Sunday, January 3, 2016

Fighting "General Green"

During the summertime, when I was a boy in Tennessee, I got in some work weeding out our family garden plot. Those type of chores became more frequent on extended visits to my grandparents' farm in Kentucky. And, this past summer, after many years of farming/gardening retirement, I tried my hand at keeping weeds at bay in our fields and gardens at work. It was some of the most difficult physical labor I have ever performed. Callouses were many, sweat was abundant, and soreness universal.

Recently, while reading Advice Among Masters: The Ideal in Slave Management in the Old South, which is composed of masters' and overseers' guidelines taken from period agricultural journals, I came across several references to a term slaves used for the act of cultivating that I had never heard before. 

The first came from the December 1857 issue of the American Cotton Planter and Soil of the South in an article titled "Plantation Management in Practice," and submitted anonymously under the pseudonym of Rusticus, a man from Alabama. In describing rewards for slaves, Rusticus wrote "One of the principal of those, and that in which they take the liveliest interest, is that which celebrates the laying of the crop and their [slaves'] triumph in the long and hard struggle with 'General Green,' through which they have just passed."

The next was from the September 1860 DeBow's Review article "Plantation Life-Duties and Responsibilities" that I have quoted at length in the immediate previous posts to this one, and written by a minister/editor from Tennessee. "Fresh and abundant home-grown vegetables and fruits complete the feast. Cool water supplies the place of stronger drink. Rough and capital jokes are cracked on the fight and victory over General Green (the grass); master's health and the country's good are toasted, and the joyous laugh goes round." 

The last reference was taken from "The Peculiarities and Disease of Negroes," which was published in 1860 in the American Cotton Planter and Soil of the South by a Georgia doctor. "The Fourth of July dinner for negroes, then, should be strictly a negro and family affair, and the negroes themselves should be their own orators, actions, and musicians. Instead of singing 'Hail Columbia,' let them sing 'Walk-jaw-bone'; instead of marching to the strains of martial music, let them engage in the more congenial employment of patting 'Juber'; and instead of listening to the rehearsal of the victories over the British, let them rejoice in their well-earned triumph in their long, hard contest with 'General Green'-that is with the crabgrass."

Now, I have never been in a true combat situation, but from my personal experience in weeding, and from what I have read from soldiers' physical exertions in military campaigns, I think a comparison of the two are not so far off. And, just when you think you have got the best of "General Green" and have him in retreat, he makes a sudden come back, attacking both of your flanks, your front, and your rear all at the same time.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.   

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