Interview background: Life on the Plantation
Part Two: Interview with N.B. de Saussure
The Slaves and the Plantation
GVD: How did your parents come into owning slaves?
NBD: My father and mother inherited most of their negroes . . .
The Master-Slave Attachment
GVD: Can you speak to the “attachment” between slave and master that often occurred?
NBD: There was an attachment existing between master and mistress and their slaves which one who had never borne such a relation could never understand. In one of my rare visits South to my own people, the old-time darkies, our former slaves, walked twenty miles to see “Miss Nancy” and her little daughter, and the latter, your dear mother, would often be surprised, when taken impulsively in their big black arms, and hugged and kissed and cried over “for ol’ times’ sake.”
GVD: to be candid, wouldn’t your had preferred freedom?
NBD: When I would inquire into their welfare and present condition I heard but one refrain, “I’d never known what it was to suffer till freedom came, and we lost our master.” Yes, Dorothy dear, a lot of children unprepared to enjoy the Emancipation Proclamation were suddenly confronted with life’s problems.
GVD: Can you speak more to the attachment of the slave to the master, as you experienced?
NBD: In spite of many misrepresentations by those who can never comprehend the tender attachment existing in those days between master and slave, I want you to have a clear idea of it, and I want you to know that the Southerner understood, and understands to this day, the negro’s character better than the Northerner, and is in the main kinder to, and more forbearing with him. There were countless incidents during the war of love and loyalty shown by the negroes to their former owners, which you will read of in the many stories written now by those who know the truth.
GVD: you have a letter from a Reverend Lathrop who speaks to the master/slave attachment. Would you mind sharing some of it with us?
[A letter to N.B. from an Edward Lathrop…]
I was nursed by a negro woman to whom I was most fondly attached, and who, I believe, loved me as she would her own son. I have had the opportunity to mingle freely with slaveholders of different characters and dispositions, and while I regard slavery as such an enormous evil and am heartily glad that it has been abolished in this country, I am bound in candor to say that my observation, during all these years of my residence in Georgia and South Carolina, thoroughly convinced me that in the majority of cases slaves were more kindly treated and brought into more intimate and kindly relations to white families than they are now, though free. This, of course, is not given as an apology for slavery, but it is a simple statement of facts. I might refer, for example, to what I witnessed and felt, while a guest, on more than one occasion, in the house of your honored father and mother. Your father seemed to me to be as watchful of the interests, both temporal and spiritual, of his slaves as of his own immediate white family. It was, to my mind, a beautiful illustration of patriarchal slavery, as it existed in the days of Abraham. Of course there were exceptions to this treatment of slaves by their owners, but, as a rule, so far as my observation extended, your father’s methods were universally approved, while the cruel slaveholder was indignantly condemned and repudiated.
Beaufort District (now county) was probably the largest slaveholding district in the State. Most that I have stated above, as to the kindly treatment of slaves was emphatically true of Beaufort. The Baptist Church, in addition to its white membership, embraced about two thousand slaves. These slaves, as church members, enjoyed equal privileges with the whites. The Lord’s Supper was administered to them and to the whites impartially and at the same time.
– Edward Lathrop