Sunday, February 9, 2014

Houses of Negroes---Habits, Modes of Living, & c.

It is probably not surprising that slave state  agricultural journals provided tips on how best to provide the basics for planters' enslaved populations. Food, clothing, and shelter all came in for comment. This post will provide a selection on slave housing's relation to slave health - a topic of interest to me.

Dr. Robert J. Draughon from Claiborne Alabama, wrote in to the Southern Cultivator and provided his suggestions on slave quarters. It was published in the May 1850, edition of the Cultivator. Dr. Draughon began his rather extended submission by explaining the necessity of proper hygiene in order to ensure the health of an enslaved work force. "It behooves the owners of farms, and those having the care and management of negroes, then, to institute, on all proper occasions, an inquiry as to the causes of their maladies; and when these are ascertained, to adopt such a course of policy as shall be deemed best to remove them: or, if this be impracticable, to render them harmless," advised Dr. Draughon.

Draughon then started in on what he believed was the source of the most slave sickness:
"One of the more prolific sources of disease among negroes, is in the condition of their houses, and the manner in which they live. Small, low, tight and filthy, their houses can be but laboratories of disease; whilst, on every side, grow rancorous weeds and grass, interspersed with fruit trees, little patches of vegetables and fowl-houses effectually shading the ground, and preventing that free circulation of air so essential to the enjoyment of health in a quarter. Your correspondent has frequently detected the presence of worms, and in sometimes large numbers, in negroes inhabiting houses thus conditioned and situated; so often indeed, that he almost regards their existence "as matter of course." Nothing can be so deteriorating to the blood, and consequently the secretions, as bad air. To be convinced of the truth of this assertion, your readers need but to refer to the "Reports of the Board of Health," in the nearest close-built and ill-ventilated cities and towns, and to the "sick lists" of hospitals, jails and ships.That fatal form of febrile disease, denominated "ship fever," though, to some extent, modified, has occurred repeatedly in negro houses. Not to contend for, in all probability, an admitted point, then, it may be concluded that it is important that planters should adopt some system or rule under the operation of which their negro houses shall be properly constructed, their quarters adequately ventilated and dried, and the manner of living among their negroes regulated.

It is a common custom with negroes to return in the evening from the field, tired and often in a perspiration, and lie down before their doors upon a board or bench, and sleep till 9 or 10 o'clock, while the dew is falling, and the atmosphere becomes cool and damp; instead of going into their houses, and either lying down in bed, or before a gentle fire, where the exhalation from the skin would be more gradual, and that chiliness consequent upon their sudden "cooling" would be avoided. Let planters go at this hour around their quarters, and feel the hands and feet of negroes thus conducting themselves, and they will no longer be in doubt as to the source of their "chills and fevers." Now, it is not wish of your correspondent to interfere with the household and domestic arrangements and affairs of negroes, nor to destroy their gardens and patches - to allow them which is all very proper -  but when they will not have an "eye to health" themselves, it is the interest of their owners to have an eye for them.
More anon, from yours very respectfully,
Claiborne, Ala. March, 1850."        

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