Benjamin Henderson



M.B. Ross.


Benjamin Henderson.

After acquainting Mr. Benjamin Henderson with the facts of the interview

he informed the writer that he would be very glad to give as much

information as he could concerning the period of "I was only seven years

old when freedom was declared, but I can remember a few facts," he said.

His speech is well chosen and after a short talk one is much impressed

with his intelligence and youthful appearance.

Benjamin Henderson was born September 8, 1858 in Jasper County,

Monticello, Ga., the youngest of three children. His father was Mr. Sam

Henderson, master and owner of the Henderson plantation, and his mother

was Mandy Henderson, a slave. Mr. Sam Henderson never married but

operated his farm with the help of his mother, Mrs. Allie Henderson.

The Henderson plantation comprised 250 acres and Mr. Henderson owned

only five slaves to carry the necessary work. Besides Benjamin's

immediate family there was one other man slave, named Aaron. Cotton,

cattle and vegetables were the chief products of the farm. The work was

divided as follows: Benjamin's job was to keep the yards clean and bring

up the calves at night; his older sister and brother, together with

Aaron, did the field work; and his mother worked in the house as general


The same routine continued from day to day, each person going about his

or her particular job. Plenty of flour was raised on the plantation and

the master had to buy very little.

The Henderson slave houses were of the one-room log type, with one

window and one door; each cabin was furnished with a bed, chair, and

table. Large fireplaces took the place of stoves for cooking. These were

constructed four or five feet in width so that one or two pots or a side

of meat could be suspended from a hook which was fastened on a rack in

the stick and dirt chimney.

Each family was given a spinning wheel and loom. After the day's work

each slave home was the scene of spinning and weaving cloth for the

occupant's clothes and bedding.

The master gave each slave a pair of shoes; Benjamin received his first

pair of shoes when he was five years old. All slaves went barefoot in

summer months.

Summer rations on the Henderson plantations never varied from bacon and

corn bread. In the fall each family was free to eat as many of the

different vegetables as they wanted.

Wooden spoons, bowls, and trays, were kept clean by scouring regularly

with sand. At Christmas those who asked for whiskey were given an ample

amount; and occasionally each family was given a cake baked by Mr.

Henderson's mother.

The master of the Henderson plantation, as well as other plantation

owners', allowed their slaves to work individual cotton patches; when

the cotton was picked he paid them their price for the amount they had

raised. Slaves often earned money, too, by splitting rails at night and

selling them to different plantation owners.

Although Mr. Sam Henderson was a kind master and hardly ever punished

his slaves, there were some masters who were known for their cruelty.

One in particular was an old man by the name of Shirley, who would pick

up anything from a stick to a brush broom to punish his slaves.

Benjamin heard from his elders that some masters constructed stocks like

those of old, and sometimes slaves were whipped while fastened in the

stocks. One slave owner named Gay kept wristbands of iron, and also a

gag made to fit into the mouth and fasten around the neck, which

prevented rolling while being whipped. Besides being punished for

disobedience, a slave was often punished because he failed to complete

the required amount of work. There were certain amounts of work

specified for each slave: 150 rails had to be split a day by the rail

splitters; cotton pickers were supposed to pick 150 pounds of cotton a

day. Should anyone fail to complete his daily task, a sound whipping was

given. Slaves were punished by "patter rollers" or the government

patrol, if caught off of their plantations without a pass. Often slaves

outran the "patter rollers" and escaped the 75 lashes which were in

store for them if they were caught. "Patter rollers" carried a

crooked-handle stick which they would try to fasten around the slaves'

necks or arms. However, the slaves soon learned that the

"patter-rollers" stick would slide off their bare arms and backs, so

they left their shirts if planning to make a visit without a pass.

The second Sunday of each month the slaves attended religious services.

Since there were no separate churches provided, they were allowed to use

the white churches with the white minister in charge. Benjamin Henderson

remarked: "It was my job to ride behind the mistress to church and while

the services were going on I took care of her riding skirt and tended

the horse."

A slave desiring marriage with a slave on another plantation must get

his master's consent after which he went to see the master of his

prospective mate. If both agreed, the marriage was set for the following

Saturday night. All marriages usually took place on Saturday nights. The

master of the bridegroom would then pick a straw broom or a pole and

give two slaves the job of holding the ends of it. To be devilish they

often held the stick too high and would not lower it until the master

asked them to. After the bridegroom made the jump over the stick, the

knot of matrimony was considered tied. Without any more ceremony the

bride became his legal wife. If it so happened that the bride and groom

lived on different plantations the groom would be given two passes a

week, one to visit her on Wednesday nights and another which permitted

him to remain over the weekend, from Saturday until Monday morning.

Following the marriage there would take place the usual "frolic" ending

up with several members drunk. These were thrown into the seed house

where they remained all night.

Slave owners guarded carefully against illness among their slaves. Home

remedies such as certain oil, turpentine, teas of all sorts were used.

If these did no good the doctor was called in; he usually brought along

all varieties of medicine in his saddle bags and gave what was needed.

Benjamin Henderson considers that people were much healthier in those

days and did not need doctors often.

He tells this story: "My mistress had a daughter who was married and had

three sons who were Confederate soldiers. I remember the day they rode

up on their grey horses to take dinner and say goodbye to the family.

When they were ready to leave their grandmother gave them an old

testament and told them to take it and read it and make good soldiers of

themselves. One son replied, 'Oh grandma it won't last long, we're going

to bring old Lincoln's head back and set it on the gate post for a

target.' But they didn't come back: all three were killed. The master of

the plantation also enlisted in the army; he was able to come home every

week or two".

After the war Benjamin's mother married and moved with her husband to

another farm, where she spent the rest of her life. Some families moved

to other plantations, and during the first year after the war they were

forced to work for one-sixth of the crop raised. The next year

plantation owners realized this amount was unfair and agreed to let the

ex-slaves work for one-third of the crops raised. Finally they worked on

halves. Even now, working on halves is common in rural villages.

Benjamin Henderson believes he has lived long because he has lived a

clean, useful life filled with plenty of hard work. He married at the

age of 28 years and was the father of five children, none of whom are


His physical condition prevents him from working at present, but he has

not given up hope that he will soon be able to take care of himself


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