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A Tobacco Plantation by Philip A. Bruce

1873

In the following article I propose to give some account of a typical tobacco-plantation in Virginia and the life of its negro laborers as I have observed it from day to day and season to season. Although it is restricted to narrow local bounds and runs in the line of exacting routine, that life is yet varied and eventful in its way. The negro stands so much apart to himself, in spite of all transforming influences, that everything relating to him seems unique and almost foreign. Even now, when emancipation has done so much to improve his condition, his social and economic status still presents peculiar and anomalous aspects; and in no part of the South is this more notably the case than in the southern counties of Virginia, which, before the late war, were the principal seat of slavery in the State, and where to-day the blacks far outnumber the whites. This section has always been an important tobacco-region; and this is the explanation of its teeming negro population, for tobacco requires as much and as continuous work as cotton. There were many hundreds of slaves on the large plantations, and their descendants have bred with great rapidity and show little inclination to emigrate from the neighborhoods where they were born. Some few, by hoarding their wages, have been able to buy land; but for the most part the soil is still held by its former owners, who superintend the cultivation of it themselves or rent it out at low rates to tenants. The negroes are still the chief laborers in the fields and artisans in the workshops; and, excepting that they are no longer chattels that can be sold at will, their lives move in the same grooves as under the old order of things. Their occupations and amusements are the same. As yet there has been no increase in the physical comforts of their situation, and but little change in their general character; but this is the first period of transformation, when it is difficult to detect and to follow the modifications that are really taking place.

Every large tobacco-plantation is an important community in itself, and the social and economic condition of the negro can be observed there as freely and studied with as much thoroughness as if a wide area of country were considered for a similar purpose. In the diversity of its soils and crops and in the variety of its population and modes of life it bears almost the same relation to the county in which it lies that the county bears to its section. Indeed, no community could be more complete in itself, or less dependent upon the outside world. In an emergency, the inhabitants of one of these large plantations could supply themselves by their own skill and ingenuity with everything that they now obtain from abroad; and if cut off from all other associations, the society which they themselves form would satisfy their desire for companionship; for not only would its members be numerous and representative of every shade of character and disposition, but they would also be bound together by ties of blood and marriage as well as of interest and mutual affection. Similar tasks and relaxations create in them a similarity of tastes. The social position of all is identical, for there are no classes among them, the only line of social division being drawn upon differences of age; and they are paid the same wages and possess the same small amount of property. They are attached to the soil by like local associations, which vary as much as the plantation varies in surface here and there. Each plantation of any great extent is like that part of the country, both in its general aspect and its leading features, just as the employments and amusements of its population, if numerous, are found reflected in the social life of the whole of the same section.

The particular plantation to which I shall so often allude in this article as the scene of the observations here recorded, like most of the tobacco-plantations in Virginia, covers a broad expanse of land, including in one body many thousand acres, remarkable for many differences of soil and for a varied configuration. It is partly made up of steep hills that roll upon each other in close succession, partly it is high and level upland that sweeps back to the wooded horizon from the open low-grounds contiguous to the river that winds along its southern border. At least one-half of it is in forest, in which oak, cedar, poplar, and hickory grow in abundance and reach a great height and size. The soil of the lowlands is very fertile, for it is enriched every few years by an inundation that leaves behind a heavy deposit; that of the uplands, on the other hand, is comparatively poor, but it is fertilized annually with the droppings of the stables and pens. Patches of new grounds are opened every year in the woods, the timber being cleared away for the purpose of planting tobacco in the mould of the decayed leaves, while many old fields are abandoned to pine and broom-straw or turned into pastures for cattle.

The principal crops are tobacco, wheat, corn, and hay, but the first is by far the most important, both from its quantity and its value. Everything else is really subordinate to it. The soils of the uplands and lowlands are adapted to very different varieties of this staple. That which grows in the rich loam of the bottoms is known as "shipping tobacco," because it is chiefly consumed abroad, as it bears transportation in the rough state without injury to its quality. "Working tobacco" is the name which is given to the variety that flourishes on the hills; and this is used in the manufacture of brands of chewing- and smoking-tobacco to meet the domestic as well as the foreign demand. There is a third variety which grows in small quantities on the plantation,—namely, "yellow tobacco," so called from the golden color of the plant as it approaches ripeness; and this tint is not only retained, but also heightened, when it has been cured, at which time it is as light in weight as so much snuff. This variety is principally used as a wrapper for bundles of the inferior kinds, and is prepared for the market by a very tedious and expensive process; but the trouble thus entailed and the money spent have their compensation in the very high prices which it always brings in the market.

The fields where tobacco has been cultivated during the previous summer are sown in wheat in the autumn, unless they are new grounds, when the rotation of crops is tobacco for two years in succession, followed in the third year by wheat, and in the fourth by tobacco again. The soil is then laid under the same rule of tillage as land that has been worked for many seasons. As a result of this necessity for rotation, much wheat is raised on the plantation, although the threshing of it interferes very seriously with the attention which the tobacco requires at a very critical period of its growth. The greater part of the low-grounds is planted in Indian corn, the return in a good year being very large; and even when there has been a drought, the general average in quantity and quality falls short very little. The soil here is so fertile that tobacco planted in it grows too coarse in its fibre, while the cost of cultivating it is so high that the planter is reluctant to run the risk of an overflow of the river, which destroys a crop at any stage in a few hours. Although corn is very much injured by the same cause, it is not rendered wholly useless, for it can be thrown to stock even when it is unfit to be ground into meal. At a certain season the fields of this grain along the river present a beautiful aspect, the mass of deep green flecked by the white tops of the stalks resembling, at a distance, level, unruffled waters; but sometimes a freshet descends upon it and obliterates it from sight, the whole broad plain being then like a highly-discolored lake, with rafts of planks and uprooted trees floating upon its surface.

The general plantation is divided into three plantations of equal extent, each tract being made up of several thousand acres of land; each has its own overseer, and he has under him a band of laborers who are never called away to work elsewhere, and who have all their possessions around them. Each division has its stables, teams, and implements, and its expenses and profits are entered in a separate account. In short, the different divisions of the general plantation are conducted as if they belonged to several persons instead of to one alone.

It is the duty of the overseer of each division to remain with his laborers, however employed, and to overlook what they are doing. He sees that the teams are well fed, the stock in good condition and in their own bounds, the fences intact, and the implements sheltered from the weather. He must hire additional hands when they are needed, and discharge those guilty of serious delinquencies. His position is one of responsibility, but at the same time of many advantages; for he is given a comfortable house for his private use, with a garden, a smoke-house, a store-room, and a stable,—a horse being furnished him to enable him to get from one locality to another on the plantation under his charge with ease and rapidity; and he is also supplied with rations for himself and family every month. The social class to which he belongs is below the highest,—namely, that of the planter,—and above that of the whites of meanest condition. Formerly one of the three overseers on the plantation which I am now describing was a colored man who had been a slave before the war, a foreman in the field afterward, and was then promoted, in consequence of his efficiency, to the responsible position which I have named. He was a man of unusual intelligence, and gave the highest satisfaction. His mind was almost painfully directed to the performance of his duties, and the only fault that could be found with him was an occasional inclination to be too severe with his own race. Very naturally, he was looked up to by the latter as successful and prosperous, and his influence in consequence was very great. Unlike most of his fellows, he was given to hoarding what he earned, and in a few years was able to buy a plantation of his own; and there he is now engaged in cultivating his own land.

There is a population of about four hundred negroes on the three divisions of the plantation, this number including both sexes and every age and shade of color. All of the older set, with few exceptions, were the slaves of their employer, and did not leave him even in the restless and excited hour of their emancipation. Born on the place, they have spent the whole of their long lives there, and consider it to be as much their home as it is that of its owner. In fact, the negroes here are remote from those influences that lead so many others to migrate. The plantation is eighteen miles from a railroad and forty from a town, and is set down in a very sparsely settled country that has been only partially cleared of its forests. It has a teeming population of its own, which satisfies the social instincts of its inhabitants as much as if they were collected together in a small town. In consequence of all these facts, and in spite of the new state of things which the war produced, there survives in its confines something of that baronial spirit which we observe on a landed estate in England at the present day, where every man, woman, and child is accustomed to think of the landlord as the fountain-head of power and benefits. A similar spirit of loyal subordination prevails particularly among the oldest inhabitants of the plantation, who were once the absolute chattels of its owner, and who look upon that fact as creating an obligation in him to support them in their decrepitude. Being too far in the sere and yellow leaf to work, they are provided every month with enough rations to meet their wants, and in total idleness they calmly await the inevitable hour when their bones will be laid beside those of their fathers. There are few more picturesque figures than are many of these old negroes, who passed the heyday of their strength before they were freed, and who, born in slavery, survived to a new era only to find themselves in the last stages of old age. They are regarded by their race with as much veneration as if they were invested with the authority of prophets and seers. Some of them, in spite of their years, act occasionally as preachers, and are listened to with awe and trepidation as they lift up their trembling voices in exhortation or denunciation. As travellers from a distant past, it is interesting to observe them sitting with bent backs and hands resting on their sticks in the door-ways of their cabins on bright days in summer, or by the warm firesides in winter, while members of younger generations talk around them or play about their knees.

The negro laborers marry in early life, and the size of their families is often remarkable, the ratio of increase being, perhaps, greater with them than with the families of the white laborers on the same plantation, and the mortality among their children as small, for the latter have an abundance of wholesome food, are well sheltered from cold and dampness, and have good medical attendance. As soon as they are able to walk so far, they are sent to the public school, which is situated on the borders of the plantation, where they have a teacher of their own race to instruct them, and they continue to attend until they are old enough to work in the fields and stables. They are then employed there at fair wages, which, until they come of age or marry, are appropriated by their parents; and in consequence of this many of the young men seek positions on the railroads or in the towns before they reach their majority, in order that they may secure and enjoy the compensation of their own labor. In a few years, however, the greater number wander back and offer themselves as hands, are engaged, and establish homes of their own.

Tobacco being a staple that requires work of some kind throughout the whole of the year, a large force of laborers are hired for that length of time. It is not like wheat, in the cultivation and manipulation of which more energy is put forth at one season than at another, as, for instance, when it is harvested or threshed. A certain number of laborers are engaged on the plantation on the 1st of January, who contract to remain at definite wages during the following twelve months. Whoever leaves without consent violates a distinct agreement, under which he is liable in the courts, if it were worth the time and expense to subject him to the law. He is paid every month by an order on a firm of merchants who rent a store that belongs to the owner of the plantation and is situated on one of its divisions; and this order he can convert into money, merchandise, or groceries, as he chooses, or he gives it up in settlement of debts which he has previously made there in anticipation of his wages. The credit of each man is accurately gauged, and he is allowed to deal freely to a certain amount, but not beyond; and this restriction puts a very wholesome check upon the natural extravagance of his disposition.

On each division of the plantation there is a settlement where the negroes live with their families. The houses of the "quarters," as the settlement is called, are large weather-boarded cabins. In each there is a spacious room below and a cramped garret above, which is used both as a bedroom and a lumber-room, while the apartment on the first floor is chamber, kitchen, and parlor in one, and there most of the inmates, children as well as adults, sleep at night. The furniture is of a very durable but rude character, consisting of a bed, several cots, tables and cupboards, and half a dozen or more rough chairs of domestic manufacture, while a few pictures, cut from illuminated Sunday books or from illustrated papers, adorn the whitewashed walls. The brick fire-place is so wide and open that the fire not only warms the room, but lights it up so well that no candle or lamp is needed. The negroes are always kept supplied with wood, and they use it with extravagance on cold nights, when they often stretch themselves at full length on the hearth-stone and sleep as calmly in the fierce glare as in the summer shade, or nap and nod in their chairs until day, only rising from time to time to throw on another log to revive the declining flames. They like to gossip and relate tales under its comfortable influence, and it is associated in their minds with the most pleasing side of their lives. Those who can read con over the texts of their well-worn Bibles in its light, while those who have a mechanical turn, as, for instance, for weaving willow or white-oak baskets or making fish-traps or chairs, take advantage of its illumination to carry on their work.

Each householder has his garden, either in front or behind his dwelling, according to the greater fertility of the soil, and here he raises every variety of vegetable in profusion: sweet and Irish potatoes, tomatoes, beets, peas, onions, cabbages, and melons grow there in sufficient abundance to supply many tables. Of these, cabbage is most valued, for it can be stored away for consumption in winter, and is as fresh at that season as when it is first cut. Around the houses peach-trees of a very common variety have been planted, and these bear fruit even when the buds of rarer varieties elsewhere have been nipped, both because they are more hardy and because they are near enough to be protected by the cloud of smoke that is always issuing from the chimneys. Every householder is allowed to fatten two hogs of his own, the sty, for fear of thieves, being erected in such close proximity to his dwelling that the odor is most offensive with the wind in a certain quarter, and, one would think, most unwholesome; but his family do not seem to suffer either in health or in comfort. Every cabin has its hen-house, from which an abundant supply of eggs is drawn, which find a ready sale at the plantation store; and in spring the chickens are a source of considerable income to the negroes. Their fare is occasionally varied by an opossum caught in the woods, or a hare trapped in the fields; but they much prefer corn bread and bacon as regular fare to anything else. They dislike wheat bread, as too light and unsatisfying, and they always grumble when flour is measured out to them instead of meal. Coffee is a luxury used only on Sunday. The table is set off by a few china plates and cups, but there are no dishes, the meat being served in the utensil in which it is cooked. On working-days breakfast and dinner are carried to the hands in the fields by a boy who has collected at the different houses the tin buckets containing these meals.

The hands are as busy in winter as during any other part of the year. Much of their time is then taken up in manipulating the tobacco, which has been stored away in one large barn, and preparing it for market, the first step toward which is to strip the leaves from the stalk and then carefully separate those of an inferior from those of a superior quality. Although there are many grades, the negroes are able to distinguish them at a glance and assort them accordingly. They are not engaged in this work of selection continuously from day to day, but at intervals, for they can handle the tobacco only when the weather is damp enough to moisten the leaf, otherwise it is so brittle that it would crack and fall to pieces under their touch. They like this work, for the barn is kept very comfortable by large stoves, they do not have to move from their seats, and they can all sit very sociably together, talking, laughing, and singing. It contrasts very agreeably with other work which they are called upon to do at this season,—namely, the grubbing of new grounds, from which they shrink with unconcealed repugnance, for outside of a mine there is no kind of labor more arduous or exacting. The land cleared is that from which the original forest has been cut, leaving stumps thickly scattered over the surface, from which a heavy scrub-growth springs up. Active, quick, and industrious as the negroes may be in the tobacco-, corn-, or wheat fields, they show here great indolence, and move forward very slowly with their hoes, axes, and picks, piling up, as they advance, masses of roots, saplings, stumps, and brush, which, when dry, are set on fire and consumed. The soil exposed is a rich but thin loam of decayed leaves, in which tobacco grows with luxuriance.

In February or March the laborers prepare the plant-patch, the initial step in the production of a crop that remains on their hands at least twelve months before it is ready for market. They select a spot in the depths of the woods where the soil is very fertile from the accumulated mould, and they then cut away the trees and underbrush until a clean open surface, square in shape and about forty yards from angle to angle, is left, surrounded on all sides by the forest. Having piled up great masses of logs over the whole of this surface, they set them on fire at one end of the patch, and these are allowed to burn until all have been consumed, the object being to get the ash which is deposited, and which is very rich in certain constituents of the tobacco-plant and is especially conducive to its growth. The ploughmen then come and break up the ground, hoers carefully pulverize every clod, and the seed is sown, a mere handful being sufficient for a great extent of soil. The laborers afterward cover the surface of the patch with bushes, and it is left without further protection. In a short time the tobacco-plant springs up in indescribable profusion, and in a few weeks it is in a condition to be transferred to the fields.

Before this is done, however, the seed-corn has begun to sprout in the ground. The first cry of the whippoorwill is the signal for planting this cereal. The grains are dropped from the hand at regular intervals, both men and women joining in this work; and they all move slowly along together, the men bearing the corn in small bags, the women holding it in their aprons. The wide low-grounds at this season expand to the horizon without anything to obstruct the vision, a clear, unbroken sweep of purple ploughed land. The laborers are visible far off, those who drop the grains walking in a line ahead, the hoers following close behind to cover up the seed. Still farther in the rear come the harrows, that level all inequalities in the surface and crush the clods. Flocks of crows wheel in the air above the scene, or stalk at a safe distance on the ploughed ground. Blackbirds, which have now returned from the South, sing in chorus on the adjacent ditch-banks, mingling their harsh notes with the lively songs of myriads of bobolinks, while high overhead whistles the plover. The newly-sprung grass paints the road-side a lush green, the leaves are budding on weed and spray, and over all there hang the exhilarating influences of spring.

As soon as the hands have planted the corn, they begin transplanting the tobacco, which they find a more tedious task, for they can only transfer the slips to the fields when the air is surcharged with moisture and the ground is wet; otherwise the slips will wither on the way or perish in the hill without taking root. But if the weather is favorable they flourish from the hour they are thrust into the ground. It takes the laborers but a short time to plant many acres; and when their work is done the fields look as bare as before. The original leaves soon die, but from the healthy stalk new ones shoot out and expand very rapidly. The soil has been very highly fertilized with guano and very carefully ploughed, so that every condition is favorable to the growth of the plant if there is an abundance of rain. At a later period it passes through a drought very well, being a hardy plant that recovers even after it has wilted; but very frequently in its early stages the laborers are compelled to haul water in casks from the streams to save it from destruction.

The most jovial operation of the year to the hands is the wheat-harvest in June; but the introduction of the mechanical reaper has taken away something of its peculiar character. Much of the grain, however, is still cut down with the cradle. The strongest negro always leads the dozen or more mowers, and thus incites his fellows to keep closely in his wake. As they move along, they sing, and the sound, sonorous and not unmelodious, is echoed far and wide among the hills. Behind them follows a band of men and women, who gather the grain into shocks or tie it in bundles.

After the harvest is over, the time of the laborers is given up entirely to the tobacco, which has now grown to a fair size. Their first task is to "sucker" it,—that is, cut away the shoots that spring up at the intersection of each leaf and the stalk, and which if left to grow would absorb half the strength of the plant. They also examine the leaves very carefully, to destroy the eggs and young of the tobacco-fly. Day after day they go over the same fields, finding newly-laid eggs and newly-hatched young where only twelve hours before they brushed their counterparts off to be trampled under foot. As the tobacco ripens, it becomes brittle to the touch and is covered with dark yellow spots, and when this appearance is still further developed the time for cutting has arrived, which generally is in the first month of autumn, and always before frost, which is as fatal to this as to every other weed. The plant is now about three feet in height, with eight or nine large leaves, the stalk having been broken off at the top in the second stage of its growth. On the appointed day a dozen or more men with coarse knives split the stalk of each plant straight down its middle to within half a foot of the ground. They then strike the plant from the hill and lay it on one side. The leaves soon shrink under the rays of the sun and fall. One of the laborers who follow the cutters then takes it up and places it with nine or ten other plants on a stick, which is thrust through the angle formed by the two halves of the plant separated from each other except at one end. It is deposited with the rest in an open ox-cart and transported to the barn. In the barn poles have been arranged in tiers from bottom to top to support the sticks; and when the building is full of tobacco the laborer in charge ignites the logs that fill parallel trenches in the dirt floor, and a high rate of temperature is soon produced, and is maintained for several days, during which a watch is kept to replenish the flames and prevent a conflagration. As soon as the tobacco has changed from a deep green to a light brown, it is removed on a wet day to the general barn. The same process of curing is going on in many barns on the same plantation, and occasionally one is burned down; for the tobacco is very inflammable, a stray spark from below being sufficient to set the whole on fire.

The principal work of the autumn is the gathering of the ripe corn. A band of men go ahead and pull the ears from the stalks and throw them at intervals of thirty yards into loose piles and another band following behind them at a distance pick the ears up and pitch them into the ox-carts, which, when fully loaded, return to the granary, around which the corn is soon massed in long and high rows. When the whole crop has been got in, a moonlight night is selected for stripping off the shucks; and this is a gay occasion with the negroes, for they are allowed as much whiskey as they can carry under their belts. The leading clown among them is deputed to mount the pile and sing, while the rest sit below and work. As he ends each verse, they reply in a chorus that can be heard miles away through the clear, still, frosty air. Their songs are the ancient ditties of the plantation, and are humorous or pathetic in sound rather than in sense. And yet even to an educated ear they have a certain interest, like everything, however trivial, connected with this strange race.

Such, in general outline, are the tasks of the laborers on the plantation during the four seasons of the year. It is beyond question that they do their work thoroughly. It makes no difference how deep the low-ground mud is, or how rough the surface, or how lowering the weather, they go forward with cheerfulness and alacrity. Nothing can repress or dampen their spirits. How often I have heard them as they returned through the dusk, after hoeing or ploughing the whole day, singing in a strain as gay and spontaneous as if they were just going forth in the freshness of a vernal morning! Their sociable disposition is displayed even in the fields, for they like to work in bands, in order that they may converse and joke together. This companionableness is one of the most conspicuous traits of their character. Even the strict patrolling of slavery-times could not prevent them from running together at night; and now that they are free to go where they choose, they will put themselves to much trouble to gratify their love of association with their fellows. One reason why a large plantation is so popular with them is that the number of its inhabitants offers the most varied opportunities of social enjoyment.

Sunday is the principal day on which the negroes exchange visits. There is a settlement, as I have mentioned, on each division of the plantation which I am now describing, and, although these settlements are situated at some distance apart, this is not considered to be a serious inconvenience. At every hour on Sunday, if the day is fair, men and women, in couples or small parties, neatly and becomingly dressed, are seen moving along the chief thoroughfare on their way to call on their friends. The women are decked in gay calicoes, often further adorned with bunches of wild flowers plucked by the road-side; while the men are clothed in suits which they have bought at the "store," and they frequently wear cheap jewelry which they have purchased at the same establishment. The dandies in the younger set flourish canes and assume all the languishing airs that distinguish the callow fops of the white race. Many visitors are received at the most popular houses, and they are observed sitting with the families of their hosts and hostesses under the shade of the trees until a late hour of the afternoon. Some pass from cabin to cabin, not stopping long at any one, but finding a cordial welcome everywhere. Some linger very late, and make their way back by the light of the moon. As they move along the low-ground road their voices can be heard very distinctly from the hills above as they talk and laugh together; and sometimes they vary the monotony of their walk by singing a hymn, the sound of which is borne very far on the bosom of the silence, and is sweet and soft in its cadence, mellowed as it is by the distance and idealized by the nocturnal hour.

There are two church-edifices on the plantation, one of which is used during the week as a public school, but the other was built expressly for religious worship. Both are plain but comfortable structures, the outer and inner walls of which have been whitewashed and the blinds painted a dark green. Around them are wide yards, carefully swept; otherwise their neighborhoods are rather forbidding, on account of the silence and darkness of the forests in which they are situated, the only proof of their connection with the world at large being the roads which run by their doors. The pulpit of one is filled by a white preacher of Northern birth and education, who removed to this section after the war; and the only objection that can be urged against him is that he often holds religious revivals at the time when the tobacco-worm is most active in ravaging the ripening plant. The negroes who have to walk several miles after their work is over to get to his church are kept up till a late hour of night and in a state of high excitement, and are so overcome with fatigue the following day that they dawdle over their tasks. These revivals are also celebrated at the other church, but always in proper season; for the minister there is not only sound and orthodox in his doctrines, but he is also a planter on his own account, and, therefore, able to understand that the interests of religion and tobacco ought not to be brought into conflict.

Many parties are given every year, and they are attended by several hundred negroes of both sexes, who have come from the different "quarters," and even from other plantations in the vicinity. The owner of the plantation always supplies an abundance of provisions—a sheep or beef, flour and meal—for the feast that celebrates the general housing of the crops, which is to the laborers what the harvest-supper is to the peasantry of England. The year, with its varied labors and large results, lies behind them, the wheat, tobacco, and corn have all been gathered in, their hard work is done, and though in a few weeks the old routine will begin again, they are now oblivious of it all. Hour after hour they continue to dance, a new array of fresh performers taking the place of those who are exhausted, and then the regular beating of their feet on the floor can be heard at a considerable distance, with a dull, monotonous sound, varied only by the hum of voices or noise of laughter or the shrill notes of the musical instruments. These are the banjo and accordion, the former being the favorite, perhaps because it is more intimately associated with the social traditions of the negroes. Their best performers play very skilfully on both, and indulge in as much ecstatic by-play as musicians of the most famous schools. They throw themselves into many strange contortions as they touch the strings or keys, swaying from side to side, or rocking their bodies backward and forward till the head almost reaches the floor, or leaning over the instrument and addressing it in caressing terms. They accompany their playing with their voices, but their répertoire is limited to a few songs, which generally consist in mere repetition of a few notes. All their airs have been handed down from remote generations. Their words deal with the ordinary incidents of the negro's life, and embody his narrow hopes and aspirations, but they are rarely connected narratives. As a rule, they are broken lines without relevancy or coherence, while the choruses are so many meaningless syllables. The negroes seem to derive no pleasure from music outside of those songs and airs which they have so often heard at their own hearthstones, and which have come down to them from their ancestors.

The Christmas holidays, extending from the 25th of December to the 2d of January, are a period of entire suspension of labor on the plantation. In anticipation of their arrival, a large quantity of fire-wood is hauled from the forests and piled up around the cabins; but the negroes spend very little of this interval of leisure in their own homes, unless a bad spell of weather has set in and continues. They are either out in the open air or at the "store." This latter serves the purpose of a club, and is a very popular resort. Even at other times of the year it is always packed at night; but during the Christmas holidays it is full to overflowing in the day-time. At this gay season the fires are kept burning very fiercely; the Sunday suits and dresses are worn every day; the tables are covered with more abundant fare of the plainer as well as rarer sort. All visitors are received with increased hospitality, and work of every kind that usually goes on in the precincts of the dwelling is, if possible, deferred until the opening of the new year. Many strange faces are now seen on the plantation, and many faces that were once familiar, but whose owners have removed elsewhere. The negro is as closely bound in affection to the scenes of his childhood as the white man, and he thinks that he has certain rights there of which absence even cannot deprive him, although he may have left for permanent settlement at a distance. When he dies elsewhere he is always anxious in his last hours that his body shall be brought back and buried in the old graveyard of the plantation where he was born and where he grew up to manhood. And when he comes back to the well-known localities for a brief stay, he feels as if he were at home again in the house of his fathers, where he has an absolute and inalienable right to be.