Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Bell - Plantation Time Pieces

Plantation bell from Greene County, Georgia
The opening stanza of the 1840s minstrel song "Jim Along Josie" gives a nod of acknowledgement to the plantation time piece - the bell.

Oh, I'se from Louisiana as you all know,
dats where Jim along Josies all go;
Dem folk all rise when de bell does ring,
dis is da song dat dey do sing.

For slaves who were not usually allowed to own pocket watches or clocks to keep time, a reliance on the sun made time management difficult due to the changing seasons. Most masters or overseers used a bell, horn or other audible means to communicate with their enslaved workers that it was time to start work, time to eat, time to quit work, time to go to bed, and on rare occasions, time to celebrate.  

Plantation bells came in all shapes and sizes and were mounted in as many diverse ways.  Images that I located on the Library of Congress website come mainly from the Historic American Building Surveys completed in the 1930s and 1940s. Many are posted high up, as if to get as much sound out to the workforce as possible.

On a plantation near Chicot, Arkansas

Clover Hill Plantation, near Clarksdale, Mississippi

On an old sugarcane plantation near Gibson, Louisiana

Thornhill Plantation, Greene County, Alabama

Plantation bell, Heard County, Georgia

Marcella Plantation, Mileston, Mississippi - This old bell appears to be on a modern  metal mounting frame.

Knowlton Plantation, Bolivar County, Mississippi
On Jackson homestead, Greene County, Georgia

Greene County, Georgia
Mount Harmon Plantation, Cecil County, Maryland

Images courtesy of the Library of Congress.


  1. Hello I own a Bell from the Civil War , It was on Hospital property during the war . It's made from iron its unrestored in great shape , it has a # 3 on it & was made at the Chicago Foundry . I can be reached at (301)270-2019 Mr. Miller .I d like to sell it ?

  2. Hello I own a #3 iron bell from the Civil War , it was on Hospital property in Virgina in a Valley. I've owned it since it since 1977 . Mr. Wes Miller

  3. Its 2' in diameter and 2' tall , it's very Loud in a Valley.

  4. I'd like to find a appraiser , my daughter needs college tuition.