Sunday, February 23, 2014

Slave Quarters in "A South-Side View of Slavery"

I just started reading A South-Side View of Slavery this morning and have already found the author commenting on the slave quarters he encountered. The author, Nehemiah Adams, a Harvard educated Congregational minister from Massachusetts, took a trip of three months for his health to Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia in 1854, and wrote a book upon his return that presented a positive view of slavery as a molder of African American behavior, especially in terms of religious enrichment.

Adams's attempt at a positive spin on slave housing is subtle but detectable.  On first reading, his claim that a settler preferred a log home in favor of a frame home seems a little disingenuous, but I suppose that if a man had become accustomed to a log home he would prefer it. And I guess that a frame home, if not properly insulated, could be less comfortable than a log home. Regardless, Adams's perspective, that of a northerner visiting the South for the first time, are intriguing.

On page 37 Adams wrote:
"Probably every notherner feels, on seeing the negro cabins, that he could make them apparently more comfortable on almost every plantation. The negroes themselves could do so, if they chose, in very many cases; but the cabins will strike every one disagreeably at first. We err in comparing them with dwellings suited to people of different habits and choice from those of the colored population of the south. A log cabin, plastered with mud, whether at the south or west, seems to a stranger a mean, pitiable place. I was, however, amused with a man in the ears, whom I overheard complaining that in building a house for his own family, in a new settlement, he was obliged to build with joists and boards, as logs were not to be had. The log cabin is cool in summer and warm in winter. An estimable man, who has been a physician and became a planter, built brick cabins for his people. They grew sick in them, and at the same time thorough ventilation, are essential to their comfort and health. Both of these are obtained together in the cabins better than in framed or brick dwellings."

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