Sharecropping in eastern Arkansas, 1867

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TerryB

Major
Joined
Dec 7, 2008
Location
Nashville TN
I found this letter in an old trunk at my grandmother's house. I had to supply some punctuation because there were a lot of run-on sentences. Samuel Pointer was Marcellus Pointer's brother. He fought with the 1st Ark Cavalry as a partisan, at his own expense. The letter is to his father, Dr. David Pointer of Holly Springs, Miss. Dr. Pointer died at Como, Miss in 1870. Alice is Samuel's cousin, and a direct ancestor of mine. Philip and Monroe were also Samuel's brothers, but he makes no mention of Marcellus, who was at the time a Confederado in Mexico. Sue was Samuel's second wife, by whom he had not five, but ten children, so his plan didn't work out. Sue was the younger sister of Samuel's first wife, by whom he had a son.

Indian Bay, Arks

Sept 25th 1867

Dear Father & Mother,

I learned from a letter written by Alice to Sue that you had sold your plantation & was in search of another place. If you all have been vexed, annoyed and perplexed as we have been with Negroes, you have found that you need but a small tract of land. Just enough to make a support on. The larger the place, the worst for the owner; for it is impossible to cultivate profitably a larger place with the present labor system & it will be several years before it will be much better; the country must become densely populated so that when a laborer fails to do his duty he can be discharged and his place supplied immediately. There is no planter in this country making anything by planting any more than a support. The Negroes will not more than half cultivate the land, consequently we make only half crops. Some persons might say get more laborers & plant fewer number of acres to the hand-- but that will not do on the Share System, as experience has proven that they will cultivate 12 acres about as well as they will 8 acres. The less you plant, the more idle time the laborer has, & it is impossible to make them put in all of their time at work, and when they have but a small crop, they think that they can play half the time and work it.
If you are not afraid of the health of this country, suppose you come & look at it; so far as the production you would be pleased with it. I have land enough for all of the family. I am tired of Negroes and want to sell off my land. 160 acres is all that I care about owning. And I will have the selling of Mr. Bagby's place near Cotton Plant this fall; there is about 700 acres in the tract, 250 cleared. I have no doubt but that it will sell low; it is within 12 miles of the Memphis & Little Rock Railroad. Is Philip likely to make anything more than expenses on the place he rented this year? What business is Monroe going at next year. My crop of cotton looks well, but the worms have commenced eating the leaves & they will not probably do it any serious damage at as late a period as this. Some of my hands have left since making the crop, leaving this crop without anyone to gather it & I am afraid that I will be troubled to get hands to gather the crop. I would like to hire ten hands until Christmas. I have not commenced regularly to picking cotton. It will be October before I get regularly at it. Will make Meat enough for my whole family if the Cholera does not kill my hogs. Will not make more than corn enough for the place another year. The health of my family good except chills, which the children have in abundance. We have an interesting parcel of children, five in number & hope to have no more, as that is enough these hard times. Sue says the youngest is sixteen months old & that she does not intend to have any more. Give my love to all & write soon & visit us when you can.
Your Son,
Saml R Pointer
 
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TerryB

Major
Joined
Dec 7, 2008
Location
Nashville TN
Goodspeed says he was with the 1st Ark Cav under Capt Weatherly for three years, but there are no records of that. Partisan service might be the reason. Helena is in Phillips County, where Col Dobbins formed his nucleus. Many of the companies were independent, which is why so few records exist. The card says Pointer was a member of Co K, 47th Ark Mounted Infantry, which absorbed Captain Weatherly's Company K sometime after his capture in Sept 1863. There is a US Govt Doc that asserts that Pointer was a captain in the CS Quartermaster Corps, but I can't find a copy of it. This may be why Pointer's tombstone gives his rank as captain. However, this card does say Pointer enlisted in Phillips County and was surrendered in May 1865 as a private.

SR.jpg
 
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TerryB

Major
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Dec 7, 2008
Location
Nashville TN
Hm......think Eugene's middle name really has two R's?
Well, I have a CDV of an ancestor, Alice Wynne's "Papa" taken in Forrest City in the 1870s. The photographer signed his name on the back and spelled the place as "Forest City." I'm sure they named Eugene after THAT GUY. :smile:
 
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TerryB

Major
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Dec 7, 2008
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Nashville TN
Alas, to my knowledge, Sam left no stories of the guerrilla war his and the other independent companies waged in the backwoods and swamps of eastern Arkansas. No doubt he and Marcellus could sit around the fireplace, if and when they ever got together, and swap some mighty interesting tales.
 

DixieRifles

Captain
Joined
Mar 22, 2009
Location
Collierville, TN
I had no luck finding someone named Pointer in a Cavalry unit. I thought maybe I could find something about a 1st Arkansas Partisan unit but nothing. Wikipedia has this great article about the early Militia that was formed in Arkansas. After the war opened up, they formed some units listed in the 3rd table down. One of the first to be designated as a cavalry was named 1st Arkansas Cavalry Battalion (Stirman's).

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arkansas_Militia_in_the_Civil_War

I did find one cavalryman named Pointer. This is George W. Pointer, age 24, who enlisted in the 1st Arkansas Cavalry (US).
Oops. Do you claim him as Kin?

PointerGW_Pg2.jpg
 
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TerryB

Major
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Location
Nashville TN
Here is a Link to a great site that not only lists all the Arkansas regiments, militia units, and regiments of the Confederate Army, it also includes rosters for many of the regiments.

http://www.couchgenweb.com/civilwar/
Sam was the only Pointer who moved to Arkansas from Mississippi, although a number of the Wynnes did, including Capt Jesse Wynne, 3rd Texas Cav. I'll check out this list tonight. Thanks for posting.
 

Dave Wilma

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 12, 2011
Location
Elliott Bay
Despite the title of the thread, the letter does not appear to address sharecropping. The author of the letter was apparently attempting to farm the land with wage worker rather than a system of shares. 160 acres became the standard size of a homestead until settlement spread across the prairie and 320 acres was deemed needed to make a living.

IMO the sharecropping system was potentially fair to all involved except for the percentages allotted to the participants. The tenant benefitted directly from his own industry barring pests, weather, disease and the other hazards of agriculture. There was one transaction every year at the sale of the crop.

This is still a common system today where landowners lease their holdings to farmers, pay the taxes on the land, pay for fertilizer, and get a share of the sale of the crop. The farmer bought seed and put in the labor. My own family did this so long in eastern Washington that all the parcels became inditinguishable and the boundaries would have to be resurveyed. IIRC the landowner got 40 percent of the crop.

In practice after 1965, of course, the split was less equitable and tenants had no rights against termination of the contract and eviction. A low price at the river or at the gin meant another hungry year.
 
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TerryB

Major
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Nashville TN
Despite the title of the thread, the letter does not appear to address sharecropping. The author of the letter was apparently attempting to farm the land with wage worker rather than a system of shares. 160 acres became the standard size of a homestead until settlement spread across the prairie and 320 acres was deemed needed to make a living.

IMO the sharecropping system was potentially fair to all involved except for the percentages allotted to the participants. The tenant benefitted directly from his own industry barring pests, weather, disease and the other hazards of agriculture. There was one transaction every year at the sale of the crop.

This is still a common system today where landowners lease their holdings to farmers, pay the taxes on the land, pay for fertilizer, and get a share of the sale of the crop. The farmer bought seed and put in the labor. My own family did this so long in eastern Washington that all the parcels became inditinguishable and the boundaries would have to be resurveyed. IIRC the landowner got 40 percent of the crop.

In practice after 1965, of course, the split was less equitable and tenants had no rights against termination of the contract and eviction. A low price at the river or at the gin meant another hungry year.
It sounds like he had tried the share system and gave up on it. There are no records to show if he ever used the rent system. He died in 1898, and still had his original 900 acres that we find on the 1860 census. I did a lot of research on the subject once I started taking classes and came across criticisms from both sides. One was that it paid equally to those who did little or no work, while the planter had little control over the laborers. They were used to being able to enforce gang labor, but when that ended, they lacked the skills to negotiate with free persons of color. This is Sam's problem. He wants the gang system, but that's a thing of the past.
 
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Dave Wilma

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 12, 2011
Location
Elliott Bay
It sounds like he had tried the share system and gave up on it. There are no records to show if he ever used the rent system. He died in 1898, and still had his original 900 acres that we find on the 1860 census. I did a lot of research on the subject once I started taking classes and came across criticisms from both sides. One was that it paid equally to those who did little or no work, while the planter had little control over the laborers. They were used to being able to enforce gang labor, but when that ended, they lacked the skills to negotiate with free persons of color. This is Sam's problem. He wants the gang system, but that's a thing of the past.
I think that is a complaint about the rights of property, that just owning something gave the profit from that asset regardless of labor invested.
 

TerryB

Major
Joined
Dec 7, 2008
Location
Nashville TN
I think that is a complaint about the rights of property, that just owning something gave the profit from that asset regardless of labor invested.
It's the letter itself that matters to me. The interpretation is simply that Sam's experience was not unique; anything beyond that is above my pay grade.
 
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