The commissioners in charge of the freedmen gave the negroes every encouragement to plant on their own account. In 1864 there were thirty colored lessees near Milliken’s Bend, and about the same number at Helena. Ten of these persons at Helena realized $31,000 for their year’s labor. Two of them planted forty acres in cotton; their expenses were about $1,200; they sold their crop for $8,000. Another leased twenty-four acres. His expenses were less than $2,000, and he sold his crop for $6,000. Another leased seventeen acres. He earned by the season’s work enough to purchase a good house, and leave him a cash balance of $300. Another leased thirteen and a half acres, expended about $600 in its cultivation, and sold his crop for $4,000.
At Milliken’s Bend the negroes were not as successful as at Helena—much of the cotton crop being destroyed by the “army worm.” It is possible that the return of peace may cause a discontinuance of the policy of leasing land to negroes.
The planters are bitterly opposed to the policy of dividing plantations into small parcels, and allowing them to be cultivated by freedmen. They believe in extensive tracts of land under a single management, and endeavor to make the production of cotton a business for the few rather than the many. It has always been the rule to discourage small planters. No aristocratic proprietor, if he could avoid it, would sell any portion of his estate to a man of limited means. In the hilly portions of the South, the rich men were unable to carry out their policy. Consequently, there were many who cultivated cotton on a small scale. On the lower Mississippi this was not the case.
When the Southern States are fairly “reconstructed,” and the political control is placed in the hands of the ruling race, every effort will be made to maintain the old policy. Plantations of a thousand or of three thousand acres will be kept intact, unless the hardest necessity compels their division. If possible, the negroes will not be permitted to possess or cultivate land on their own account. To allow them to hold real estate will be partially admitting their claim to humanity. No true scion of chivalry can permit such an innovation, so long as he is able to make successful opposition.
I have heard Southern men declare that a statute law should, and would, be made to prevent the negroes holding real estate. I have no doubt of the disposition of the late Rebels in favor of such enactment, and believe they would display the greatest energy in its enforcement. It would be a labor of love on their part, as well as of duty. Its success would be an obstacle in the way of the much-dreaded “negro equality.”