Saturday, January 4, 2014

Plantation Horns

Although pictures are worth a thousand words, they seldom give us a good idea of the full story behind them. Take for instance the photograph to the left. It is from the Library of Congress collection. The image shows a man on the front steps of his home and holding a plantation horn. The picture's description states that the scene of the photo was in Marshall, Texas, which is in northeast part of the state, near the Louisiana border. This area of the Lone Star State was a flourishing land of cotton in the antebellum era. The man was apparently a former slave as the discretion says, and the picture was taken in 1939. Was this man a driver, or perhaps the son of a driver? Did he personally use the horn or possibly inherit the horn? Was it given to him by the plantation's master? Was the horn a symbol for strength? Or, was it a reminder of a trying past?

Like so many other questions about the past, these will probably go unanswered. But, if we want to know more about the role of the plantation horn, there are sources available that tell of its story and give us at least some information so we have a better understanding.

Plantation horns were a means of regulating time. Like bells, horns told the enslaved workers when to get up, when to go to the fields, when to break for meals, and when to knock off for the day. A former slave in Texas told of his experience and the plantation horn:

"We has ter git up early every day in de year, rain or shine. De slaves was woke up every mornin at four thirty by a slave blowin a horn it was his job ter gits up and blow a bugle and den he would go ter work in de fields wid de rest of de slaves. Dar was no danger of you not wakin up when de bugle blowed cause he blows it long and loud. He allus gits up of a mornin and gits his bugle down and comes out and climbs on a platform wintah and summah and blows his bugle. Dis platform was about eight or ten feet tall."