxton agreed with me that if there is no more earnestness and sincerity among other army officers than among the specimens we have had here, we should all go to the dogs. His expedition was so successful that he was in good spirits till balked by General Brannan. The best item in it was that one of the rebel prisoners taken was marched to Beaufort jail guarded by one of his former slaves! The conduct of the negro troops was very well spoken of by their officers, but is the subject of a good deal of ribaldry among the white soldiers at Beaufort, who exhibit a degree of hatred really fiendish towards the black regiment, taking their cue from their commanding officer, of course.
We had a very interesting discussion on Wednesday about the future management of the plantations. I advocated the subdivision of the land, allotting to each family what it could cultivate and measuring their crops separately. Mr. Bryant, who came from Edisto last June, preferred working the people in a gang with a foreman, and paying them by the month. His people had worked very well in that way, but it would be impossible to work the people on this island in that way. They are too independent and too ignorant to see the advantages of it, and too deceitful to enable any foreman to discriminate between the lazy and industrious. Such a system, with the insufficient force of white foremen we could supply, would be only a premium on deceit and laziness, and would fail to call out the individual exertions of the people.
The cotton crop will be worth, on this and Ladies Island, about $40,000. I have stored twenty-five thousand pounds stone cotton on my plantations which will be worth at least $4000. The Pine Grove people have done picking and commenced ginning this week. All the men take hold of it readily. I can't find foot-gins enough here to gin more than one fourth the crop, and I don't think it worth while to gin by steam or horse-power, so remote as we are from mechanical repair-shops. There are several power-gins which might be readily fitted up in time of peace, but now it would cost too much. The engines have been appropriated to sawmills in some cases, and worn out in others, while the belting and other movable parts have all been stolen by the negroes.
I have not yet decided whether or not to take care of these plantations another year. General Saxton says he don't think our relations with the people will be disturbed by the tax-commissioners, but, if the estates are offered for sale as they expect to do, I don't see how he is to help it. I think I should like to buy this one and see what could be done with the people. I should not expect to make anything out of it. I don't believe much can be made out of this generation by free labor, nor out of the next without teaching them to read, and am sorry so little has been done as yet in the teaching department. It is difficult to get people to stick to it, especially in summer and during the unhealthy season.
I have already started ginning on nine plantations along this seaside road and shall succeed in saving on the spot sufficient seed to plant this island, I think. General Saxton has given me carte blanche as to ginning and general management of the crop. It seems to be his way to leave all details to his subordinates, whom he holds responsible for a proper result. If I had the same authority in New York I could save something as compared with last year's crop, which was nearly all eaten up by the brokers and agents and contractors, through whose hands it passed, leaving but $200,000 net proceeds from a shipment of about a million dollars' worth.
Mr. Lee has paid me the amount I advanced on my plantation pay-rolls for July and August. I have finished up my pay-rolls for September and October and intend to get him to go and pay off my people for these months with my funds when paying the other plantations for June and July.
In the prolonged absence of window-glass, I have resorted to other expedients known to Irishmen, etc., but can't keep the wind out of my chamber these frosty nights by any amount of ingenuity. Shingles might do it, but they are as difficult to obtain as the window-glass, and the towels won't stay put in a high wind.
We are very sorry to hear of Captain Hooper's serious illness. He had kept up his strength so long on quinine during the summer, that a break-down must be dangerous now. I imagine that General Saxton misses his indefatigable zeal and straightforward gentleness.
I want to see what is to be done at the tax-sale and what sort of a title is to be given. For I don't think I shall stay here another year unless I can control my men better than I have done, and I don't believe a better control can be had with the long-delayed payments rendered almost necessary by the lumbering machinery of the Quartermaster's department.
The next letter is from C. P. W., and sets forth the result of his cogitations on plantation methods.
FROM C. P. W.
Nov. 16. The slip-potato crop is the only crop by which to judge of the negroes' capacity to take care of themselves. This crop they have, as a general rule, raised entirely by themselves, and for their own consumption; they found their own manure, and received no help except the use (small) of the Government teams on the place. The crop exceeds, on the average, one hundred per cent. that raised by their masters,—I mean that each man gets twice as much as he used to when they worked and shared in common; and in some cases the tasks bear twice as much. "They beer uncommon." "If we live to see," all the crops next year, under a management that will encourage and stimulate, will be proportionally as good as this 'tater crop. One thing the people are universally opposed to. They all swear that they will not work in gang, i. e., all working the whole, and all sharing alike. On those places where the root 'taters were thus worked this year, the crop did very poorly, and gave out long before its time. Where the Government corn was thus worked, the yield averages, I suppose, six to ten bushels, the nigger-field, meantime, bearing twice as much, where they had manure.
Wherever the people have been able to look forward to the result of the crop as beneficial to them, they have shown industry, care, and energy in putting it through. There is much laziness to be overcome in them, however; even in tending their own crops they sometimes neglect well-known precautions because they cost too much trouble. But the best of them have carried their own crops well, and their example is beneficial in stimulating the lazier ones to exertion. There is a good deal of emulation among them; they will not sit quietly and see another earning all the money. And it is far better to adapt the system to the intelligence of the best than to treat them all, as one occasionally has to treat one or two, in special matters, like mere children. I am sure a large number of them could get through the year without any pecuniary aid from Government, on the simple assurance that they should be paid for their crop when they had picked it. I am often urged by the best of the people not to trouble myself about the means of doing work, but just to tell them to do the work, and expect to see it done, and not encourage them to ask for help to do everything. "They kin do it, sir; don't you worry yeurself, sir; they kin find herself, sir." They have not been working cotton for nothing for so many years under their masters. They recollect how their masters used to treat the land and crops, and what treatment proved most successful. They need supervision and direction constantly, if only to prevent fighting when one says "I free," "I as much right to ole missus' things as you," etc., and more than all, they need the presence and conversation of a white man, not only to elevate them, but to encourage and stimulate them.
There is but one opinion expressed. "We won't be driven by nobody;" "I don't want no driving, either by black man or white man." "We don't want de whole valler of de cotton. De land belongs to de Goverment, de mule and ting on de place belong to de Goverment, and we have to 'spect to pay somef'n for um. But you just pay us our share, accordin' as we make crop, and if you live to see, Marsa Charlie, and God spare life, you'll see a crop on dis place next year." "There will be a difference in de land, sir, but we can't help dat; each one work his own and do as well as he kin." It is mere fortune that one is on one soil, another on another, kept in better order, perhaps, by the Secesh master.
The negroes ought not to bear the burden of the loss of their crop through any external cause, as the caterpillar, drought, etc. The Government ought to stand in the gap and bear the loss. But I should not tell the negroes anything about such atonement before it is made, else one would be overwhelmed with applications from those who had become tired of cotton-hoeing, and a thousand plausible stories would be fabricated, to show that this man or that was peculiarly afflicted in his crop.
Nov. 25. The people have begun ginning cotton on several places. The gins are of the rudest construction. Two rollers, about the size of a spool of thread, one above the other, horizontal, just touching, are turned in opposite directions by two upright fly-wheels, moved by a single treadle. The cotton, with the seed in it, is presented to these rollers, which catch it and draw it through, leaving the seed behind. Ginning is considered "light work." Thirty pounds of the clean cotton is considered a good day's work. It is pretty severe for the knees. Women gin with the men. The movement of "jump and change feet" when one knee gets tired should be introduced into the ballet; it is very elegant.
We have been reduced to the old system of rationing. For the last two months we have had liberty to draw the value of the soldier's ration which is allowed us, in any kind of food. Consequently everybody has rushed for sugar, rice, candles, and molasses, disdaining hard bread, salt beef, and such low fare. Of course there was soon a deficiency of the better articles in the Department, the Army Commissary at Hilton Head declaring that we used up more candles and sugar than any regiment; so we have got to draw soldier's rations again, a few candles, a little dab of sugar, a big hunk of salt food, and hard biscuit. They can be swapped for duck and chickens, but what a bother to get them.
Nov. 26. I hear that Hunter's reappointment causes some dissatisfaction among the pro-slavery army officers here, as might be expected.
Dec. 2. It is now rumored that we are likely to receive but little help from Congress this winter, and that the Cotton Fund is getting low. It is said that the taking of Charleston would benefit us more than anything else could; that any way we must take some place on the main to attract attention and inspire confidence. The black regiment may do something for our interests. General Saxton is going to send a report of the year's work to Headquarters, and it will doubtless be laid before Congress. Commissioners, if appointed to investigate the matter, would probably have their notions of the character, ability, and prospects of the "Universal Nigger" much revised, with additions and corrections, before their investigations were completed. You at the North know nothing about niggers, nothing at all. When more is known of their powers and capacity and character more attention will be paid to the cultivation of free black labor.
The next letter again focuses attention on the white population.
FROM W. C. G.
Nov. 29. The wives are multiplying on St. Helena. Since Mrs. Bryant came, two other superintendents have made their houses homes,—one our Baptist parson, and the other a young fellow who went home shortly before me to marry his betrothed on our salary of $50 a month. Brave youth—in these times! One man has brought his sister and established her as the beauty of the island; one his mother; and one an older sister, a perfect New England housekeeper, who makes his home the paradise of mince-pies and family bread.
FROM E. S. P.
Dec. 10. (At the Oaks.) I like the General ever so much. He is so simple—straightforward, and earnest, so evidently pure and unselfish and so kind in his manner.