I have elsewhere inserted the instructions which are printed in every “Plantation Record,” for the guidance of overseers in the olden time. “Never trust a negro,” is the maxim given by the writer of those instructions. I was frequently cautioned not to believe any statements made by negroes. They were charged with being habitual liars, and entitled to no credence whatever. Mrs. B. constantly assured me the negroes were great liars, and I must not believe them. This assurance would be generally given when I cited them in support of any thing she did not desire to approve. Per contra, she had no hesitation in referring to the negroes to support any of her statements which their testimony would strengthen. This was not altogether feminine weakness, as I knew several instances in which white persons of the sterner sex made reference to the testimony of slaves. The majority of Southern men refuse to believe them on all occasions; but there are many who refer to them if their statements are advantageous, yet declare them utterly unworthy of credence when the case is reversed.
I have met many negroes who could tell falsehoods much easier than they could tell the truth. I have met others who saw no material difference between truth and its opposite; and I have met many whose statements could be fully relied upon. During his whole life, from the very nature of the circumstances which, surround him, the slave is trained in deception. If he did not learn to lie it would be exceedingly strange. It is my belief that the negroes are as truthful as could be expected from their education. White persons, under similar experience and training, would not be good examples for the young to imitate. The negroes tell many lies, but all negroes are not liars. Many white persons tell the truth, but I have met, in the course of my life, several men, of the Caucasian race, who never told the truth unless by accident.
I found in the plantation negroes a proneness to exaggeration, in cases where their fears or desires were concerned. One day, a negro from the back country came riding rapidly to our plantation, declaring that the woods, a mile distant, were “full of Rebels,” and asking where the Yankee soldiers were. I questioned him for some time. When his fears were quieted, I ascertained that he had seen three mounted men, an hour before, but did not know what they were, or whether armed or not.
When I took the plantations, Mrs. B. told me there were twenty bales of cotton already picked; the negroes had told her so. When I surveyed the place on the first day of my occupation, the negroes called my attention to the picked cotton, of which they thought there were twenty or twenty-five bales. With my little experience in cotton, I felt certain there would be not more than seven bales of that lot. When it was passed through the gin and pressed, there were but five bales.