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A Good-Natured Slaveholder's View of Slavery



Pollard is best known as a sprightly, prejudiced, and unscientific writer on the Civil War from the southern point of view. He was a journalist by profession and an extreme pro-slavery advocate. This extract is from letters originally addressed to David M. Clarkson, of New York. - Bibliography as in No. 23 above.


ND here, dear C., let me meet an objection which has been eloquently urged against the proposition to import into this country slaves from Africa. It is said that our slave population has attained a wonderful stage of civilization; that they have greatly progressed in refinement and knowledge, and that it would be a great pity to introduce among them, from the wilds of Africa, a barbarous element which would have the effect of throwing back our Southern negroes into a more uncivilized and abject condition.

What is pleaded here as an objection I adopt as an argument on my side of the question - that is, in favor of the African commerce. What we want especially in the South, is that the negro shall be brought down from those false steps which he has been allowed to take in civilization, and reduced to his proper condition as a slave. I have mentioned to you, dear C., what an outrage upon the feelings of poor white men, and what a nuisance generally, the slave gentry of the South is. It is time that all these gentlemen of color should be reduced to the uniform level of the slave; and doubtless they would soon disappear in the contact and admixture of the rude African stock.

Most seriously do I say, dear C., that numbers of the negro slaves of the South display a refinement and an ease which do not suit their condition, and which contrast most repulsively with the hard necessities of many of the whites. I have often wished that the abolitionists, instead of hunting out among the swamps and in the raggedest parts of the South, some poor, exceptional victim to the brutality of a master, and parading such a case as an example of slavery, would occasionally show, as a picture of the institution, some of the slave gentry, who are to be found anywhere in the cities, towns, and on the large farms of the South, leading careless, lazy, and impudent lives, treating white freemen with superciliousness if they happen to be poor, and disporting themselves with airs of superiority or indifference before everybody who does not

happen to be their particular master. Pictures drawn as equally from this large class of our slave population, as from the more abject, would, I am sure, soon convert some of your Northern notions of the institution of slavery.

. . . My blood boils when I recall how often I have seen some poor "cracker," dressed in striped cotton, and going through the streets of some of our Southern towns, gazing at the shop windows with scared curiosity, made sport of by the sleek, dandified negroes who lounge on the streets, never unmindful, however, to touch their hats to the "gem'men" who are "stiff in their heels," (i.e. have money); or to the counter-hoppers and fast young gents with red vests and illimitable jewelry, for whom they pimp. And consider that this poor, uncouth fellow, thus laughed at, scorned and degraded in the estimate of the slave, is a freeman, beneath whose humble garb is a heart richer than gold the heart of a mute hero, of one who wears the proud, though pauper, title of the patriot defender of the South.

I love the simple and unadulterated slave, with his geniality, his mirth, his swagger, and his nonsense; I love to look upon his countenance, shining with content and grease; I love to study his affectionate heart; I love to mark that peculiarity in him, which beneath all his buffoonery exhibits him as a creature of the tenderest sensibilities, mingling his joys and his sorrows with those of his master's home. . . . But the "genteel" slave, who is inoculated with white notions, affects superiority, and exchanges his simple and humble ignorance for insolent airs, is altogether another creature, and my especial abomination.

I have no horror, dear C., of imported savage slaves from Africa. I have no doubt that they would prove tractable, and that we would find in them, or would soon develop, the same traits of courage, humor, and tenderness, which distinguish the character of the pure negro everywhere.

When I was last through the country here, I made the acquaintance of a very old "Guinea negro," Pompey by name, who had been imported at an early age from the African coast; and a livelier, betterdispositioned and happier old boy I have never met with. . . .

Pompey had married a "genteel" slavewoman, a maid to an old lady of one of the first families of Carolina, and lived very unhappily with his fine mate, because she could not understand "black folks' ways." It appears that Pompey frequently had recourse to the black art to inspire his wife with more affection for him; and having in his hearing

dropped the remark, jokingly, one day, that a good whipping made a mistress love her lord the more, I was surprised to hear Pompey speak up suddenly, and with solemn emphasis, "Mass'r Ed'rd, I bleve dar is sumthin' in dat. When de 'ooman get ambitious" he means highnotioned and passionate - "de debble is sot up against you, and no use to honey dat chile; you jest got to beat him out, and he bound to come out 'fore the breath come out, anyhow." I am inclined to recommend Pompey's treatment for all "ambitious" negroes, male or female. . . .

. . . I agree with Pompey, as to what constitutes a useful and respectable negro, and tell him that we shall soon have some such from the country from which he came, at which prospect he is greatly pleased. "Ah, Mass'r," says he, "dat is de nigger dat can do your work; he de chile dat can follow arter the beast, like dis here," tugging away and gee-hawing while he speaks, at the hard mouth of a stupid mule, with which he is plowing in the garden. "But I tells you what, Mass'r Ed'rd," continues Pompey, impressively, "no matter how de dam proud black folks hold der head up, and don't love de mule, and don't love de work, and don't love nothing but de ownselves, I tells you what, I ain't but nigger nohow; and I tells you, and I tells 'em all, de nigger and de mule am de axle-tree of de world."

The truth is, my dear friend, we want more such slaves in the South as Pompey, who while they can speak such honest and brilliant sentiments, will also be as humble in their hearts and as faithful to their work as he, and who will sustain the car of progress over all obstacles in the path of Southern destiny. . . .

After a round of visits to others of "the kin," I at last find myself the guest of that most excellent and beloved old lady, Miss R. . . .

I find the old, familiar, black faces about the house. Uncle Jeames, the dining-room servant, is an old, decayed family negro, wearing a roundabout, and remarkable for an unctuous bald head, unadorned by hat or cap. Miss R., who has known him since he was a boy, still addresses him by the name of "Jimboo." Uncle Jimboo has a good deal of slave-pride, and is anxious to appear to visitors as one of great dignity and consequence in household affairs. He is especially proud of his position as general conservator of the order and security of the household, and any interruption of his stilted dignity is very painful to him. Devoted to his mistress, he assumes the office of her protector. Having in one of his winter patrols, according to his account, been chased by some forgotten number of "black bars," and having valiantly

whipped "the king bar," and put the others to flight, it remains that he is afraid of nothing in the world "but a gun."

Peace to Uncle Jimboo! May his days never be shortened by the accidents of his valiant service! I can never expect to see the old man again; he is passing away; but, thanks to God, he, the slave, has not to go down to the grave in a gloomy old age, poverty-stricken and forgotten; he has a beloved mistress near by to provide for him in the evening of his life-a rare mistress, who, distinguished in her neighborhood for hospitality and munificence, has delighted also to adorn herself with simple and unblazoned charities to the humblest of all humanity the poor, dependent, oft-forgotten slave.

Edward A. Pollard, Black Diamonds Gathered in the Darkey Homes of the South (New York, 1859), 55–74 passim.

28. A Slave Auction (1859)


The New York Tribune, with Horace Greeley at its head, was at this time the most influential newspaper in the United States, through its weekly and semi-weekly editions moulding the opinions of the farmers and village people. It was sternly antislavery, and by publishing facts connected with the existence of slavery it made that institution speak against itself. For Greeley and his newspaper, see Whitelaw Reid, Memorial of Horace Greeley. - Bibliography: Channing and Hart, Guide, § 186.

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HE largest sale of human chattels that has been made in StarSpangled America for several years took place on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, at the Race Course near the City of Savannah, Georgia. The lot consisted of four hundred and thirty-six men, women, children and infants, being that half of the negro stock remaining on the old Major Butler plantations which fell to one of the two heirs to that estate. . .

The sale had been advertised largely for many weeks, and as the negroes were known to be a choice lot and very desirable property, the attendance of buyers was large. The breaking up of an old family estate is so uncommon an occurrence that the affair was regarded with unusual interest throughout the South. For several days before the sale every hotel in Savannah was crowded with negro speculators from North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana,

who had been attracted hither by the prospects of making good bargains. Nothing was heard for days, in the bar-rooms and public rooms but talk of the great sale, criticisms of the business affairs of Mr. Butler, and speculations as to the probable prices the stock would bring. The office of Joseph Bryan the negro broker who had the management of the sale, was thronged every day by eager inquirers in search of information, and by some who were anxious to buy, but were uncertain as to whether their securities would prove acceptable. Little parties were made up from the various hotels every day to visit the Race-Course, distant some three miles from the city, to look over the chattels, discuss their points, and make memoranda for guidance on the day of sale. The buyers were generally of a rough breed, slangy, profane and bearish, being for the most part, from the back river and swamp plantations, where the elegancies of polite life are not perhaps developed to their fullest extent. . . .

The negroes came from two plantations, the one a rice plantation near Darien . . . and the other a cotton plantation.


None of the Butler slaves have ever been sold before, but have been on these two plantations since they were born. . .


It is true they were sold "in families;" but let us see: a man and his wife were called a "family," their parents and kindred were not taken into account. .. And no account could be taken of loves that were as yet unconsummated by marriage, and how many aching hearts have been divorced by this summary proceeding, no man can ever know. . . .

The slaves remained at the race-course, some of them for more than a week and all of them for four days before the sale. They were brought in thus early that buyers who desired to inspect them might enjoy that privilege, although none of them were sold at private sale. For these preliminary days their shed was constantly visited by speculators. The negroes were examined with as little consideration as if they had been brutes indeed; the buyers pulling their mouths open to see their teeth, pinching their limbs to find how muscular they were, walking them up and down to detect any signs of lameness, making them stoop and bend in different ways that they might be certain there was no concealed rupture or wound; and in addition to all this treatment, asking them scores of questions relative to their qualifications and accomplishments. All these humiliations were submitted to without a murmur, and in some instances with good-natured cheerfulness-where the slave liked

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