South Carolina was first successfully colonized in 1669, under the government of the lords proprietors. Afterwards colonists came over freely from England, France, and elsewhere. Those from England predominated, and were composed of two widely differing classes: first, Roundheads who wished to leave England—then passing through the corrupt era of the Restoration—and find a place where liberty of conscience was granted; and secondly, Cavaliers, impoverished by the Revolution, whom the king, for want of better means, had rewarded for their fidelity by grants of large tracts of land in the New World. Every religion was tolerated in South Carolina, but the Church of England was established as the state church. The sultry climate impaired the efficiency of white laborers. So, only a year or two after the first settlement, negro slaves were brought from the Barbadoes. They proved useful, and were at once imported so rapidly as soon to exceed the white population almost as two to one. Planting, with African labor, became the favorite occupation. Rice was naturalized and extensively cultivated.
The planters, who were chiefly the Cavalier immigrants, soon constituted a regular landed gentry. They resided on their estates, erected imposing mansions, kept fine dogs and horses, and hunted over their vast demesnes, on which game abounded, especially foxes and deer, in the true style of English noblemen and squires. The law of primogeniture was preserved for over a century. The fashions of England were imported for the ladies, and the young men were sent over the water to pass through the English universities. Tea, coffee, chocolate, and delicious wines were kept on the tables, and every Sunday the ladies turned out in coaches driven four in hand, with the gentlemen galloping along outside on horseback, to hear their loved Anglican service read in the tasteful rural churches.
Such was the origin of the famous Palmetto aristocracy. Of course the planters were not noble by law (though it is a fact that under Locke’s constitution several bona fide nobles were created with the title of landgrave), but socially and industrially they were a nobility, and politically they wielded such influence as to make them practical nobles. The rice planters were the aristocracy till after the Revolution. But after the invention of the cotton-gin, in 1793, the culture of cotton received a tremendous impulse, and it was erelong as much the staple of South Carolina as rice. So the aristocracy soon included as many cotton as rice planters.
There was also a landed nobility in colonial Virginia; and with this and that of South Carolina originated the antebellum aristocracy of the whole South, excepting, perhaps, Louisiana. But the Palmetto aristocracy undoubtedly set the type, — even the Virginians had to conform. For the old Southern aristocracy was characterized not only by the possession of lands but also of slaves; and “of the original thirteen States,” says Bancroft, “South Carolina alone was from its cradle essentially a planting State with slave labor. In Maryland, in Virginia, the custom of employing indented servants long prevailed; and the class of white laborers was always numerous, for nowhere in the United States is the climate more favorable to the Anglo-Saxon laborer than in Virginia. It was from the first observed that the climate of South Carolina was more congenial to the African that that ‘of the more northern colonies;’ and at once it became the great object of the emigrant ‘to buy negro slaves, without which,’ adds Wilson, ‘a planter can never do any great matter.’”
Without detailing the development and spread of the system over the whole South, I propose to take it up as it existed in its prime just before the war, and describe its main features, together with those of the rest of Southern society.
The whites of the South, then, were divided into several distinct classes. There were, in general, the aristocracy, the respectable people, the working people, and the poor whites or sand-hillers. The aristocracy was founded on blood and wealth. A historical ancestry was indispensable; but if a “true blue” aristocrat became poor, though he would be turned down lower in his class, he would not be looked on as “degraded” to the class I have styled the respectable people. Culture would also gain a man influence among the aristocracy, but the lack of it would merely cause him to sink on the scale of his own circle, at the very foot of which he would still he immeasurably higher than a member of the respectable element. Pedigree, then, was essential. But the aristocrats were also powerfully distinguished in what I may call an industrial point of view. Some of them, from choice or from impoverishment, became lawyers, doctors, ministers, bankers, factors, wholesale merchants, railroad presidents. But the main body were slave-holding planters, — not farmers. These planters generally owned thousands of acres of land and hundreds of slaves. The census of 1860 shows that the average area of plantations in South Carolina was sixteen hundred acres. Some gentlemen owned four thousand slaves, and few members of the aristocracy owned less than two hundred. The planters employed their time in the chase, in dissipation, in study, in visiting, in the duties of hospitality, or, as was usual, became public men. Their estates were managed by overseers, who directed the agricultural operations and managed the slaves through colored deputies called “drivers.” The houses of the overseers were placed near the “negro quarters,” villages consisting of from ten to fifty or a hundred cabins, of either one or two rooms, and generally grouped around or near one or more spacious barns and stables, with a cotton-gin or two run by mule power, and a great compass screw.
The respectable people were known from the classes below them by their wealth and culture, and often were distinguishable from the aristocrats only by their lack of ancestral distinction; that is, there were many large planters among them. But usually when agriculturalists their plantations were small and their slaves few in number, so that they were called farmers in contempt. The respectable people, however, were mainly the commercial classes of the community, — merchants, clerks, corporation men, etc. Members of the respectable class were sometimes received into the aristocracy, although until several generations had elapsed it would be half on sufferance; sometimes plebeian planters would climb up to such high social eminence in regions where there were no aristocrats that they would become aristocrats by prescription, while influential plebeian families after a few generations of wealth and leisure (especially if they produced any distinguished men) were slowly recognized by the aristocracy. Of course among the respectable people there were various subdivisions, produced by degrees of wealth, education, or distinction, and they were by no means so strongly discriminated from the class below them, the working people, as from the aristocracy. A working man often climbed into the respectable class, — far oftener than a respectable man into the aristocracy, — because descent was not a qualification, while wealth and culture, which were the qualifications, were of course attainable by energy. But still there was a general distinction. The respectable people, relieved from manual drudgery by their slaves, and imitating the airs of the aristocrats, looked with more than usual contempt on working people. This working class included men who (as a rule) owned no slaves, and had to labor for a livelihood with their hands, — carpenters, mechanics, farmers who did their own work, etc.
The poor whites lived on the sand hills in pine forests, as a general thing; though many of them also dwelt in the flat-woods. They were squalid, lazy, and extremely ignorant, almost as much despised as the blacks. They formed the pauper population of the South.
The residences of the planters were easily discerned by their size, — rarely having less than ten apartments, — their spacious verandas, and the lawn or park in front with its long lines and stately avenues of venerable oaks. They were generally constructed of wood, and in their rear was a kitchen, a group of negro huts, and at some distance a barn and ample stables. I will refer later to some urban features in the lives of the rice planters.
“The Southerner of pure race,” says M. Michael Chevalier, “is frank, hearty, open, cordial in his manners, noble in his sentiments, elevated in his notions; he is a worthy descendant of the English gentleman. Surrounded from infancy by his slaves, who relieve him from all personal exertion, he is rather indisposed to activity, and is even indolent. He is generous and profuse. … To him the practice of hospitality is at once a duty, a pleasure, and a happiness. Like the Eastern patriarchs or Homer’s heroes, he spits an ox to regale the guest whom Providence sends him and an old friend recommends to his attention; and to moisten this solid repast, he offers madeira—of which he is as proud as of his horses—that has been twice to the East Indies and has been ripening full twenty years. He loves the institutions of his country, yet he shows with pride his family plate, the arms on which, half effaced by time, attest his descent from the first colonists and prove that his ancestors were of a good family in England. When his mind has been cultivated by study, and a tour in Europe has polished his manners and refined his imagination, there is no place in the world in which he would not appear to advantage, no destiny too high for him to reach; he is one of those whom a man is glad to have as a companion and desires as a friend. Ardent and warm-hearted, he is of the block from which great orators are made. He is better able to command men than to conquer nature and subdue the soil. When he has a certain degree of the spirit of method, and, I will not say will (for he has enough of that), but of that active perseverance so common at the North, he has all the qualities needful to form a great statesman.”
The question now comes up, Has the influence of the aristocracy been impaired by the war? It undoubtedly has. Their undisputed dominance before the war was owing to three causes: (1) their immense possessions; they owned at least one half if not more of the two great articles of Southern property, slaves, and land; (2) their lineage; and (3) their superior culture, social and intellectual.
Now the first cause was enough of itself to insure their ascendency. They owned most of the property and paid most of the taxes; and as the property-holding class in the South were the voters (most Southern States used to restrict the suffrage to citizens owning a free-hold of not less than fifty acres, and require members of the legislature to possess a freehold of five hundred acres and own ten negroes) there was never a necessity of asking the body of the people what to do. But the slave property of the aristocracy has utterly gone; and three fourths of their real estate have passed into the hands of plebeians or net, roes, while the rest is depreciated in value. In fact, their distinction as slave-holders and as a landed gentry has ceased. They have been forced to work with brains and hands, and are industrially reduced to the level of the other whites, of whom, apparently, they now form a part. So it would be impossible to say that they have not lost power.
Yet at this day, as of old, Southern aristocrats are our public men and statesmen, and the fire-eating policy has again prevailed all over the South.
The explanation is simple. While the industrial power of the aristocracy has been taken away, their ancestral distinction and their intelligence and social superiority to the mass of the whites have remained intact. They compose the highest circle of Southern society, which is looked up to and copied by all below, with how much awe words cannot tell. Then Southerners have a national character, well defined, of their own; and whatever individual possesses in their strongest form the traits constituting that character is sure to attract popular admiration and acquire influence. Now the aristocracy were largely instrumental in molding this national character of the South, and its members exhibit Southern traits in their intensest form. So they are reverenced by the people, and are the popular heroes and leaders. The names of aristocrats still appear as the honorary members or trustees of every association, as the managers of public balls and entertainments. If a lyceum, a college literary society, or a political club wish an address delivered, they select an aristocrat—often venerable and known to history—as orator, and their hall is crowded with eager listeners. If a new joint-stock company is started, its success is assured if some members of the aristocracy can be induced to accept nominal positions as directors. The insurance companies invariably select ex-Confederate generals for their state agents, and their lower agents, as well as those of the sewing-machine companies, are members of the aristocracy. Gentlemen of the old school abound among us, can be told from all others by their indescribable air of cultivation and distinction, and are worshiped by the people. The aristocracy regard themselves, and are acknowledged, as select and as deserving special consideration. As far as poverty will permit them, they keep up their old customs and traditions. Whenever an aristocrat is compelled to mingle with the respectable and working classes, they treat him with a respect which is positively amazing; there is a tacit understanding on both sides that he is among them but not of them, which, such is human nature, actually causes them to “boot-lick” or dance attendance all the harder. It is impossible to describe the fearful excitement produced when an aristocrat is hurt or killed in one of our numerous political fracases. One of the chief reasons why the whites turned over to the straight-out policy during the last campaign was in consequence of the passionate appeals made them after the Hamburg massacre not to desert their old general, Butler, whether he had done right or wrong, and leave him to fight his battles alone with Governor Chamberlain, whose kitchen organ in Columbia was crying out for Butler’s arrest.
As a consequence, the old divisions of Southern society yet exist. The aristocracy is discriminated from the respectable people, the respectable people from the working class, though less strongly than of yore, and all from the sand-hillers.
Then again the commercial men of the South, the respectable people, perhaps have never had anything to do with politics. In old times they looked on politics with positive aversion as being something utterly unfitted for practical men, and so never mixed in political strife; for, as I explained in my paper on Morals, the old-time Southern politician had to be a “gentleman of honor” and a fiery orator. Now this is still the conception of a statesman in the South; that is, the popular ideal of a statesman is a man who is a polished gentleman, chivalric in his bearing, able to deliver eloquent addresses brimming with sharp denunciation and vehement exhortation, and who is ready to back up his words with the pistol. Our practical men, at least those old enough to lead, still dislike having anything to do with politics. They stay away from political conventions or take back seats. They decline nominations to office, while the aristocrats, still all fire and all born orators, are the very ones on whom the people look as the embodiment of statesmen; and not only do they come forward as candidates for positions as if nobody had a right to oppose, — as a matter of course, — but the people look on their doing so as eminently proper, and are aghast, scarcely less aghast than the aristocrats, if some presumptuous plebeian ventures to set himself up against them. In short, their political ascendency is yet looked on, and will long be looked on by the Southern whites as an unquestionable portion of the eternal fitness of things.
Then there remains their intellectual power. Fully one half—perhaps three fourths—of the educated men of the South (especially of the college-bred men) used to be aristocrats. Now when the aristocrats were forced to work after the war, to avoid starvation, they of course, as far as possible, selected brain work in preference to manual labor. They became lawyers, doctors, ministers, and teachers. Consequently over three fourths of the members of the learned professions in the South are aristocrats. Especially is the bar stocked with them, and lawyers generally have their way in politics. The colleges, too, ever since the war have been eager to get aristocrats into their professorships. General Lee was made president of a famous college in Virginia. The Hon. Robert W. Barnwell, ex-United States senator from this State and the friend of Jefferson Davis, was made the head of the old South Carolina College when revived before reconstruction. I could mention dozens of other instances. But as I have said, the aristocrats turned teachers, too, — teachers of the schools. Hundreds of impoverished ladies of the aristocracy also became teachers in boarding-schools and grammar-schools for girls. I hardly exaggerate when I say that the training of Southern youth is now confided to the old aristocracy. They impress their manners and opinions on their pupils, and the consequence is that the rising generation of Southerners surpass their fathers in Southern bigotry and anti-Northism. I was actually about to omit mentioning that the press, with all its immense power, is also in the bands of the aristocracy; for of course the sanctum was as favorite a resort of impoverished aristocrats as school teaching, etc. I will merely instance the facts that the leading democratic daily of Charleston (the organ of Hampton, Butler, and the democratic central committee) is edited by Mr. R. Barnwell Rhett; and that the only democratic daily of Columbia is edited by Mr. C. P. Pelham, ex-professor in the college over which Preston and Barnwell have presided.
The aristocracy, then, are yet the public men of the South. But whereas they used to drive the people before them with the lash and pistol, as it were, they are now merely guides, trusted and followed, indeed, and likely to be so for a considerable time, but whom the people can refuse to follow if they choose. Until the recent campaign, for instance, the people of this State insisted on the selection of very straight paths.
The great body of the aristocracy, as I have observed, were ruined by the war, — some steeped in poverty to the very lips at once. Not a few sank under the blow into insanity. Others were seized with apathy and despair. They lived on, as best they were able, selling their lands and personal property as necessity pressed them. Others went manfully to work. Plenty of high-bred and haughty women, widowed by the recent strife, hesitated not to enter the field and superintend their laborers. Most gentlemen discharged their overseers and managed their own estates. Young scions of the aristocracy hired out to their more fortunate neighbors as overseers, or scrupled not to become clerks, teachers, or depot, express, insurance, and sewing-machine agents. The ladies advertised for boarders, became teachers or governesses, or took in sewing. Those families who were not immediately prostrated contrived, as I have said, to drag on for a while. They persisted in retaining their carriages, drivers, and outriders, in giving stately family dinner-parties, in handing wine to visitors, in making formal visits. Gradually they descended. They became their own drivers, they opened their own gates. Their vehicles grew old and dingy. Their horses, at first kept solely for riding or driving, were worn out at the plow or sold; mules replaced them in the carriage. Their dinners were given at intervals few and far between. Their main solicitude became to avoid starvation. Many were compelled to do their own cooking. Most of them waited on themselves. The merchants, after crediting them until ruinous amounts were lost, demanded cash. Many were sold out for private debts. Their efforts to keep up appearances have been often truly pitiable.
Since the war the people of South Carolina have had many old home associations broken up. Hundreds of houses were burned during the war; almost as many have since been fired by incendiaries. Bankruptcy was the universal order after the cessation of hostilities. Many have been sold out for taxes. Three fourths of the whites have had to change either their homes or their locality. This has caused much mental suffering. The negroes also have been incessantly moving. The great majority left their old owners. They are very troublesome servants to keep, so that they rarely remain anchored long in any one vicinage. Indeed, this leads me to say that one of the chief grievances of white ladies since the war has been the way in which house servants who leave them and hire to others gossip about them or slander them to their new employers. In old times, as every family had certain favorite old house servants who were never sold and always stayed with their owners, this annoying gossip was an unknown thing.
The negroes generally took the family names of their owners on being set free; though a third or more of them, whose owners had been cruel, adopted the name of some former white master noted for kindness, or picked up names anywhere. They often bear distinguished names, and in police items one reads of Arthur Middleton being put in the guard-house for drunkenness, or Drayton Bull, Grimké Legaré, or Preston Laurens committed for petit larceny.
The carpet-baggers have been severely ostracized, socially, by the whites. The scalawags also, as the native white republicans are styled, have incurred the same treatment. The whites have insulted them and had nothing whatever to do with them, unless in the way of business or when there was an axe to grind. The same remarks will apply to the treatment of Northerners up to a year or so ago. But since then these last have met with far more attention, owing to political reasons, though the most superficial observer can detect that cordiality is by no means reëstablished. By Northerners I mean those who are not carpet-baggers; visitors, immigrants, or travelers.
The negroes generally still address the whites as Massa, Master, Boss, and Miss or Missis (for Mrs.), although, of course, all who are in politics or have money, together with not a few of the more insolent of the common mass, have dropped these titles for Mr. and Mrs. The main body of the colored people are inclined to be very respectful to the whites they know or are hired to. Occasionally a pert maid or man servant will address their employers as Mr. and Mrs. instead of Master and Miss, but the whites are very jealous of such innovations; I have known several nurses discharged because they refused to prefix Master to the names of the children. The whites call the negroes by their Christian names, except the elderly ones, who are called uncle or daddy, aunty or mauma. The negroes have commenced pretty generally to Mr., Mrs., and Miss each other. They are excessively fond of titles. Brother and Sister are also very ordinary appellations among them, and were made fashionable, I believe, by the Union League. It is esteemed disreputable among the whites to Mr. a negro, though of course it is frequently done when a white man has a bill to lobby through the legislature or other favor to request. The same remark will apply to touching the hat. As there are very few negroes (and these chiefly office holders) who are entitled to such rights by possessing such means and power as to raise them to the class of gentlemen, the difficulty rarely arises. The whites have many contrivances to avoid the use of such salutations. They will call a negro “Senator Smith,” or “Sheriff Smith,” or “Colonel Smith” to escape addressing him as “Mr. Smith.” The papers have habitually avoided Mistering negroes, but do it occasionally for obvious political effect.
Whites will ride on the same seats in cars with blacks if the latter are traveling in the capacity of servants, nurses, etc. But they would die before doing the same if the latter were traveling as equals. The negroes, however, are permitted to, and frequently do ride in first-class railway and in street railway cars. This liberty at first encountered much opposition from the railroad conductors and white passengers, and led to several fights, expulsions, and lawsuits. But it is now so common as hardly to provoke remark, although if a negro enters a car in which all the other travelers are white the latter, if they do nothing else, yet plainly evince aversion, and, if practicable, a wide space is left around such intruders. It is not often, though, that any of the blacks besides the politicians enter first-class conveyances on account of poverty; second-class tickets are purchased.
It is not thought wrong for a white baby to be suckled by its colored nurse. White children are always brought up with negro children as playmates. When the whites finish a meal, the colored servants remove the things to the kitchen and there eat from the same crockery the whites have just used. Yet, though all these familiarities—the most intimate imaginable—are not considered out of the way, the formal recognition of social equality is a thing as impossible as the production of the machine of perpetual motion; it is utterly, unutterably abhorrent to the Southern mind.
I do not believe that there are in the State a half dozen married couples with the wife white and the husband black or colored; but there are three or four instances in every county of colored women or negresses married to white men. So strong is the sentiment among the whites against such unions that few are, like Geoffrey Hunter, bold enough to wed with a Toinette. It condemns them to bitter hatred and irrevocable social ostracism among their own race. They generally have no resource but to associate with the colored people and become negroes in all but color.
The negroes are freely admitted to the theatres in Columbia, and to other exhibitions, lectures, etc.; but a wide berth is given them by the white audience if the hall be not crowded. In Charleston and the country towns they have not thus far attended or secured entrance to such places. But to shows under canvas, such as circuses, magic-lantern exhibitions, and so on, they are invariably allowed admission. In Columbia they are also served at the bars, soda-water fountains, and ice-cream soloons, but not generally elsewhere. From the hotels they are invariably excluded. In Columbia, Charleston, and the larger towns, they have their own boarding-houses; especially in the first place, where there are many officials, legislators, etc.
A white church in an up-country town wished to dispose of its lecture room in which the Sunday-school had been held. The county educational officials (some of whom were colored) bought it for a state school-house. It remained unused, however, for several months. About six weeks after its sale the white ladies in town proposed to give a concert. The lecture room was the only suitable hall in the village. Accordingly, the gentleman who was acting as their agent proposed to hire it for the occasion, after making a long explanation to them about its not having been used as yet by the radicals. But on hearing of this, one of the most prominent of the ladies instantly declined to have anything further to do with an entertainment which was to be given in a building owned by negroes. The concert was abandoned.
A widow in Marlborough, in destitute circumstances, desiring to send her son to Harvard, wrote to the president, and through his kindness obtained favorable terms for tuition, etc. She was very grateful and in high spirits. At the last moment, however, a misgiving struck her. She dispatched another epistle, telling the president that she was so much obliged to him, and so forth, but that she had heard that negroes were in Harvard as students; and concluded by inquiring if it were true. The president sent a cold but courteous reply in the affirmative. The young man has never entered Harvard.
A very light mulatto, through a misapprehension, secured a night’s lodging at a hotel in Chesterfield. The white guests forthwith departed. But on proper explanations being made by the proprietor, his patronage slowly revived.
The negroes (and by this term I mean both blacks and mulattoes) have among themselves social rank and aristocracy outrageously severe and strictly discriminated. This was the case even before the war, as Mrs. Stowe has noticed in her famous novel. These distinctions are local, so that no generalization could be made of the various classes. But the gradations are founded principally on official station, position in the church, possession of money or real estate, former ownership, and city birth. Those who have been trained up “genteelly” in white families of the highest respectability, as waiting men, maids, drivers, and so on, of course pride themselves not a little on their polished deportment; and those who are able to work on their own account (for instance, to rent land and to farm, to keep a smithy or to be carpenters) hold themselves considerably above such as have to hire out as laborers.
The whites are, like all other Americans, fond of military titles. The negroes, with their customary propensity to imitation, have become eager to procure commissions in the national guard, and to call each other captain and colonel and major.
In his family the colored man is tyrannical to the last degree. His wife generally cooks for him, and both, together with the children, hire out during the day. In order to prepare dinner no work is done from twelve o’clock to two. The negroes of the wealthier sort naturally imitate all the social customs of the whites, paying homage to the ladies, preventing the females from working, sending the children to school, living in fine houses, employing servants, supporting a good table, and keeping carriages and horses. The lower classes of negroes also copy, as far as they can, the habits of the whites. All are desirous of sending their children to the public schools, and contrive at intervals to do so, but the lack of means prevents a regular attendance, — the children must work. The whites have a violent prejudice, nay, hatred, against these laudable efforts at civilization, and take every opportunity to insult such negroes as make them. “Your wife and children had better be at work in the field,” is a remark frequently heard. Of course, however, there is excuse for this feeling of the whites. The airs which the negroes assume often interfere with their efficiency as laborers, and give them a demeanor insolent and presumptuous; and to such novelties the whites are not yet accustomed.
The negro rarely possesses any home attachments. He is continually on the wing, as I have before remarked; and as he can with facility ingratiate himself among strangers of his own color, he would not be disconcerted were he as quickly transported from one State to another as Aladdin’s wife or as Noureddin in the Thousand and One Nights.
The Southern gentleman yet displays much of his old chivalry of sentiment and behavior. Women are worshiped in the South by lovers and sons and gentleman-acquaintances, and they will prove in the end the chief obstacles to reconciliation with the North, as they are very conservative. Every young man is afraid, if he associates with a Yankee or a republican, that his sweetheart will cut him, or his mother and sisters look grieved. The Southern lady, as a Northern authoress has recently observed, is usually far more helpless and fragile than her Northern sister. She is never allowed to do a thing if a gentleman is with her. Socially and politically, the state of women in the South is much less advanced than in the North. Nor is there much prospect of an amelioration. The idea of females voting or speaking in public is extremely distasteful to Southern whites, and even more so to the women than to the men. Southerners traveling in the North, and seeing ladies participate in public meetings, come back disgusted. A female lecturer from the North spoke in Charleston winter before last, but only a few rowdies went to hear her. The negro females are very roughly handled by the males, and colored children are treated by both their fathers and mothers in a way that would make Pestalozzi, Froebel, and Herbert Spencer shudder.
The negroes used to be kept, as I have said, in cabins clustered together near the residence of their owner or his overseer. Since their liberation they have shown quite a tendency to desert these relics of their former subjection. Many of the “negro quarters,” indeed, on isolated and very rural plantations are yet inhabited, but a large number all over the country are tenantless and going to ruin. Still more have been pulled down. A negro will buy a small lot of ground and erect on it a hut, the materials of which he has acquired by purchasing a cabin in a desolate “quarter” and pulling it down. They generally contrive to buy all their lots in one vicinity, and that just outside the borders of a town or village; so that every Southern town—at least this is the case in South Carolina—is divided into two sections: the main town, populated principally by whites, and containing the finest structures; and the “free town” (which the whites often dub “Liberia”), consisting chiefly of wretched log-cabins with wooden shutters, mud chimneys, and but one room. Of course most white families of affluence have in their yards inferior houses for the colored servants. Many maids even sleep in their employers’ houses, although in such cases they are never assigned to a separate apartment (an attic, etc.) with beds, but pass the night on a pallet spread on the floor of their young mistress’s chamber.
The food of the negroes is coarse and barbarously prepared, where they live apart from the whites. Their dwellings, as I have observed, have usually but one room, in which they sleep, cook, eat, sit, and receive company. Their culinary utensils, in most cases, consist simply of a large iron pot, an oven, and a few tin pans, all of which, most likely, have been previously well worn and thrown aside in the kitchens of the whites. Sometimes they own a spider, and generally a coffee pot and mill, which, as before, have been broken to use in the “buckra’s house.” They eat either directly out of the cooking instruments, or employ tin pans and cups, and (when they can afford it) thick-grained crockery painted with red flowers. They use their fingers or pocket-knives, steel forks, pewter spoons, and a worn-out table-knife or two. Their food rarely includes more than hominy, corn-bread, rank fat bacon sides, coffee, and cheap molasses for breakfast. The coffee is without milk and sweetened by molasses. At dinner they have corn-bread, rice, — if thrifty, — pork “sides,” and vegetables slimy with grease. At supper the same articles appear as at breakfast, minus the meat. On Sundays a plate of wheat bread, either biscuits or hoe-cake, is prepared for breakfast as a luxury, and what is left is warmed over for dinner and supper; and the coffee is rendered more palatable by a modicum of exceedingly coarse brown sugar. The gardens of the negroes contain only a few species of plants: sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes more rarely, peas, beans, water-melons, and collards, the last altogether preponderating. A family that can afford it keeps a pig impounded during the year, fattening it to kill at Christmas. But the negroes have yielded another proof of Macaulay’s assertion that in every human being there is a tendency to ameliorate his condition. They are ambitious to increase the comforts of life, as well as to give leisure to their females and education to their children. Many of them have invested their earnings in a cow, and most of them rear fowls. But side by side with this tendency may often be descried the fatal disposition that has been the curse of Ireland: the desire, if I may so put it, to burrow in a hole. They will buy an acre or two, build a cottage, move in, and live in sloth and filthiness on what they can raise on their half-cultivated lot.
All the above remarks will apply with but few variations to the condition of the sand-hill whites, most of whom are inveterate beggars.
Since the war many ladies, both among the aristocrats and the respectable class, have been obliged to do their own cooking. In fact, one is esteemed fortunate to be able to employ a cook. The kitchens used to be detached from the dwelling-houses, and after being cooked the meals were brought across the yard to the dining-room. But this plan has fallen into desuetude, the ladies, not liking to bring dishes across the yard, cooking in some apartment of the dwelling-house. Stoves have come into universal use, something which was not the case when there were plenty of negroes to bend over the fire. Most ladies, too, have to be their own house-maids, sweeping out, dusting, and making the beds. The boys cut the wood, and the girls assist their mother. With such families, as a consequence, hospitality has been below par. When company arrives, the lady of the house is taken entirely aback. She is usually altogether prevented from sitting in the parlor, as she has either to cook or to set the table. Even if servants are employed she has to oversee them, as negroes never do anything without being told. The fare is nearly always homely and (owing to the unskillfulness of the amateur lady cook or the ignorance and coarseness of the negro cook) badly prepared. The crockery is not only cracked and old, but is odd. I used to ask—until I learned better—the lady of the house, when dining out, to pass me her plate (as of course families very generally wait on themselves) so that I could help her to some dish before me. “Oh, no,” she would answer; “I won’t trouble you; just hand me the dish, and I will help myself.” Chance sometimes revealed the motive of her obstinacy. All the plates had been given to the guests and to the family (some of the latter, perhaps, taking soup-plates), while, concealed behind the tea-service, she was eating from a saucer. When one course (if, as is exceedingly infrequent, there is more than one) is finished, some member of the family, one of the boys, usually, will arise, clear the table, and put on the dessert.
Not only stoves but sewing-machines and other household utensils are much more common than before the war. The whites, having to do their own work, are clamorous for conveniences in which they would not indulge their slaves. It is proper to remark, however, that the negroes are usually rather too uncivilized to be trusted with labor-saving machines requiring any delicacy of management. Negro seamstresses always (except a few who were reared and trained in cultivated families) perform coarse sewing, and the washer-women, I might as well remark, badly damage the clothes they work on, iron-rusting them, tearing them, breaking off buttons, and burning them brown; and as for starch! — Colored cooks, too, generally abuse stoves, suffering them to get clogged with soot, and to “burn out” in half the time they ought to last.
It was for a time a rarity to see a new buggy or carriage, or a decent horse, in the State. The horses were spoiled for driving or riding by plow service, and the only vehicles were those preserved throughout the war. The carriages of the best-off citizens were lumbering, shabby, old, ante-bellum coaches, drawn by either two mules or a mule (with a shaved tail) and a regular Rozinante. The harness would be patched, the whip worn down one half and turned into a handle for a leather lash. To a large extent this is yet the case, though at present many are able to keep a decent buggy; but new carriages are scarcely ever seen. In Columbia, however, the republican officials, white and colored, sport magnificent twenty-five-hundred-dollar turn-outs, with livery and blooded stock. In fact, at one time, it was thought a sure sign of dishonesty, by the whites of that city, for a man to dash about in a fine carriage or landaulet.
The homes of the negroes are dens of filth, giving off an intolerable stench. They were formerly compelled to devote some attention to cleanliness by their masters, but neglect it, now they are free. Their beds are clotted with dirt. Their domestic habits and relations are extremely barbarous, unsettled, and immoral. In consequence of their bad food and unhygienic conduct they are usually diseased to a lamentable degree. “How do you do, this morning?” To such an inquiry a colored person will never reply, “First rate.” The invariable response is, “Well, I’m rather poorly,” “I’m not so well, this morning,” “I’m sorter middling, sir,” or “I’m jes’ betwixt and between.” The whites ridicule this as affectation, but really half of it is not put on. The rate of mortality among the negroes, both in cities and in the country, greatly exceeds that of the whites. Yet their constitutions must be wonderfully hardy to stand the strain they bear so well.
Dressing among the whites has been very plain. Threadbare garments, with holes at the elbows and shreds on the edges of the sleeves, have been quite common. Broadcloth has been so scarce as to excite a stare, and that, too, even in towns. Ladies thought themselves fortunate to get beyond calicoes. But for a year or so past a new era has been dawning. Broadcloth is often seen; ladies wear more costly outfits. The fashions of the North are, of course, imitated by the wealthy. Godey, Harper’s Bazar, Demorest, Peterson, and Frank Leslie are very ordinarily subscribed to. The dress of the negroes is simply disgusting; their clothes are stiff with mingled grease and dirt. It is unpleasant to have one of them approach within ten feet of you. They keep a tin basin at home in which they sometimes wash. But it is more customary to see them performing their ablutions in the horse trough, wiping their faces on their sleeves. During the summer they bathe in creeks, putting on their clothes while still wet. Their babies are kept in a horribly filthy condition.
The negro children in isolated places hardly ever wear more than a shirt, and it is not so startling a thing to see them playing about naked. Half the clothing of the negroes is begged from the whites, who give them cast-off garments nearly worn out. It is often impossible to discern the original piece of a coat or pair of pants, or its intended color, owing to the number of party-colored patches. They sometimes make suits out of gunny-bags. Their shoes are brogans or worn-out boots begged from the whites. The women wear turbans or go bare-headed. The negro men, as a general thing, did not wear hats before their emancipation. But they have since displayed quite a zeal to procure head wear, though not a few yet go uncovered. Negroes never bring their hats into white people’s houses; they drop them on the steps or on the piazza or just inside the entry door, on the floor. They don’t know (unless house servants) how to knock at doors. They will wait at the front gate an hour, till some one comes out to them, or rattle the gate or beat on it—or perhaps on the front steps—with their sticks (they all carry sticks), but will never come up the steps and knock.
Yet, so contradictory is human nature, notwithstanding what has been said, the negro is essentially a dandy, loving fine dress and decorations above all things. The females, particularly, are excessively fond of colors, and delight to parade on Sundays in the cast-away habiliments of their mistresses. The legislators and others in their higher society are first-class swells. Among women of pure African extraction a white man can never discover one really beautiful, although the males are sometimes undoubtedly handsome. But among the mulattoes, and especially those the most of whose blood is white, there are occasionally to be observed females who can lay claim to unmistakable beauty, and whose color adds all the more to their loveliness from recalling associations of the East.
Tobacco is used by nearly every man and boy in the South. Among the whites for a long time succeeding the war, pipes, being less expensive than cigars, were extensively in request. Cigars, though usually cheap ones, are now, however, in every-day use. The office-holding blacks are, of course, extensive consumers of such merchandise; indeed, they are about the only purchasers among us of the finest brands. The common negroes always beg the stumps of white men’s cigars, and all their women smoke! The females among the sand-hillers also make use of the weed.
Every man, white or black, rich or poor, aristocrat or plebeian, keeps a gun or pistol. The whites are nearly always first-class marksmen. There is so much forest land in the State that a mile’s walk from a city will conduct you to game, and of course those who live far from gay cities and the ways of men have much ampler facilities for hunting. Deer, though they are undoubtedly much thinned, are found in the river swamps; foxes are often encountered, and wild turkeys, birds, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, and rabbits abound. Sporting is, therefore, universally popular. The negroes, when first permitted the handling of fire-arms, were as inferior to the whites in sharp-shooting as the Mohican chief in Cooper’s novel was to the Deerslayer. Practice, however, has improved them; and the only limit to that with them is the expense. Every Southerner is also ambitious to own blooded stock, horses, dogs, hounds, and game fowls; want of means, though, has seriously interfered with the gratification of such tastes. Horse-racing and, to a less degree, cock-fighting are popular to excess. The negroes in their humble way imitate; they all own dogs, and frequently plume themselves on their fine roosters. The white is invariably a good, usually a graceful rider, und is fond of the exercise. The negro loves nothing better than to be allowed to mount on horseback, and is always a good rider, rarely a graceful one. White ladies used to be famous for their equestrian accomplishments, but, owing to the inferiority of all the horses in the country, they now seldom ride.
Circuses appear in this State only during the fall and winter. The fondness for them is, of course, universal, but is most ardent among the negroes and poor whites. They took in so much money from the former, year before last, that the legislature passed a law requiring all circuses to pay a license fee of one hundred dollars for every day they exhibit. Photographers perambulate the country occasionally, and meet with extensive patronage, especially from the negroes. Magic-lantern shows under canvas, minstrel companies and jugglers also reap a rich harvest among the sand-hillers and colored people. At circuses there are always placed two series of seats on opposite sides of the tent: the whites occupy one of these, the negroes the other. The clown and other performers invariably, unless their duties take them round, stay on the side nearest the whites, facing pointedly towards them, and never vouch-safing the colored folks a glance; and at these latter the clown never fails to throw jest after jest. The minstrels, too, always have jokes to make on the negroes and the republican party.
There are no first-class theatres in the State, and only three or four of an inferior description in Columbia and Charleston. Nevertheless, at the latter place the audiences at classic performances are highly intelligent and critical. Indeed, I doubt if an actor has a harder ordeal to undergo anywhere else in the United States except at Boston. Charlestonians rarely manifest their enthusiasm, and even when the playing is keenly relished the artists see but little to indicate that such is the case.
Negroes predominate in the crowds at cheap shows, circuses, the courts of justice, hangings, and so on. In all such gatherings each race contrives, by a process of elective affinity, to congregate by itself. Executions are yet public, and are never attended, even in the remotest county seat, by less than six or seven thousand people. They are intensely demoralizing. When a negro, for instance, is to be hanged he usually has religious services in his cell daily for a week prior to the appointed time. These are opened to the public, and are thronged by those of his own race. On the scaffold prayers are made, which extract groans of assent from the concourse, frenzied by the speech of the usually repentant and confessing criminal. Hymns are then sung to wild airs, the colored spectators joining. A dead silence then ensues; this is broken by the falling of the drop, and as the doomed man is launched into eternity a piercing and universal shriek arises, the wildest religious mania seizes on the crowd, they surge to and fro, sing, and raise the holy dance. The scene is often shocking above description.
A strong taste for traveling is growing up among the whites. Before the war this was by no means so prevalent, or, at least, so noticeable. There are several watering-places and mineral springs in the State, which are every year numerously visited. The custom of journeying North is being resumed as rapidly as poverty will permit. I believe this taste was created by the late civil contest, which, by taking thousands of men to a distance from their homes, gave them a love for adventure and for seeing strange places. The example of the aristocrats before the war was not such as to encourage this disposition in the lower orders of society. They were, as a rule, self-content, and averse to going abroad—unless for a formal trip to finish off their education—where they would have to mix with strangers. It was, perhaps, a natural result of slavery. The younger members of the working class proper among the whites, together with the sand-billers, form a vast majority who have never been above ten miles from home nor seen a locomotive.
Social life in Charleston is very peculiar so far as relates to the highest circles of society. The private residences are usually large and, though old-fashioned, convenient. They have numerous latticed balconies and are environed with ample yards, provokingly walled, in which the orange and other delicious fruits are propagated, or which are filled with rare and choice flowers. The houses, thus situated, have a delightful and indescribable air of retirement and comfort. They are owned mainly by wealthy planters on the neighboring sea-coast and islands. Each of these, also, has usually a large-sized residence on his plantation, and there and in Charleston be and his family reside during alternate portions of the year. There the rice planters keep up their old customs as far as possible and form a nucleus about which Southern aristocracy may yet be restored.
Every year the Masons, Grangers, and other organizations hold sessions of their grand bodies in Charleston or Columbia; at the latter place there is also an annual state fair. On these occasions, as well as other celebrations, the railroads reduce their fares one half, and thousands of visitors throng the cities. Gayeties of this nature were at a discount for several years after the war, but are now fast reviving. Public entertainments, concerts, tableaux, county fairs, balls, etc., not to mention private parties and dances, have become as common as in normal times. Amateur base-ball clubs have sprung up everywhere. Public match games between Nines from a distance, which lead to dinners and picnics, are frequent. These things indicate the healing of the late wounds.
As usual, the negroes imitate. They are literally crazy about traveling. The railroad officials are continually importuned by them to run extra trains, excursion trains, and so on, on all sorts of occasions: holidays, picnics, Sunday-school celebrations, church dedications, funerals of their prominent men, circuses, public executions. The fare is generally, on all such excursions, reduced to fifty cents for the round trip from any point passed. They attract whole counties of negroes, and it is delightful to witness their childish wonder and enjoyment and behavior on the cars. The colored youth, too, have begun organizing base-ball clubs, which often challenge each other to match games. And hops and parties, though of course of a pretty uncouth kind, are frequent among the younger blacks of both sexes.
Thanksgiving Day is not considered or celebrated as a holiday by the whites, who keep on with their usual business. Slimly attended religious services are held, but no turkeys are killed. The negroes observe it to some extent in their churches and by picnics. Christmas is, however, indisputably the Southern holiday among all classes and conditions of men both white and colored. Easter and Good Friday were many years ago not very generally observed, except by the liturgical churches. They were esteemed too popish; now, however, they are rapidly increasing in favor with all denominations among the whites. The blacks, of course, know nothing about them. The whites altogether refrained from celebrating the Fourth of July up to the year before last, when, for the first time since the war, the military companies of Charleston and Columbia joined in Augusta, Georgia, with the similar bodies of that city in a commemoration of the day. But this year there was no attempt at all to observe it. The Centennial at Philadelphia awakened considerable interest in this State, from which it received many visitors. The negroes universally celebrate their emancipation on the Fourth of July instead of on the real anniversary.
It was a custom formerly to give the negroes several days of rest at Christmas time; and they still insist on the dispensation, which has become perpetual by prescription. The negro is a thorough believer in holidays, of which he takes a great number.
Excepting base-ball clubs the negroes have among themselves scarcely any social associations, if I may so term them, a fact which contrasts singularly with the zeal which they have evinced in connecting themselves with political and religious organizations. They have, perhaps, in the State about half a dozen local and languishing temperance societies. But the whites have rigorously shut Them out from national orders like the Sons of Temperance, the Good Templars, the Knights of Pythias, the Odd Fellows, the Masons, and the Grangers. Nor have they had sufficient intelligence and energy to found such fraternities among themselves. The only exception to this is a branch of the Masonic brotherhood, which has a few sickly subordinate lodges and a state lodge; for this a charter was obtained, I am informed, from the state lodge of Massachusetts. These colored Masons are not recognized by the white lodges or grand body of the State.
The various orders which I mentioned above are favorite institutions among the whites. The Patrons of Husbandry, in particular, have a very flourishing organization. There are frequent reunions held of the survivors of old Confederate brigades and regiments, at which sentiments are usually expressed not precisely loyal to the Union. Among the females the Ladies’ Memorial Associations enjoy much popularity. These are local in character, I believe; when feasible, they give dinners, concerts, fairs, and other entertainments for the purpose of raising money to build a public monument to the memory of Confederate soldiers buried in the vicinity. Scores of these monuments have already been erected. Addresses the very reverse of friendly to the national government are delivered on these occasions, as well as on Memorial Days, when the whole white population of a town turns out in procession, headed by the Ladies’ Memorial Association, and decorates the graves. Poems, too, are commonly recited, either specially written for the occasion by local bards unknown to fame, or such “old, old stories” as Collins’ ode, “How sleep the brave.”
There is also among the ladies an organization having for its object the construction of a monument to the memory of Calhoun. A year or so ago it was proposed to turn over the funds they had accumulated to the Ladies’ Memorial Association, above described, to assist in the work of rearing monuments over the dead Confederates. The suggestion was approved by the newspapers, which said that were this “iron man” (as Miss Martineau called him) for a moment to awake he would sanction the idea. In Charleston there is also a “Home,” founded by popular contribution, for the impoverished widows and orphans of Confederate soldiers. This charitable institution has undoubtedly rendered much needed and meritorious service.
The colored people of all tints are regarded as negroes by the whites, and these mixed bloods associate with those of pure African extraction on terms of perfect equality. I have never encountered any cases where a mulatto put on airs, or was the subject of jealousy to a black on account of his white blood.
My task is now done. But before closing I trust I shall be pardoned a little sentiment. The old plantation days are passed away, perhaps forever. My principles now lead me to abhor slavery and rejoice at its abolition. Yet sometimes, in the midst of the heat and toil of the struggle for existence, the thought involuntarily steals over me that we have seen better days. I think of the wild rides after the fox and the deer; of the lolling, the book, the delicious nap, on the balcony, in the summer-house, or on the rustic seat on the lawn; of the long sittings at meals, and the after-dinner cigar; of the polished groups in easy but vivacious conversation in the parlor; of the chivalric devotion to beautiful women; of the pleasant evening drives; of the visits to the plantation, with its long, broad expanse of waving green, dotted here and there with groups of industrious slaves; of the long rows of negro cabins with little pickaninnies playing about them; of the old well with its beam and pole for drawing, and of the women with pails of water on their heads; of the wild old field airs ringing out from the cabins at night; of the “Chrismas gif’, Massa,” breaking your slumbers on the holiday morn; of the gay devices for fooling the dignified old darkies on the first of April; of the faithful old nurse who brought you through infancy, under whose humble roof you delighted to partake of an occasional meal; of the flattering, foot-scraping, clownish, knowing rascal to whom you tossed a silver piece when he brought up your boots; of the little darkies who scrambled for the rind after you had eaten your water-melon on the piazza in the afternoon, — and, “as fond recollection presents them to view,” I feel the intrusive swelling of the tear of regret. And so it is with every Southerner: tears rise in his heart and gather to his eyes as he thinks of the days that are no more. The Southerners of old used to be perhaps the happiest of men. There was nothing to disturb them, nothing to do, nothing they wished done that others were not at hand to do. Happiness was not only their being’s end and aim, but its enjoyment their one occupation. Now the cares of life, the struggle for a living, weigh them down. It often strikes me, as I think of the intense enjoyment of the olden time, that perhaps just as the strongest force in physics is evolved from the greatest consumption of material, so it is ordained in human affairs that the most exquisite happiness shall be founded on the intensest misery of others.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.