Saturday, December 26, 2015

Plantation Life - Duties and Responsibilities (Slave Cooking & Food)

The DeBow's Review article made the issue of food for enslaved workers understood to be significant to masters:
"Servants should be well fed. Not on Botany Bay provisions, stale and tainted, unless under convict punishment; not stintedly, unless upon diet; but wholesome and sound, and of this sort enough. Where they are required to cook their own victuals, time and means ought to be afforded them for doing it to the best advantage. Cooking has much to do with how far a given quantity of raw material will go. All alimental properties may be saved and used, or a large part of them thrown away in the process. The best virtues of a piece of meat may be wasted upon a coal or spit, and what would, with skill and economy in its preparation, do for two men, will hardly satisfy the hunger of one. A great chemist has announced to the world a method by which people could subsist on one third of their usual allowance: cook it with threefold more care, and chew it three times as much. In many a cabin the chief article in the kitchen inventory is a wornout corn field hoe. With this, turned up on its eye, the cake is baked; hence the widely-prevalent name of that simplest edible form of Indian meal--the hoe-cake. . . .

Variety in food is healthy as it is pleasant. It keeps up the chemistry of the system. A vegetable garden in common is a good thing: not cultivated in common, for it would not be cultivated at all on the community principle; not used in common, for then it would soon be used up; but laid out of ample size, cultivated and dealt out by authority, for the common benefit. The servant should have an honest interest in the forward roasting ears, the ripe fruit, the melons, potatoes, and fat stock."

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Plantation Life - Duties and Responsibilities (Slave Clothing)

From that same DeBow's Review issue in 1860 the subject of slave clothing we briefly mentioned:
"Negroes are liable to suffer peculiarly from cold. Their health and comfort that they be well protected. It is not uncommon or  unpleasant spectacle to see them half-stripped and basking in the genial rays of their native sun; but a shivering servant is a shame to any master.

Besides the coarse fabrics for working use, it is a commendable custom to furnish occasionally a Sunday or holiday attire. This keeps alive among servants a proper self-respect, and promotes those associations that contribute to their moral improvement, and from which they would otherwise refrain. It takes but little in this way to diffuse a very general gladness over a household or plantation."

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Plantation Life - Duties and Responsibilites (Slave Shelter)

Browsing through an 1860 issue of DeBow's Review I came across an article titled "Plantation Life - Duties and Responsibilities." Among the many topics it covers are food, clothing, and shelter for slaves. Of course, I found the discussion on shelter particularly interesting.

As far as slave housing the author explained: "A glance at the servants' quarter, in town or country, will leave no one in doubt why, when pestilence prevails, it is so fatal to this population; the wonder only is, that they do not oftener suffer pestilence: fortunately, not much of their time is passed in these pent-up and noisome abodes. A large proportion of human diseases is bred in human habitations. When vegetable matter, heat, and moisture combine, there must be present febrile miasma. Bearing this in view, if many masters would survey their servants' cabins, they would immediately go to work, pulling down the old and putting up new ones. It would be a saving in the end. It would soon be saved out of doctor's bills and sick-list. When cholera rages, whitewash is brought into requisition and sanitary regulations established. Why cease to enforce them when the panic subsides? These same causes, of easy prevention, do always, more or less, work sickness and death."

He continued a little later: "After all, one thing still is to be looked to: no house, of what dimensions soever, can be comfortable if crowded. Morality is very directly involved here. The mingling of sexes, or the throwing of aliens and strangers together, in the same house, without reference to the natural grouping of families, is fatal to most domestic virtues."

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Waud Sketches Contraband Women

When Civil War photographs are difficult to find on certain subjects, I often turn to sketches. Artists such as Edwin Forbes and Alfred Waud were on the scene at many of the conflict's most important events, and luckily, they captured many scenes of everyday life, too.

In this sketch by Waud, titled "Skedaddlers Hall, Harrisons Landing," a sutler's store of New York's Excelsior Brigade on July 3, 1862, is depicted. This was two days after the Battle of Malvern Hill. Lee's bloody Confederate assaults against Union artillery helped encourage McClellan to retreat to his base of operations on the James River near the boyhood home of former U.S. president William Henry Harrison.

Among all the many individuals in the sketch are three African American women. It is unclear what their role is with this group of soldiers, but perhaps some clues are provided in the image. One of the women sits on a large wooden tub. There appears to be clothing in the tub. Were these women possibly laundresses? It was a common enough occupation for runaway slave women who came into Union lines, and seems the most likely explanation.

A close-up gives us a better view, but little better idea of what is truly in the tub or what the women are indeed doing here. All three wear head wraps. Two wear short sleeve dresses, which of course, would meet the demands of weather on a July 3rd day as well as the job of washer women.

Only one of the womens' faces is clearly visible. She provides a left profile and shows her hair tucked under her head wrap and an earring dangling from her left ear. Her face provides little idea as to her mood or what she thinks of the situation she found herself in.

One has to wonder what her life was like in slavery? What did she do to make her way to the Union army? What was her primary job as a slave? What did she get paid while working for the Yankees? Did she live through the war? If so, what did she do when the war war over? Was she married? Did she have children at this point? Who are her descendants? If so, would she be proud of what they have accomplished?

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.