A week after the lessee took possession, he was frightened by the near approach of a company of Rebel cavalry. He broke his contract and departed for the North, forfeiting the five thousand dollars he had advanced. Another lessee was ready to make a new contract with the owner, paying five thousand dollars as his predecessor had done. Four weeks later, this lessee abandoned the field, and the owner was at liberty to begin anew.
To widows and orphans the agents of the Government displayed a commendable liberality. Nearly all of these persons were allowed to retain control of their plantations, leasing them as they saw fit, and enjoying the income. Some were required to subscribe to the oath of allegiance, and promise to show no more sympathy for the crumbling Confederacy. In many cases no pledge of any kind was exacted.
I knew one widow whose disloyalty was of the most violent character. On a visit to New Orleans she was required to take the oath of allegiance before she could leave the steamboat at the levee. She signed the printed oath under protest. A month later, she brought this document forward to prove her loyalty and secure the control of her plantation.
OH THE PLANTATION.
Military Protection.—Promises.—Another Widow.—Securing a Plantation.—Its Locality and Appearance.—Gardening in Louisiana.—How Cotton is Picked.—“The Tell-Tale.”—A Southerner’s Opinion of the Negro Character.—Causes and Consequences.
Parties who proposed to lease and cultivate abandoned plantations were anxious to know what protection would be afforded them. General Thomas and his agents assured them that proper military posts would soon be established at points within easy distance of each other along the river, so that all plantations in certain limits would be amply protected. This would be done, not as a courtesy to the lessees, but as a part of the policy of providing for the care of the negroes. If the lessees would undertake to feed and clothe several thousand negroes, besides paying them for their labor, they would relieve the Government authorities of a great responsibility. They would demonstrate the feasibility of employing the negroes as free laborers. The cotton which they would throw into market would serve to reduce the prices of that staple, and be a partial supply to the Northern factories. All these things considered, the Government was anxious to foster the enterprise, and would give it every proper assistance. The agents were profuse in their promises of protection, and assured us it would be speedily forthcoming.
There was a military post at Vidalia, opposite Natchez, which afforded protection to the plantations in which General Thomas’s family and friends were interested. Another was promised at Waterproof, twenty miles above, with a stockade midway between the two places. There was to be a force of cavalry to make a daily journey over the road between Vidalia and Waterproof. I selected two plantations about two miles below Waterproof, and on the bank of the Mississippi. They were separated by a strip of wood-land half a mile in width, and by a small bayou reaching from the river to the head of Lake St. John. Both plantations belonged to the same person, a widow, living near Natchez.