New and Old Methods On Show at Tuckman Plantation, Silvercoat
In light of the growing consensus among Negrologists that Negroes are capable of greater emotional understanding than previously thought, many planters across the confederacy are actively attempting to establish a deeper, more humane relationship with their slaves.
Caroline, 23, from New Orleans, is one such planter. Her mulatto Percy, 44, was raised by her mother Catherine until her death in 2015. Now, being part of the newest generation of drivers, Caroline feels inclined to seek out new depths in the buck she has inherited, experimenting with new philosophies and techniques quite alien to her mother’s era.
“He’s tremendously warm at heart,” she told us from her back garden at the luscious Tuckman Plantation, just outside Silvercoat. Percy, who boasts a beautiful coat of golden skin, is seated smiling broadly at her side. “I would feel quite lost without him.”
Percy is clothed in a chequered shirt and dark-blue dungarees. His fluffy black hair is almost hidden under a small straw hat.
“He looks very happy,” I say pointing to him.
“Oh, he is,” Caroline grins pleasantly, stroking him on the shoulder. “He’s most content. I try to make things as pleasant as possible for him. The happier they are the harder they work. That was one of my momma’s philosophies. I don’t see any reason to go against that one.”
“Are you happy,” I ask Percy.
His smile grows still broader.
“Yes, ma’am. I surely am. Miss’us Caroline is very kind to me. She is kind to all of us.”
Thirty two Negroes, of various purities, are put to work at Tuckman. From where we sit I can see more than twenty busily at work in the fruit fields. It is a hot day. Many of them work with their torsos unclothed, their black skin shining beautifully under the harsh Louisiana sun. It is a classic Southern scene; in equal parts timeless and modern.
Percy works mainly in the flower garden behind the main house, tending to the rich assortment of sunflowers, opium poppies and red and purple roses which are planted there, divided neatly into rows.
I ask him if he loves his mistress. He wastes no time in responding.
“Yes, I do,” he nods, exposing his shining teeth. “She is like a momma to me. I do miss Miss’us Catherine. But I know that Miss’us Caroline is following her ways. That’s good enough for me.”
“What new techniques have you tried with Percy?” I ask her.
“It’s quite simple really,” she replies, pouring lemonade for us both. (Percy is now contentedly supping from a glass of milk.) ”I try to treat them as I would a human child. Dr Beronstock (Note: a much admired Negrologist from Louisiana State University) suggests that Negroes have the emotional reactions and preferences of a seven year old human. I have a daughter named Lindsey. She’s at university now. But I can still remember how she was at that age. I try to speak and behave in the same way I did then with Percy.”
Beronstock’s novel technique is called “emotional-loading”. It works on the logic that Negroes can be better pacified by loving treatment than by harsh tutelage and raw discipline.
“And what about when he rebels?”
Caroline’s smile disintegrates.
“There are times,” she admits after a pause. “But we have soft techniques for those occasions. He’s had to skip a few meals this past week. He loves his food, so that usually does the trick.”
Before we leave we are shown inside the luxurious Tuckman mansion (completed just after the Confederate victory in 1868), where we are introduced to two more Negroes, one of whom, with her glowing blonde hair, pale skin and dazzling blue eyes, is very difficult to distinguish from a white woman.
“This is Victoria,” Caroline says, pointing to her. “She is an octoroon doe. She works in the kitchens.”
The most dilute Negro working at Tuckman is a doe named Meredith, who, after testing, was found to be just over 2% Negro in ancestry (the remainder being a mix of Scottish, Danish and Norwegian stock). I ask Caroline if there is any trouble with the white-looking Negroes at Tuckman, referencing specifically the recent quintroon uprising in Atlanta.
“No,” she answers quickly, “I have always been very clear about the line of acceptable behaviour. We have a whipping post out the back. I know some people think it’s cruel in this day and age, but it works even only as a deterrent, especially for these, who might try to runaway and blend in with white folk.”
It seems that even as new methods are trialled at Tuckman, the old ways remain ever ready to hand.
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