Appletons' Popular Science Monthly, Vol. 56, March 1900 online

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NOVEMBER, 1899, TO APRIL, 1900




[Illustration: EDWARD ORTON.]




















MARCH, 1900.




The experiments which have been intentionally or accidentally made in
transplanting organic species from the countries in which they have
been developed to others of diverse soil, climate, and inhabitants
are always of much interest to the naturalist - each of them affords
indications of some value as to the relations of species to what
we term "environment." In almost all instances we find that the
transplanted forms undergo changes in consequence of the alteration
of their circumstances. It is true that certain of our domesticated
animals, such as the horse, the dog, and most cattle, follow men from
the Arctic to the Antarctic Circle, and that sundry insect pests
appear to demand nothing of Nature save the presence of man; yet, as
a whole, the creatures we have turned to use, both plant and animal
alike, have shown themselves incapable of accommodating themselves to
conditions of temperature differing much from those in which they were
developed. With hardly an exception, species or varieties which have
been developed in the tropics perish when called on to withstand the
winter of higher latitudes. Few, indeed, do well when taken to stations
where the heat or the humidity differs greatly from that to which they
are accustomed.

The intolerance of organisms to climatal changes is nowhere more
evident than in the varieties, or species, as we would term them, of
mankind. It is a well-attested fact that none of the tropical races
has ever of its own instance colonized in the temperate zones. It
is also clear that none of the northern peoples have ever become
fully acclimated within the tropical realm. The colonies which have
been founded there by the Teutonic folk, including the English group
therein, have been lamentable failures, the pure-blooded strains dying
out in a few generations. The people of southern Europe have been a
little more successful in the equatorial regions, probably because
their blood has there to a great extent become mingled with that of
tropical origin. These general conclusions concerning the climatal
limitations of man would be unassailable were it not for the history
of the negro in North America. In his case we have the one masterful
exception to the rule, otherwise good, that creatures bred near the
equator can not endure boreal conditions.

The negroes who came to North America had to undergo as complete a
transition as ever fell to the lot of man, without the least chance to
undergo an acclimatizing process. They were brought from the hottest
part of the earth to the region where the winter's cold is of almost
arctic severity - from an exceedingly humid to a very dry air. They
came to service under alien taskmasters, strange to them in speech and
in purpose. They had to betake themselves to unaccustomed food and to
clothing such as they had never worn before. Rarely could one of the
creatures find about him a familiar face of friend, parent, or child,
or an object that recalled his past life to him. It was an appalling
change. Only those who know how the negro cleaves to all the dear,
familiar things of life, how fond he is of warmth and friendliness, can
conceive the physical and mental shock that this introduction to new
conditions meant to them. To people of our own race it could have meant
death. But these wonderful folk appear to have withstood the trials of
their deportation in a marvelous way. They showed no peculiar liability
to disease. Their longevity or period of usefulness was not diminished,
or their fecundity obviously impaired. So far as I have been able to
learn, nostalgia was not a source of mortality, as it would have been
with any Aryan population. The price they brought in the market and the
satisfaction of their purchasers with their qualities shows that they
were from the first almost ideal laborers. If we compare the Algonkin
Indian, in appearance a sturdy fellow, with these negroes, we see of
what stuff the blacks are made. A touch of housework and of honest toil
took the breath of the aborigines away, but these tropical exotics fell
to their tasks and trials far better than the men of our own kind could
have done.

At their first coming, or soon afterward, the negroes were distributed
along the coast of our country from the Carolinas to Nova Scotia.
So far as I have been able to find, there appears to have been no
distinct difference in their tolerance of the climate in any part of
this varied district. There are still negroes in the maritime provinces
who are said to be the descendants of those who came upon the ground
certainly more than a century ago. They are good specimens of their
stock. So, too, along the New England coast and in New York there is
a sufficient number of the progeny of those once held as slaves to
make it clear that the failure to become a considerable part of the
population in that district is not due to any incapacity to withstand
the climate. The failure of the negro to increase in this field can be
accounted for in other ways - by the effects of race prejudice, nowhere
stronger than in this part of the country, and by the vice and misery
that overtake a despised lower class.

It early became evident that slavery was to be of no permanent
economic advantage to any part of the colonies within the glaciated
district, say from central New Jersey northward. In that portion of the
coastal belt the state of the surface and the character of the crops
alike tended to make the ownership of slaves unprofitable. The farms
were necessarily small. They became in a natural way establishments
worked by the head of the house, with the help of his children. Such
other help as was needed was, in the course of two generations,
readily had from hired white men and women. It was otherwise in the
tobacco-planting region to the southward. The cultivation of that
plant, to meet the extraordinary demands that Europe made for it, gave
slavery its chance to become established in this country. But for
that industry the institution would most likely have taken but slight
root, and the territory as far south as North Carolina would have
been in social order not very different from Pennsylvania, New York,
and the New England settlements. But, owing to some peculiar, as yet
unrecognized, adjustments of climate and soil, tobacco for pipes has
a quality when grown in the Virginia district such as it has nowhere
else in the world, and the world turned to smoking it with a disregard
for expense that made each laborer in the field worth some hundred
dollars a year. Moreover, the production of good tobacco requires
much care, which extends over about a year from the time the seed is
planted. Some parts of the work demand a measure of judgment such as
intelligent negroes readily acquire. They are indeed better fitted for
the task than white men, for they are commonly more interested in their
tasks than whites of the laboring class. The result was that before
the period of the Revolution slavery was firmly established in the
tobacco-planting colonies of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. It
was already the foundation of their only considerable industry.

Although the production of tobacco had made slavery a great economical
success in the limited field where the best product was to be had, it
is doubtful if the institution would have attained to any widespread
importance but for the development of another form of planting - that
of cotton. Thus, in Kentucky, where the crops, with the exception of
a coarse tobacco, are the same as in the other Northern States of the
Union, the institution, despite the long-continued scarcity of labor,
never attained any very great development. The slaves were generally
used for household service, but to no great extent in the fields, and
in such employment only in the districts where the soil was of such
great fertility that large quantities of grain were raised for export.
In one third of that Commonwealth negroes were, and remain to this day,
quite unknown. The invention of the cotton gin ended all hope that
slavery might be limited to a part of the seacoast region, for nearly
all of the lowland regions of the South, as well as some of the upland
country north to the southern border of Kentucky and Virginia, are
admirably suited to that crop - producing, indeed, a better "staple"
than that of any other country. This industry, even more than that of
raising tobacco, called for abundant labor which could be absolutely
commanded and severely tasked in the season of extreme heats. For this
work the negro proved to be the only fit man, for while the whites can
do this work they prefer other employment. Thus it came about that the
power of slavery in this country became rooted in its soil. The facts
show that, based on an ample foundation of experience, the judgment
of the Southern people was to the effect that this creature of the
tropics was a better laborer in their fields than the men of their
own race. Much has been said about the dislike of the white man for
work in association with negroes. The failure of the whites to have
a larger share in the agriculture of the South has been attributed
to this cause. This seems to me clearly an error. The dislike to the
association of races in labor is, in the slaveholding States, less than
in the North. There can be no question that if the Southern folk could
have made white laborers profitable they would have preferred to employ
them, for the reason that the plantations would have required less
fixed capital for their operation. The fact was and is that the negro
is there a better laboring man in the field than the white. Under the
conditions he is more enduring, more contented, and more trustworthy
than the men of our own race.

The large development of the cotton industry in this country came after
the importation of negroes from Africa had ceased to be as completely
unrestricted as it was at first. The prohibition of the traffic came
indeed before the needs of laborers in the more Southern and Western
slave States had been met. For a while there was some surreptitious
importation, which in a small way continued down to the middle of
this century, but this smuggling was quite insufficient to supply the
market of the new States with slaves. The result was that the border
slaveholding States became to a considerable extent the breeding
grounds for men and women who were to be at maturity exported to the
great plantations of Alabama and Mississippi, there to be herded by
overseers in gangs of hundreds, with no hope of ever returning to their
kindred. With this interdiction of the foreign slave trade the evils of
the former situation became magnified into horrors. The folk who were
brought from Africa came from a state of savagery to one of relative
comfort. When once adjusted to their new conditions, their lot was
on the whole greatly bettered. But their descendants, who had become
attached to the places where they were born with the peculiar affection
the better of them had for their homes, being accustomed to masters who
on the whole were gentle, were now to undergo a worse deportation than
that which made them slaves. It is not too much to say that the deeper
evils of the system to the slaves themselves, as well as to their
masters, began with this miserable slave trade that went on within the
limits of this country, and was about at its height when the civil war

It can not be denied that even in the best stages of slaveholding
there had been a good deal of commerce in slaves where the feelings of
these chattels were in no wise regarded. Still, there was a prevailing
sentiment among all the slaveholders of the gentler sort that it was
in a way disgraceful to part families. I distinctly recall, when I was
a lad, some years before the civil war, my maternal grandfather often
charged me to remember that I came of a people who had never bought or
sold a slave except to keep families together. I know that this was a
common feeling among the better men of Kentucky and Virginia, and that
the practice of rearing negroes for the Southern market filled them
with sorrow and indignation. Yet the change was the inevitable result
of the system and of the advancing commercialism which separated the
plantation life more and more from that of the owner's household. At
the time when the civil war began the institution of slavery was, from
the commercial point of view, eminently successful. Notwithstanding
the occasional appearance of the spendthrift slave owner in Northern
pleasure resorts or in Europe, the great plantations were generally
in charge of able business men, who won a large interest on their
investments and who were developing the system of planting in a way
which, though it appeared to those who were accustomed to close
tillage as shiftless, was really well adjusted to the conditions.
Not one fourth of the land of the Southern States that was well
fitted for the work of slaves had been brought into use. The blacks
who were carefully managed in all that regarded their health and
in their morals, so far as might affect their breeding, were in
admirable physical condition, and rapidly increasing in numbers. It
is doubtful if ever a peasant class was so well cared for or so freed
from avoidable diseases. The growing protest against the institution,
so far as it operated in the South, was practically limited to the
border States, mainly to Kentucky, where alone did a considerable
number of well-born men set themselves against it. There is good reason
to believe that if the civil war had not occurred the end of the
nineteenth century would have seen a negro population in the South much
more numerous than we now have there. Experience has shown that the
American cotton crop is little affected by foreign competition, so that
it would have maintained the success of the institution.

Although the system of slavery was by a chance of Nature so firmly
planted on the cotton fields as to give it entire dominance in the
South, and something like control of the Federal Union, there was
one geographic condition that menaced its future, and in the end did
much to insure its downfall in the events of the civil war, and most
likely would have brought about its end even if the Confederacy had
been established. This was the form and extent of the Appalachian
uplands between the Potomac and the Ohio on the north and Alabama and
Georgia in the South. In this area of nearly one hundred and fifty
thousand square miles in extent the surface lies at an average height
of some fifteen hundred feet above the sea; the good arable land
is found mostly in narrow valleys suited only for household farms,
totally unfit for the systematic agriculture in which alone negroes
could be profitably employed as slaves. Into this area drifted the
class of small farmers who by one chance and another had never been
able to enter or to maintain themselves in the aristocratic class of
slaveholders. These mountaineers - they may better be termed the hill
people of the South - were an eminently peculiar people. They are not
to be compared with the "poor white trash" - i.e., the downfallen and
dependent whites, who were broken men in spirit, scarce above the
slaves in quality. These poor whites were often, if not generally,
either the weaker strains of the militant families or the descendants
of the people who had been imported into this country by the land
companies or sent out as peons.

Partly because of their separation from the slaveholding class and
partly because of the circumstances of their origin, the people of
the Southern highlands formed a curiously separated class. They
retained the quality of their English stock, as they had brought it
with them - an independence, a carelessness as to life, and a humor for
quarreling with those who were set above them whenever their liberties
or their license seemed to be threatened. Even their customs and
utensils held with curious adhesion to the usages of earlier centuries.
Thus, in 1878, I found, in a secluded valley of southwestern Virginia,
men hunting squirrels and rabbits with the old English short bow.
These were not the contrivances of boys or of to-day, but were made
and strung and the arrows hefted in the ancient manner. The men, one
of them old, were admirably skilled in their use; they assured me
that, like their fathers before them, they had ever used the bow and
arrow for small game, reserving the costly ammunition of the rifle for
deer and bear. These hill folk were, in a passive but obdurate manner,
opposed to slavery, and even more to negroes. There are still many
counties in this district where a negro has never dwelt. In some parts
of it I have had people gather from twenty miles away to stare at my
black camp servants, as the folk of central Africa are said to do at a
white man.

At the outbreak of the civil war the Appalachian upland was still
thinly peopled; it was, however, fitted to maintain a population
of some millions. If the Confederacy had won its independence, its
plantation districts, with a relatively small voting population, would
soon have had to settle an account with the people of the hills. As it
was, the existence of this folk in a great ridge of country extending
from the Northern States to within two hundred miles of the Gulf of
Mexico was an element of weakness which went far to give success to the
Federal arms. It kept Kentucky from seceding, prevented the region of
West Virginia from being of any value to the rebellion, and weakened
its control in several other States. In all, somewhere near one hundred
thousand recruits came to the Federal army from this part of the South.
It is not improbable that to this folk we may attribute the failure of
the great revolt. That they turned thus against the people of their own
States to cast in their lot with those who were strangers to them shows
their feelings toward the institution of slavery; it indicated where
they would have stood if the Confederacy had been established.

It is not easy to picture the condition of the negro population in
1860. There is a common notion that it was consciously and bitterly
suffering from its subjugation - ready to rise in arms against its
oppressors. This view was indeed shared by the Southern people, who
lived in chronic fear of insurrections. The error of it arose from the
fallacious notion that the people of another race must feel and act as
we would under like circumstances. The facts showed that the negro mind
does not work in the fashion of our own. He had, it is true, suffered
from slavery, but not as men of our race would have suffered. Against
its deprivations and such direct cruelty as he experienced, not often
great, he could set the simple comforts and small pleasures which are
so much to him. That he was on the whole fairly contented with his
lot, that his relations with his masters were on the whole friendly,
is shown by his remarkable conduct during and since the civil war. If
the accepted account of the negro had been true, if he had been for
generations groaning in servitude while he passionately longed for
liberty, the South should have flamed in insurrection at the first
touch of war. We should have seen a repetition of the horrors of many a
servile insurrection. It is a most notable fact that, during the four
years of the great contention, when the blacks had every opportunity
to rise, there was no real mark of a disposition to turn upon their
masters. On thousands of Southern farms the fighting men left their
women and children in the keeping of their slaves, while they went
forth for a cause whose success meant that those slaves could never be

That the negroes desired to be free is plain enough. The fact that
they fled in such numbers to our camps shows this. Their failure to
revolt must be taken as an indication that their relations with their
masters measured on their own instinctive standards were on the whole
affectionate. They had the strength to have made an end of the war
at a stroke. They were brave enough for such action. That they did
not take it after the manner of their kindred of Santo Domingo is
the best possible testimony as to the generally sympathetic relation
which existed between master and slaves. Of this no better test can be
imagined than that which the final stages of the institution afforded.

In taking account of the history of the slave in this Union it is
not amiss for me to bear testimony as to the spirit with which the
body of our slave owners met the singular obligations of their
positions. There were here and there base men who abused their trust
as masters - some, indeed, who never perceived its existence. But
of the very many slave owners whom I can remember I can recall but
three who failed to recognize the burden that fate had put upon them
and to deal with it much as they dealt with the other cares of their
households - conscientiously and mercifully, though often in the rude
whacking way in which parents of old dealt with their children; so far
as slavery was a household affair, and even where the farm employed no
more hands than could be gathered in a house "quarter," the people were
commonly subject to an anxious scrutiny as regarded their moral and
religious training. Here and there, especially when there were young
white men about, the result was the deplorable mixture of the races.
There is no question but that this was extensive, though the amount
of it is exaggerated. Yet it was common enough to degrade the whites
and to make of itself a sufficient reason for ending the institution,
however profitable it might otherwise have been. Men of no race are
safely to be trusted with such power. The social evil was the heaviest
part of the load which the high-minded slave owners had to bear. It was
shared in even larger measure by his wife and daughters. How heavy the
cross was can only be known to those who remember the conditions of
that unhappy time.

The result of the hopeless effort to keep the slaves in decent ways
and to prevent the pollution of their sons was to make nearly every
right-minded slaveholder at heart an abolitionist. Although the
men, and even the women, who suffered most would have been disposed

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Online LibraryVariousAppletons' Popular Science Monthly, Vol. 56, March 1900 → online text (page 1 of 12)