This Species of Property: Slave Life and Culture in the Old South

By Leslie Howard Owens | Go to book overview
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2
Into the Fields--
Life, Disease, and Labor
in the Old South

In the Old South they had a saying, almost a slogan. They said that slaveholders lived life to the fullest on the spacious plantations of the southern terrain. Travelers below the Mason-Dixon line frequently endorsed this claim and told how they too had shared in the hospitality that accompanied the full life. An observer wrote, not without regard to exceptions, that "a comfortable living can be found here by the most indolent." 1 But these travelers also noted that disease, death, and sorrow were prominent features of southern existence, and that things would have been even better if masters could only control the sicknesses that so plagued them and their slave labor forces. One slaveholder remarked in disgust about conditions near the Red River in Louisiana that ". . . the Doctors reap the largest portion of the profits in the above mentioned places." 2

Many farm journals kept by plantation owners or their overseers carefully chronicled the number of slave workers in the fields each day or week and the number sick. Planters paid close attention to the time lost by the bondsman because of illness, and occasionally even commented on a change in a particular slave's current and potential worth to the labor force. Diary entries also re

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