THE WORK OF THE PLANTATION: OVERSEER AND SLAVE
THE SLAVE OVERSEER has been a neglected figure in Southern history. Yet no one played a more important role than he in the plantation regime. The smooth running of the whole plantation depended upon him. He was responsible for the discipline and care of the slaves, for the success of the crops, for the care of the livestock, for the protection and furtherance of the owner's interests at all times. He was the first one up in the morning and the last to go to bed at night. And the compensations which his job brought him were never commensurate with his duties, nor comparable with those earned in other occupations and professions.
On the plantation he held a wholly unenviable position. He might not mingle on equal terms with the slaves, nor might he claim equality of social position with the planter. He might belong to the same church as his employer; he might not sit beside him at worship services. Even his dwelling often symbolized his position between two worlds. James Robert Maxwell, describing the slave quarters on his father's plantation, says:
The overseer's house was a large double log cabin with a passageway between the two rooms; shed rooms on each side of the two main rooms of smaller dimensions, thus making six rooms in all, with the hall between, covered by one roof. At the end of each main room was a big fireplace of logs, mud and stones, the flues of the chimneys being of sticks and red clay mud, in the usual style of most of the country cabins then in vogue. This house was across the front end of "quarters," as such a settlement was called; and a line of single room cabins, four on each side, extended back, beginning some forty feet from each end of the overseer's house, with a space of some thirty feet between each cabin. At west end, being on west end of the hill, and lying north and south at that end of