There were many who could not understand why, if they were free, they should be restricted from going where they pleased at all times. I explained that it was necessary, for the successful management of the plantation, that I should always be able to rely upon them. I asked them to imagine my predicament if they should lose half their time, or go away altogether, in the busiest part of the season. They “saw the point” at once, and readily acknowledged the necessity of subordination.
I found no one who imagined that his freedom conferred the right of idleness and vagrancy. All expected to labor in their new condition, but they expected compensation for their labor, and did not look for punishment. They expected, further, that their families would not be separated, and that they could be allowed to acquire property for themselves. I know there were many negroes in the South who expected they would neither toil nor spin after being set free, but the belief was by no means universal. The story of the negro at Vicksburg, who expected his race to assemble in New York after the war, “and have white men for niggers,” is doubtless true, but it would find little credence with the great majority of the freedmen of the South.
The schedule of wages, as established by the commissioners, was read and explained. The negroes were to be furnished with house-rent, rations, fuel, and medical attendance, free of charge. Able-bodied males were to receive eight dollars a month. Other classes of laborers would be paid according to the proportionate value of their services. We were required to keep on hand a supply of clothing, shoes, and other needed articles, which would be issued as required and charged on account. All balances would be paid as soon as the first installment of the cotton crop was sent to market.
This was generally satisfactory, though some of the negroes desired weekly or monthly payments. One of them thought it would be better if they could be paid at the end of each day, and suggested that silver would be preferable to greenbacks or Confederate money. Most of them thought the wages good enough, but this belief was not universal. One man, seventy years old, who acted as assistant to the “hog-minder,” thought he deserved twenty-five dollars per month, in addition to his clothing and rations. Another, of the same age, who carried the breakfast and dinner to the field, was of similar opinion. These were almost the only exceptions. Those whose services were really valuable acquiesced in the arrangement.
On our plantation there was an old negress named “Rose,” who attended the women during confinement. She was somewhat celebrated in her profession, and received occasional calls to visit white ladies in the neighborhood. After I had dismissed the negroes and sent them to their quarters, I was called upon by Rose, to ascertain the rate at which she would be paid. As she was regularly employed as one of the house-servants, I allowed her the same wages that the other women received. This was satisfactory, so far, but it was not entirely so. She wished to understand the matter of perquisites.