This apartment is technically known as the “lint-room,” and presents an interesting scene while the process of ginning is going on. The air is full of the flying lint, and forcibly reminds a Northerner of a New England snow-storm. The lint falls, like the snow-flakes, with most wonderful lightness, but, unlike the snow-flakes, it does not melt. When the cotton is picked late in the season, there is usually a dense cloud of dust in the lint-room, which settles in and among the fiber. The person who watches the lint-room has a position far from enviable. His lungs become filled with dust, and, very often, the fine, floating fiber is drawn into his nostrils. Two persons are generally permitted to divide this labor. There were none of the men on our plantation who craved it. Some of the mischievous boys would watch their opportunity to steal into the lint-room, where they greatly enjoyed rolling upon the soft cotton. Their amusement was only stopped by the use of a small whip.
The machinery of a cotton-gin is driven by steam or horse power; generally the former. There is no water-power in the State of Louisiana, but I believe some of the lakes and bayous might be turned to advantage in the same way that the tide is used on the sea-coast.
All the larger plantations are provided with steam-engines, the chimneys of which are usually carried to a height sufficient to remove all danger from sparks. There is always a corn-mill, and frequently a saw-mill attached to the gin, and driven by the same power. On every plantation, one day in the week is set apart for grinding a seven-days’ supply of corn. This regulation is never varied, except under the most extraordinary circumstances. There is a universal rule in Louisiana, forbidding any person, white or black, smoking in the inclosure where the gin-house stands. I was told there was a legal enactment to this effect, that affixed heavy penalties to its infringement. For the truth of this latter statement I cannot vouch.
With its own corn-mill, saw-mill, and smithery, each plantation is almost independent of the neighborhood around it. The chief dependence upon the outside world is for farming tools and the necessary paraphernalia for the various branches of field-work. I knew one plantation, a short distance from ours, whose owner had striven hard to make it self-sustaining. He raised all the corn and all the vegetables needed. He kept an immense drove of hogs, and cured his own pork. Of cattle he had a goodly quantity, and his sheep numbered nearly three hundred. Wool and cotton supplied the raw material for clothing. Spinning-wheels and looms produced cloth in excess of what was needed. Even the thread for making the clothing for the negroes was spun on the plantation. Hats were made of the palmetto, which grew there in abundance. Shoes were the only articles of personal wear not of home production. Plows, hoes, and similar implements were purchased in the market, but the plantation was provided with a very complete repair-shop, and the workmen were famous for their skill.