Recreation and Luxury among the Slaves
Saturday, Dec. 25. From Christmas to New-Year's Day, most of the slaves, except house servants, enjoy a freedom from labor; and Christmas is especially holiday, or Saturnalia, with them. The young ones began last night firing crackers, and I do not observe that they are engaged in any other amusement to-day; the older ones are generally getting drunk, and making business for the police. I have seen large gangs coming in from the country, and these con- trast much in their general appearance with the town negroes. The latter are dressed expensively, and frequently more elegantly than the whites. They seem to be spending money freely, and I observe that they, and even the slaves that wait upon me at the hotel, often have watches, and other articles of value.
The slaves have a good many ways of obtaining "spending money,"
which, though in law belonging to their owner, as the property of a son
under age does to his father, they are never dispossessed of, and use for
their own gratification, with even less restraint than a wholesome regard for
their health and moral condition may be thought to require. A Richmond
paper, complaining of the liberty allowed to slaves in this respect, as
calculated to foster an insubordinate spirit, speaks of their "champagne
suppers." The police broke into a gambling cellar a few nights since,
and found about twenty negroes at "high play," with all the usual
accessories of a first-class "Hell." It is mentioned that, among the
number taken to the watch-house, and treated with lashes the next morning,
there were some who had previously enjoyed a high reputation for piety, and
others of a very elegant or foppish appearance. Passing two negroes in the
street, I heard the following:
"- Workin' in a tobacco factory all de year roun', an' come Christmas, only twenty dollars! Workin' mighty hard, too-up to 12 o'clock o' night very often - an' then to hab a nigger oberseah!" "A nigger!"
"Yes - dat's it, yer see. Wouldn't care if `twarnt for dat. Nothin' but a dirty nigger! orderin' `round, jes' as if he was a wite man!"
It is the custom of tobacco manufacturers to hire slaves and free negroes at a certain rate of wages per year. A task of 45 lbs. per day is given them to work up, and all that they choose to do more than this they are paid for - payment being made once a fortnight; and invariably this over-wages is used by the slave for himself, and is usually spent in drinking, licentiousness and gambling. The man was grumbling that he had saved but $20 to spend at the holidays. One of the manufacturers offered to show me, by his books, that nearly all gained by overwork $5 a month, many $20, and some as much as $28.