"THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS REST"
Solomon Northrup was a free black who was kidnapped in New York and sold into
slavery for twelve years. He was finally returned to freedom through the
efforts of New York's governor. In the following selection he describes how
cotton was raised on his Louisiana plantation.
The hands are required to be in the cotton field as soon as it is light
in the morning, and, with the exception of ten or fifteen minutes, which is
given them at noon to swallow their allowance of cold bacon, they are not
permitted to be a moment idle until it is too dark to see, and when the moon
is full, they often times labor till the middle of the night. They do not
dare to stop even at dinner time, nor return to the quarters, however late it
be, until the order to halt is given by the driver.
The day's work over in the field, the baskets are "toted," or in other
words, carried to the gin-
where the cotton is weighed. No matter how fatigued and weary he may be-
matter how much he longs for sleep and rest-
slave never approaches the gin-
with his basket of cotton but with fear. If it falls short in weight-
he has not performed the full task appointed him, he knows that he must
suffer. And if he has exceeded it by ten or twenty pounds, in all probability
his master will measure the next day's task accordingly. So, whether he has
two little or too much, his approach to the gin-
is always with fear and trembling. Most frequently they have too little, and
therefore it is they are are not anxious to leave the field. After weighing,
follow the whippings; and then the baskets are carried to the cotton house,
and their contents stored away like hay, all hands being sent in to tramp it
down. If the cotton is not dry, instead of taking it to the gin-
at once, it is laid upon platforms, two feet high, and some three times as
wide, covered with boards or plank, with narrow walks running between them.
This done, the labor of the day is not yet ended, by any means. Each one
must then attend to his respective chores. One feeds the mules, another the
cuts the wood, and so forth; besides, the packing is all done by candle light.
Finally, at a late hour, they reach the quarters, sleepy and overcome with the
long day's toil. Then a fire must be kindled in the cabin, the corn ground in
the small hand-
and supper, and dinner for the next day in the field, prepared. All that is
allowed them is corn and bacon, which is given out at the corncrib and smoke-
every Sunday morning. Each one receives, as his weekly allowance, three and a
half pounds of bacon, and corn enough to make a peck of meal. That is all-
tea, coffee, sugar, and with the exception of a very scanty sprinkling now and
then, no salt....
An hour before day light the horn is blown. Then the slaves arouse,
prepare their breakfast, fill a gourd with water, in another deposit their
dinner of cold bacon and corn cake, and hurry to the field again. It is an
offense invariably followed by a flogging, to be found at the quarters after
daybreak. Then the fears and labors of another day begin; and until its close
there is no such thing as rest....
In the month of January, generally, the fourth and last picking is
completed. Then commences the harvesting of corn....Ploughing, planting,
picking cotton, gathering the corn, and pulling and burning stalks, occupies
the whole of the four seasons of the year. Drawing and cutting wood, pressing
cotton fattening and killing hogs are but incidental labors.
Source: Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northrup (Auburn,