- Labors on Sugar Plantation
- The Mode of Planting Cane
- of Hoeing Cane
- Can Ricks
- Cutting Cane
- Description of the Cane Knife
- Preparing for Succeeding Crops
- Description of Hawkins' Sugar Mill on
- The Christmas Holidays
- The Carnival Season of the Children of
- The Christmas Supper
- Red, the Favorite Color
- The Violin, and the Consolation it
- The Christmas Dance
- Lively, the Coquette
- Sam Roberts, and his Rivals
- Slave Songs
- Southern Life as it is
- Three Days in the Year
- The System of Marriage
- Uncle Abram's Contempt of Matrimony
IN consequence of my inability in cotton-picking,
Epps was in the habit of hiring me out on sugar
plantations during the season of cane-cutting and
sugar-making. He received for my services a
dollar a day, with the money supplying my place on
his cotton plantation. Cutting cane was an
employment that suited me, and for three successive
years I held the lead row at Hawkins',
leading a gang of from fifty to an hundred hands.
In a previous chapter the mode of cultivating cotton is
described. This may be the proper place to
speak of the manner of cultivating cane.
The ground is prepared in beds, the same as it is
prepared fur the reception of the cotton seed,
it is ploughed deeper. Drills are made in the
same manner. Planting commences in
January, and continues until April. It is
necessary to plant a sugar field only once in three
years. There crops are taken before the seed
or plant is exhausted.
Three gangs are employed in the operation. One
draws the cane from the rick, or stack, cutting the
top and flags from the stalk, leaving only that part
which is sound and healthy. Each joint of the
cane has an eye, like the eye of a potato, which
sends forth a sprout when buried in the soil.
Another gang lays the cane in the drill, placing two
stalks side by side in such manner that joints will
occur once in four or six inches. The third
gang follows with hoes, drawing earth upon the
stalks, and covering them to the depth of three
In four weeks, at the farthest, the sprouts appear
'above the ground, and from this time forward grow
with great rapidity. A sugar field is hoed three
times, the same as cotton, save that a greater
quantity of earth is drawn to the roots. By the
first of August hoeing is usually over. About the
middle of September, whatever is required for seed
is cut and stacked in ricks, as they are termed. In
October it is ready for the mill or sugar-house, and
then the general cutting begins. The blade of a
cane-knife is fifteen inches long, three inches wide
in the middle, and tapering towards the point and
handle. The blade is thin, and in order to be at all
serviceable must be kept very sharp. Every third
hand takes the lead of
two Others, one of whom is on each side of him.
The lead hand, in the first place, with a blow of
his knife shears the flags from the stalk. He
next cuts off the top down as far as it is green.
He must be careful to sever all the green from the
ripe part, inasmuch as the juice of the former sours
the molasses, and renders it unsalable. Then
he severs the stalk at the root, and lays it
directly behind him. His right and left hand
companions lay their stalks, when cut in the same
manner, upon his. To every three hands there
is a cart, which follows, and the stalks are thrown
into it by the younger slaves, when it is drawn to
the sugar-house and ground.
If the planter apprehends a frost, the cane is winrowed.
Winrowing is the cutting the stalks at an early
period and throwing them lengthwise in the water
furrow in such a manner that the tops will cover the
butts of the stalks. They will remain in this
condition three weeks or a month without souring,
and secure from frost. When the proper time
arrives, they are taken up, trimmed and carted to
In the month of January the slaves enter the field
again to prepare for another crop. The ground
is now strewn with the tops, and flags cut from the
past year's cane. On a dry day fire is set to
this combustible refuse, which sweeps over the
field, leaving it bare and clean, and ready for the
hoes. The earth is loosened about die roots of
the old stubble, and in process of time another crop
springs up from the last
year's seed. It is the same the year
following; but the third year the seed has exhausted
its strength, and the field must be ploughed and
planted again. The second year the cane is
sweeter and yields more than the first, and the
third year more than the second.
During the three seasons I labored on Hawkins'
plantation, I was employed a considerable portion of
the time in the sugar-house. He is celebrated
as the producer of the finest variety of white
sugar. The following is a general description
of his sugar-house and the process of manufacture:
The mill is an immense brick building, standing on the
shore of the bayou. Running out from the
building is an open shed, at least an hundred feet
in length and forty or fifty feet in width.
The boiler in which the steam is generated is
situated outside the main building; the machinery
and engine rest on a brick pier, fifteen feet above
the floor, within the body of the building.
The machinery turns two great iron rollers, between
two and three feet in diameter and six or eight feet
in length. They are elevated above the
brick pier, and roll in towards each other. An
endless carrier, made of chain and wood, like
leathern belts used in small mills, extends from the
iron rollers out of the main building and through
the entire length of the open shed. The carts
in which the cane is brought from the field as fast
as it is cut, are unloaded at the sides of the shed.
All along the endless carrier are ranged slave
children, whose business it is to place the cane
upon it, when it is conveyed through
the shed into the main building, where it falls
between the rollers, is crushed, and drops upon
another carrier that conveys it out of the main
building in an opposite direction, depositing it in
the top of a chimney upon a fire beneath, which
consumes it. It is necessary to burn it in
this manner, because otherwise it would soon fill
the building, and more especially because it would
soon sour and engender disease. The juice of
the cane falls into a conductor underneath the iron
rollers, and is carried into a reservoir.
Pipes convey it from thence into five filterers,
holding several hogsheads each. These
filterers are filled with bone-black, a substance
resembling pulverized charcoal. It is made of
bones calcinated in close vessels, and is used for
the purpose of decolorizing, by filtration, the cane
juice before boiling. Through these five
filterers it passes in succession, and then runs
into a large reservoir underneath the ground floor,
from whence it is carried up, by means of a steam
pump, into a clarifier made of sheet iron, where it
is heated by steam until it boils. From the
first clarifier it is carried in pipes to a second
and a third, and thence into close iron pans,
through which tubes pass, filled with steam.
While in a boiling state it flows through three pans
in succession, and is then carried in other pipes
down to the coolers on the ground floor.
Coolers are wooden boxes with sieve bottoms made of
the finest wire. As soon as the syrup passes
into the coolers, and is met by the air, it grains,
and the molasses at once escapes through the sieves
into a cistern
below. It is then white or loaf sugar of the
finest kind —clear, clean, and as white as snow.
When cool, it is taken out, packed in hogsheads, and
is ready for market. The molasses is then carried
from the cistern into the upper story again, and by
another process converted into brown sugar.
There are larger mills, and those constructed
differently from the one thus imperfectly described,
but none, perhaps, more celebrated than this
anywhere on Bayou Boeuf. Lambert, of
New-Orleans, is a partner of Hawkins.
He is a man of vast wealth, holding, as I have been
told, an interest in over forty different sugar
plantations in Louisiana.
The only respite from constant labor the slave has
through the whole year, is during the Christmas
holidays. Epps allowed us three —others
allow four, five and six days, according to the
measure of their generosity. It is the only
time to which they look forward with any interest or
pleasure. They are glad when night comes, not
only because it brings them a few hours repose, but
because it brings them one day nearer Christmas.
It is hailed with equal delight by the old and the
young; even Uncle Abram ceases to
glorify Andrew Jackson, and Patsey
forgets her many sorrows, amid the general hilarity
of the holidays. It is the time of feasting,
and frolicking, and fiddling — the carnival season
with the children of bondage. They are the
only days when they are allowed a little restricted
liberty, and heartily indeed do they enjoy it
It is the custom for one planter to give a "
Christmas supper," inviting the slaves from
neighboring plantations to join his own on the
occasion; for instance, one year it is given by
Epps, the next by Marshall, the next by
Hawkins, and so on. Usually from three
to five hundred are assembled, coming together on
foot, in carts, on horseback, on mules, riding
double and triple, sometimes a boy and girl, at
others a girl and two boys, and at others again a
boy, a girl and an old woman. Uncle
Abram astride a mule, with Aunt Phebe
and Patsey behind him, trotting towards a
Christmas supper, would be no uncommon sight on
Then, too, "of all days the year," they array
themselves in their best attire. The cotton
coat has been washed clean, the stump of a tallow
candle has been applied to the shoes, and if so
fortunate as to possess a rimless or a crownless
hat, it is placed jauntily on the head. They
are welcomed with equal cordiality, however, if they
come bare-headed and barefooted to the feast.
As a general thing, the women wear handkerchiefs
tied about their heads, but if chance has thrown in
their way a fiery red ribbon, or a cast-off bonnet
of their mistress' grandmother, it is sure to be
worn on such occasions. Ned —the deep
blood red —is decidedly the favorite color among the
enslaved damsels of my acquaintance. If a red
ribbon does not encircle the neck, you will be
certain to find all the hair of their woolly heads
tied up with red strings of one sort or another.
The table is spread in the open air, and loaded with
varieties of meat and piles of vegetables.
Bacon and corn meal at such times are dispensed
with. Sometimes the cooking is performed in
the kitchen on the plantation, at others in the
shade of wide branching trees. In the latter
case, a ditch is dug in the ground, and wood laid in
and burned until it is filled with glowing coals,
over which chickens, ducks, turkeys, pigs, and not
unfrequently the entire body of a wild ox, are
roasted. They are furnished also with flour,
of which biscuits are made, and often with peach and
other preserves, with tarts, and every manner and
description of pies, except the mince, that being an
article of pastry as yet unknown among them.
Only the slave who has lived all the years on his
scanty allowance of meal and bacon, can appreciate
such suppers. White people in great numbers
assemble to witness the gastronomical enjoyments.
They seat themselves at the rustic table—the males on
one side, the females on the other. The two between
whom there may have been an exchange of tenderness,
invariably manage to sit opposite; for the
omnipresent Cupid disdains not to hurl his arrows
into the simple hearts of slaves. Unalloyed
and exulting happiness lights up the dark faces of
them all. The ivory teeth, contrasting with
their black complexions, exhibit two long, white
streaks the whole extent of the table. All
round the bountiful board a multitude of eyes roll
in ecstacy. Giggling and laughter and the
clattering of cutlery and crockery succeed.
fee's elbow hunches his neighbor's side, impelled by
an involuntary impulse of delight; Nelly
shakes her finger at Sambo and laughs, she knows not
why, and 80 the fun and merriment flows on.
When the viands have disappeared, and the hungry maws
of the children of toil are satisfied, then, next in
the order of amusement, is the Christmas dance.
My business on these gala days always was to play on
the violin. The African race is a music-loving
one, proverbially; and many there were among my
fellow-bondsmen whose organs of tune were strikingly
developed, and who could thumb the banjo with
dexterity; but at the expense of appearing
egotistical, I must, nevertheless, declare, that I
was considered the Ole Bull of Bayou Boeuf. My
master often received letters, sometimes from a
distance of ten miles, requesting him to send me to
play at a ball or festival of the whites. He
received his compensation, and usually I also
returned with many picayunes jingling in my pockets
—the extra contributions of those to whose delight I
had administered. In this manner I became more
acquainted than I otherwise would, up and down the
bayou. The young men and maidens of
Holmesville always knew there was to be a
jollification somewhere, whenever Piatt
Epps was seen passing through the town with his
fiddle in his hand. "Where are you going now,
Piatt?" and "What is coming off tonight,
Piatt?" would be interrogatories issuing from
every door and window, and many a time when there
was no special hurry, yielding to pressing importuni-
tics, Piatt would draw his bow, and sitting
astride his mule, perhaps, discourse musically to a
crowd of delighted children, gathered around him in
Alas! had it not been for my beloved violin, I scarcely
can conceive how I could have endured the long years
of bondage. It introduced me to great houses
—relieved me of many days' labor in the field
—supplied me with conveniences for my cabin —with
pipes and tobacco, and extra pairs of shoes, and
often-times led me away from the presence of a hard
master, to witness scenes of jollity and mirth.
It was my companion —the friend of my bosom
—triumphing loudly when I was joyful, and uttering
its soft, melodious consolations when I was sad.
Often, at midnight, when sleep had fled affrighted
from the cabin, and my soul was disturbed and
troubled with the contemplation of my fate, it would
sing me a song of peace. On holy Sabbath days,
when an hour or two of leisure was allowed, it would
accompany me to some quiet place on the bayou bank,
and, lifting up its voice, discourse kindly and
pleasantly indeed. It heralded my name round
the country —made me friends, who, otherwise would
not have noticed me — gave me an honored seat at the
yearly feasts, and secured the loudest and heartiest
welcome of them all at the Christmas dance.
The Christmas dance! Oh, ye pleasure-seeking sons
and daughters of idleness, who move with measured
step, listless and snail-like, through the
slow-winding cotillon, if ye wish to look
upon the celerity, if not the "poetry of motion" -
upon genuine happiness, rampant and unrestrained —
go down to Louisiana, and see the slaves dancing in
the starlight of a Christmas night.
On that particular Christmas I have now in my mind, a
description whereof will serve as a description of
the day generally, Miss Lively and Mr. Sam,
the first belonging to Stewart, the latter to
Roberts, started the ball. It was well
known that Sam cherished an ardent passion
for Lively, as also did one of Marshall's and
another of Carey's boys; for Lively
was lively indeed, and a heart-breaking
coquette withal. It was a victory for Sam
Roberts, when, rising fro the repast, she gave
him her hand for the first "figure" in preference to
either of his rivals. They were somewhat
crest-fallen, and, shaking their heads angrily,
rather intimated they would like to pitel into
Mr. Sam and hurt him badly. But not an
emotion of wrath ruffled the placid bosom of
Samuel s his legs flew like drum-sticks
down the outside and up the middle, by the side of
his bewitching partner. The whole
company cheered them vociferously, and, excited with
the applause, they continued "tearing down" after
all the oehrs had become exhausted and halted a
moment to recover breath. But Sam's
superhuman exertions overcame him finally, leaving
Lively alone, yet whirling like a top.
Thereupon one of Sam's rivals, Pete
Marshall, dashed in, and, with might and main,
leaped and shuffled and threw himself into every
conceivable shape, as if determined to
show Miss Lively and all the world
that Sam Roberts was of no account.
Pete's affection, however, was greater than his
discretion. Such violent exercise took the breath
out of him directly, and he dropped like an empty
bag. Then was the time for Harry
Carey to try his hand; but Lively also
soon out-winded him, amidst hurrahs and shouts,
fully sustaining her well-earned reputation of being
the "fastest gal" on the bayou.
One ''set" off, another takes its place, he or she
remaining longest on the floor receiving the most
uproarious commendation, and so the dancing continue
until broad daylight. It does not cease with
the sound of the fiddle, but in that case they set
up a music peculiar to themselves. This is
called "patting," accompanied with one of those
unmeaning songs, composed rather for its adaptation
to a certain tune or measure, than for the purpose
of expressing any distinct idea. The patting
is performed by striking the hands on the knees,
then striking the hands together, then striking the
right shoulder with one hand, the left with the
other —all the while keeping time with the feet, and
singing, perhaps, this song'
creek and roarin' ribber,
Thar, my dear, we'll live forebber;
Den we'll go to de Ingin nation,
All I want in dis creation.
Is pretty little wife and big plantation.
Chorus. Up dat oak and down dat ribber,
Two overseers and one little nigger
Or, if these words are not adapted to the tune
called for, it may be that "Old Hog Eye" is —a
rather solemn and startling specimen of
versification, not, however, to be appreciated
unless heard at the South. It runneth as
here since I've been gone?
Pretty little gal wid a josey on.
Old Hog Eye,
And Hosey too!
de like since I was born,
Here come a little gal wid a josey on.
Old Hog Eye,
And Hosey too!
Old black Dan, as black as tar,
He dam glad he was not dar.
Hop Jim along, &c.
Or, may be
the following, perhaps, equallly nonsensical, but
full of melody, nevertheless, as it flows from the
Dick and Jurdan's Jo,
Them two niggers stole my yo'.
Hop Jim along,
Walk Jim along,
Talk Jim along, &c.
Dan, as black as tar,
He dam glad he was not dar.
Hop Jim along," &c.
remaining holidays succeeding Christmas, they are
provided with passes, and permitted to go where they
please within a limited distance, or they may remain
and labor on the plantation, in
from what they are in the field; the temporary
relaxation, the brief deliverance from fear, and
from the lash, producing an entire metamorphosis in
their appearance and demeanor. In visiting,
riding, renewing old friendships, or, perchance,
reviving some old attachment, or pursuing whatever
pleasure may suggest itself, the time is occupied.
Such is "southern life as it is," three days in
the year, as I found it — the other three
hundred and sixty-two being days of weariness, and
fear, and suffering, and unremitting labor.
Marriage is frequently contracted during the holidays,
if such an institution may be said to exist among
them. The only ceremony required before
entering into that "holy estate," is to obtain the
consent of the respective owners. It is
usually encouraged by the masters of female slaves.
Either party can have as many husbands or wives as
the owner will permit, and either is at liberty to
discard the other at pleasure. The law in
relation to divorce, or to bigamy, and so forth, is
not applicable to property, of course. If the
wife does not belong on the same plantation with the
husband, the latter is permitted to visit her on
Saturday nights, if the distance is not too far. Uncle
Abram's wife lived seven miles from
Epps', on Bayou Huff Power. He had
permission to visit her once a fortnight, but he was
growing old, as has been said, and __th to say, had
latterly well nigh forgotten her. Uncle
Abram had no time to spare from his
meditations on General Jackson
—connubial dalliance being well enough for the young
and thoughtless, but unbecoming a grave and solemn
philosopher like himself.
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