RESULTS OF PRACTICAL EXPERIMENTS. LETTERS FROM MR. EDWARD S. PHILBRICK. Boston, February 24th, 1864.
2nd Annual Report New England Freedmen's Relief
Boston, February 24th, 1864. To the Editors of the Evening Post.
Among the arrivals at the port of New York this week is that of the schooner White Sea, from Port Royal, S. C, loaded with Sea Island cotton, the product of negro labor paid by Massachusetts capital. Thinking that the economical employment of negroes as an agricultural peasantry is a subject of some importance to the public at this time, I have prepared the following statement of facts, which I hope may find a place in your columns.
The writer went to Port Royal in March, 1862, and for the following year devoted his time to the organization of negro labor upon the abandoned plantations of the Sea Islands, at first under E. L. Pierce, special agent of the Treasury Department, and afterwards under Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton, Military Governor.
At the tax sales in March, 1863, the writer purchased at auction eleven plantations, which he has cultivated with paid negro labor, in connection with two more which were leased from another purchaser, all on behalf of a joint-stock- company in Boston formed for the purpose. Six gentlemen of New England birth, previously employed by General Saxton as superintendents of plantations, were placed in charge of these estates, without salary, but with an interest in the crops. The "job " system which had been adopted for all the government plantations by General Saxton was adhered to, with such increase of rates of pay as appeared necessary under the enhanced prices of all articles which the negroes were obliged to purchase.
This system allotted to each family a certain patch of land, about one and one-half acres to the adults, and to children in proportion to their age, for their provision crops, holding the negroes responsible for their own food entirely. To each family was also assigned a definite portion of land for the cultivation of cotton, in such quantity as they chose to take, and the separate families so assuming the care of these patches were made, as far as possible, responsible for the crops grown upon them.
In order to enable the negro to provide for his current wants during the growth of his crop, and to keep up his courage, partial payments were made each month for planting and hoeing the crop per acre, at a small rate, reserving the principal payment for the end, when the crop was paid for per pound as gathered.
Other kinds of work, such as carting, ploughing, collecting manure, ginning, cleaning and packing the cotton, were all paid for by the piece, each family preparing for the market, separately, the cotton they had raised.
The amount of wages earned per day varied, of course, with the industry and capacity of the individual. It has averaged about fifty-five cents per day for the time spent in the cotton-field or in preparing the manures, ginning, &c, in addition to which wages, for a portion of his time, the negro has had free house rent and rent of land for raising his provision crops, on which the remainder of his time was spent at his own discretion. Many have done, habitually, double the amount of work they were formerly required to do by their masters in a day, and, as they say, with no more fatigue.
The whole number of laborers employed on the thirteen estates was about four hundred, rating two children as one hand. Most of this number were women, children, and old men, for the young men were all called into the United States service.
With this help there were planted eight hundred and fourteen acres of cotton, from which a crop of seventy-two thousand pounds of cotton was obtained, being two hundred bales of three hundred and sixty pounds each, or about two-thirds the former average crop per acre. With the usual amount of manure a much better result could have been obtained; but as the lands were hurriedly planted, within a few weeks after taking possession, no opportunity was afforded for manuring to any extent.
The whole amount paid out in wages, including the collection of manures for the next crop, the harvesting of the crops for feeding the animals, and the preparation of the cotton for market, has been about twenty thousand dollars. Estimating the other expenses, viz., the depreciation of outfit and the interest account, to be seven thousand dollars more, which will be near the truth, the cost of the cotton per pound will be about thirty-seven cents.
The cost of producing this long-staple cotton under the slave system was at least six times the cost of producing upland cotton, owing to the small yield and the careful nursing required by this delicate variety. The cost is thus spoken of in De Bow's Review, vol. 16, p. 598: " The cost of producing a bag of ordinary Sea Island cotton is about $75. That of the finest is twice as much." Now the bag contained 350 pounds, making the price per pound from 21 to 42 cents, or an average of 31£ cents. This was written in 1854, when the market price of slaves, the principal item in the cost of growing cotton, was at least twenty-five per cent, lower than in 1860. So the cost of growing the average long staple, at the beginning of the rebellion, was about forty cents per pound. It is well known that for several years previous to the war this staple sold at from forty to sixty cents. The cost of its production, as stated above, may appear to be much greater than has generally been supposed, for it has not been usual for southern men to consider the interest of the capital vested in reckoning their expenses; but as among commercial men in all other parts of the world the interest on fixed capital is considered as part of the current expenses of an enterprise, it does not appear inconsistent with custom and a fair statement of the subject, and it has accordingly entered into the above estimates.
It must be remembered that this free labor experiment has been surrounded by all the annoyances of a military occupation, that we were deprived of the services of the able-bodied men, were almost entirely without manure and live stock, and quite destitute of experienced superintendence ; and though during the first year of an experimental organization, and though paying for our labor in a depreciated currency, we have still produced two hundred bales of cotton at a cost at least as low as it was done by the system of compulsory labor, when the cost was reckoned in hard money, and when the planter enjoyed all the advantages of experienced superintendence, a thorough and well- studied organization, nearly perfect in its way, with all the outfit of live stock and manure which he saw fit to provide, and all the able-bodied men to help him.
Moreover, these two hundred bales of cotton have been produced by the application of a cash capital of only forty thousand dollars, including the cost or the land and all expenses for a year, while under the old system the market value of the negroes alone which were required to produce the same amount of long staple cotton, was not less than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, or more than six times the amount of capital required under the free labor system!
Upon the eleven plantations purchased and cultivated as above, five free schools have been supported at the expense of the proprietors, giving instruction to over three hundred pupils.
The chief difficulty in inducing freed negroes to work well is in securing their confidence, for their past experience has bred distrust in the white man; but this difficulty may soon be overcome by prompt payments and a recognition of their just claims.
The lack of organization and of division of labor, which is unavoidable under the system of individual responsibility Here adopted, is, in the end, fully compensated for by the rapid development of ambition and self-reliance in the laborer.
The natural tendency of the freed negro is to rest satisfied with supplying his simple wants, which he can do in the Southern States with a very small amount of labor. This fault is easily corrected by bringing within his reach, by purchase, at low rates, articles which minister to new and civilized wants, stimulating industry for the sake of gratifying his newly acquired tastes. The freed negro spends his money freely, but not without some discretion, takes pride in providing for his own wants, and in imitating the style of his superiors.
Believing it to be a necessary part of the new system that the freedmen should have ready means of spending his first earnings in the purchase of really useful and civilizing articles, five stores have been established upon these plantations, where there has been sold, at cost, during the past year, nearly $20,000 worth of plain cloth, domestic utensils, and a variety of food, soap, candles, hardware, tools, &c , &c.
It has not seemed advisable to place any sort of restrictions upon the negroes in regard to what sort of labor or what amount of labor each one should perform. Any attempt in such a direction would serve to check the healthy development of industry by begetting suspicion and repugnance towards the employer.
It is hardly necessary to draw attention to the enormous profits of raising cotton at present, if, as shown above, it can be raised at about the same cost as before the war. Sea Island cotton has been sold lately at about one dollar and a half per pound, which, according to the above statement, is about four times the cost of its production; but upland cotton can be produced at one-sixth the cost per pound—say eight cents, or about one-tenth of its present market value. If, then, the culture of Sea Island cotton can be made as profitable as it has proved in this experiment, how much more so must the culture of upland cotton prove at present prices!
The area for planting Sea Island cotton was always very limited, and just now scarce any room is left within our military lines for the expansion of this industry at Port Royal; but the prospects are that there will soon be thrown into the hands of loyal men an immense area of the best cotton lands in the valley of the Mississippi and its tributaries, and if proper steps are taken by <the government to encourage industry and protect property, there will be a prodigious migration of small farmers and capitalists in that direction, which will develop the resources of that fertile region as they have never yet been developed under the exhaustive and wasteful system of compulsory labor.
The question has already arisen, and has been acted on to a limited extent at Port Royal, whether the lands should be permanently allotted to the negroes, with a view to protect this ignorant and degraded people from imposition and oppressive treatment from their employers. \Yith this view, a considerable amount of land, embracing all actually in the possession of the United States government at Port Royal, was actually offered in twenty acre lots at the low price of SI.25 per acre, with the privilege of pre-emption. The Tax Qommissioners entrusted with the execution of this plan, interpreted their instructions to require them to give preference to negroes, wherever a white man's claim covered the same ground. Although a more recent order from Washington has suspended the execution of this plan, it is doubted by many whether the faith of the government was not so far pledged, by the previous order, as to render it unjust, or at least difficult, to dispossess the negroes, who had staked out claims on ahnost every acre of public land worth claiming. Even if they should be dispossessed, and these lands sold at auction, as advertised, there are still several thousand acres offered to the negroes at the nominal price of $1.25 per acre at private sale, to the exclusion of whites, by the previous instructions to the Tax Commissioners.
Whether this course of granting special privileges to negroes, to the exclusion of whites, is best for the future of the community, remains to be proved. If ' the freed negro is ever to become civilized in any degree, or elevated above his present ignorant and degraded condition, it must be through his own industry, led on by the example and encouraged by the capital and superior energy and enterprise of the whites. It can hardly be doubted that the industry of our own race is the most efficient agent in its advance in civilization during the past thousand years; and even the Anglo-Saxon race was never made an industrious race except through the stern hand of necessity. We are supposed to owe much of our industry and energy to the fact that our race has been reared in an inhospitable clime, where the fruits of the earth are not to be got without stern and unremitting exertion. The negro race can certainly never be expected to become industrious, and through industry, to become civilized, unless it is urged on by similar causes. If, then, the productive lands of the South — already cleared and improved, with ready means of carrying to market, as well as producing, a staple of such world-wide importance as cotton — are thrown into the hands of the negro, in his present condition, to the exclusion of whites, as is now being done at Port Royal, at private sale by the Tax Commissioners at the noininal rate of one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre, when the same lands would readily bring ten, and perhaps twenty times this sum at auction after a peace, the effect will be to enable the negro to get more money than he will know how to spend, by working one-fourth, or at most one-half, of his time. Such a course would be very much like giving the negroes from the public treasury a fine assortment of clothing at one-tenth its market value, and it would not fail to have a similar demoralizing effect upon these ignorant people. It certainly could not be expected that such a state of things would tend to the development of the negro's industry or the latent resources of the country. It would tend rather to the demoralization of the favored few who would get these lands, and to the exasperation of the others, who would not have this privilege granted them; for the lands so offered will satisfy but a very few negroes, while every other man has an equal claim to such favors, and would, therefore, feel injured and outraged by their impartial distribution.
In order to prove beyond dispute that the lands in question are worth in the market many times one dollar and twenty- five cents per acre, even during the war, and before the settlement of the contested rights for the pre-emption under the instructions of the President of December 30th, 1863, the following report of sales under the Tax Commissioner's auction, on February 18th and 19th, may be appropriate:
" Seaside Place," St. Helena, 280 acres sold for 87,300 "Palmetto Island," 280 acres sold for 4,725 "Bluff Farm," 280 acres sold for 3,025 "Littlewood Point," 130 acres sold for 2,525
Being at prices ranging from twelve to twenty-six dollars per acre. The above places had buildings upon them, but other lots without buildings sold at from six to seven dollars per acre—some of which were "pine barren," — the United States reserving the timber. If such prices are given now, with an uncertain title, and surrounded by rebels in arms, may we not expect higher ones after a peace ?
If, therefore, the lands of the Southern States are to be thrown upon the market to any extent, it would appear highly desirable to all concerned, now and hereafter, that the land be sold to no man — black, white or yellow — ex- cept at its full market value at public sale. In order to enable the negro to have a home for refuge he should not be deprived of an opportunity to buy; and, in order to bring in the elements of enterprise, intelligence, and capital, the white man should not be excluded, either.
Let us hope that questions of such vital importance to the future welfare of our country will be carefully weighed by our rulers, before committing themselves to any definite policy on a large scale. Edward S. Philbbick.