THE SLAVE AND THE PLANTATION
MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN of the life in the great houses of Southern plantations. Tradition and romance have mingled with the record, but the portrait of the planter is rounded, real. The same cannot be said of the portrait of the slave who lived out his days in the quarters behind the great house. How did he live? What did he eat? What did he wear? What happened to him when he was sick? What pleasures balanced his toil in the fields?
Answers to these questions are many. But too often they are given by writers with an axe to grind, propagandists seeking to idealize or to condemn the institution of slavery, or by casual travelers prone to generalize a single experience into a rule for a region.
Harriet Martineau, traveling for her health, visited America in 1834 and 1835 and saw, in the course of her travels, several plantations in the vicinity of Montgomery.
We visited the negro quarter [she wrote]; a part of the estate which filled me with disgust, wherever I went. It is something between a haunt of monkeys and a dwelling of human beings. The natural good taste, so remarkable in free negroes, is here extinguished. Their small, dingy, untidy houses, their cribs, and the children crouching around the fire, the animal deportment of the grown-up, the brutish chagrins and enjoyments of the old, were all loathsome. There was some relief in seeing the children playing in the sun, and sometimes fowls clucking and strutting round the houses; but otherwise a walk through a lunatic asylum is far less painful than a visit to the slave quarters of an estate. The children are left during working hours, in charge of a woman; and they are bright, and brisk, and merry enough, for the season, however slow and stupid they may be destined to become.1____________________