A CHARLESTONIAN’S RECOLLECTIONS…

A Charlestonian’s Recollections, 1846-1913
by
Daniel Elliot Huger Smith

In 1785 Smithfield Plantation consisted of 1,694 acres. By 1851 it was reduced to 715 acres, of which 476 were highland and 239 were swamp. (p. 13)

Foliage at Smithfield included China briar hedges and Pride-of-India trees. (p. 14)

The rice lands were divided into squares by banks called check-banks. The squares were named: Tackum Square, Heyward Square, Garden Square, Landing Square, Barnyard Square, Knoll Square, etc. (p. 14)

Rice was shipped down river to toll mills in schooners. The rice was carried on board in baskets tipped into a ten-bushel tub that was struck, – leveled with a board – tallied .and then tipped into the hold. (p. 16)

The assistant overseer was called the key-keeper. (p. 16)

Of the negroes on the plantation the most important was the driver, who was a very high dignitary indeed. (p. 17)

La basse justice et la moyenne vs. la haute justice. (p. 18)

The truck-minder regulated the flow of water on the rice fields. (p. 22)

Hog crawl meant hog pen, using the Dutch-Portuguese-African word kraa! [Related to the Zulu corral? meaning enclosure. JH] (p. 24)

A perfect, or legal, fence had to be horse high, bull strong and hog tight. (p. 26)

Shoes were selected for purchase by means of a shoe-stick of appropriate size which were bundled and carried to town where each was inserted into the proper shoe and left there until delivered to the owner. (p. 30)

Among decent people, when a gang of negroes was sold, great care was always taken to keep families together. (p. 34)

A number of negroes were examined as witnesses, but they were not put under oath. This was the case always in those days with negro testimony. it was never under oath and was only considered of value when corroborated. (p. 37)

Ananias (Liars) Club. (p. 39)

Many negroes, especially the mechanics, were allowed to work out or to hire their own time. For these the city authorities issued a license, as was and still is done in may occupations. These were of brass, as indeed the dray-licenses and cart licenses are to-day, and were numbered in sequence, I believe. A most ridiculous trade is to-day carried on in the curiosity shops, which sell the very ordinary bits of brass as slave badges at high prices, the number being supposed, I believe, to represent the slave number on his master’s plantation or in his household, just as a convict is known by his number in a penitentiary. Doubtless many have been dispersed over the North as curiosities of slavery. (p. 64)

The fishing fleet that sailed daily out of Charleston in those days deserves mention. The fishermen were most of them free persons of colour and were believed (I think truly so) to have in them a large infusion of Indian blood. Thy had followed this occupation from generation to generation, running out in their open boats until out of sight of land. It was really a sight to see them running up in a high breeze to a market. Many old gentlemen would time their dinner if possible to suit the tide, and the wharf where they landed would be crowded with servants and hucksters, through whom the fish might reach the kitchens. For only the fish that entered your kitchen alive was worthy the regard of a gourmet. (p. 64)

Sassafras beer was a fine drink! This is imitated to-day by a red drink called Hires Root Beer, but the imitation falls short of it. (p. 66)

Convention of South Carolina. (p. 68)

But necessarily I must often state opinions, which are my own. In considering these you must bear in mind these Axioms:

First, a fait accompli is not retro-active in its effect. The accomplishment does not make the act itself right, and of course does not justify the course which led to it. Second, a thing is right or it is wrong! It cannot be right as each side saw it. (a) If a state had the right to secede, then the North fought for conquest and the South for freedom. (b) If the United States Government was the overlord or Suzerain of the State Governments in 1860, then the Southern States were in rebellion against an overlord created by the Constitution of 1787.

No consideration of expediency can alter fundamental principles. They can only be adduced as excuses for the evasion or avoidance of such principles.

The right of secession, as declared and elucidated by the great leaders of political opinion in Virginia, New England and elsewhere, was undoubted up to 1860. The question of the exercise of this right was one of expediency. (p. 69)

My brother Robert had enlisted in the Marion Artillery during the previous winter, so that I remained the only son left at home.

Then ensued a struggle between my mother and myself. I declared my intention of joining the army, whereupon my mother wrote to Dr. Geddings, then serving as chief of the Examining Board. Dr. Geddings promptly replied that the loss of my right eye exempted me from service in the field. Then I told my mother that I could see very well with my left eye, and that one did not need both eyes to serve in the artillery.

Then my mother wrote to our friend, Mr. William Porcher Miles, a member of Congress, who told her he had secured a clerkship for me in a Government bureau in Richmond, and she carefully explained that I could thus serve my country equally well. My reply was that I did not care to start life feeling ashamed of myself, [Emphasis mine. JH] and I declined to take advantage of Mr. Miles kindness. (p. 81)

During the bitter years of misrule, miscalled Reconstruction, many of us who survived believed that those who died in the flush of hope for their country, and of self sacrifice for duty, were to be envied by us, who were facing daily for eleven years rancorous and supercilious and contemptuous oppression. (p. 93)

To understand the movements of this week, it must be borne in mind that Sherman occupied Columbia on 17th February, and Hardee evacuated Charleston on 18th. (p. 98)

Many of the people around Fayetteville [S.C.? JH] are descended from Highlanders who migrated thither from Culloden, and I am told that there are families there who speak Gaelic to his day. (p. 100)

For a time I worked as a porter in a wholesale establishment at a dollar a day and all the cheese I could eat. (p. 115)

…[Smith’s mother] found herself obliged to apply for and receive a Pardon (sic) from the President of the United States. Upon the production of the Pardon, she received from General Saxton of the Freedman’s Bureau an order for the restoration to her of her plantation. (p. 119)

… bear in mind that even in slavery there was a mutual obligation. The slave-owner was entitled to the labor of the capable workers, but he was also bound to support clothe and care for the young and the old. For a negro dying of cruelty or neglect the owner was criminally responsible, and I distinctly remember the hanging of a man in Colleton County for such a death of his negro.

Thus every black man or woman in his decline of life was entitled to and got a comfortable support and living from his or her owner. Now by the cruel course towards them of the United States authorities this right was taken from them. (p. 130)

There followed the creation of the so-called black and tan governments, composed of negroes and carpet-baggers, sustained by the military force of the United States. These fell one by one, but that in South Carolina lasted until the United States troops in 1876, eleven years after the close of the war. (p. 131)

There was no money in the land! The passage of raiding bands through every section had carried off what little gold and silver there had been; the banks had all failed; the National Bank Act indirectly prevented the issuance of demand notes payable to bearer which might be used as currency. The result was that the South had practically to buy currency from the North, and for some years the rate of interest fluctuated from 25 percent to 18 percent per annum. (p. 132)

Before 1860 the planters were on the average fairly well-to-do with cash incomes ranging from $5,000 to $70,000 per annum; but those living, as most of them did, on their plantations were at little expense for the support of their establishments. (p. 135)

Public opinion was no longer formulated by an educated and broad-visioned group, but by the uneducated men of the pine-ridges and by the cross-roads’ shop-keepers. These soon found demagogues to teach them that good manners and culture were the signs of aristocracy and that from the circle of one-gallus men [I have to use this phrase someplace. JH] came the true public opinion which should govern men, manners and morals. (p. 136)

I believe I remember the charges on what was called the broker’s invoice: (p. 137)

Bagging and mending 15¢ per bale.
Shipping and marking 10¢ per bale.
Drayage 10¢ per bale.
Reweighing 10¢ per bale.
Wharfage 6¢ per bale.
Shipping Permit Brokerage ½%

The cotton tax was 3 cents per pound. (p. 138)

Caucasian League. (p. 139)

… but for the terror inspired by the KKK life for the white man and white woman would have become impossible in the rural sections of the South. For it must be borne in mind that neither under martial law, nor under the carpet-bag government that followed, could the whites hope to find any justice or protection from the misuse of executive or judicial authority. (p. 139)

Yet in those years after the war I was not heedless of the need of combination for general protection. The streets of Charleston were shamefully insecure. Men and women were constantly liable to insult and injury, and at times mobs of disorderly negroes would parade the streets with foul threats. I think every respectable white man in the city must have belonged to the organization for mutual protection. This had precinct and ward commanders. There were a number of summoners whose duty it was to summon each man to attend, armed, at the gathering point of his squad…. Our gathering point was a the corner of Church and Atlantic Streets. The next to the north was at the corner of Queen and Church Streets, and to the west at King and Lamboll… (p. 140)

Through all those years therefore it was believed to be the duty of every able-bodied white man to be present at the poll of his precinct to over-awe the masses of blacks against whom the police were, or professed to be, impotent. (p. 141)

In 1867 was the beginning of the Cotillion Club…. About a dozen of us, headed by Captain Joseph Manigault, agreed to pay for a band, and once a week or perhaps twice a month Miss McKay would invite a number of ladies to meet us, and at her house we dance the German Cotillion. (p. 143)

[Note: throughout his memoir, Smith writes to-day and not today. JH]

Dr. Joseph A. Huger was for a considerable time Quarantine Officer of the Port of Savannah… He must have been about the first who destroyed [mosquitoes] by putting oil in the water. He told me that a spoon full or two of sweet oil poured into the cistern spread over the surface and prevented the escape of the young mosquito. (p. 147)

The police, largely composed of negroes, [In ‘76. JH] stood idly by, and permitted, indeed encouraged, the shameful deeds of violence. (p. 150)

The XIV Amendment to the Constitution was never legally adopted and ratified, yet this and the XV Amendment have given birth to an amount of usurpation, injustice, fraud and misrule that would stagger a Mexican.

To encamp outside the Constitution ” as a temporary expedient of revolutionary politics is doubtless efficacious, but he cruel effect has been that the country has been kept thus encamped for two generations, and it has been necessary to fortify this encampment by interpretations, rendered from time to time by the Supreme Court. (p. 162)

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