The Aristocrat of the Old South
Southern planters wondered at how educated men and women of the North, former slaveholders and slave traders themselves, could believe that they would willingly injure black men and women under their care, or allow them to be beaten. The sheer cruelty of New England’s slave trade and its infamous middle passage could never be surpassed by the plantations of the Old South.
Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865
The Aristocrat of the Old South
“It is true the aristocrat of the Old South did not go into his blacksmith shop to shoe his horse nor his wife into the kitchen to cook, or to the wash tub to wash, but it was not because they were ashamed or scorned to do it, but because there was no need for them to do these things.
History has greatly maligned the old aristocrat of the South. He was not “haughty,” he was not “purse proud,” and he did not consider himself “of finer clay” than any one else, as history has unfairly represented him.
Aristocracy was then gauged by manners and morals, and not by the size of the bank account, as I fear is too much the case today. Far more time was spent in cultivating the graces and charms of life than in amassing fortunes. They realized that “Manners are of more importance than money and laws” – for manners give form and color to our lives. They felt, as Tennyson said, “Manners are the fruit of lofty natures and noble minds.”
It will take us a long time to undo the falsehoods of history about the civilization of the Old South.
Who was the head of the plantation? Why, “ole Miss,”. . . Her life was a long life of devotion – devotion to her God, devotion to her church . . . devotion to her husband, to her children, to her kinfolks, to her neighbors and friends and to her servants. She could not be idle for she must ever be busy.
“Ole Marster” could delegate many of his duties to the overseer, while he entertained his guests. He would rise early in the morning, eat his breakfast . . . Broiled chicken, stuffed sausage, spareribs, broiled ham and eggs, egg bread, corn muffins, hot rolls, beaten biscuits, batter cakes or waffles with melted butter, syrup or honey, and the half not told.
Then, after smoking his Havana cigar, he would mount his saddle and ride over the plantation to see if the orders given the day before had been fully carried out. Then give the next day’s orders, ride to a neighboring plantation and return in time for an early dinner. Dinner was always midday on the old plantation. If it were summer . . . [he would] lie down on the wide verandah . . . while he took his noon-day nap. If it were winter, he would go into his library, and, before a large, open fireplace with whole logs of wood, he would discourse upon the topics of the day with visitors.
There was no subject with which “Ole Marster” was not at home – whether politics, philosophy, religion, literature, poetry or art. “Ole Marster’s” sons for generations had been well-educated and had a perfect familiarity with the classics – they could read Greek and Latin better than some of us can read English today. The best magazines of the day were upon his library table, and the latest books upon his library shelves.
Time [on the plantation] was measured to Christmas, and three weeks before Christmas Day the wagons would go to the nearest city or town to lay in the Christmas supplies. Every Negro man had to have a complete outfit, from hat to shoes; every Negro woman had to have the same from head handkerchief to shoes; each Negro child every article of clothing needed.; and warm shawls, and soft shoes, or some special gifts had to be bought for the old Negroes too feeble to work.
How happy all were, white and black, as the cry of “Christmas Gif” rang from one end to the other of the plantation, beginning early in the morning at the Big House and reaching every Negro cabin – Christmas can never be the same again.”
(The Civilization of the Old South, Mildred Lewis Rutherford; North Carolina Booklet, Vol. XVII, No. 3, January 1918, pp. 142-147)