Archive for the ‘Farming’ Category

“land … they cultivate … better than their Master”

JANET SCHAW was a formidable Scotswoman who traveled across the Atlantic in 1774 to deliver three young relatives to their father John Rutherfurd who was a merchant and plantation owner in North Carolina. The journal she kept describing her voyage and experiences in the American South are invaluable resources. In honor of Martin Luther King Day I thought it would be informative to add to our knowledge of the nature and practice of slavery by presenting some of Schaw’s comments on these subjects. She found the largesse of nature in the area to be impressive, but criticized the character and indolent behavior of the white inhabitants who seemed disinclined to take advantage of it. She had praise, albeit grudging, for the slaves who made better use of this natural abundance than their white masters.

The congress has forbid killing Mutton, veal or lamb, so that little variety is to be had from the domestick animals; but indulgent nature makes up for every want, by the vast quantities of wild birds, both of land and water. The wild Turkeys, the wild pigeon, a bird which they call a partridge, but above all the rice-bird, which is the Ortalon in its highest perfection, and from the water the finest ducks that possibly can be met with, and so plenty that when on wing sixteen or eighteen are killed at a shot. The beauty of the Summer-duck makes its death almost a murder. The deer now is large, but not so fat as it will be some time hence; it is however in great plenty, and makes good soup. The rivers are full of fine fish, and luxury itself cannot ask a boon that is not granted. Do not however suppose by this that you meet elegant tables, far from it; this profusion is in general neglected. The gentlemen indeed out of idleness shoot deer, but nothing under a wild turkey is worth a shot. As they are now on the eve of a War, or something else I dare not name, perhaps they save their powder for good reasons. . . .

The Negroes are the only people that seem to pay any attention to the various uses that the wild vegetables may be put to. For example, I have sent you a paper of their vegetable pins* made from the prickly pear, also molds for buttons made from the calabash [a type of squash], which likewise serves to hold their victuals. The allowance for a Negro is a quart of Indian corn pr day (an infant has the same allowance with its parents as soon as born), and a little piece of land which they cultivate much better than their Master. There they rear hogs and poultry, sow calabashes, &c and are better provided for in every thing than the poorer white people with us. They steal whatever they can come at, and even intercept the cows and milk them. They are indeed the constant plague of their tyrants, whose severity or mildness is equally regarded by them in these Matters.

*Clothing was generally pinned together rather than sewn allowing for variety: sleeves were attached to a bodice with straight pins, for example. (See this post for more information.) As safety pins had not been invented, baby diapers were also held together with pins. Metal pins were typically used but these were expensive and also in short supply as American boycotts of British products took effect. Substitutes were sought, hence Shaw’s reference.

The excerpt can be found on page 139 of In the Words of Women.

posted January 18th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Farming,Food,North Carolina,Schaw, Janet,Slaves/slavery

“Pleased, on reflection, to have made this journey”

Henrietta and Robert Liston spent a week in Charleston before beginning the return trek to Philadelphia. (See previous posts here, here, and here). Heading for Camden, South Carolina, they now found it necessary to use the letters of introduction more frequently. Mrs. Liston noted rice and indigo plantations but commented, “Cotton seems in some measure to have succeeded to Indigo, in this part of the Country. The process of Cotton requiring fewer hands, & being less prejudicial to health, & at present, even a more profitable produce.” One night they stayed with Colonel Johann Senf*,

a native of Germany & the superintendent of a Canal, the most considerable work of that kind yet attempted, in America; it is intended to join the Santee river to the Coopers river. . . . we found Col. Sinf [sic] & his Wife [Johanna van Berckel] living on a pretty little Spot, created & Beautified by themselves, it was laid out with peculiar neatness & Taste.

As they traveled north, the roads became worse as did the weather. In the region of the Catawba River, South Carolina, the Listons visited elders of the Catawba Nation**:

The Colonel & a few of the older Men spoke a little bad English, He apologized for the smallness of their numbers saying, the Young Men had not yet come in from hunting. We had, indeed, met some of them selling their Deerskins a hundred miles to the South. On the Colonels fire stood a pot, & there was a hoecake on the hearth; I asked what was in the Pot; he said Deerflesh for breakfast, but did not offer us any.

The travelers had to deal with bad roads, rainy and cold weather, a near drowning in a swollen stream, a sick servant and a “doctor” who also was the local parson and schoolmaster. By the time they crossed the Roanoke River in Virginia, one of the horses was lame and had an eye infection. It is no wonder that once the Listons arrived in Richmond, Virginia, “we were obliged to take places in the Mail Coach, The only mode of conveyance to be found for love or money.”

Seven days later on 7 February, 1798, they arrived home in Philadelphia, having been on the road for just over three months. Once again safely ensconced by her fireside, Mrs. Liston wrote, “Pleased, on reflection, to have made this journey, but feeling that few things could tempt me to repeat it.”


* Johann (John) Senf (c. 1740-1806), engineer of the Santee Canal, begun in 1793 and opened in 1800.
** The Catawba Nation was confined to a region of 15 square miles around Catawba River, their numbers decimated by small pox and wars with the Cherokee Nation.


Nonetheless, over the next three years, Henrietta and Robert Liston continued to explore the East Coast as far north as Quebec, and Portland, Maine. Mrs. Liston’s Journals show her to be an intelligent and discerning guide to the country and people of the United States. Her openness to new experiences, her adventurous spirit, and the zest of her language will certainly delight all readers.

Excerpts are taken from “1797. Tour to the Southern States—Virginia, North & South Carolina” in The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston: North America and Lower Canada, 1796-1800, published in hardcover and eBook. The illustration is of the ruins of the Santee Canal.

posted December 15th, 2014 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Farming,Liston, Henrietta Marchant,Philadelphia,The South,Travel

“I love a Garden and a book”

In 1745, when Eliza Lucas was twenty-three, she married Charles Pinckney of Charleston. They lived for a time in England where Pinckney served as a colonial agent. In 1758 they returned to South Carolina, where one month later Charles died of malaria. Once more it fell to Eliza to manage the family plantations. Her two sons remained in school in England; her daughter was with her. It became quickly apparent that the plantations were in financial difficulty: there had been a severe drought and the overseers were found to be incompetent or dishonest. She found a new overseer and wrote to a family friend in England in 1760 that “if it please God to prosper us and grant good Seasons, I hope to clear all next year.” She continued:

I find it requires great care, attention and activity to attend properly to a Carolina Estate, tho’ but a moderate one, to do ones duty and make it turn to account, that I find I have as much business as I can go through of one sort or other. Perhaps ’tis better for me, and I believe it is. Had there not been a necessity for it, I might have sunk to the grave by this time in that Lethargy of stupidity which had seized me after my mind had been violently agitated by the greatest shock it ever felt. But a variety of imployment gives my thoughts a relief from melloncholy subjects, tho ’tis but a temporary one, and gives me air and exercise, which I believe I should not have had resolution enough to take if I had not been roused to it by motives of duty and parental affection. . . .

In another letter to an English friend that same year Eliza Pinckney expresses some concerns: “A great cloud hangs over this province. We are continually insulted by the Indians on our back settlements, and a violent kind of small pox rages in Charles Town that almost puts a stop to all business.” In the last letter in this letterbook dated February 1762 she writes rather wistfully to a family friend in England:

What great doings you have had in England since i left it. You people that live in the great world in the midst of Scenes of Entertainment and pleasure abroad, of improving studies and polite amusement at home, must be very good to think of your friends in this remote Corner of the Globe. I really think it a great virtue in you . . . writing now and then to an old woman in the Willds of America. . . .

How different is the life we live here; vizeting is the great and almost only amusement of late years. However, as to my own particular, I live agreeable enough to my own taste, as much so as I can separated from my dear boys.

I love a Garden and a book; and they are all my amusement except I include one of the greatest Businesses of my life (my attention to my dear little girl) under that article. For a pleasure it certainly is &c. especially to a mind so tractable and a temper so sweet as hers. For, I thank God, I have an excellent soil to work upon, and by the Divine Grace hope the fruit will be answerable to my indeavours in the cultivation.

For information on Eliza Lucas Pinckney during and after the Revolution see In the Words of Women, pages 144 and 150-51. Her Letterbook can be found HERE.

posted April 17th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Britain,Daily life,Death,Farming,Indians,London,Smallpox

“on the business of the plantations”

I have always liked diaries and letters that describe “a day in the life of” a particular girl or woman. Here is one by the amazing Eliza Lucas who, while she was still in her teens, was responsible for managing three plantations in South Carolina for her father, a British army officer posted in Antigua. (See another post here.) With her mother ill (she died in 1759), her two brothers at school in England, and her younger sister Polly at home, Eliza was the one who took upon herself the business of operating the plantations and making them profitable. To this end, she carried on an extensive correspondence with her father who provided instructions and advice, and considered Eliza’s suggestions for improvements. Eliza’s life wasn’t all business as her letter describing her daily routine, ca. April 1742, to Miss Bartlett indicates.

In general I rise at 5 o’ Clock in the morning, read till Seven, then take a walk in the garden or field, see that the Servants [slaves] are at their respective business, then to breakfast. The first hour after breakfast is spent at my musick, the next is constantly employed in recolecting something I have learned least for want of practise it should be quite lost, such as French and short hand. After that I devote the rest of the time till I dress for dinner to our little Polly and two black girls who I teach to read, and if I
have my paps’s approbation (my Mamas I have got) I intend [them] is for the rest of the Negroe children—another scheme you see.

But to proceed, the first hour after dinner as the first after breakfast at musick, the rest of the afternoon in Needle work till candle light, and from that time to bed time read or write. . . . Mondays my musick Master is here. Tuesdays my friend Mrs. Chardon (about 3 miles distant) and I are constantly engaged to each other, she at our house one Tuesday—I at hers the next and this is one of the happiest days I spend at Woppoe [one of her father’s plantations]. Thursday the whole day except what the necessary affairs of the family take up is spent in writing, either on the business of the plantations, or letters to my friends. Every other Fryday, if no company, we go a vizeting so that I go abroad once a week and no oftener. . . .

Eliza was especially interested in botany and experimented with methods of growing and processing indigo which was much in demand for dying cloth by England’s textile industry. Her success in cultivating the plant and processing it in cake form suitable for export added to the wealth of southern planters and was especially important at a time when the price of rice, the cash crop, was falling. Indigo production was very labor intensive and contributed to the perpetuation of slavery in the South.

For information on Eliza Lucas Pinckney during and after the Revolution see In the Words of Women, pages 144 and 150-51. Her Letterbook can be found HERE.

posted April 14th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Daily life,Farming,Slaves/slavery

“Farewell unhappy land”

Janet Schaw, a Scotswoman, sailed to North Carolina in 1774 to visit her brother who was a merchant and plantation owner in North Carolina. Previous posts deal with her voyage and an incident with an alligator. Although her sympathies lay with the Loyalists, she was extremely critical of North Carolina society and of the poor state of agriculture in the area, which she believed was due to the indolence of the general population.

. . . [N]ature holds out to them every thing that can contribute to conveniency, or tempt to luxury, yet the inhabitants resist both, and if they can raise as much corn and pork, as to subsist them in the most slovenly manner, they ask no more; and as a very small proportion of their time serves for that purpose, the rest is spent in sauntering thro’ the woods with a gun or sitting under a rustick shade, drinking New England rum made into grog, the most shocking liquor you can imagine. By this manner of living, their blood is spoil’d and rendered thin beyond all proportion, so that it is constantly on the fret like bad small beer, and hence the constant slow fevers that wear down their constitutions, relax their nerves and infeeble the whole frame. Their appearance is in every respect the reverse of that which gives the idea of strength and vigor, and for which the British peasantry are so remarkable. They are tall and lean, with short waists and long limbs, sallow complexions and languid eyes, when not inflamed by spirits. Their feet are flat, their joints loose and their walk uneven. These I speak of are only the peasantry of this country, as hitherto I have seen nothing else, but I make no doubt when I come to see the better sort, they will be far from this description. For tho’ there is a most disgusting equality, yet I hope to find an American Gentleman a very different creature from an American clown. Heaven forefend else.

Schaw was also critical of the actions of the British, the tactics of the patriot Committee of Safety in the area, as well as of the populace who let themselves be easily convinced that they suffered from British rule.

. . . . The inclination of this country is . . . far from being generally for this work [of revolution]. Indolent and inactive, they have no desire to move, even where their own immediate interest calls them. All they are promised is too distant to interest them; they suffer none of those abuses they are told of and feel their liberty invaded only by the oppressive power of the Congress and their Agents, who at this Season are pressing them from their harvest, for they know not what purpose. . . . Three months ago, a very small number had not any thing to apprehend; a few troops landing and a general amnesty published would have secured them all at home. . . . At present the martial law stands thus: An officer or committeeman enters a plantation with his posse. The alternative is proposed. Agree to join us [Whigs] and your persons and properties are safe . . . if you refuse, we are directly to cut up your corn, shoot your pigs, burn your houses, seize your Negroes and perhaps tar and feather yourself. Not to choose the first requires more courage than they are possessed of, and I believe this method has seldom failed with the lower sort.

Upon leaving, she expressed her sadness at the ruination that she was sure would come to both sides.

Farewell unhappy land, for which my heart bleeds in pity. Little does it signify to you who are the conquered or who the victorious; you are devoted to ruin, whoever succeeds. Many years will not make up [for] these few past months of depredation and yet no enemy has landed on their coast. Themselves have ruined themselves; but let me not indulge this melancholy. . . .

Janet Schaw, Journal of a Lady of Quality, being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal in the Years 1774 to 1776, Evangeline Walker Andrews and Charles McLean Andrews, compilers and editors (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1921), Electronic Edition, pages 153, 197-199, 211-212.

posted March 31st, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Farming,Loyalists,Patriots

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