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"On the Management of the Butler Estate"



THE

SOUTHERN AGRICULTURIST

DECEMBER, 1828

PART I

ORIGINAL CORRESPONDENCE


ART. I -- On the Management of the BUTLER Estate, and the Cultivation of the Sugar Cane; by R. King, jr. addresed to William Washington, Esq.
[COMMUNICATED FOR THE SOUTHERN AGRICULTURALIST.]
         Hampton, (near Darien,) 13th Sept. 1828.

Dear Sir. -- Your letter of the 29th August came to hand on the 8th inst. Nothing would afford me more satisfaction than to impart the little knowledge I possess of Southern Agriculture and plantation economy, if such would benefit others.
We are dependent on each other, and each should contribute his mite. Therefore, I shall comply with your request as minutely as possible.
The reputed good condition of the Butler Estate, has been the work of time, and a diligent attention to the interest of said estate, and the comfort and happiness of the slaves on it.
To Mr. R. King, sen'r. more is due than to myself. In 1802, he assumed the management. The gang was a fine one, but was very disorderly, which invariably is the case when there is a frequent change of managers. Rules and regulations were established, (I may say laws,) a few forcible examples made, after a regular trial, in which every degree of justice was exhibited, was the first step. But the grand point was to supress the brutality and licentiousness practiced by the principal men on it; (say the drivers and tradesmen.) More punishment is inflicted on every plantation by the men in power, from private pique, than from a neglect of duty. This I assert as a fact; I have detected it often. No person of my age, knows more the nature of these persons than myself; since childhood I have been on this place, and from the age of eighteen to this time, have had the active management; therefore I speak with confidence. They have a perfect knowledge of right and wrong. When an equitable distribution of rewards and punishments is observed, in a short time they will conform to almost every rule that is laid down.
The owner or overseer knows, that with a given number of hands, such a portion of work is to be done. The driver, to screen favorites, or apply their time to his own purposes, imposes a heavy task on some. Should they murmur, and opportunity is taken,, months after, to punish those unfortunate fellows for not doing their own and others tasks. Should they not come at the immediate offenders, it will descend on the nearest kindred. As an evidence of the various opportunities that a burial driver has to gratify his revenge, (the predominant principle of the human race,) let any planter go into his field, and in any Negro's task, he can find apparently just grounds for punishment. To prevent this abuse, no driver in the field is allowed to inflict punishment, until after a regular trial. When I pass sentence myself, various modes of punishment are adopted; the lash, least of all -- Digging stumps, or clearing away trash about the settlements, in their own time; but the most severe is, confinement at home six months to twelve months, or longer. No intercourse is allowed with other plantations. A certain number are allowed to go to town on Sundays, to dispose of eggs, poultry, coopers' ware, canoes, &c. but must be home by 12 o'clock, unless by special permit. Any one returning intoxicated, (a rare instance) goes into stocks, and not allowed to leave home for twelve months.
An order from a driver is to be as implicitly obeyed as if it came from myself, nor do I counteract the execution, (unless directly injurious,) but direct his immediate attention to it. It would be endless for me to superintend the drivers and field hands too, and would of course make them useless. The lash is, unfortunately, too much used; every mode of punishment should be divised in preference to that, and when used, never to lacerate -- all young persons will offend. A Negro at twenty-five years old, who finds he has the marks of a rogue inflicted when a boy, (even if disposed to be orderly) has very little or no inducement to be otherwise. Every means are used to encourage them, and impress on their minds the advantage of holding property, and the disgrace attached to idleness. Surely, if industrious for themselves, they will be so for their masters, and no Negro, with a well stocked poultry house, a small crop advancing, a canoe partly finished, or a few tubs unsold, all of which he calculates soon to enjoy, will ever run away. In ten years I have lost, by absconding, forty-seven days, out of nearly six hundred Negroes. Any Negro leaving the plantation, field, to complain to me, is registered and treated as such. Many may think that they lose time, when Negroes can work for themselves; it is the reverse on all plantations under good regulations -- time is absolutely gained to the master. An indolent Negro is most always sick, and unless he is well enough to work for his master, he cannot work for himself, and when the master's task is done, he is in mischief, unless occupied for himself. And another evidence arising from the encouragement of industry, I make on this estate as good crops as most of my neighbors; plant as much to the hand, do as much plantation work, and very often get clear of a crop earlier than many where these encouragements are not held out. I have no before-day work, only as punishments; every hand must be at work by daylight. The tasks given are calculated to require so much labour. It is as easy to cut three tasks of Rice, as it is to bind two, or to bring two home. It is easier to ditch eight hundred cubic feet of marsh, than four hundred feet of rooty river swamp. There are many regulations on a plantation that must be left discretionary with the manager. In harvesting a crop of Rice, some acres are heavier, or further off than others, some hands quicker, or more able than others all these, considered, make a wide difference -- by giving a far and a near task to bring in, or putting them in gangs, the burthen is borne equally, and all come home at once. Frequently (always I can say) by Friday night, I have nearly as much Rice in, as if the regular task during the week, had been given....
By this mode I not only gain time, but afford them some also. A man, white or black, that knows such will be the result, will seldom deviate from the right course. All these things are not to be slipped into at once; it has been the work of nearly twenty-seven years, and I find many things yet to correct. With regard to feeding, they have plenty of the best Corn, well ground, by water and animal power, with a portion of Fish, (No. 3, Mackerel,) Beef, Pork, and Molasses, and when much exposed, a little Rum. To each gang there is a cook, who carefully prepares two meals per day. The very grinding and cooking for them affords the time that they apply to their own purposes; if their provisions was given underground, many would trade it off, or be too lazy to cook it. Any one that has spent a night on a plantation where the Negroes grind their own Corn, must recollect the horrible sound of a hand mill, all night. It is this that wears them down. He goes to the mill -- it is occupied -- he must wait until the first has done, and so on; some are at it all night -- their natural rest is destroyed. Many masters think they give provision and clothing in abundance, but unless they use means to have these properly prepared, half the benefit is lost. Another great advantage in grinding and cooking for them is, that the little Negroes are sure to get enough to eat. On this estate, there are two hundred and thrity-eight Negroes from fifteen years down, and every one knows that they do not increase in proportion in a large gang, as in a small one, with the same attention. I cannot exemplify in too strong terms, the great advantage resulting from properly preparing the food for Negroes.-- They will object to it at first, but no people are more easily convinced of any thing tending to their comfort, than they are. In fact, a master does not discharge his duty to himself, unless he will adopt every means to promote his interest and their welfare. Again, many will say it takes too many to wait on the others. An old woman for a cook, who will raise one little Negro extra, which will certainly pay her wages, besides the very great comfort it will afford the others; a machine that will not cost in twenty years, more than $15 per annum; a little boy to drive an old horse two days in the week, and an old man, (or even the overseer on a place of thirty hands,) to act as a commissary in issuing the provisions, I am sure, well regulated, will add 25 per cent. to the owner, including gain in Negroes, comfort to them, and to their master's feelings. During the summer, little Negroes should have an extra mess. I find at Butler's Island, where there are about one hundred and fourteen little Negroes, that it costs less than two cents each per week, in giving them a feed of Ocra soup, with Pork, or a little Molasses or Hommony, or Small Rice. The great advantage is, that there is not a dirt-eater among them -- an incurable propensity produced from a morbid state of the stomach, arising from the want of a proper quantity of wholesome food, and at a proper time.
I have invariably found that women, that had been accustomed to waiting in the houses of white persons, have the largest and finest families of children, even after going into the field. I believe it arises from this circumstance, that they had contracted a habit of cleanliness, and of preparing their food properly. You, on looking round, will find this the case. An hospital should be on each plantation, with proper nurses and apartments for lying-in women, for the men, and for a nursery; when any enter, not to leave the house until discharged. I have found physicians of little service, except in surgical cases. An intelligent woman will in a short time learn the use of medicine. The labour of pregnant women is reduced one half, and they are put to work in dry situations.
It is a great point in having the principal drivers men that can support their dignity; a condescention to familiarity should be prohibited. Young Negroes are put to work early, twelve to fourteen years old; four, five, or six, rated a hand. It keeps them out of mischief, and by giving light tasks, thrity to forty rows, they acquire habits of perseverance and industry....
      I am, dear Sir, your most obed't.

          R. KING, Jr.

Southern Agriculturalist
December, 1828
South Carolina Historical Society





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