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Belle Waring: A Woman Rice Planter: Noted for August 25, 2013

Belle Waring: A Woman Rice Planter — Crooked Timber:

After my grandmother died and before my dad sold the house (with much gnashing of teeth and wailing on my part) I nabbed some excellent books, in particular A Woman Rice Planter, by Patience Pennington, published in 1903. An unmarried woman living just to the north of my family home, she relates her trials as she attempts to keep her family plantation running after the end of the Civil War. This is just a taste of how much her former slaves, who now either work for her or are sharecroppers, hate her, and how much she completely doesn’t understand that they do, or why:

The renters made very fine crops—30, 40, and 45 bushels to the acre, while the wages fields only made 17. This is a complete reversal of the ordinary results, for I have very rarely, in all my years, made less than 30 bushes to the acre on my fields, and I was very discouraged and greatly anxious to understand the reason of this sudden failure in the wages rice at both plantations.

By the merest chance I found out the cause. Early in December I was planting oats in a 6-acre field. We broad-cast winter oats in this section and then plough it in on fields that have been planted in peas before. I was anxious to get the field finished before a freeze, and had six of my best ploughmen in it. Grip had prevented my going out until they were nearly finished, but Bonaparte assured me that it was being well done. When I went to the field it looked strange to me—the rich brown earth did not lie in billowy ridges as a ploughed field usually does. Here and there a weed skeleton stood erect. I tried to pull up one or two of those and found that they were deeply rooted in the soil and had never been turned. I walked over that field with my alpenstock for hours, and found that systematically the ploughmen had left from eight to ten inches of hard land between each furrow, covering it skilfully with fresh earth, so that each hand who had been paid for an acre’s ploughing had in reality ploughed only one-third of an acre! And then I understood the failure of all the wage rice!

Does she really not see how much more difficult this was? Where did they get the nice earth? Is there a great big hole in the woods behind the field? If it’s out in the middle of somewhere, how’d they carry the dirt there? How did they lay it down at the same time they pretended to plough? This happens in the first 15 pages of the book. I will blow y’all’s minds.