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CHAPTER XIII

TYPES OF LARGE PLANTATIONS

HE tone and method of a plantation were determined

partly by the crop and the lie of the land, partly by the characters of the master and his men, partly by the local tradition. Some communities operated on the basis of timework, or the gang system; others on piece-work or the task system. The former was earlier begun and far more widely spread, for Sir Thomas Dale used it in drilling the Jamestown settlers at their work, it was adopted in turn on the "particular" and private plantations thereabout, and it was spread by the migration of the sons and grandsons of Virginia throughout the middle and western South as far as Missouri and Texas. The task system, on the other hand, was almost wholly confined to the rice coast.

The gang method was adaptable to operations on any scale. If a proprietor were of the great majority who had but one or two families of slaves, he and his sons commonly labored alongside the blacks, giving not less than step for step at the plow and stroke for stroke with the hoe. If there were a dozen or two working hands, the master, and perhaps the son, instead of laboring manually would superintend the work of the plow and hoe gangs. If the slaves numbered several score the master and his family might live in leisure comparative or complete, while delegating the field supervision to an overseer, aided perhaps by one or more slave foremen. When an estate was inherited by minor children or scattered heirs, or where a single proprietor had several plantations, an overseer would be put into full charge of an establishment so far as the routine work was concerned; and when the plantations in one ownership were quite numerous or of a great scale a steward might be employed to supervise the several overseers. Thus in the latter part of the

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eighteenth century, Robert Carter of Nomoni Hall on the Potomac had a steward to assist in the administration of his many scattered properties, and Washington after dividing the Mount Vernon lands into several units had an overseer upon each and a steward for the whole during his own absence in the public service. The neighboring estate of Gunston Hall, belonging to George Mason, was likewise divided into several units for the sake of more detailed supervision. Even the 103 slaves of James Mercer, another neighbor, were distributed on four plantations under the management in 1771 of Thomas Oliver. Of these there were 54 slaves on Marlborough, 19 on Acquia, 12 on Belviderra and 9 on Accokeek, besides 9 hired for work elsewhere. Of the 94 not hired out, 64 were field workers. Nearly all the rest, comprising the house servants, the young children, the invalids and the superannuated, were lodged on Marlborough, which was of course the owner's "home place." Each of the four units had its implements of husbandry, and three of them had tobacco houses; but the barn and stables were concentrated on Marlborough. This indicates that the four plantations were parts of a single tract so poor in soil that only pockets here and there would repay cultivation.1 This presumption is reinforced by an advertisement which Mercer published in 1767: "Wanted soon, a farmer who will undertake the management of about 80 slaves, all settled within six miles of each other, to be employed in making of grain." In such a case the superintendent would combine the functions of a regular overseer on the home place with those of a "riding boss" inspecting the work of the three small outlying squads from time to time. Grain crops would facilitate this by giving more frequent intermissions than tobacco in the routine. The Mercer estate might indeed be

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Robert Carter's plantation affairs are noted in Philip V. Fithian, Journal and Letters (Princeton, N. J., 1900); the Gunston Hall estate is described in Kate M. Rowland, Life of George Mason (New York, 1892), I, 98-102; many documents concerning Mt. Vernon are among the George Washington MSS. in the Library of Congress, and Washington's letters, 1793-1797, to his steward are printed in the Long Island Historical Society Memoirs, v. 4; of James Mercer's establishments an inventory taken in 1771 is reproduced in Plantation and Frontier, I, 249.

Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Va.), Oct. 22, 1767, reprinted in Plantation and Frontier, I, 133.

more correctly described as a plantation and three subsidiary farms than as a group of four plantations. The occurrence of tobacco houses in the inventory and of grain crops alone in the advertisement shows a recent abandonment of the tobacco staple; and the fact of Mercer's financial embarrassment suggests, what was common knowledge, that the plantation system was ill suited to grain production as a central industry.

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The organization and routine of the large plantations on the James River in the period of an agricultural renaissance are illustrated in the inventory and work journal of Belmead, in Powhatan County, owned by Philip St. George Cocke and superintended by S. P. Collier. At the beginning of 1854 the 125 slaves were scheduled as follows: the domestic staff comprised a butler, two waiters, four housemaids, a nurse, a laundress, a seamstress, a dairy maid and a gardener; the field corps had eight plowmen, ten male and twelve female hoe hands, two wagoners and four ox drivers, with two cooks attached to its service; the stable and pasture staff embraced a carriage driver, a hostler, a stable boy, a shepherd, a cowherd and a hog herd; in outdoor crafts there were two carpenters and five stone masons; in indoor industries a miller, two blacksmiths, two shoemakers, five women spinners and a woman weaver; and in addition there were forty-five children, one invalid, a nurse for the sick, and an old man and two old women hired off the place, and finally Nancy for whom no age, value or classification is given. The classified workers comprised none younger than sixteen years except the stable boy of eleven, a waiter of twelve, and perhaps some of the housemaids and spinners whose ages are not recorded. At the other extreme there were apparently no slaves on the plantation above sixty years old except Randal, a stone mason, who in spite of his sixty-six years was valued at $300, and the following who had no appraisable value: Old Jim the shepherd, Old Maria the dairy maid, and perhaps two of the spinners. The highest appraisal, $800, was given to Pay

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'S. M. Hamilton ed., Letters to Washington, IV, 286.

These records are in the possession of Wm. Bridges of Richmond, Va. For copies of them, as well as for many other valuable items, I am indebted to Alfred H. Stone of Dunleith, Miss.

ton, an ox driver, twenty-eight years old. The $700 class comprised six plowmen, five field hands, the three remaining ox drivers, both wagoners, both blacksmiths, the carriage driver, four stone masons, a carpenter, and Ned the twenty-eight year old invalid whose illness cannot have been chronic. The other working men ranged between $250 and $500 except the two shoemakers whose rating was only $200 each. None of the women were appraised above $400, which was the rating also of the twelve and thirteen year old boys. The youngest children were valued at $100 each. These ratings were all quite conservative for that period. The fact that an ox driver overtopped all others in appraisal suggests that the artisans were of little skill. The masons, the carpenters and various other specialists were doubtless impressed as field hands on occasion.

The livestock comprised twelve mules, nine work horses, a stallion, a brood mare, four colts, six pleasure horses and "Willian's team" of five head; sixteen work oxen, a beef ox, two bulls, twenty-three cows, and twenty-six calves; 150 sheep and 115 swine. The implements included two reaping machines, three horse rakes, two wheat drills, two straw cutters, three wheat fans, and a corn sheller; one two-horse and four fourhorse wagons, two horse carts and four ox carts; nine one-horse and twelve two-horse plows, six colters, six cultivators, eight harrows, two earth scoops, and many scythes, cradles, hoes, poleaxes and miscellaneous farm implements as well as a loom and six spinning wheels.

The bottom lands of Belmead appear to have been cultivated in a rotation of tobacco and corn the first year, wheat the second and clover the third, while the uplands had longer rotations with more frequent crops of clover and occasional interspersions of oats. The work journal of 1854 shows how the gang dovetailed the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of the several crops and the general upkeep of the plantation.

On specially moist days from January to the middle of April all hands were called to the tobacco houses to strip and prize the cured crop; when the ground was frozen they split and hauled firewood and rails, built fences, hauled stone to line the ditches

or build walls and culverts, hauled wheat to the mill, tobacco and flour to the boat landing, and guano, land plaster, barnyard manure and straw to the fields intended for the coming tobacco crop; and in milder dry weather they spread and plowed in these fertilizers, prepared the tobacco seed bed by heaping and burning brush thereon and spading it mellow, and also sowed clover and oats in their appointed fields. In April also the potato patch and the corn fields were prepared, and the corn planted; and the tobacco bed was seeded at the middle of the month. In early May the corn began to be plowed, and the soil of the tobacco fields drawn by hoes into hills with additional manure in their centers. From the end of May until as late as need be in July the occurrence of every rain sent all hands to setting the tobacco seedlings in their hills at top speed as long as the ground stayed wet enough to give prospect of success in the process. In the interims the corn cultivation was continued, hay was harvested in the clover fields and the meadows, and the tobacco fields first planted began to be scraped with hoe and plow. The latter half of June was devoted mainly to the harvesting of small grain with the two reaping machines and the twelve cradles; and for the following two months the main labor force was divided between threshing the wheat and plowing, hoeing, worming and suckering the tobacco, while the expert Daniel was day after day steadily topping the plants. In late August the plows began breaking the fallow fields for wheat. Early in September the cutting and housing of tobacco began, and continued at intervals in good weather until the middle of October. Then the corn was harvested and the sowing of wheat was the chief concern until the end of November when winter plowing was begun for the next year's tobacco. Two days in December were devoted to the housing of ice; and Christmas week, as well as Easter Monday and a day or two in summer and fall, brought leisure. Throughout the year the overseer inspected the negroes' houses and yards every Sunday morning and regularly reported them in good order.

The greatest of the tobacco planters in this period was SamuelHairston, who many plantations lying in the upper Piedmont on

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