Read CHAPTER VI - THE NEGRO CENSUS FROM THE SADDLE of The Boy With the U.S. Census, free online book, by Francis Rolt-Wheeler, on

Leaving New York the next day after his visit to the Immigration Station on Ellis Island, Hamilton stayed only a few hours in Washington to receive final instructions before proceeding to the southwestern part of Kentucky where his work as a population census-taker was to begin.

At the appointed place he found the supervisor awaiting him.

“I suppose you know,” remarked his brother’s friend, shaking hands, “that I’ve given you a fairly well scattered district to cover. You said you wanted to get a chance to see Kentucky as it really is, and this, together with your mountain experience, ought to give you variety enough.”

“They told me in Washington that it was largely a negro district?” the boy said questioningly.

“It is about as much of a black district as any in Kentucky,” was the reply, “but it isn’t solid black by any means. Therein lies its interest. The negroes are of all varieties, from old-time slaves who have never left the plantation on which they were piccaninnies during the war, to progressive negroes owning fair-sized tracts of land, most of them still living in the one-room shacks that you see all over the country, but a few having bought what used to be the ‘big house’ in antebellum days.”

“That’s just exactly what I was after,” Hamilton said with delight. “How do I cover it, sir? In the saddle?”

“You can drive, if you want to,” the supervisor replied, “and if it wasn’t for the agricultural schedules, I think it would be easier to do the work from a buggy. But with the field work to consider, and in a district as scattered as yours is, the saddle might work out better.”

“I had been thinking of that,” Hamilton said, “if a farmer was on the other side of a plowed patch, I’d have no way of getting to him in a buggy except by tying the horse and walking, while in the saddle I could easily take short cuts. And I imagine, in a countryside such as you say this is, I’ll probably need to see every one on the place in order to get anything like accurate figures.”

“It’s not at all unlikely,” the supervisor rejoined. “Well, I thought you would be needing a horse, and I’ve been looking round for one for some time. I think I have the very one you will want. I told the owner to hold back sale until you had a chance to look at her.”

“Then the quicker I see the owner, the better?” suggested the boy.

“I think I had better go with you,” the supervisor said, “and then they won’t try any over-clever work. Horse-dealing isn’t always the most guileless business, you know.”

“So I’ve understood,” Hamilton said, “and I really don’t know enough to judge the fine points of a horse.”

“I was born and bred in the Blue Grass,” his friend remarked, “and so I’ve been around horses pretty much all my days. The census work is quite a change from that.”

“I hope you didn’t have any bother over my coming in this somewhat irregular way?” asked Hamilton, remembering what Mr. Burns had said to him in Washington.

The supervisor laughed.

“Nothing serious,” he said, “but there were several people who tried to cut you out, one of them especially. There were three applicants for this district, and the one who was most resentful about an outsider coming in wouldn’t have been appointed under any circumstances. Indeed, the best of the three undertook to describe the other two. His letter was a wonder,” he added, picking up one of the files; “I think I saved it. Yes, here it is. Read it, while I get ready to go out with you,” and he handed the letter to Hamilton.

The letter was as follows in every detail:


“Dr. Sir I made out the Blank for a Job taking Census was a going
to make it & when I Got to the Postoffice there was such an a ray
of aplicants I concluded not to do so

“in the first Place there is two of these aplicants are Habichual Drunkards one Professor A the other Mr. P A was born in Canaday & has NO Interest here Except to be Suported by his wife & the Publick & has had his Last School to Teach in this Town. he is so Imoral People will not Tollerate him any Longer the Wrighter has seen him on a Saturday SO Drunk he would Fall against People he met if that is the Kind of Man you are looking For I don’t want a Job I can get along without

“I will send in my application Just the Same

“Mr. P is Not fare behind and is Dealer in Coal & Feed & his
Father has to take Cair of the Business for him.

“Dont concider him for a moment Mr

“as to my self this is the Firste time I ever aske for Publick
Buisness & I am an Indipendent Belever of mans Privlages & always
lived in this County

“you have this Information Without feer of any of above statements
Being Denide

“I remain Resptfully

Hamilton laughed as he returned the letter to the supervisor, who had just come back with his hat and gloves as the boy finished reading the epistle.

“I don’t think I need have been afraid of any of those three as rivals,” he said, “that is, if our friend is right. His information, however, may not be any more correct than his spelling.”

“It’s exaggerated, of course,” the supervisor answered, “that’s easy to see, but setting aside the question of jealousy there’s a good deal of truth in what he says. Selecting and teaching enumerators was no light job, let me tell you. You take seventy-five to a hundred absolutely green hands, who have never done anything like it before, and it is a hard proposition to make them understand. When you have to try and teach them in a few weeks just how to do what is really difficult to do well, you have a heavy task on your hands.”

“You didn’t appoint any colored enumerators, I suppose?” Hamilton questioned.

“No,” the supervisor answered decidedly. “My judgment was against it to start with and I couldn’t see that any of my districts warranted it. It may be different in counties where the proportion of colored population runs as high as eighty and ninety per cent, but there are none like that in Kentucky.”

“Just in Georgia and Mississippi?”

“Alabama, South Carolina, and Arkansas have a few scattering ‘black’ counties too,” the supervisor answered, “for I wrote to several places about this very colored enumerator question. I found the supervisors over those districts about evenly divided for and against. I have been able to get suitable men all through, I think, though I might have had difficulty in securing a good appointee for your district.”

“It’s pretty wild out there evidently,” Hamilton said anticipatorily.

“Not so much wild as isolated. Kentucky is scarcely a railroad center, you know. Out of twenty-one counties in my district, fourteen possess neither railroad, telegraph, nor telephone connection with the rest of the world at all.”

Hamilton whistled softly.

“I hadn’t realized that there was any part of Kentucky as isolated as that,” he said, “even in the mountains. But I’m glad, just the same, because these isolated communities are much more fun than the places where everybody seems to be cut out by the same pattern.”

“You’ll find all the variety you want,” the supervisor remarked, as he turned into a big stable building, “and you’ll need four legs more beside your own two.” He led the way to a stall near the far end of the building, and brought out the little mare of which he had been speaking.

“What a beauty!” exclaimed the boy.

The supervisor laughed.

“That’s no way to buy a horse,” he said, turning to the stableman; “it’s a good thing I arranged the price before he came, or you’d have tacked on another twenty dollars.”

“Easy, and more than that,” said the owner, with a grin.

“Well, Noble,” said his friend, “I don’t hear yon raising any objections.”

“I haven’t any,” the boy replied promptly. “And the price is what you said to me?” he queried, turning to the supervisor.

“Yes, that stands,” his friend replied.

“All right, then,” said Hamilton, “I’ll take her.”

The supervisor pulled out his pocketbook.

“I had an idea,” he said, “that you were just boy enough to want the mare when you saw her and to want her right away. I made out a check for the amount, and you can make one out to me when you get ready,” and he handed the slip to the boy.

Hamilton started to thank him, but the supervisor cut him short.

“If you’ll come to the office this afternoon,” he said, “the clerk will give you the schedules and papers all ready made out for your district. Here’s a typewritten copy of the lectures I’ve been giving to the enumerators, and while I don’t suppose you really need to, you had better read it over and return it to me when you’re through with it. Now I’m going to leave you here with this gentleman,” he added, nodding to the owner of the horse, “and you can arrange with him about getting a saddle and so forth for the mare. Drop in at the office in the morning as you start out and I’ll make sure that nothing has been forgotten. See you later,” and with a nod to Hamilton, he stepped out of the stable.

To the boy the afternoon fairly seemed to fly, there were so many things to do; and it was not until just before closing hours that he reached the office and secured his portfolio. He had a brief chat with the clerk, and went back to his hotel to study carefully the map of his district and the route suggested, and to make sure that he thoroughly understood the population and agricultural schedules he would have to use. They were different in form, of course, from the manufacturing schedules which the boy knew by heart, but the essential principles were the same, and Hamilton found that in half an hour’s time he saw plain sailing.

“It’s a mighty good thing I had that manufacturing work,” he said half aloud, “or I’d find this pretty tricky. I should think it would be hard for any one not at all used to it.”

By supper time they kept to old-fashioned ways in the little hotel Hamilton felt himself perfectly sure of his ground on the work, and he went to bed early, knowing he had a long ride and a hard day before him.

The following morning, an early breakfast over, Hamilton started on the journey to his enumeration district, stopping at the office for a moment’s chat with his friend the supervisor, and receiving his good-luck wishes before he went. The mare was a delight, being well-paced, and the horseman from whom Hamilton had bought the animal had taken a great deal of pains to get him a saddle tree that fitted him, so that the boy enjoyed every minute of the ride. He reached the first point in his district about one o’clock, and after a hasty dinner started to work. The place was a tiny village, containing about forty houses.

The population work, as Hamilton had expected, proved to be comparatively simple, and the first house he visited was a fair sample of the greater number of those he tabulated all through the month. As a typical example it impressed itself upon his memory. He began next door to the house where he had eaten dinner. The natural privacy of a home was quite different from the public nature of a factory, and Hamilton felt a little strange as he walked up to the door and knocked.

“Good-morning,” he said, as soon as the door was opened, “I’m the census-taker and I called for the paper that was sent for you to fill in.”

“Yo’ mean dat ar big sheet o’ paper, jes’ noth’n but quest’ns?” answered the young negro woman, who appeared at the door.

“That’s it,” the boy answered, “is it all filled out and ready?”

“Lawsy, no! Why, it would take me fo’ eveh to do all that writin’. Ah’m no school-teacheh. An’ besides, that’s fo’ fahmers. An’ yo’ have anotheh jes’ like it!” she continued, noting the portfolio the boy carried. “Ah jes’ know I can’t eveh tell yo’ all dose things.”

“This is different,” Hamilton pointed out. “Those other questions are about farms, just as you say, but these are all about your own family.”

“Yes, sah, yes, sah. Ah tol’ mah husban’ so when we were talkin’ about that yar farm business. The paper in the town gave a list o’ questions, an’ Ah thought Ah would get mah Steve to help me get ready so’s Ah sh’d be able to answer yo’ rightly when yo’ come aroun’, but he jes’ said he was too tiehed to do anythin’, an’ dat ar census list is the confusin’est thing Ah eveh saw. Ah thought Ah ought to do somethin’, an’ so Ah jes’ took a big sheet o’ wrappin’ paper an’ started to write the answers to the quest’ns on that, thinkin’ some o’ the neighbors’ children would copy it on the sheet fo’ me. But, I tell yo’, sah, that befo’ I was half way through tellin’ what the newspaper said we had to tell, I was so mixed up that I was writin’ mahself down as mah own daughter and provin’ that the baby was twice divo’ced.”

“Then you really haven’t got anything ready at all,” said Hamilton.

“Nothin’, sah.”

“Then I’ll just have to ask you the questions, and put the answers down myself,” the boy said cheerfully. “We might as well start right now.”

“Won’t yo’ come in, sah?” the woman suggested. “Yo’ll need a table, an’ pens an’ ink.”

“I have a fountain pen,” the lad answered, “but it would be easier writing on a table. I guess I will come in. Now,” he continued, as soon as he was seated, “has this house a number?”

“Yas, sah,” the woman replied, “seventeen, High Street.”

“And this is the first family I’ve seen, and the first house,” said Hamilton, entering a “1” in both columns. “Now for the head of the family. I think you said something about your husband?”

“Yas, sah, Steve, he’s my husban’. We done been married six years.”

“You say his name is Stephen? What is his other name?”

“Lawson, sah.”

“He’s colored, I suppose.”

“Yas, sah, he’s quite dark complected.”

“And you’re his first wife?” queried the boy, as he wrote “Lawson, Stephen,” in the name column, the word “Head” in the relation column, and the letter “B” for black, under the color or race column.

“Ah reckon Ah’m his first wife,” the woman replied, “he was jes’ twenty-one when Ah married him.”

“And you’ve been married six years,” the boy went on, entering Stephen Lawson’s age as 27, the number of years married as “6,” and “,” to show that he was married, and married only once. “But you look like a girl still,” he added, “you must have been married very young.”

“Ah was jes’ sixteen,” she answered; “we was married on mah birthday.”

“And your name is ?”

“Lily, sah.”

“Any other name?”

“Mariamne, sah.”

For a moment or two Hamilton wrote busily, filling in “Lily M.,” “Wife,” “F” for female, “Mu” for mulatto, “22” for present age, “” for first marriage, and “6” for the number of years in wedlock.

“You have children?”

“One li’l boy, sah, but he’s deaf an’ dumb. An’ so quick an’ clever, sah, in other ways, yo’ wouldn’ believe!”

“That’s hard luck,” said Hamilton kindly, “but they do such wonderful things to help them now, you know. And he can learn a lot by reading.”

“Yas, sah, it’s hard enough. But we’re glad he ain’t blind.”

“And what is his name?”

“Edward Habberton, sah, an’ he’s jes’ fo’ years old, near five.”

Hamilton entered the name of the little deaf and dumb boy, whom he could see sitting in an inner room, and noted down in the schedule his age, his color, and the nature of his affliction.

“Now, Lily,” he continued, “were you both born in Kentucky?”

“No, sah,” she replied, “none of us, savin’ little Eddie. I’m f’om Delaware, an’ mah Steve, he’s f’om Maryland, where my mother come f’om.”

“Wait a bit,” said Hamilton, holding up his hand to stop her, “let me get this straight. Stephen Lawson is from Maryland, you said, you’re from Delaware, and the boy was born in this State. Is that right?”

“Yas, sah.”

“And you said your mother came from Maryland but I suppose since you’re from Delaware your father was from Delaware also.”

“Yes, sah,” the woman answered, “he done live in Wilmin’ton all his life.”

So Hamilton put down the birthplaces of the wife’s parents and in the same fashion those of the husband, while the filling in of the columns for the parents of the child was simply a matter of copying.

“There’s no need to find out about your naturalization then,” he went on, “of course you’re both Americans. And you both speak English,” and he entered this also on the language column.

“What does your husband work at?” was the boy’s next query.

“He’s a gardener, sah.”

“Odd jobs?”

“Oh, no, sah, in the big nu’sery here.”

“On regular wages, then?”

“Yas, sah, nine dollahs a week.”

“I don’t have to put down how much he earns,” the boy explained, “only to state whether he is paying wages, or being paid wages, or working on his own account. But you must find it hard to get along on nine a week.”

“Ah make mo ’n he does,” the woman explained.

“You do? How?”

“Washin’, sah. An’ Ah take a lot o’ fine washin’, laces an’ things like that, which the ladies want jes’ as carefully done! Ah make as high as twelve an’ sometimes fifteen dollahs a week.”

“That helps a lot,” said Hamilton, as he noted down the facts that the woman was a laundress, and that she worked on her own account, typified by the letters “O.A.” in the wage column.

“You both read and write or, wait a bit, I think you said you couldn’t write, and that you have to get the neighbors’ children to help you.”

“Ah can read pretty well,” the woman replied, “but Ah never had enough schoolin’ to write much; mah mother was ill all the time, an’ Ah had to stay home. But Steve, he writes beautiful, an’ he makes out all mah bills an’ things like that.”

“I think there’s only one question more,” the boy said, delighted to find that after all, even in the house of a negro laundress who did not know how to write, the information could be so easily secured. After jotting down a “Yes” and a “No” respectively for Husband and Wife in the columns for literacy, he continued, “And that question is, whether this house is owned by you or whether you rent it.”

“We’re only rentin’ it, sah. Steve wants to buy it an’ put a mo’gage on, but Ah don’t know anythin’ about mo’gages an’ Ah won’t buy until Ah can pay the whole price right down. Don’ yo’ think Ah’m right?”

“Well, Lily,” answered the lad, as he folded up his portfolio and prepared to go to the next house, “it would hardly do for one of Uncle Sam’s census men to come between a husband and a wife on the question of their buying of their own home, would it?”

“Ah reckon not, sah. Is that all, sah?”

“Yes, Lily, that’s all, and I’m very much obliged.”

“It wasn’t so awful bad,” said the woman, with a sigh of relief.

“It’s easy enough to answer census questions when you want to make it easy and tell a straight story,” Hamilton replied, “but you see what trouble it would be for me with some one who wasn’t willing to talk, and how hard it would be for any one to make up a story as he went along, and find it tally at every point in all the later questions.”

“Well, sah,” she called, in reply, as the lad passed out, “Ah jes’ hope yo’ don’ fin’ a single one like that in this hyar whole village.”

“I hope not, Lily. Good-morning,” he rejoined and turned toward the next house.

The enumeration of the rest of the village went on rapidly. By working quickly Hamilton was able to complete the numbering of the village by nightfall, and he so stated on his daily report card, which he mailed to the supervisor that evening.

The following morning he started off on his little mare, and struck something new and puzzling at every holding he touched. The agricultural schedule fairly made his head swim. It had certain difficulties which the manufacturing schedule did not have, because, although the latter contained more detailed information and required a more accurate statement, still all manufacturers kept books. For the details needed in the agricultural statistics no books had been kept; the negro farmer seldom or never knew how many chickens he had, and the wild guesses that would be made as to value of animals and land nearly turned the boy’s hair gray. Some of the white farmers were every bit as careless, one man valuing his horses at $200 apiece and the next at $50; one man estimating his land at $150 an acre and the next at $10.

A typical case was that of Patrick Meacham. Hamilton secured the facts for his population schedule with comparatively little trouble from the Meacham household, although he had to listen to a great deal of unnecessary family history. There was no great difficulty, moreover, in finding out that the farm consisted of 80 acres owned and 10 rented, but a snag of the first magnitude was encountered on the question as to how much of it was improved.

“Sure, ’tis all improved,” the farmer said; “it was in horrible shape whin I bought it.”

“I don’t mean improved that way,” Hamilton objected, “what I want to know is how much of it is good for pasture, is prepared for crops, and so forth.”

“Sure, it’s all good for somethin’,” the Irishman answered; “what for should I buy it if it wasn’t good for anythin"?”

“Have you a wood-lot?” asked Hamilton, deciding to try and get at the question in another way.

“I have a wood-lot. But I built a good strong fence around it, since I came here, ye don’t mean to tell me that doesn’t improve it? If ye lived here, ye’d know better.”

“That’s all right, Mr. Meacham, it makes it better all right, but it isn’t counted in as ‘improved land.’ I’ll put it down specially though. There’s ten acres of it, you said.”

“And there’s ten acres of swamp land that ye couldn’t improve unless ye built it on piles,” the farmer said.

“I’ll have to refer that to the Reclamation Service, I guess,” the boy answered, “anyhow for the time we’ll just call it ‘unimproved’ and let it go at that.”

The next few questions passed off without a hitch, but an inquiry concerning the number of animals born on the place during the year was like opening the flood-gates of a dam. If Meacham had been as good a farmer as a yarn-spinner there would have been no question as to his success, for he had some story to tell about every yearling on the place, and they were inimitably told. It was with great reluctance that Hamilton found himself obliged to head off the man’s eloquence and make him stick to hard facts. An inquiry as to the number of eggs sold was somewhat of a puzzle, but the farmer’s wife knew the amount of the “trade” she had received at the grocery store in the nearest town in return for eggs, and at an average sale price of nine cents a dozen, this was easily computed. She was also the authority on the amount of butter made and sold, and on the garden truck.

The business man of the house was a twelve-year-old boy. Not far away, a neighbor had forty acres in clover and some fruit trees, and knowing the value of bees for pollinating the fruit, he was glad to have this boy keep six hives near the orchard and field. A good share of the honey had gone to the neighbor, and the family themselves had used all they wanted, but still the boy’s profit for what he had sold amounted to sixty dollars. He was keen to have Hamilton enter him on the schedule as an independent apiarist on his own account, but Hamilton pointed out to him that a $250 farm was the smallest one allowed to be listed.

This low limit was almost reached the next day when Hamilton found himself on a peanut farm for the first time. He had always known that peanuts, unlike all other “nuts,” grew underground but he had made the common mistake of supposing them to grow on the roots of the peanut plant like the tubers of a potato, instead of really being a true nut, developing from a flower the elongation of the lower portion of which reaches to the ground. The farm was run by an orphaned colored girl nineteen years old and her four younger brothers.

“Jes’ as soon as the young-uns gits big enough,” she said to Hamilton, when discussing the statistics of her little holding, “we’re goin’ to buy a big patch o’ peanut land. Ah’d like to grow peanuts every year, but these hyar gov’nment papers say yo’ shouldn’t. They say once in every fo’ years is enough fo’ peanuts, but Ah’m goin’ to try it every other year.”

“Aren’t they a very troublesome crop?”

“‘Bout the same as potatoes, Ah reckon. But they pay a good price fo’ picked peanuts, an’ Ah can get these boys hyar to do the pickin’. In one o’ the papers Ah saw up to Colonel ‘Gerius’ place the other day, one the gov’nment puts out, thar’s a list showin’ this country has to send to foreign countries fo’ twelve million bushels o’ peanuts every year. Ah’m goin’ to try raisin’ a real big crop, and Dicky hyar,” she added, pointing to the oldest boy, “thinks jes’ as I do about it.”

Hamilton was distinctly impressed with the evidence that this young negro girl and her younger brothers not only knew enough about the peanut business to be able to make it pay, but that they were reading the government bulletins.

“I didn’t know,” he said hastily, “that you people ” and he stopped suddenly, realizing the ungracious ending to his sentence.

“You mean us colored folks, you didn’t think we troubled ’bout such things? Yas, sah, we don’ have all the advantages o’ white folks but we’re improvin’ right along. Colonel ‘Gerius jes’ does all he can, an’ he gets us gov’nment seeds an’ papers, an’ advises every one fo’ miles aroun’. Yas, sah, we’re gettin’ on. If yo’ have to go to Bullertown, sah, yo’ll fin’ as nice a li’l place as thar is f’om one end o’ the United States cla’r to the other, an’ thar’s not one white person in it.”

“Bullertown?” queried Hamilton in surprise. “I’m glad to hear it, for that’s the next place on my map.”

“We’re all proud of it hyar, sah, an’ it ’pears to me, Bullertown owes jes’ everythin’ to the folks at the Big House and to Mistah Ephraim Jones. Yo’ll see Mistah Jones, sah, an’ I’d take it kindly if yo’ll remember me to him.”

“All right, Delia, I will,” said Hamilton. “Let’s see, I did get all the figures, didn’t I?”

“Yo’ said yo’ had them all, sah,” was the reply.

“Good enough. Well, I guess I’ll go along. I’ll not forget your message. Good-by ” and the boy set his horse on a canter down the narrow road. Throughout the rest of the day the census-gathering was of similar character, and it was drawing toward dark when the boy saw before him a well-ordered array of houses which he felt sure must be Bullertown. Asking his way to the hotel from the first darky that he met, he was answered most courteously.

“Thar’s no hotel hyar, sah,” the negro said, “but Mr. Ephraim Jones entertains the visitin’ strangehs, sah, an’ if yo’ go right on to that big yaller house an’ ask fo’ Mr. Jones, sah, Ah jes’ knows yo’ll be right welcome.”

Hamilton felt diffident about quartering himself upon a perfect stranger in this way, but it seemed to be the custom of the place, and since there was no hotel, there seemed nothing else to do, and he rode on to the gate. Tethering his mare to a tie-post in front of the house he started up the walk, carrying his portfolio, so that in the event of any mistake he might be able to make it appear that he had merely come to take the census. But before he reached the door it was opened by a wrinkled and old, but dignified darky.

“Walk in, sah, walk right in,” he said. “Ah’ll sen’ one o’ the boys to look after yo’ horse. Tom!” he called, “yo’ take the gen’leman’s horse to the stable, rub him down with a wisp, an’ give him some hay. In half an hour water him, an’ give him a feed o’ oats.”

“I’m obliged to you,” said Hamilton, “for taking all this trouble, but perhaps I had better explain who I am.”

“That’s jes’ as yo’ like, sah.”

“Well,” said Hamilton, “I’m the census-taker for this district, and I was looking for a hotel where I could stay the night and begin work in the morning. A man I met on the street told me that this town had no hotel and suggested that if I came to you, I might be advised where to go.”

“We have no hotel in Bullertown, sah,” the old negro preacher answered, “but the gen’lemen that come hyar do me the honor us’ally, sah, of bein’ my guests. Ah have a guest-room, sah, jes’ ‘sclusively fo’ gen’lemen who are not people of color.”

Hamilton found himself flushing at the consciousness that this very thought had been in his mind, and in order to cover any possible signs that might have appeared in his expression, he answered hastily:

“Oh, that’s all right, it wouldn’t have mattered.”

The old preacher looked at him quietly and a little reproachfully and said:

“If you don’ jes’ mean things like that, young sah, don’ say them. We know. We find, sah, that it is mos’ desirable for every one concerned. If yo’ like, sah, an’ if yo’re ready, Ah’ll show yo’ to yo’r room.”

Hamilton could not help contrasting this reception with that which he would have received in any town not entirely a negro community, and he expressed this feeling to his host as they went up the stairs.

“It is entirely different hyar, sah,” the latter said, “yo’ see we are isolated, an’ a guest is rare. Then this community is a syndicate an’ is not run like a town. Thar’s no quest’n hyar, sah, about colored and white people bein’ the same, we know they’re different. An’ we believe, sah, that it is in preservin’ the color line, not in tryin’ to hide it, that the future good of our race lies. An’ so thar’s not a foot o’ land in Bullertown owned by any other than people o’ color, an’ not a white person lives hyar.”

“You own all the land, then?”

“The syndicate does, yes, sah.”

“Then you must have some wealthy men among you?”

“No, sah, not one. The town was begun, sah, by the kindness of Colonel Egerius.”

“Colonel he was, that is, he is ” began Hamilton, stammering.

“He is not a negro, sah,” the old man answered finishing the boy’s embarrassed sentence for him with entire self-possession. “Colonel Egerius, sah, was a plantation owner, befo’ the war. Ah was one o’ his slaves, an’ mos’ o’ the people in Bullertown are the children o’ those born in the plantation quarters.”

“And he started the town?”

“Yas, sah, in a way. He fought with Lee, sah, an’ my brother was his body-servant all through the war. When Lee surrendered, the Colonel came back to the old plantation. Some of the slaves had gone, but thar was quite a few left still. He called us to the big house an’ tol’ us to stay by the ol’ place an’ he would pay us wages. Some Ah was not one o’ them, though Ah see now they were right, said the quarters were not fit to live in.”

“But I thought you said Colonel Egerius was a kind master? How could that be if the quarters were so bad?”

“No, sah,” he said, “Ah should never call the old massa kind, he was fair an’ ready to help a willin’ worker. But his slaves was his slaves an’ they had no rights. Thar wasn’t any whippin’ or any o’ that sort o’ thing, but it was work all day, f’om befo’ daylight till afteh dark, an’ we lived jes’ anyhow.”

“How came he to start the town, then?” queried Hamilton. “Your description of him doesn’t sound as though he were a man who would do much for you.”

“It was jes’ because o’ that, Ah think, that he did, sah. He was just, sah. He said that while we were slaves we should be treated as slaves. Now that the negro was not a slave any mo’, thar was no reason to make him live like one. He used to say the South was now pledged to help the nation instead o’ the Confederacy, an’ while he did not agree, he would live up to that pledge.”

“That seems as fair as anything could be.”

“Yas, sah, but it was easier to say that than to do it. Thar was no money in the place, the slaves hadn’ had wages, an’ yo’ can’t build houses without money, an’ money was scarce afteh the war.”

“How in the wide world did you manage it?” asked Hamilton.

“As Ah was sayin’, sah, it was Colonel Egerius’ doin’. He got a surveyor from the town an’ hunted over the plantation to fin’ the best site fo’ a village, the surveyor’s name was Buller.”

“That’s where the town got its name, then?”

“Yas, sah, Ah jes’ wanted it called Egerius, but the Colonel wouldn’t hear of it. Then all o’ the ol’ slaves that wanted to stay by the place got together, an’ the Colonel showed us how to make a sort o’ syndicate. Then he sol’ us the land jes’ as low as it could be made, payment to be in labor on the plantation, so in a few years’ work every man who wanted to stay reg’lar on the job got title to his lan’ an’ his house, an’ took wages afteh that.”

“That was a wise move,” said the boy after a moment’s thought. “He sold his land at a fair price, got the money back that he put into buildings, established a regular supply of labor for his plantation, and at the same time fixed it all right for you.”

“Yas, sah,” the old negro answered, “an’ now every man in the town either owns his house or is buyin’ one f’om the syndicate, an’ we have bought up all the surveyed property f’om the Colonel. Now, sah,” continued the preacher, “if yo’ will excuse me, Ah will see that yo’r supper is got ready. Hyar, sah,” he added, opening the door into a small room, “is yo’r sittin’ room, an’ yo’r supper will be served hyar.”

As much surprised as gratified at the excellent arrangements for his comfort, Hamilton refreshed himself after his dusty ride, and was as hungry as a wolf when supper arrived. A little darky girl, black as the ace of spades, waited at table, and in conversation Hamilton learned that she was the adopted daughter of the eldest son of the negro preacher, the son being a professor in one of the negro colleges. After supper Hamilton asked to see his host in order that he might secure the details of the family for the census, and thus make use of a disengaged evening.

“So your son is Professor of English at the University,” said Hamilton, as, with all the details secured, he closed the census portfolio. “Do, you think the negro ought only to learn a few things, or do you think he ought to be taught just the same as in the regular universities?”

“Thar should be one good university,” said the old preacher, “with very difficult admission examinations. It would be a good thing fo’ colored lawyers an’ doctors, an’ if the standard were high higher even than in white colleges these men would get standin’ fo’ themselves an’ give standin’ to the colored race. But, even then, I’d have them keep away f’om the other lawyers an’ doctors.”

“You’re strong on that color line, Ephraim,” the boy remarked. “Surely you don’t believe in ‘Jim Crow’ cars and all that sort of thing?”

“As long as thar is prejudice, Ah do,” was the unexpected answer, “an’ thar’s no place fo’ the negro in the city. He can’t beat the white man, an’ thar’s no chance o’ his securin’ a monopoly o’ any trade. Thar’s nothin’ fo’ him in the city savin’ jes’ labor an’ bein’ a servant, a porter, or somethin’ o’ that kind.”

“You don’t see many negro laborers in Northern cities,” the boy remarked, “they’re mostly elevator runners and in positions of that kind.”

“It is in the No’th that trouble lies,” the old man said, “the South has settled hers.”

“How do you make that out?” cried the boy. “You say the South has settled the race question? I thought it was the biggest issue there was, down here and in the Gulf States.”

The old negro preacher shook his head.

“Farmin’ an’ cotton raisin’ has settled it. Did yo’ know that mo’ than two-fifths, or nearly half the cotton raised in the United States was grown by negroes ownin’ their own land? An’ the cotton crop of America’s one of her biggest sources o’ wealth. Those that don’ own the land lease it on a share basis known as the metayer system, but more’n more o’ them are owners every year.”

“I hadn’t really thought of the negroes as owning land at all,” said Hamilton thoughtfully.

“A stretch o’ land three times as big as the British Isles, or equal to the New England States is owned by the colored race,” was the reply, “makin’ in the United States a negro country larger than plenty o’ kingdoms.”

“And is that land worth much?”

“Oveh half a billion dollahs, sah, Ah was told at the last census, an’ it’s worth a lot mo’ now.”

“But,” said Hamilton, “the negro doesn’t seem able to make use of it. Even if he does own the land and is making money, he still goes on living in a shiftless way. One would hardly believe the kind of shacks I’ve seen in the last couple of days.”

“Ah’m ashamed to say you’re right, sah,” the old negro answered, “Ah reckon one-third of all the negroes in the South still live in one-roomed cabins, cookin’, eatin’, and sleepin’ in the same room, men, women, an’ children all together. But they’re improvin’ right along.”

“They ought,” said the boy, “if they’re working on cotton, because, I’ve been told, that is always a cash crop. But why does every one leave the cotton crop to the negro. It isn’t a hard crop to raise, is it?”

“Thar’s no one else c’n do it but the negro, sah,” the preacher answered. “It’s the hardes’ kin’ of work, an’ it has to be done in summer, an’ thar’s no shade in a cotton fiel’. Right from the sowin’ until the las’ boll is picked, cotton needs tendin’, an’ yo’ don’ have much cool weather down hyar.”

“You sow cotton something like corn, don’t you?” asked the boy, who had never seen a cotton plantation and wanted to know something about it.

“Yas, sah, jes’ about the same way, only it has to be hilled higher an’ hoed more’n corn. An’ weeds jes’ spring up in the cotton fiel’s oveh night. The pickin’, too, is jes’ killin’ work. Yo’ see a cotton plant doesn’ grow mo’n about fo’ feet high an’ thar’s always a lot of it that’s shorter. The bolls hang low, sometimes, an’ yo’ve got to go pickin’, pickin’, stoopin’ halfway oveh an’ the hot sun beatin’ down on yo’ neck an’ back. Since the war the planters have tried all sorts o’ labor, but thar’s no white man that c’n pick cotton, they get blindin’ headaches an’ fall sick. I reckon their skulls are too thin or maybe it’s jes’ because they’re not black, seem’ that it’s harder fo’ a mulatto th’n a full-blood negro.”

“You would make all the negroes cotton planters?”

“Ah’d have all the cotton crop in the hands o’ the negroes, sah,” the old man answered, “an’ the trade schools would provide fo’ all the workers in towns in the cotton district, an’ in solid negro towns thar’d be room fo’ all the colored doctors an’ lawyers an’ preachers.”

“I see your idea,” said Hamilton. “You would just make the cotton section solid negro. Would you try and be independent of the whites?”

“No, sah,” the other answered decidedly. “It’s jes’ those No’thern niggehs that are talkin’ that way all the time. Thar’s a lot o’ talk up No’th, but down hyar an’ furtheh South, whar the mos’ o’ the colored people are, they’re willin’ enough to be let alone. Thar’s a lot o’ talk about a race war, an’ it might come some time, but not likely fo’ a good many hundred years, an’ somethin will come up to settle it befo’ then. But Ah’m reckoning sah, that yo’ll be wantin’ to make war unless Ah let yo’ go to bed. Thar’s a bell, sah, if yo’ want anythin’.”

“I wonder,” said Hamilton half aloud, as the door closed behind his host, “if that isn’t a whole lot more likely to be true than the alarmist stories you read in magazines.”

The following morning, after Hamilton had almost finished covering one side of the street in collecting the census statistics, he heard the trot of horses’ hoofs, and looking up, saw a tall, stern-visaged soldierly-looking gentleman, with iron-gray hair, riding a powerful iron-gray horse. Beside him rode a young fellow, evidently his son. Both reined up when they saw Hamilton. Seeing that he was expected to introduce himself, he stepped forward.

“My name is Hamilton Noble,” he said; “I’m the census enumerator for this district. I presume you are Colonel Egerius?”

“Yes, Mr. Noble,” the old Confederate leader replied. “Ephraim sent me word that you were here, and I received a letter a week ago from the supervisor, whom I have known for some time, telling me that you were a friend of his. I wanted to bid you welcome, sir, and to express the hope that we shall have the pleasure of seeing you at dinner with us to-night.”

Hamilton bowed.

“I shall enjoy coming, Colonel Egerius,” he said. “At what hour?”

“Six-thirty,” the Colonel replied, “we keep early hours in the country. By the way,” he added, “have you heard anything of this peonage business here this morning?”

“No, sir,” the boy answered, “I started out with my schedules bright and early.”

“I purpose to hold an inquiry after lunch,” the planter continued. “You are lunching at Ephraim’s of course?”

“Yes, Colonel Egerius,” the boy answered.

“Very well,” was the reply, “we will lunch together if you have no objection. Since I heard of your expected arrival I have been looking forward to your visit. Now that you are here, sir, we must make the most of you. Allow me to present my son Percy.”

Hamilton made a suitable reply, and consulting his watch found that it was almost lunch time.

“I will join you in half an hour, Colonel Egerius,” he said, “and shall look forward to the evening with great pleasure.”

“You play a good knife and fork, I trust,” said the old gentleman, smiling, as he gathered up the reins.

“Almost good enough to do justice even to Southern hospitality,” answered Hamilton with a smile. The old soldier nodded approvingly. “Remember now,” he said, as he rode away, “we’ll hold you to your word.”

At lunch Hamilton took occasion to remark on the well-being of Bullertown.

“I was surprised,” he said, “to find a village so well managed and looked after, and all by negroes.”

“There’s nothing surprising in that,” the Colonel answered. “How could they do anything different? I have shown them every step they were to take; all that they had to do was to continue.”

“You mean they couldn’t have done it by themselves?”

“The negro never has done anything by himself,” the old Confederate replied. “He has lived as far back as time goes in one of the most fertile and well-watered countries of the world, Africa and he never had enough initiative to rise out of tribal conditions.”

“But he seems to be doing all right now,” suggested Hamilton. “I hear the negro is getting to own quite a share of the cotton crop.”

“He has not done so well as appearances would show,” the soldier replied; “he has learned a few only a few of the tricks of modern civilization, and those only outwardly. The few cases of leadership such as that of Booker T. Washington, for instance, are due to the white strain, not the negro.”

“I thought Booker T. Washington was a pure negro!” exclaimed Hamilton.

“He is not,” was the emphatic reply. “In his own writings he states that his father was a white man. His mother was a negress. He gets his brains from his father and his color from his mother.”

“Do you think that the negroes will ever marry enough with the white to become all white?”

“Not now,” the Southerner answered. “It is a crime in many States and punishable with imprisonment.”

“Then what’s going to be done?”

“I’m unreconstructed yet,” the old Colonel said grimly. “I think still the negroes were better off as slaves. They’re always going to be slaves, anyway, whether in name or not. And as for their relation to the cotton crop. You say they are succeeding in it. Perhaps. But did they learn the uses of cotton, did they develop machinery to clean and spin it, or devices for weaving? Was it negroes who worked out the best means of cultivating the cotton or experimented on the nature of the most fertile soils? Not a bit of it. They simply grow cotton the way the white folks showed them.”

“But they seem to be getting a big share of it!”

“I see you’ve been talking to Ephraim. What good would it do the negroes if they owned every foot of the cotton land? They would still have to depend on the man that buys the crop, and the cotton exchange wouldn’t be run for the benefit of the negro. In slavery days, too, there was some one to take an interest in the negro and help him. Now he’s got to do it for himself, and he can’t do anything but go on in the same old groove.”

“You think it was better in the old days?”

“In some ways for the negro, yes. But it was harder for the people of the South. There was always trouble of some kind in the slave quarters. Before the war you had to support all the old, the sick, the children, and the poor workers. Under present conditions you hire just whom you want. The cost is about even, and the responsibility is less. Now,” he added, lunch being over, “if you’ve finished we’ll go and see what this peonage business is. Ephraim,” he called, “is that man here?”

“Yas, sah,” answered the old negro. “He’s hyar.”

“Bring him in, then.”

In a minute or two the old darky returned, bringing with him a gaunt, emaciated negro, who cringed as he entered the room. He was followed by a brisk, young mulatto.

“If yo’ please, Massa,” said the old preacher, dropping unconsciously into the familiar form of address, “this is Peter, young Peter’s father.”

“I’ve seen him before,” the Colonel said abruptly “Peter, were you on this plantation?”

“Yas, Massa.”

“What’s the matter with him, Ephraim?” queried the old soldier. “He looks to me as though he hadn’t had enough to eat.”

“It isn’t only that, Massa,” said the negro, “he’s been whipped ’most to death.”

“Whipped!” cried Hamilton, startled. Then, remembering suddenly that the matter was not his concern, he flushed and turned to the Colonel.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” he said, “I forgot.”

The old soldier, who had been a stern disciplinarian in his time, had drawn himself up indignantly at the boy’s interruption, but his immediate apology caused the old gentleman to see that it was just a flash of boyish indignation, so he merely turned and said:

“Let him tell his story.”

“Ah was born hyar durin’ the war,” the negro began. “Ah c’n jes’ remember Missis, an’ Ah’ve often heard mah mother cry when we was livin’ in Atlanta an’ trouble come, ‘If only Ah could go to Missis.’”

“Get to your story, boy,” said the Colonel, “I haven’t time to waste.”

“Ah was brought up in Atlanta, Georgia, an’ times was always hard. Six years ago Ah hired out to a lumber man in Florida. Thar were sixty of us hired together. The pay was good. The day we come, we were put into a group o’ huts with a stockade ‘roun’, an’ men with rifles guarded us night an’ day. Ah reckon thirty men was shot tryin’ to escape durin’ the years I was thar.”


“Yas, sah, leastways I know of five, an’ heard o’ the rest.”

“Talk about what you know, not what you’ve heard,” admonished the old soldier. “Go on.”

“It was killin’ work. We had to be in the woods by daylight an’ stay thar until it was too dark to see. Thar was trouble enough at first but the worst come later. About three years ago a lot mo’ huts was put up an’ the stockade was made bigger. We thought things would be easier as the new men would get all the knockin’ about. Nex’ week the new crowd came, they were convic’s hired for the job.”

“Excuse my interrupting, Colonel Egerius,” asked the lad, “but can that be true? Does any State hire out its convicts to forced labor?”

“Some do,” was the reply, “and Florida is one of them. Go on, boy.”

“Floggin’s started in when the convicts come, an’ thar was no difference made between us an’ them. We were supposed to be paid, but our pay was always in tickets to the comp’ny store, an’ they charged double prices for everythin’. They never gave us a cent o’ money. A lot of us got together an’ decided to escape, but when it come to doin’ it, only three would go. One got away entirely, one was shot, an’ Ah was caught. They took me to the stockade an’ whipped me ‘mos’ to death, three days runnin’. The third day Ah was so near dead that they didn’t tie me up, an’ when, hours later, Ah did stagger to mah feet, they jes’ pointed to the fields whar the hands was workin’. Ah heard one o’ the guards say, ‘He won’t go far,’ an’ Ah hid in the woods, Ah don’ know how long, jes’ livin’ on berries, an’ at las’ Ah got away. Ah knew Ah would be safe in Kentucky.”

The Colonel looked at the man closely.

“I believe you’ve been a bad nigger,” he said, “and I wouldn’t believe any more of your story than I had to. But it’s easy enough to see that you have been abused, and that you need help right now. I’ll give you a chance. Peter, your father is staying with you?”

“Yas, sah.”

“Ephraim,” the Colonel said, turning to the old preacher, “put this man on the payroll as a field hand, beginning from to-morrow, but don’t send him to the field for a couple of weeks. Behave yourself,” he added, turning to the peonage victim, “and you’ll be all right here.”

The negro thanked him profusely, and went out, his wretched frame showing up miserably in the strong sunlight as he passed by the window of the dining room.

“But that’s worse than any slavery I ever heard of,” burst out Hamilton indignantly.

“Peonage?” answered the old veteran. “Oh, yes, much worse.”

“And it still goes on?”

“There were several hundred stockades in operation last year,” was the reply, “and that’s a fair sample of their work.”