12 Years as a slave

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This is from the book “12 Years as a slave” by Solomon Northup, describing how cotton picking was managed on the plantation.

“An ordinary day’s work is two hundred pounds. A slave who is accustomed to picking, is punished, if he or she brings in a less quantity than that.

There is a great difference among them as regards this kind of labor. Some of them seem to have a natural knack, or quickness, which enables them to pick with great celerity, and with both hands, while others, with whatever practice or industry, are utterly unable to come up to the ordinary standard. Such hands are taken from the cotton field and employed in other business.

Patsey, of whom I shall have more to say, was known as the most remarkable cotton picker on Bayou Boeuf. She picked with both hands and with such surprising rapidity, that five hundred pounds a day was not unusual for her.

Each one is tasked, therefore, according to his picking abilities, none, however, to come short of two hundred weight.
I, being unskillful always in that business, would have satisfied my master by bringing in the latter quantity, while on the other hand, Patsey would surely have been beaten it she failed to produce twice as much.

The day’s work over in the field, the baskets are “toted,” or in other words, carried to the gin-house, where the cotton is weighed.

No matter how fatigued and weary he may be—no matter how much he longs for sleep and rest—a slave never approaches the gin-house with his basket of cotton but with fear.
If it falls short in weight—if he has not performed the full task appointed him, he knows that he must suffer. And if he has exceeded it by ten or twenty pounds, in all probability his master will measure the next day’s task accordingly.

So, whether he has too little or too much, his approach to the gin-house is always with fear and trembling. Most frequently they have too little, and therefore it is they are not anxious to leave the field.”

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3 Responses to 12 Years as a slave

  1. Sarah says:

    Reblogged this on Mental Health Geek and commented:
    12 Years as a Slave: Surprisingly Still Rings True

    Like

  2. ISOwatcher says:

    A better system: Freedom
    “….One hundred and sixty miles down the Red River lived the richest slave owner in Louisiana. He was the most beloved slave owner in America — beloved by his slaves, not his peers. His name was John McDonogh.
    THE FORGOTTEN MAN
    He alone among all the slave owners in the South for over 200 years devised a system that made his slaves incomparably efficient. They were so efficient that he ceased to have any responsibility for managing his plantation, including all of the rental properties that he owned. The slaves did everything. They worked like maniacs. They literally ran from job to job. Another slave owner wanted to buy one of them. He was willing to pay $5,000 — in the range of $100,000 in today’s money. McDonogh refused to sell. He had a secret. This is from McDonogh’s biography, published 36 years after his death.
    Mr. Ed. E. Parker, a prominent and wealthy citizen of New Orleans, noticing the extraordinary industry of some of Mr. McDonogh’s people engaged on some buildings near his residence, repeatedly offered to buy their foreman, Jim, from his master, offering finally $5000. Finding the slave could not be bought, he thus described their manner of work to Mr. McDonogh, who was never with them: “Why, sir, I am an early riser, getting up before day ;–I am awakened every morning of my life by the noise of their trowels at work and their singing and noise before day ; and they work as long as they can see to lay brick, and then carry up brick and mortar for an hour or two afterwards, to be ahead at their work the next morning. And again, sir, do you think they walk at their work? No, sir, they run all day. I never saw such people as those, sir; I do not know what to make of them. Was there a white man over them with whip in hand all day, why then I could understand the cause of their incessant labor; but I cannot comprehend it, sir. Great man, sir, that Jim–great man, sir. I should like to own him.” After laughing heartily at Mr. Parker’s description, which was true. Mr. McDonogh informed him that there was a secret ‘about it which would some day be disclosed.’
    McDonogh went public with his system in 1842. He published an account of how he did it in a local New Orleans newspaper. After two decades of secrecy, he decided he might as well share the secret. The secret was simple: he offered his slaves a way to buy their freedom. It took about 14 years. They had to work hard. They had to be reliable. He discovered that they became so efficient that, at the time that he released one of them, he could afford to buy two more from the added income he gained.”
    http://www.garynorth.com/public/12193.cfm

    Like

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