“Some Observations on Plantation Life in Coastal Georgia Before and After the Civil War”

Sugar’s cousin Jean provided these nine pages written by her grandfather Olin Tally McIntosh, who married a Lawton.  The McIntosh family was a prominent family in these parts. You can left-click on each image to enlarge and enjoy. 

Page one of nine.

Here’s page two.

And page three.

 

 

Don’t forget page four.

After four comes page five.

 

You see how this is going to play out. Page six.

It’s page seven!

Page eight is great.

The end.

Some Observations on Plantation Life in Coastal Georgia
Before and After the Civil War.

(Dictated over the phone by Olin Talley McIntosh from his home,
on the Isle of Hope, to his Secretary at the Southern States
Naval Stores Company, circa 1963 – 1965.)

Entering life in the early days of 1881, about 16 years after
the end of the Civil War (my father and his two brothers having served
during the entire period of hostilities in the Confederate Army), I
had an excellent opportunity to observe conditions that existed during
my early years, and also, because of certain contributory circumstances,
to make what I consider a fairly accurate picture of life in the coastal
regions of the south as related to slavery, customs, etc. The background
that I think warrants my claim is the fact that my grandfather, John
Nash McIntosh, a U. S. Army officer, was born in 1783, married in 1820
and my father, his youngest son, was attending a military institution
when the war broke out. He went from there directly into the Confederate
Army in the Sixth Georgia Cavalry, and distinguished himself by serving
as a private for the duration and until the surrender, when he was
mustered out at Goldsboro, North Carolina. His two brothers, both much
older than he, served as officers throughout the war.

My grandmother survived until 189 when I was 11 years old, her
husband having died in 184, when my father, his youngest child, was
an infant. My uncles, John McQueen McIntosh and James Baillie McIntosh,
and their five sisters all lived until fairly ripe old age, the first
dying when I was about six years old, and the last when I was in my
middle twenties. Therefore, I was in direct contact with all these
people whose life span covered a period from 1800 to 1925, a period of
125 years.

My grandfather, his two brothers and their father, Colonel John
McIntosh (my great-grandfather), were all army officers. Colonel John
McIntosh served both during the Revolution and in the War of 1812. His
father, William McIntosh and his uncle, Lachlan McIntosh, also
served during the Revolution, and William and his father, John Mohr McIntosh,
both participated in the Colonial and Indian Wars, notable against the
Spaniards.

Incidentally, in the early Colonial attempt to reduce Fort San
Marco at St. Augustine, John Mohr was captured by the Spaniards and
imprisoned in Spain until he was an old and broken man, while his grand
son, Colonel John McIntosh, who after the Revolution established himself
at St. George at the mouth of the St. John’s River while it was still
in Spanish possession, was also taken by the Spaniards and imprisoned
at Morro Castle in Havana. Colonel John was supposed to have been, in
some degree, an emissary of the U. S. Government, with the purpose of
creating conditions in Florida that would facilitate eliminating the
Spanish influence in that part of the country. A few months after his
capture by the Spaniards his first cousin, John Houston McIntosh,
established himself at St. George in the former residence of Colonel
John. His activities resulted in the driving out of the Spaniards from
North and East Florida and the setting up of the Republic of East
Florida, with John Houston McIntosh as its head. Shortly thereafter,
the United Stated consummated a purchase agreement with Spain, which
was the end of that chapter.

Our family had accumulated extensive land holdings in Georgia
during Colonial days, and among other activities engaged extensively
in agricultural pursuits.

In the early days of the Colony there were no slaves in Georgia.
The Colony was divided into eight parishes when it was proposed that
slavery be introduced into Georgia. A meeting was held in Savannah
and five delegates selected from each parish to decide the question.
All parishes voted for slavery except the Parish of St. Andrew’s. Of
the five delegates from St. Andrew’s Parish, three were McIntoshes.
They voted against slavery, holding that no one should hold his fellow
being in bondage. The verdict was against them, however, and slavery
was introduced. The economic result was that the large scale planters
either became slave owners or were eliminated. Consequently our family
became extensive slave owners, and large scale producers of sea island
cotton and rice.

My grandfather, after his marriage in 1820, resigned from the
Army in order to devote his attention to the management of his
properties, and after his death (1842) the family activities were continued
by his two older sons until the outbreak of the Civil War. Then these
activities ceased, and as control of the coastal waters was exercised
by the Unionist, it became impossible for the non combatants to
maintain residence on that part of the coast. As a matter of fact, some
Union gun boats fired shells, apparently using the McIntosh residence
as a target. One of these shells was imbedded in a great oak tree that
stood in front of the house, it still being there when I was a boy.

The women of the family and their servants were removed to
Thomasville, Georgia, and described themselves as “refugees”, remaining
there until after the war, then coming to Savannah and staying there
until some of the problems of the Reconstruction period were adjusted.
They then returned to McIntosh County, to be confronted with conditions
with which they had had no experience and the necessity of adjusting
themselves to a new mode and manner of life.

After the surrender of the South there was an influx of opportunists
from the North who believed there was great wealth in the South,
especially the rice and cotton plantations, and they gathered together
even as vultures to pick the bones of the Confederacy clean. The nations
government, if not actual participants, eventually adopted an
acquiescent attitude in anything to inflict hardship and punishment on
the people of the South. They dominated the political situation, placed
corrupt officials in State and County offices and the legislature as well

Trained bands of armed negroes were formed among the freed slaves,
and a terroristic era was inaugurated to prevent the repossession of
their properties by the original owners. The result of this was that
in desperation the returning Confederates organized secret societies,
notably the Klu Klux Klan, with the determination to assert their rights,
or die in the attempt. This spelt the finale of the carpetbagger era.
Assuredly, a great majority of the decent citizens of the North knew
little about the exploitation of the South, and would have been shocked
by the conditions that existed, and would not have supported any such
program.

There is little exact record of just what happened when the final
showdown occurred, especially as (concerted) action was not possible
because of the difficulty of ready communications; action was taken
at different places at various times when the breaking point had been
reached, and an opportune moment arrived. For instance, from the best
information available, my home county was terrorized by one of these
trained bands under the dominance of the so-called carpetbaggers who were
active in that section, and controlled all public offices. According
to such information as is available, twelve determined white men,
accompanied by one colored man, a faithful retainer and an ex-slave,
attacked a trained band of 100 or more, killed 15 or 20 of them and
dispersed the remainder, and then posted notices giving all carpetbaggers
and officials under their control until sunset of the day of the
dispersal of the trained band, to remove themselves from the County
under penalty of death. They left, and that brought down the curtain
on that particular episode; and so far as I have been able to learn,
there was no attempt whatever to bring the participants to any accounting
for their actions. The negro who sided with the whites was later made a
deputy sheriff or marshal. I remember him very well, and peculiar to
say, he had not only the esteem of the whites but the respect of the
negroes as well. As a matter of fact, there was no animosity against
the negroes, even those who were members of the trained band. The feeling
was that they were poor, misguided creatures worked up by a pernicious
influence to achieve the purpose desired by an aggregation of scallawags
who, upon being exposed, could not look for support to their own people
or government.

When I was born all negroes over 16 years old had been born into
slavery. I knew practically all our ex-slaves, and, of course, many
others. The remarkable thing was, as I now realize it in retrospect, the
relations that existed between the races. As I recollect, in our county
the proportion of negroes was about 10 to 1. The almost appalling
poverty of both races was almost unbelievable. There was no industry of
any character except a few lumber mills which afforded employment to a
very limited number at wages of about 50 cents a day for able bodied men,
work from sun to sun, but there was work for very few even at that
rate. The rice and cotton plantations had gone back to the wild. There
was no money available to put them in operation. The question is – if
capital had been available, could they have paid expenses. Food was the
chief problem. People planted their patches of corn and vegetables;
few were able to hire any help. There were a few hogs and cattle on the
wild range which shifted for themselves. These were the chief meat
supply, but on the coast, fortunately, fish, shrimp, crabs and oysters
were abundant and served largely to help eke out an existence.

Communication with the outside world was difficult. Roads had
fallen into disrepair and were largely sandbeds, mud puddles and bogs.
The nearest railroad point to my home was 40 miles away. There was
no transportation except the old horse and wagon, and buggy, if you were
fortunate enough to own one. Sometime during my early years a weekly
steamboat plied between Savannah and Darien (Count seat of McIntosh
County), making one trip a week, and still late a small boat service
was established between Darien and Brunswick.

The negroes and whites were all caught in the same dilemma – no
money, no jobs, no market for their products. Those who had been land
owners and were able to repossess their properties were somewhat more
favorably situated that the rest of the population, for while land
values had depreciated almost to the vanishing point, they never became
absolutely worthless.

By way of further comment on the days of the carpetbaggers, this
predatory crew apparently looked upon the great southern plantations
as if they were gold mines. They did afford to many during the ante-
bellum days a degree of luxury and a superior mode of living, especially
where well managed, and with an adequate and dependable labor force.
Many properties were expropriated under one dubious pretext or another,
and some of these properties were advertised in northern papers for
sale at what, even today, would seem to be fabulous prices. Apparently,
they had overlooked the fact that without dependable labor these properties
were, or would soon become, almost worthless. If the carpetbaggers had
not been driven out, they would have finally realized that they had been
chasing an ignus fatuus, and that there was no gold at the end of the
rainbow, only dust and ashes. This was a sad patrimony on which to
reincarnate some of the spirit of the South, with its traditions and
culture, and to fit it into the pattern of a harmonious, unified country
where compassion would exorcise the hate and bitterness engendered during
the days of the conflict.

As the South began to lift its head, housing was a pressing need as
many pre-war buildings of all character had been destroyed and what
remained had, naturally, deteriorated at an accelerated rate. The forests
had to furnish the lumber, and gradually demand developed that afforded
limited income to the proprietors of timber lands. Prices were
unbelieveably low judged by any standards that we can conceive of today.
Up from the depths might well describe the struggle, during my early
life, of the coastal people to achieve even a semblance of what they
considered a respectable and decent mode of life. Despite the fact that
by present standards our family was just above the line of what might
have been considered absolute poverty, we were considered, by comparison
with the general plight of others, to be well off.

Those who returned to their lands attempted to re-establish their
plantations. However, preparing lands for cultivation after many
years of disuse (especially rice lands where embankments, etc had
suffered the ravages of time), entailed great expense, prices for crops
were extremely low, and these efforts had to be abandoned. Another
primary cause was that though practically all the negroes needed work,
in general they were undependable, especially as they were undisciplined
and I think it would be fair to say that they construed their new
found freedom more or less as a state of irresponsibility. This
combination of conditions inevitable brought about stagnation, and a
situation where mere existence was the primary consideration until
there appeared some rift in the clouds. During this period, fortunately
the general attitude of all classes was helpful. Those who had a little
shared with those who had less – black or white. Very few had more,
but they shared too. People were hungry, but few of them starved; many
would have, except for the consideration shown for each other. As I
stated before, we were somewhat fortunate. Whatever the justice of the
matter, generally speaking, what public posts or offices there were
fell into the hands of the men who had served the Confederacy. My father
for many years, and until his death, was a county officer, serving in
various capacities, while one of my uncles was County Engineer. Small
as the stipends were, they were important in those days and times. When
emergencies arose, they would sell some land or timber. To illustrate,
when I was a small boy we sold considerable tracts of virgin timber for
$1.00 an acre, but the dollar meant a lot in those days.

As a sidelight, on the slave situation, as I stated before, I
knew many of the old slaves. Our family, instead of having slave
quarters, had adopted a policy of settling the various slave families
in locations, generally speaking, a mile or two from our home place.
Houses were built for them – usually about 3 or 4-room frame houses
with an acre or two of land in connection therewith. During slavery days
the able-bodied slaves were tasked. Generally these tasks were allocated
so that they could be accomplished in five days, and if they did so, the
slaves had one day besides Sunday to follow their own devices. They could
till the small plots allotted to them for their own use, and sell the
produce from same if they desired to do so. An interesting thing in this
connection is that, of course, these quarters for the slaves were
established on our land. After the war we never dispossessed any of
them as they would have been without shelter. As the years went by these
negroes and their children continued to occupy the same property, though
they had no title to it, but somewhere along the line, about the time
I was a youth, we deeded, free gratis, some of these properties to the
negroes. Even in fairly recent years it was found that some of these
had been overlooked, and we gave deeds to those families that had
continued to occupy the land.

A number of ex-slaves who occupied these properties were old
people when I was a boy, many of them with the most meager possessions,
and living in the same cabins they had occupied as slaves. I do not
know just when the practice commenced, but when I was a small boy a
number of old, ex-slaves, men and women, came to our home every Saturday
to be rationed. While two decades or more had gone by, they still
looked to us to be responsible for them. There was a large oak grove
around the house, and they would begin coming in in the morning, and
would spend the whole day, with a great to-do under the trees. They were
extremely interested in our family, and it was a big day for them.
They expected us to feed them all dinner, and I can well remember the
pans passed out. It had to be a large pan, and it had to be full of
what we called a rice field hand’s meal. In addition, for each family
there was a small package with a piece of bacon, sugar, grits or meal,
rice, coffee or tea – the simple necessities, and this continued for
many years until the old ones died off and the young ones had been
absorbed into the new economy.

It would be difficult of one to believe how happy these negroes
were. Despite the fact of their poverty they did not seem to have a
care in the world. They had shelter and firewood, which was plentiful
everywhere, enough food to keep soul and body together, and unlimited
leisure. Still this is only part of the picture.

Remarkable to say, among the negroes themselves during slavery
days, there was just about as much snobbery as exists in certain
social circles today. The head man of the house servants, the major
domo, or whatever you please to call him, was the top brass. After him
came the sewing women, next the maids and house servants, cooks, etc.
The field hands were at the bottom of the heap. I well remember our
top man, who, during my boyhood, only served us on special occasions,
and he was a most elegant old colored gentleman. I don’t know whether
he was part Arab or what, but he was far different from the majority
of the negroes. He was 6 ft., or more, tall, copper colored, with
curly, white hair, and a majestic beard that came almost down to his
waist. He indulged in the rather euphonious name of Romeo Bayard. He
had the most perfect pose for all occasions, and, without hesitation,
would have known how to have received a crowned head or a black begger
with the same graciousness.

Today there exists in the minds of most people, of both North
and South, an entirely erroneous impression regarding life in the South
during antebellum days, conditions, habits, etc. There has been much
written on this subject, fiction and fancy, as well as much that is
generally supposed to be authentic, but in general there was bias on
one side or the other. A great deal that has been written would convey
the impression that the Southerners, especially the planters, were
almost what might be termed mental cases, men and women alike devoting
their time largely to amusement, drinking, dancing – a roistering crew
peculiar in speech and manner. Nothing could be further from the truth,
but as in the novel or newspaper of today, the unusual and exceptional
was highlighted. Naturally, such writings as Uncle Tom’s Cabin and
Gone with the Wind impress the imagination more than any history that
might record the actual facts as to the conduct of the great majority
of the normal and conservative people of that day and time.

Consider for a minute Uncle Tom’s Cabin – the brutal overseer,
the general picture of the treatment of the slaves. Consider for a
moment that the slave was a valuable property; generally the price
for children to adults varied from $100.00 to $1,000.00, and in
special instances, sometimes more. Considering what a dollar would
buy then and now, you will have to multiply the figures named several
times to get an idea of their worth; in other words, each slave would
be worth from several hundred to several thousand dollars. One of the
primary considerations of the slave holders was the health and well
being of their slaves, and I believe that the average planter was more
particular about the health and care of his slaves than of his own. Each
child born to the slaves was a valuable acquisition. Of course, there
were doubtless cruel and brutal people among the slave owners, just
as there are today in any segment of society. However, it is illogical
to suppose that they indulged in much brutality toward their slaves. If
a rancher today had a herd of fine cattle each of which represented
hundreds or thousands of dollars, regardless of how brutal he might
be, he certainly would not indulge his brutality in such a manner as
to impair the value of his herd. So we can dismiss Uncle Tom’s Cabin
and other propaganda writings of that character which, to be charitable,
we can only hope were perpetrated in ignorance, as otherwise the only
conclusion would be that they were written to stir up strife and hatred,
and, if so, some of the authors who are today revered in some circles,
really should be condemned by all fair-minded and reasonable people.

I cannot presume to speak for the whole Southland. My mother
was a South Carolinian, my father was a Georgian, and the majority
of the people I knew were natives of one state or the other. They did
not have the peculiarities of speech or manner attributed by many
writers to ante bellum Southerners, nor the abnormalities of mind and
matter that have been pictured in some of the best sellers as
representative of the accustomed attitude of these people. Nothing
could be further from the truth.

It is true that a certain amount of entertaining was a part of
plantation life. Visiting, occasional levees, dancing, music, hunting
and fishing parties were indulged in by those who could afford such
breaks in what would have been otherwise a pretty monotonous life. In
speech and manner we can forget the bizarre. Those I knew were at least
as particular and matter of fact as any of us today. They were notably
more impeccable in their speech and manner and were more courteous
to a degree that we seldom see paralleled today. In many ways they
appeared to have been better educated than the present generation.
Institutions of learning were few and far between. Generally, the primary
education was in the hands of governesses or tutors.

My mother had a French governess from the time she was 5 years
old until the outbreak of the war when she was about 11. Primary
education of the McIntosh children was in the hands of a young
Canadian lady who resided with the family, and who later married into
a prominent Georgia family. Two of my uncles were educated as engineers
though one remained in charge of the plantations until the Civil War
and did not regularly exercise his profession until after the close
of the war. My father, as stated before, was at a military college
when the war broke out. All were well founded in Latin, Greek,
mathematics and history. These subject, apparently, at that time having
been considered of the greatest import.

One of the things that is generally overlooked in considering
the conditions that existed under slavery is that all proprietors
of plantations, where any great number of slaves were involved, had
the same problem of management that is common to business generally.
While usually slaves received no regular wages, there were exceptions
in many instances where slaves received cash which they could expend
as they pleased. However, the real wage of the slave was food, clothing,
and shelter, and absolute security within certain limitations. The
plantation owner was confronted primarily with the necessity of
furnishing all those things which were required to keep the labor fed,
clothed, sheltered and in good health. How successful the operation was
and whether or not the plantation owner had any profit left, depended
upon his skill and good judgment, and also to some extent on the
vicissitudes of the weather and the prices he could secure for his
product. Also, as there were no machines in that day and all the
cultivating was done with animals, to produce the crop to feed the
livestock, took a very large part of the production. Another very
large proportion went to feed the slaves, and in addition to what could
be raised fo this purpose, various other commodities had to be purchased
as well as clothing and all the other things required which could not
be produced at home. Everything had to be planned in advance because
most of the supplies had to be secured from distant sources, and from
what I can judge from first-hand reports from people who actually
underwent the experience, the conduct of these plantations required
the most exacting application at all times. The idea that someone with
a number of slaves could sit down idly and luxuriate while the slaves
produced wealth for him is simply farcical.

Knowing these people well, the slave owner and the slave, it seems
to me the slave owner was much the harder worked of the two. It was
practically a 365-day a year job to keep things moving without disaster,
and to assure supplies at the proper time, to be sure there would be
sufficient food for slaves and animals, required a well-thought out
and definitely adhered to program. Also, the owner was always concerned
about the health and welfare of his slaves, the great number of animals
required for the operation of the plantation, the weather, droughts,
storms, etc., and, in the last analysis, the prices for what he raised
that could in any particular season mean the difference between affluence
and disaster. On the other hand, the slave, when his task was completed
did not have a care in the world, and most of the ex-slaves that I knew,
particularly the older ones, considered the period before the war “the
good old days.”
*****
Most of this article has been reproduced exactly as my father
dictated it. However, for the sake of clarity, I have re-arranged
a few of his words, chiefly by breaking up a few over-long sentences.

Annie McIntosh Britt
1 September 1987

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3 Responses to ““Some Observations on Plantation Life in Coastal Georgia Before and After the Civil War””

  1. Becky Says:

    I read it all, which was certainly less effort than it took the man to dictate all this. This stereotype-blasting information was fascinating. You can learn a lot when someone has taken the time to discuss 125 years of life!

    Like

    • ruthrawls Says:

      I read it all, too, even though it was a bit annoying to have to click on each image to enlarge and enjoy. That’s the way it is with me these days. More than two clicks? Not doing it.

      Like

  2. ruthrawls Says:

    I am sorry to report that cousin Jean passed away yesterday morning. Thank you, Jean, for sharing this remembrance with us. We love you and will miss you greatly.

    Like

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