Interesting letter from the South
Slave Labor and Slave ??? – Planting and Raising Cotton – Collection of the Sweet Potatoes – Climate, Soil and Productions of Florida – Sugar Cane – Tobacco – Fruit – Gardening, &c, &c
They have been planting cotton on this plantation since we have been here. My curiosity has led me, often, to go out and see the negroes work. They always seem pleased with our visits, and treat us with the greatest deference. The children appear to be special favorites with them. One was heard to say: “I wish Mistress would sell me to Miss Lizzie.” But I do not intend to write about the negroes this time, as I intend to tell how they raise cotton.
The first thing that would attract your attention, would be the superficial manner of preparing the ground. You spend more labor in fitting one acre for wheat, than they do three for cotton. The soil is sandy, and easily cultivated. They first mark a field, or “list it,” as they call it. The lines are made with a how, about six feet apart: then turn a furrow on each side of the line with a plow, forming beds, on which the cotton is planted in hills, about six inches apart, so that the rows have a space of some five feet apart. You would think they might double the crop, by planting all the land, and planting the rows nearer together. I inquired why they left so much space. They gave several reasons; the first was, they have so much land there is no need of crowding. They do not use fertilizers, so they must allow more room for a given crop. Then there is a necessity for space between the rows of cotton and corn, so that the air may pass through freely, otherwise the hot sun would crisp the leaves, or “fire it,” as the negroes call it.
They tell me a cotton field requires attention from the time it is planted, in March, until it is all gathered, in October or November. The weeds must be all kept down with a hoe, as the side branches shoot out so near the ground a plow would injure them. The seeds of weeds will spoil the cotton, so they must all be destroyed before the bowls or buds of the plant begin to open. The bowls ripen first on the lower branches, and open successively, like the pods of the milk weed. We saw the short cotton in the Carolinas, as it was not all gathered when we passed through. The Sea Island, or long staple cotton, which they raise here, is far superior to that.
An agent of some of the manufacturing companies in England has been here lately. He says they consider the Florida cotton the best in the world. They use it for the finest fabrics, and the supply has never been equal to the demand. He urged the planters to raise more cotton, and to gather it in a perfect condition, and he said they could demand from seventy-five cents to a dollar a pound for it. One acre of good land planted to cotton, and well tended, will yield from three to four hundred pounds of the first quality, and as much more of the second. It will be very strange if the northern men leave Florida a wilderness many years longer.
I will tell you now how they cultivate sweet potatoes – they are planted in the month of February in rows about five feet apart. The sprouts come up and run on the ground like a vine, from six to eight feet long. In June, their vines are cut off and laid on beds formed by turning two furrows together, as they do for cotton. The earth is then hoed on them in places about six inches apart. The potatoe vines thus covered take root, and make hills of large potatoes. The yield is astounding – often three and four hundred bushels in the acre.
I could tell you much more that would astonish you, for I observe something new every day. But I want to give you some condensed extracts from a report of the president of the Florida Railroad Company, Mr. [D. D. Yulee].
He gives information that is reliable and interesting – particularly that which relates to climate, soil and production. He says the meteorological statistics published by Surgeon General Lawson show that the climate of Florida is more equitable in temperature than any other part of the United States – that it even surpasses Italy. As regards healthiness, the vital statistics collected by the Government with the census of 1850, show that the Peninsula portion of Florida exceeds every part of the Union. The soil, he says, is generally very productive, and yields all the richest [staples]; that that portion of Florida lying east and south of Swanee River, he believes to be the most desirable planting country in the South. It produces the long staple, or Sea Island cotton of commerce, with a productiveness surpassing the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia. And for the cultivation of the sugar cane, he thinks the climate superior to that of Louisiana or Texas. He says there are sugar lands enough in Florida to supply a large part of the consumption of the United States.
The tobacco grown here, is peculiar to this climate and soil; and commands in market from fifteen to seventy-five cents per pound.
A great variety of fruit can be grown here, and it is a very fine vegetable gardening region, in winter, as well as summer. The value of this capability of soil and climate, does not seem to be properly estimated here. There are but few gardens cultivated for market. If some of the industrious Dutch or English gardeners we have in Syracuse, would come here, they could make fortunes in a short time, sending early vegetables and fruits to Charleston and New York; green peas in January, new Irish potatoes in March, ripe tomatoes and green corn in April and May, and ripe peaches and mellons in June! to say nothing of the strawberries which blossom and ripen their fruit all winter. If the steamers ran directly from Jacksonville to New York without detention, you might see many of these Florida fruits and vegetables in Syracuse in good condition. – C.
- Syracuse Daily Courier and Union (Syracuse, New York) 30 April 1858
Marsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]gmail.com.