Archive for the ‘Schaw, Janet’ 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

“our wooden kingdom”

I return regularly to peruse Janet Schaw’s book Journal of a Lady of Quality in which she describes her voyage from Scotland to the American colonies via the West Indies in late October of 1774. (Other posts by Schaw can be found here, here, and here.) With her on the Jamaica Packet, a small vessel, were her brother Alexander and three young relatives, whom she was escorting to their father John Rutherfurd in North Carolina. In attendance were Schaw’s maid, Mrs. Mary Miller, and her brother’s East Indian servant, Robert. Schaw’s vivid descriptions of life on board ship are a necessary reminder of how perilous journeys across the Atlantic were at that time. In this excerpt she describes the party’s living quarters.

Our Bed chamber, which is dignified with the title of State Room, is about five foot wide and six long; on one side is a bed fitted up for Miss Rutherfurd [Fanny, in her late teens] and on the opposite side one for me. Poor Fanny’s is so very narrow, that she is forced to be tied in, or as the Sea term is lashed in, to prevent her falling over. On the floor below us lies . . . Mrs Miller. As she has the breadth of both our Beds and excellent Bedding, I think she has got a most envyable berth, but this is far from her opinion, and she has done nothing but grumble about her accommodation. . . .

My brother, who was sadly fatigued, had got into his Cott, which swings from the roof of the Cabin; our two little men [the Rutherfurd boys, eleven and nine] were fast asleep in a bed just below him, when we were informed from the Deck that they were going to weigh anchor. Every body that was able, got up to see this first grand operation. My Brother descended from his Cot, the boys sprung out of bed, all hands were on Deck, hurry, bustle, noise, and confusion raged thro’ our wooden kingdom, yet it was surprizing how soon every thing was reduced to order. In little more than a quarter of an hour, all was over, the watch was set, and nothing to be heard, but the sound of the man’s feet moving regularly backwards and forwards at the helm, and the crowing of a Cock that the noise had waked in the Hen Coop. My Brother . . . informed us in passing our state room, that we were now underway . . . He then gave poor Fanny some Saline drops to settle her stomach, which had felt the very first motion of the ship. . . . As yet I am very well, and hope I will not be much hurt, tho’ I must expect a little touch as well as others. My Brother now mounted into his Cot, the boys got to bed, we shut up our half door, and in a few moments, we were all again in the arms of Sleep.

I like being reminded that chickens (among other creatures) were on board to provide food for passengers and crew. Can you imagine anyone being given saline drops to settle one’s stomach! I nearly gag at the thought. Most of all I love Schaw’s phrase for the ship: “our wooden kingdom.”

The above passage can be found on page 247 of In the Words of Women. Janet Schaw’s Journal can be read online HERE.

posted May 26th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Ocean Voyages,Schaw, Janet,Travel

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