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Interviewer: Edwin Driskell
Person Interviewed: George Eason
Mr. George Eason was born in Forsyth, Ga., on the plantation of Mr. Jack Ormond. In addition to himself there were six other children, one of whom was his twin brother. He and his brother were the oldest members of this group of children. His mother, who was the master’s cook, had always belonged to the Ormond family while his father belonged to another family, having been sold while he (George) was still a baby.
It so happened that Mr. Ormond was a wealthy planter and in addition to the plantation that he owned in the country, he also maintained a large mansion in the town.
The first few years of his life were spent in town where he helped his mother in the kitchen by attending to the fire, getting water, etc. He was also required to look after the master’s horse. Unlike most other slave owners who allowed their house servants to sleep in the mansion, Mr. Ormond had several cabins built a short distance in the rear of his house to accommodate those who were employed in the house. This house group consisted of the cook, seamstress, maid, butler, and the wash woman. Mr. Eason and those persons who held the above positions always had good food because they got practically the same thing that was served to the master and his family. They all had good clothing—the women’s dresses being made of calico, and the butler’s suits of good grade cloth, the particular kind of which Mr. Eason knows nothing about. He himself wore a one-piece garment made of crocus.
Mr. Eason was about 7 or 8 years of age when he was first sent to work in the field. It was then that his troubles began. He says that he was made to get up each morning at sun-up and that after going to the field he had to toil there all day until the sun went down. He and his fellow slaves had to work in all types of weather, good as well as bad. Although the master or the overseer were not as cruel as some he had heard of they tolerated no looseness of work and in case a person was suspected of loafing the whip was applied freely. Although he was never whipped, he has heard the whip being applied to his mother any number of times. It hurt him, he says, because he had to stand back unable to render any assistance whatever. (This happened before he was sent to the plantation.) When his mother got these whippings she always ran off afterwards and hid in the woods which were nearby. At night she would slip to the cabin to get food and while there would caution him and the other children not to tell the master that they had seen her. The master’s wife who was very mean was always the cause of her receiving these lashings.
Some nights after he and the other slaves had left the field they were required to do extra work such as ginning cotton and shelling peas and corn, etc. The young women were required to work that in some respects was as hard as that the men did, while the older women usually did lighter work. When the time came to pick the cotton all hands were converted into pickers. Night was the only time that they had to do their washing and to cultivate the small gardens they were allowed to have.
During the months when there was little field work to do they were kept busy repairing fences, etc. on the farm. Every day was considered a working day except Sunday, Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were not allowed to celebrate on these days as were the slaves on other nearby plantations.
Clothing on the Ormond plantation was usually insufficient to satisfy the needs of the slave. Each year one issue was given each slave. For the men this issue consisted of 1 pair of brogan shoes, several homespun shirts, a few pairs of knitted socks, and two or three pairs of pants. The brogans were made of such hard leather until the wearers’ feet were usually blistered before the shoes were “broken in.” The women, in addition to a pair of shoes and some cotton stockings were given several homespun dresses. On one occasion Mr. Eason says that he wore his shoes out before time for an issue of clothing. It was so cold until the skin on his feet cracked, causing the blood to flow. In spite of this his master would give him no more shoes. All clothing was made on the plantation except the shoes.
Those women who were too old for field work did the sewing in addition to other duties to be described later.
Indigo was cultivated for dyeing purposes and in some instances a dye was made by boiling walnut leaves and walnut hulls in water. In addition to her duties as cook, Mr. Eason’s mother had to also weave part of the cloth. He told of how he had to sit up at night and help her and how she would “crack” him on the head for being too slow at times.
The amount of food given each slave was also inadequate as a general rule. At the end of each week they all went to a certain spot on the plantation where each was given 1 peck of meal, 1 gal. of syrup, and 3 pounds of meat. They often suffered from that particular stomach ailment commonly known as hunger. At such times raids were made on the smokehouse. This was considered as stealing by the master and the overseer but to them it was merely taking that which they had worked for. At other times they increased their food by hunting and fishing. Possums and coons were the usual game from such a hunting expedition. All meals usually consisted of grits, bacon, syrup, corn bread and vegetables. On Sundays and holidays the meals varied to the extent that they were allowed to have biscuits which they called “cake bread.” The slaves made coffee by parching corn meal, okra seed or Irish potatoes. When sufficiently parched any one of the above named would make a vile type of coffee. Syrup was used for all sweetening purposes. The produce from the gardens which the master allowed them could only be used for home consumption and under no circumstances could any of it be sold.
The cabins that the slaves occupied were located on one section of the plantation known as the “quarters.” These dwellings were crude one-roomed structures usually made from logs. In order to keep the weather out mud was used to close the openings between the logs. In most instances the furnishing of a cabin was complete after a bed, a bench (both of which were made by the slave) and a few cooking utensils had been placed in it. As there were no stoves for slave use all cooking was done at the fireplace, which, like the chimney, was made of mud and stones. One or two openings served the purpose of windows, and shutters were used instead of glass. The mattresses on which they slept were made from hay, grass or straw. When a light was needed a tallow candle or a pine knot was lighted.
Absolute cleanliness was required at all times and the floors, if they were made of wood, had to be swept and scrubbed often. In addition to the private dwellings there was one large house where all children not old enough to go to the field were kept. One or two of the older women took charge of them, seeing that they had a sufficient amount of corn bread, vegetables and milk each day. All were fed from a trough like little pigs.
These old women were also responsible for the care of the sick. When asked if a doctor was employed, Mr. Eason replied that one had to be mighty sick to have the services of a doctor. The usual treatment for sick slaves was castor oil, which was given in large doses, salts and a type of pill known as “hippocat.” (ipecac)
Although they were not permitted any formal type of learning religious worship it was not denied them. Each Sunday Mr. Ormond required that all his slaves attend church. All went to the white church where they sat in back and listened to the sermon of a white preacher. Mr. Eason says that the slaves believed in all kinds of and every conceivable type of signs. Their superstitions usually had to do with methods of conjure.
A preacher was never used to perform a wedding ceremony on the Ormond plantation. After the man told the master about the woman of his choice and she had been called and had agreed to the plan, all that was necessary was for the couple to join hands and jump over a broom which had been placed on the ground.
Mr. Ormond permitted few if any celebrations or frolics to take place on his farm. When he did grant this privilege his slaves were permitted to invite their friends who of course had to get a “pass” from their respective masters. They, too, were required to secure a pass from Mr. Ormond if they wanted to visit off the premises. If caught by the “Paddle Rollers” (Patrollers) without this pass they were soundly whipped and then taken to their master.
At the beginning of the Civil War all the slaves talked among themselves concerning the possible outcome of the war. However, they never let the master or the overseer hear them because it meant a whipping.
When Sherman and his army marched through they burned all the gin houses on the Ormond plantation and took all the available live stock. Mr. Ormond took a few prized possessions and a few slaves (one of whom was Mr. Eason) and fled to Augusta, Ga.
After freedom was declared he was still held in bondage and hired out by the day. Once he ran away but was found and brought back. In 1867 the remaining members of the Ormond family moved to Atlanta, bringing him along with them. After most of them had died he was finally permitted to go or stay as he pleased.
Immediately after freedom had been declared he had the good fortune to find his father. However, he never got a chance to spend any time with him as the Ormonds refused to release him.
Says Mr. Eason: “Slavery had a good point in that we slaves always felt that somebody was going to take care of us.” He says that he has heard some wish for the good old days but as for himself he prefers things to remain as they are at present.