Henry Bland

[HW: Dist. 5

ExSlv. #7



[MAY -- --]

Henry Bland is one of the few living ex-slaves who was born on a

plantation near Edenton, Ga., in 1851. His parents were Martha and Sam

Coxton. In this family group were three other children, two girls and

one boy, who was the oldest. When questioned regarding the birthplace

and the movements of his parents, Mr. Bland stated that his father was

born in Hancock County, Ga. His mother along with her mother was brought

to Georgia by the speculator with a drove of other slaves. The first

thing that he remembers of his parents is when he was quite small and

was allowed to remain in the Master's kitchen in the "big house" where

his mother was cook.

Mr. Coxton, who was the owner of Mr. Bland and his family, was described

as being very rich and influential man in the community where he lived.

Says Mr. Bland, "His only fault was that of drinking too much of the

whisky that he distilled on the plantation." Unlike some of the other

slave owners in that section, Mr. Coxton was very kind to his slaves.

His plantation was a large one and on it was raised cotton, corn,

cane[TR:?], vegetables, and live stock. More cotton was grown than

anything else.

From the time he was 1 year and 6 months of age until he was 9 years old

he lived in the "big house" with his mother. At night he slept on the

floor there. In spite of this, his and his mother's treatment was

considerably better than that received by those slaves who worked in the

fields. While their food consisted of the same things as did that of the

field slaves, sometimes choice morsels came back to the kitchen from the

Master's table. He says that his mother's clothes were of better quality

than the other slave women (those who were not employed in the house).

As a child his first job was to cut wood for the stove, pick up chips,

and to drive the cows to and from the pasture. When 9 years old he was

sent to the field as a plow boy. Here he worked with a large number of

other slaves (he does not know the exact number) who were divided into

two groups, the plow group and the hoe group. His father happened to be

the foreman of the hoe gang. His brothers and sisters also worked here

in the fields being required to hoe as well as plow. When picking time

came, everyone was required to pick. The usual amount of cotton each

person was required to pick was 200 lbs. per day. However, when this

amount was not picked by some they were not punished by the overseer, as

was the case on neighboring plantations, because Mr. Coxton realized

that some could do more work than others. Mr. Coxton often told his

overseer that he had not been hired to whip the slaves, but to teach

them how to work.

Says Mr. Bland: "Our working hours were the same as on any other

plantation. We had to get up every morning before sun-up and when it was

good and light we were in the field. A bugle was blown to wake us." All

the slaves stayed in the field until dark. After leaving the field they

were never required to do any work but could spend their time as they

saw fit to. No work was required on Saturday or Sunday with the

exception that the stock had to be cared for. Besides those days when no

work was required, there was the 4th of July and Christmas on which the

slaves were permitted to do as they pleased. These two latter dates were

usually spent in true holiday spirit as the master usually gave a big

feast in the form of a barbecue and allowed them to invite their


When darkness came they sang and danced and this was what they called a

"frolic." As a general rule this same thing was permitted after the

crops had been gathered. Music for these occasions was furnished by

violin, banjo and a clapping of hands. Mr. Bland says that he used to

help furnish this music as Mr. Coxton had bought him a violin.

On the Coxton plantation all slaves always had a sufficient amount of

clothing. These clothes which were issued when needed and not at any

certain time included articles for Sunday wear as well as articles for

work. Those servants who worked in the "big house" wore practically the

same clothes as the master and his wife with the possible exception that

it met the qualification of being second-handed. An issue of work

clothing included a heavy pair of work shoes called brogans, homespun

shirts and a pair of jeans pants. A pair of knitted socks was also

included The women wore homespun dresses for their working clothes. For

Sunday wear the men were given white cotton shirts and the women white

cotton dresses. All clothing was made on the plantation by those women

who were too old for field work.

In the same manner that clothing was sufficient, so was food plentiful.

At the end of each week each family was given 4 lbs. of meat, 1 peck of

meal, and some syrup. Each person in a family was allowed to raise a

garden and so they had vegetables whenever they wished to. In addition

to this they were allowed to raise chickens, to hunt and to fish.

However, none of the food that was secured in any of the ways mentioned

above could be sold. When anyone wished to hunt, Mr. Coxton supplied the

gun and the shot.

Although the slaves cooked for themselves, their breakfast and dinner

were usually sent to them in the fields after it had been prepared in

the cook house. The reason for this was that they had to get up too soon

in the morning, and at noon too much time would be lost if they were

permitted to go to their cabins for lunch.

The children who were too young to work in the field were cared for by

some old slave who likewise was unable to do field work. The children

were usually fed pot liquor, corn bread, milk, syrup, and vegetables.

Each one had his individual cup to eat from. The food on Sunday was

usually no different from that of any other day of the week. However,

Mr. Bland says that they never had to break in the smokehouse because of


When asked to describe the living quarters of the slaves on his

plantation he looked around his room and muttered: "Dey wuz a lot better

than dis one." Some of the cabins were made of logs and some of

weatherboards. The chinks in the walls were sealed with mud. In some

instances boards were used on the inside to keep the weather out. There

were usually two windows, shutters being used in the place of window

panes. The chimney and fireplace were made of mud and stones. All

cooking was done at the fireplace as none of them were provided with

stoves. Iron cooking utensils were used. To boil food a pot was hung

over the fire by means of a hook. The remaining furniture was a bench

which served as a chair, and a crude bed. Rope running from side to side

served as bed springs. The mattress was made of straw or hay. For

lighting purposes, pine knots and candles were used. The slaves on the

Coxton plantation were also fortunate in that all cabins had good

floors. All cabins and their furnishings were built by the slaves who

learned the use of hammer and saw from white artisans whom Mr. Coxton

employed from time to time. Mr. Bland remarked that his father was a

blacksmith, having learned the trade in this manner.

A doctor was employed regularly by Mr. Coxton to minister to the needs

of the slaves in time of illness. "We also had our own medicine," says

Mr. Bland. At different times excursions were made to the woods where

"yarbs" (herbs) were gathered. Various kinds of teas and medicines were

made by boiling these roots in water. The usual causes of illness on

this plantation were colds, fevers, and constipation. Castor oil and

salts were also used to a great extent. If an individual was too ill to

work an older slave had to nurse this person.

No effort was made by Mr. Coxton to teach his slaves anything except

manual training. A slave who could use his hands at skilled work was

more valuable than the ordinary field hand. If, however, a slave secured

a book, Mr. Coxton would help him learn to read it. Above all, religious

training was not denied. As a matter of fact, Mr. Coxton required each

one of his servants to dress in his Sunday clothes and to go to church

every Sunday. Services for all were held at the white church--the slaves

sitting on one side and the masters on the other. All preaching was done

by a white pastor.

No promiscuous relationships were allowed. If a man wanted to marry he

merely pointed out the woman of his choice to the master. He in turn

called her and told her that such and such an individual wished her for

a wife. If she agreed they were pronounced man and wife and were

permitted to live together.

The slaves on his plantation were great believers in roots and their

values in the use of conjuring people.

Mr. Bland doesn't remember ever seeing anyone sold by Mr. Coxton, but he

heard that on other nearby plantations slaves were placed on an auction

block and sold like cattle.

None of the slaves were ever whipped or beaten by Mr. Coxton or by

anyone else. If a rule was broken the offender was called before Mr.

Coxton where he was talked to. In some cases a whipping was promised and

that ended the matter. The "Paddie Rollers" whipped the slaves from

other plantations when they were caught off of their premises without a

"pass" but this was never the case when a slave belonging to Mr. Coxton

broke this rule. Mr. Bland remembers that once he and some of his fellow

slaves were away from home without a pass when they were seen by the

"Paddie Rollers" who started after them. When they were recognized as

belonging to Mr. Coxton one of them (Paddie Rollers) said: "Don't bother

them; that's them d---- 'free niggers'." The Paddie Rollers were not

allowed to come on the Coxton plantation to whip his slaves or any other

owner's slaves who happened to be visiting at the time. Mr. Coxton

required that they all be on the plantation by nightfall.

(The above seems to be rather conclusive proof of Mr. Coxton's influence

in the community.) [TR: Parentheses added by hand.]

Whenever a slave committed a crime against the State, his master usually

had to pay for the damage done or pay the slave's fine. It was then up

to him to see that the offender was punished.

Mr. Coxton once saw him (Mr. Bland) beat another slave (who was a guest

at a frolic) when this visitor attempted to draw a pistol on him. Mr.

Bland was upheld in his action and told by Mr. Coxton that he had better

always fight back when anyone struck him, whether the person was white

or black. Further, if he (Mr. Coxton) heard of his not fighting back a

whipping would be in store for him.

Mr. Coxton was different from some of the slave owners in that he gave

the head of each family spending money at Christmas time--the amount

varying with the size of the family.

"When the Civil war was begun the master seemed to be worried all the

time" states Mr. Bland. "He was afraid that we would be freed and then

he would have to hire us to do his work."

When asked to describe his feelings about the war and the possibility of

his being freed, Mr. Bland said that he had no particular feeling of

gladness at all. The outcome of the war did not interest him at all

because Mr. Coxton was such a good master he didn't care whether he was

freed or not. His fellow slaves felt the same way.

When Sherman and the Yankees were marching through they took all of the

live stock but bothered nothing else. The buildings on the adjoining

plantation were all burned. A small skirmish took place about 2 miles

away from Mr. Coxton's plantation when the Yankees and Confederates met.

Mr. Coxton's two sons took part in the war.

Mr. Bland was taken by Sherman's army to Savannah and then to Macon. He

says that he saw President Jeff Davis give up his sword to General

Sherman in surrender.

After the war Mr. Coxton was still well off in spite of the fact that he

had lost quite a bit of money as a result of the war. He saved a great

deal of his cash by burying it when Sherman came through. The cattle

might have been saved if he (Mr. Bland) could have driven them into the

woods before he was seen by some of the soldiers.

At the close of the war Mr. Coxton informed all the slaves that they

were free to go where they wished, but they all refused to leave. Most

of them died on the plantation. Mr. Bland says that when he became of

age his former master gave him a wagon, two mules, a horse and buggy and

ten pigs.

Mr. Bland thinks that old age is a characteristic in his family. His

grandmother lived to be 115 years old and his mother 107 years old.

Although in his 80's, Mr. Bland is an almost perfect picture of health.

He thinks that he will live to become at least 100 years old because he

is going to continue to live as sane a life as he has in the past.

Henry Blake Henry Bobbitt facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail