- Personal Appearance of
- Epps, Drunk and Sober
- A Glimpse of his History
- Cotton Growing
- The Mode of Ploughing and Preparing Ground
- Of Planting, of Hoeing, of Picking, of
Treating Raw Hands
- The difference in Cotton Pickers
- Patsey a remarkable one
- Tasked according to Ability
- Beauty of a Cotton Field
- The Slave's Labors
- Fear of Approaching the Gin-House
- Cabin Life
- The Corn Mill
- The Uses of the Gourd
- Fear of Oversleeping
- Fear continually
- Mode of Cultivating Corn
- Sweet Potatoes
- Fertility of the Soil
- Fattening Hogs
- Preserving Bacon
- Raising Cattle
- Shooting Matches
- Garden Products
- Flowers and Verdure,
EPPS, of whom much will be said during the
remainder of this history, is a large portly,
heavy-bodied man with light hair, high cheek bones,
and a Roman nose of extraordinary dimensions.
He has blue eyes, a fair complexion, and is, as I
should say, full six feet high. He has the
sharp, inquisitive expression of a jockey. His
manners are repulsive and coarse, and his language
gives speedy and unequivocal evidence that he has
never enjoyed the advantages of an education.
He has the faculty of saying most provoking things,
in that respect even excelling old Peter Tanner.
At the time I came into his possession, Edwin
Epps was fond of the bottle, his
"sprees" sometimes extending over the space of two
whole weeks. Latterly, however, he had
reformed his habits, and when I left him, was as
strict a specimen of temperance as could be found on
Bayou Boeuf. When "in his cups," Master
Epps was a roystering, blustering, noisy fellow,
whose chief delight was in dancing with his
"niggers," or lashing them about the yard with his
long whip, just for the pleasure of hearing them
screech and scream, as the great welts were planted
on their backs. When sober, he was silent,
reserved and cunning, not beating us
indiscriminately, as in his drunken moments, but
sending the end of his rawhide to some tender spot
of a lagging slave, with a sly dexterity peculiar to
He had been a driver and overseer in his younger years,
but at this time was in possession of a plantation
on Bayou Huff Power, two and a half miles from
Holmesville, eighteen from Marksville, and twelve
from Cheneyville. It belonged to Joseph B.
Roberts, his wife's uncle, and was leased by
Epps. His principal business was raising
cotton, and inasmuch as some may read this book who
have never seen a cotton field, a description of the
manner of its culture may not be out of place.
The ground is prepared by throwing up beds of ridges,
with a plough - back-furrowing, it is called.
Oxen and mules, the latter almost exclusively, are
used in ploughing. The women as frequently as
the men perform this labor, feeding, currying, and
taking care of their teams, and in all respects
field and stable work, precisely as do the
ploughboys of the North.
The beds, or ridges, are six feet wide, that is, from
water furrow. A plough drawn by one mule is
then run along the top of the ridge or center of the
bed, making the drill, into which a girl usually
drops the seed, which she carries in a bag hung
round her neck. Behind her comes a mules,
three slaves, a plough and harrow, are employed in
planting a row of cotton. This is done in the
months of March and April. Corn is planted in
February. When there are no cold rains, the
cotton usually makes its appearance in week.
In the course of eight or ten days afterwards the
first hoeing is commenced. This is performed
in part, also, by the aid of the plough and mule.
The plough passes as near as possible to the cotton
on both sides, throwing the furrow from it.
Slaves follow with their hoes, cutting up the grass
and cotton, leaving hills two feet and a half apart.
This is called scraping cotton. In two weeks
more commences the second hoeing. This time
the furrow is thrown towards the cotton. Only
one stalk, the largest, is now left standing in each
hill. In another fortnight it is hoed the
third time, throwing the furrow towards the cotton
in the same manner as before, and killing all the
grass between the rows. About the first of
July, when it is a foot high or thereabouts, it is
hoed the fourth and last time. Now the whole
space between the rows
is ploughed, leaving a deep water furrow in the
center. During all these hoeings the overseer
or driver follows the slaves on horseback with a
whip, such as has been described. The fastest
hoer takes the lead row. He is usually about a
rod in advance of his companions. If one of
them passes him, he is whipped. If one falls
behind or is a moment idle, he is whipped. In
fact, the lash is flying from morning until night,
the whole day long. The hoeing season thus
continues from April until July, a field having no
sooner been finished once, than it is commenced
In the latter part of August begins the cotton picking
season. At this time each slave is presented
with a sack. A strap is fastened to it, which
goes over the neck, holding the mouth of the sack
breast high, while the bottom reaches nearly to the
ground. Each one is also presented with a
large basket that will hold about two barrels.
This is to put the cotton in when the sack is
filled. The baskets are carried to the field
and placed at the beginning of the rows.
When a new hand, one unaccustomed to the business, is
sent for the first time into the field, he is
whipped up smartly, and made for that day to pick as
fast as he can possibly. At night it is
weighed, so that his capability in cotton picking is
known. He must bring in the same weight each
night following. If it falls short, it is
considered evidence that he has been laggard, and a
greater or less number of lashes is the penalty.
An ordinary day's work is two hundred pounds. A
slave who is accustomed to picking, is punished, if
he or she brings in a less quantity than that.
There is a great difference among them as regards
this kind of labor. Some of them seem to have
a natural knack, or quickness, which enables them to
pick up with celerity, and with both hands, while
others, with whatever practice or industry, are
utterly unable to come up to the ordinary standard.
Such hands are taken from the cotton field and
employed in other business. Patsey, of
whom I shall have more to say, was known as the most
remarkable cotton picker on Bayou Boeuf. She
picked with both hands and with such surprising
rapidity, that five hundred pounds a day was not
unusual for her.
Each one is tasked, therefore, according to his picking
abilities, none, however, to come short of two
hundred weight. I, being unskillful always in
that business, would have satisfied my master by
bringing in the latter quantity, while on the other
hand, Patsey would surely have been beaten if
she failed to produce twice as much.
The cotton grows from five to seven feet high, each
stalk having a great many branches, shooting out in
all directions, and lapping each other above the
There are few sights more pleasant to the eye, than a
wide appearance of purity, like an immaculate
expanse of light, new-fallen snow.
Sometimes the slave picks down one side of a row, and
back upon the other, but more usually, there is one
on either side, gathering all that has blossomed,
leaving the unopened bolls for a succeeding picking.
When the sack is filled, it is emptied into the
basket and trodden down. It is necessary to be
extremely careful the first time going through the
field, in order not to break the branches off the
stalks. The cotton will not bloom upon a
broken branch. Epps never failed to
inflict the severest chastisement on the unlucky
servant who, either carelessly or unavoidably, was
guilty in the least degree in this respect.
The hands are required to be in the cotton field as
soon as it is light in the morning, and, with the
exception of ten or fifteen minutes, which is given
them at noon to swallow their allowance of cold
bacon, they are not permitted to be a moment idle
until it is too dark to see, and when the moon is
full, they often times labor till the middle of the
night. They do not dare to stop even at dinner
time, nor return to the quarters, however late it
be, until the order to halt is given by the driver.
The day's work over in the field, the baskets are
"toted," or in other words, carried to the
gin-house, where the cotton is weighed. No
matter how fatigued and weary he may be - no matter
how much he longs for sleep and rest - a slave never
approaches the gin-house with his basket of cotton
but with fear. If it falls short in weight -
if he has not performed the full task appointed him,
he knows that he must
suffer. And if he has exceeded it by ten or
twenty pounds, in all probability has master will
measure the next day's task accordingly. So,
whether he has too little or too much, his approach
to the gin-house is always with fear and trembling.
Most frequently they have too little, and therefore
it is they are not anxious to leave the field.
After weighing, follow the whippings; and then the
baskets are carried to the cotton house, and their
contents stored away like hay, all hands being sent
in to tramp it down. If the cotton is
not dry, instead of taking it to the gin-house at
once, it is laid upon platforms, two feet high, and
some three times as wide, covered with boards or
plank, with narrow walks running between them.
This done, the labor of the day is not yet ended, by
any means. Each one must then attend to his
respective chores. One feeds the mules,
another the swine - another cuts the wood, and so
forth; besides, the packing is all done by candle
light. Finally, at a late hour, they reach the
quarters, sleepy and overcome with the long day's
toil. Then a fire must be kindled in the
cabin, the corn ground in the small hand-mill, and
supper, and dinner for the next day in the field
prepared. All that is allowed them is corn and
bacon, which is given out at the corncrib and
smoke-house every Sunday morning. Each one
receives, as his weekly allowance, three and a half
pounds of bacon, and corn enough to make a peck of
meal. That is all - no tea, coffee, sugar, and
with the exception of a very scanty sprinkling now
then, no salt. I can say, from a ten years'
residence with Master Epps, that no slave of
his is ever likely to suffer from the gout,
superinduced by excessive high living.
Master Epps' hogs were fed on shelled
corn - it was thrown out to his "niggers" in the
ear. The former, he thought, would fatten
faster by shelling, and soaking it in the water -
the latter, perhaps, if treated in the same manner,
might grow to fat to labor. Master Epps
was a shrewd calculator, and knew how to manage his
own animals, drunk or sober.
The corn mill stands in the yard beneath a shelter.
It is like a common coffee mill, the hopper holding
about six quarts. There was one privilege
which Master Epps granted freely to every
slave he had. They might grind their corn
nightly, in such small quantities as their daily
wants required, or they might grind the whole week's
allowance at one time, on Sundays, just as they
preferred. A very generous man was Master
I kept my corn in a small wooden box, the meal in a gourd;
and, by the way, the gourd is one of the most
convenient and necessary utensils on a plantation.
Besides supplying the place of all kinds of crockery
in a slave cabin, it is used for carrying water to
the fields. Another, also, contains the
dinner. It dispenses with the necessity of
pails, dippers, basins, and such tin and wooden
When the corn is ground, and fire is made, the
bacon is taken down from the nail on which it hangs,
a slice cut off and thrown upon the coals to broil.
The majority of slaves have no knife, much less a
fork. They cut their bacon with the axe at the
woodpile. The corn meal is mixed with a little
water, placed in the fire, and baked. When it
is 'done brown," the ashes are scraped off, and
being placed upon a chip, which answers for a table,
the tenant of the slave hut is ready to sit down
upon the ground to supper. By this time it is
usually midnight. The same fear of punishment
with which they approach the gin-house, possesses
them again on lying down to get a snatch of rest.
It is the fear of oversleeping in the morning.
Such an offence would certainly be attended with not
less than twenty lashes. With a prayer that he
may be on his feet and wide awake at the first sound
of the horn, he sinks to his slumbers nightly.
The softest couches in the world are not to be found in
the log mansion of the slave. The one whereon
I reclined year after years, was a plank twelve
inches wide and ten feet long. My pillow was a
stick of wood. The bedding was a coarse
blanket, and not a rag or shred beside. Moss
might be used, were it not that it directly breeds a
swarm of fleas.
The cabin is constructed of logs, without floor or
window. The latter is altogether unnecessary,
the crevices between the logs admitting sufficient
light. In stormy weather the rain drives
through them, rendering it comfortless and extremely
The rude door hangs on great wooden hinges. In
one end is constructed an awkward fire-place.
An hour before day light the horn is blown. Then
the slaves arouse, prepare their breakfast, fill a
gourd with water, in another deposit their dinner of
cold bacon and corn cake, and hurry to the fields
again. It is an offence invariably followed by
a flogging, to be found at the quarters after
daybreak. Then the fears and labors of another
day begin; and until its close there is no such
thing as rest. He fears he will be caught
lagging through the day; he fears to approach the
gin-house with the basket-load of cotton oversleep
himself in the morning. Such is a true,
faithful, unexaggerated picture and description of
the slave's daily life, during the time of
cotton-picking, on the shores of Bayou Boeuf.
In the month of January, ge3nerally, the fourth and
last picking is completed. Then commences the
harvesting of corn. This is considered a
secondary crop, and receives far less attention than
the cotton. It is planted, as already
mentioned, in February. Corn is grown in that
region for the purpose of fattening hogs and feeding
slaves; very little, if any, being sent to market.
It is the white variety, the ear of great size, and
the stalk growing to the height of eight, and often
times ten feet. In August the leaves are
stripped off, dried in the sun, bound in small
bundles, and stored away as provender for the mules
and oxen. After their the slaves go through
the field, turning
down the ear, for the purpose of keeping the rains
from penetrating to the grain. It is left in
this condition until after cotton-picking is over,
whether earlier or later. Then the ears are
separated fro the stalks, and deposited in the
corncrib with the husks on; otherwise, stripped of
the husks, the weevil would destroy it. The
stalks are left standing in the field.
The Carolina, or sweet potato, is also grown in that
region to some extent. They are not fed,
however, to hogs or cattle, and are considered but
of small importance. They are preserved by
placing them upon the surface of the ground, with a
slight covering of earth or cornstalks. There
is not a cellar on Bayou Boeuf. The ground is
so low it would fill with water. Potatoes are
worth from two to three "bits," or shillings a
barrel; corn, except when there is an unusual
scarcity, can be purchased at the same rate.
As soon as the cotton and corn crops are secured, the
stalks are pulled up, thrown into piles and burned.
The ploughs are started at the same time throwing up
the beds again, preparatory to another planting.
The soil, in the parishes of Rapides and Avoyelles,
the throughout the whole country, so far as my
observation extended, is of exceeding richness and
fertility. It is a kind of marl, of a brown or
reddish color. It does not require those
invigorating composts necessary to more barren
lands, and on the same field the same crop is grown
for many successive years.
Ploughing, planting, picking cotton, gathering the
corn, and pulling and burning stalks, occupies the
whole of the four seasons of the year. Drawing
and cutting wood, pressing cotton, fattening and
killing hogs, are but incidental labors.
In the month of September or October, the hogs are run
out of the swamps by dogs, and confined in pens.
On a cold morning, generally about New Year's day,
they are slaughtered. Each carcass is cut into
six parts, and piled one above the other in salt,
upon large tables in the smoke-house. In this
condition it remains a fortnight, when it is hung
up, and a fire built, and continued more than half
the time during the remainder of the year.
This thorough smoking is necessary to prevent the
bacon from becoming infested with worms. In so
warm a climate it is difficult to preserve it, and
very many times myself and my companions have
received our weekly allowance of three pounds and a
half, when it was full of these disgusting vermin.
Although the swamps are overrun with cattle, they are
never made the source of profit, to any considerable
extent. The planter cuts his mark upon the
ear, or brands his initials upon the side, and turns
them into the swamps, to roam unrestricted within
their almost limitless confines. They are the
Spanish breed, small and spike-horned. I have
known of droves being taken from Bayou Boeuf, but it
is of very rare occurrence. The value of the
best cows is about five dollars each. Two
quarts at one milking, would be considered an
unusual large quantity. They furnish little
tallow, and that of a soft, inferior quality.
withstanding the great number of cows that throng
the swamps, the planters are indebted to the North
for their cheese and butter, which is purchased in
the New-Orleans market. Salted beef is not an
article of food either in the great house, or in the
Maser Epps was accustomed to attend shooting
matches for the purpose of obtaining what fresh beef
he required. These sports occurred weekly at
the neighboring village of Holmesville. Fat
beeves are driven thither and shot at, a stipulated
price being demanded for the privilege. The
lucky marksman divides the flesh among his fellows,
and in this manner the attending planters are
The great number of tame and untamed cattle which swarm
the woods and swaps of Bayou Boeuf, most probably
suggested that appellation to the French, inasmuch
as the term, translated, signifies the creek or
river of the wild ox.
Garden products, such as cabbages, turnips and the
like, are cultivated for the use of the master and
his family. They have greens and vegetables at
all times and seasons of the year. "The grass
withereth and the flowers bloom in the heart of
winter, in the region of Bayou Boeuf.
There are no meadows appropriated to the cultivation of
the grasses. The leaves of the corn supply a
sufficiency of food for the laboring cattle, while
rest provide for themselves all the year in the
There are many other peculiarities of climate, habit,
custom, and of the manner of living and laboring at
the South, but the foregoing, it is supposed, will
give the reader an insight and general idea of life
on a cotton plantation in Louisiana. The mode
of cultivating cane, and the process of sugar
manufacturing, will be mentioned in another place.
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