“I put in for one of dem old age pensions, but dey ain’t give me nothin’ yet, so I jus’ wuk when I kin, and hope dat it won’t be long ’fore I has plenty again.”
By Adella S. Dixon [HW: (Colored)]
[Jul 28 1937]
Della Briscoe, now living in Macon, is a former slave of Mr. David Ross, who owned a large plantation in Putnam County. Della, when a very tiny child, was carried there with her father and mother, Sam and Mary Ross. Soon after their arrival the mother was sent to work at the “big house” in Eatonton. This arrangement left Della, her brother and sister to the care of their grandmother, who really posed as their mother. The children grew up under the impression that their mother was an older sister and did not know the truth until just after the close of the Civil War, when the mother became seriously ill and called the children to her bedside to tell them goodbye.
Mr. David Ross had a large family and was considered the richest planter in the county. Nearly every type of soil was found on his vast estate, composed of hilly sections as well as acres of lowlands. The highway entering Eatonton divided the plantation and, down this road every Friday, Della’s father drove the wagon to town with a supply of fresh butter, for Mrs. Ross’ thirty head of cows supplied enough milk to furnish the city dwellers with butter.
Refrigeration was practically unknown, so a well was used to keep the butter fresh. This cool well was eighty feet deep and passed through a layer of solid rock. A rope ladder was suspended from the mouth of the well to the place where the butter was lowered for preservation. For safety, and to shield it from the sun, reeds were planted all around the well. And as they grew very tall, a stranger would not suspect a well being there.
In addition to marketing, Della’s father trapped beavers which were plentiful in the swampy part of the plantation bordering the Oconee, selling their pelts to traders in the nearby towns of Augusta and Savannah, where Mr. Ross also marketed his cotton and large quantities of corn. Oxen, instead of mules, were used to make the trips to market and return, each trip consuming six or seven days.
The young children were assigned small tasks, such as piling brush in “new grounds”, carrying water to field hands, and driving the calves to pasture.
Punishment was administered, though not as often as on some plantations. The little girl, Della, was whipped only once—for breaking up a turkey’s nest she had found. Several were accused of this, and because the master could not find the guilty party, he whipped each of the children.
Crime was practically unknown and Mr. Ross’ slaves never heard of a jail until they were freed.