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Impressions of Johann D. Schoepf, 1784

“The condition of the Carolina negro slaves is in general harder and more troublous than that of their northern brethren. On the rice plantations, with wretched food, they are allotted more work and more tedious work; and the treatment which they experience at the hands of the overseers and owners is capricious and often tyrannical. In Carolina (and in no other of the North American states) their severe handling has already caused several uprisings among them. There is less concern here as to their moral betterment, education, and instruction, and South Carolina appears little inclined to initiate the praiseworthy and benevolent ordinances of its sister states in regard to the negro. It is sufficient proof of the bad situation in which these creatures find themselves here that they do not multiply in the same proportions as the white inhabitants, although the climate is more natural to them and agrees with them better. Their numbers must be continually kept up by fresh importations; to be sure, the constant taking up of new land requires more and more working hands, and the pretended necessity of bringing in additional slaves is thus warranted in part; but close investigation makes it certain that the increase of the blacks in the northern states, where they are handled more gently, is vastly more considerable. The gentlemen in the country have among their negroes as the Russian nobility among the serfs, the most necessary handicrafts-men, cobblers, tailors, carpenters, smiths, and the like, whose work they command at the smallest possible price or for nothing almost. There is hardly any trade or craft which has not been learned and is not carried on by negroes, partly free, partly slave; the latter are hired out by their owners for day’s wages. Charleston swarms with blacks, mulattoes and mestizos; their number greatly exceeds that of the whites, but they are kept under strict order and discipline, and the police has a watchful eye upon them. These may nowhere assemble more than 7 male negro slaves; their dances and other assemblies must stop at 10 o’clock in the evening; without permission of their owners none of them may sell beer or wine or brandy. There are here many free negroes and mulattoes. They get their freedom if by their own industry they earn enough to buy themselves off, or their freedom is given them at the death of their masters or in other ways. Not all of them know how to use their freedom to their own advantage; many give themselves up to idleness and dissipation which bring them finally to crafty deceptions and thievery. They are besides extraordinarily given to vanity, and love to adorn themselves as much as they can and to conduct themselves importantly.”

Source: Johann D. Schoepf, “Travels in the Confederation,” 1784, p. 220.

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