AMONG THE OFFICIALS.
Reasons for Trying an Experiment.—Activity among Lessees.—Opinions of the Residents.—Rebel Hopes in 1863.—Removal of Negroes to West Louisiana.—Visiting Natchez.—The City and its Business.—“The Rejected Addresses.”
In my visit to Vicksburg I was accompanied by my fellow-journalist, Mr. Colburn, of The World. Mr. Colburn and myself had taken more than an ordinary interest in the free-labor enterprise. We had watched its inception eight months before, with many hopes for its success, and with as many fears for the result. The experiment of 1863, under all its disadvantages, gave us convincing proof that the production of cotton and sugar by free labor was both possible and profitable. The negro had proved the incorrectness of the slaveholders’ assertion that no black man would labor on a plantation except as a slave. So much we had seen accomplished. It was the result of a single year’s trial. We desired to see a further and more extensive test.
While studying the new system in the hands of others, we were urged to bring it under our personal observation. Various inducements were held out. We were convinced of the general feasibility of the enterprise, wherever it received proper attention. As a philanthropic undertaking, it was commendable. As a financial experiment, it promised success. We looked at the matter in all its aspects, and finally decided to gain an intimate knowledge of plantation life in war-time. Whether we succeeded or failed, we would learn more about the freedmen than we had hitherto known, and would assist, in some degree, to solve the great problem before the country. Success would be personally profitable, while failure could not be disastrous.
We determined to lease a plantation, but had selected none. In her directions for cooking a hare, Mrs. Glass says: “First, catch your hare.” Our animal was to be caught, and the labor of securing it proved greater than we anticipated.
All the eligible locations around Vicksburg had been taken by the lessees of the previous season, or by newly-arrived persons who preceded us. There were several residents of the neighboring region who desired persons from the North to join them in tilling their plantations. They were confident of obtaining Rebel protection, though by no means certain of securing perfect immunity. In each case they demanded a cash advance of a few thousands, for the purpose of hiring the guerrillas to keep the peace. As it was evident that the purchase of one marauding band would require the purchase of others, until the entire “Confederacy” had been bought up, we declined all these proposals.