Treatment of the Davis Slaves

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
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Location
Mississippi
I had always heard that Jefferson Davis treated his slaves better than most slave owners.
Today I was in the Old Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg and found this testimony of a former Davis slave and it backed up the things I had previously heard and read. It's worthy of consideration.:
Davis Slaves.jpg
 

Andersonh1

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I remember starting a thread about this same topic, not too long after I first started posting here.



Also there was the plantation; Brierfield, he called it. Here too he worked and learned, making certain innovations in the labor system. The overseer was a Negro, James Pemberton. No slave was ever punished except after a formal trial by an all-Negro jury, Davis only reserving the right to temper the severity of the judgment. James was always James, never Jim; "It is disrespect to give him a nickname," Davis said, and the overseer repaid him with frankness, loyalty and efficiency. -p. 9, The Civil War: A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, by Shelby Foote
One man whose property, Davis feared, might become comparatively worthless was Jefferson Davis. His 113 slaves were probably worth about $80,000 dollars in 1860 - the equivalent of several million dollars today. Another was his brother Joseph, twenty-four years older than Jefferson and something of a father figure who had helped Jefferson get his start as a planter twenty-five years earlier. Although the Davises were benign masters who treated their chattels with a degree of liberality, they were also proslavery partisans of the John C. Calhoun school. -p 29, Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief by James M. McPherson
Truly a remarkable man for his time and place, Joseph Davis read widely in the law, as well as in history and government. He brought to his plantation management ideas that could only be considered very liberal and advanced for the 1830s. pp 78, Jefferson Davis, the Man and His Hour, A Biography by William C. Davis

The slaves at Hurricane lived in comfortable two room cabins with large fireplaces and comfortable porches front and back. Rather than ration the blacks, Joseph allowed them to take as much from the plantation stocks of grain and meat as they wished to eat, and gave them chickens to keep and feed for themselves. Almost nothing in the plantation larders was off limits. Moreover he clothed them better than most slaves elsewhere in the South, and in his treatment of them personally he was distinctly out of the ordinary. Running entirely contrary to the prevailing notion that order and discipline with slaves could only be maintained by keeping them meek and subjugated, he gave them almost unheard-of freedoms. The whip and lash caught dust on their shelf from lack of use, if indeed Davis even had instruments of punishment on the premises. Instead he left it to the slaves to judge and punish transgressions by their fellow blacks. - pp 78 and 79, Jefferson Davis, the Man and His Hour, A Biography by William C. Davis
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
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Location
Mississippi
No, they were not.

They had slaves making them typical slaveowners and believers in the idea that human beings were cattle.
Even though they had slaves, it certainly seems like they treated their slaves well.
Remember, this was a time when people owned slaves. It’s just the way it was. The slaves certainly held Jefferson Davis in high regard. Not something you would expect of slaves.
Truly a remarkable man. Every phase of his life it seems.
 

unionblue

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Even though they had slaves, it certainly seems like they treated their slaves well.
Remember, this was a time when people owned slaves. It’s just the way it was. The slaves certainly held Jefferson Davis in high regard. Not something you would expect of slaves.
Truly a remarkable man. Every phase of his life it seems.

I'm sorry, but I find the idea that they treated their slaves "well" like, what's the word? An oxymoron.

The idea of a slave being treated "well" by a master strikes me as minus points on the humanity scale, with the idea the term slave being the biggest negative in any so-called treatment they might receive from master.

The idea that in the 19th century that slavery was "just the way it was" might have been true in the slaveholding, 19th century South, but even the rest of the planet was putting slavery on notice that the practice, no matter how benign, was flat-out wrong.

I cannot come to grips with Jefferson Davis being held in high regard by his slaves as anything as "remarkable." If he had the courage to release his slaves and pay them wages for their labor, I wonder how much more regard those unfortunate slaves would have had for him.
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
I'm sorry, but I find the idea that they treated their slaves "well" like, what's the word? An oxymoron.

The idea of a slave being treated "well" by a master strikes me as minus points on the humanity scale, with the idea the term slave being the biggest negative in any so-called treatment they might receive from master.

The idea that in the 19th century that slavery was "just the way it was" might have been true in the slaveholding, 19th century South, but even the rest of the planet was putting slavery on notice that the practice, no matter how benign, was flat-out wrong.

I cannot come to grips with Jefferson Davis being held in high regard by his slaves as anything as "remarkable." If he had the courage to release his slaves and pay them wages for their labor, I wonder how much more regard those unfortunate slaves would have had for him.
It really doesn’t matter our feelings. Just look at what the slaves said. It really is a testimony of Davis’ treatment of them.I’m not defending slavery but there were many whose lot in life was just that. Like I said earlier, if I were a slave then put me on the Davis plantation.
The biggest credit to Davis was this - even 26 years after Emancipation they loved him. What a testimony!!
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
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Location
Mississippi
Put it this way...if I were a slave back in the day, I would try my absolute best to escape and gain freedom.
That’s just it. His slaves didn’t try to escape because they were treated so well. That’s what amazes me. Did you even bother to read the narratives above regarding this??
This thread is not about the right or wrong of slavery, it’s about his treatment of those in his charge. And they loved him with a devotion rarely seen in the slaveholding South. This is indisputable.
 

unionblue

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That’s just it. His slaves didn’t try to escape because they were treated so well. That’s what amazes me. Did you even bother to read the narratives above regarding this??
This thread is not about the right or wrong of slavery, it’s about his treatment of those in his charge. And they loved him with a devotion rarely seen in the slaveholding South. This is indisputable.

So, this thread is not about the evils of slavery, but about how wonderful Davis treated his slaves and is not about the right or wrong about slavery, but about his treatment of them.

Sorry, but no matter how well the cell is padded to keep the prisoner safe and from harm, it's still a cell. And every time slavery is brought to the fore as not being so bad, some slaves were treated as family, some slaves actually showed feelings of affection for their masters, or Davis was a swell slaveholder, even his slaves liked him, etc., I want to gag.

Certain phrases go off like alarm bells to me. "those in his charge," "treated so well," "they loved him," "if I were a slave."

I don't care if Davis gave his slaves presents on their birthdays, weekends off, free medical care, and had Santa drop off packages down the slave quarter chimneys. Davis, even in his kindest of days, considered these people the same as some farmers considered their favorite cows. They weren't fully human nor deserving of the consideration that they had greater potential as human beings when free, rather than being kindly treated as a prized work animal.

Slavery is a degrading and evil institution, no matter how kind, no matter how gently applied, no matter to what degree it is enforced. And we both should be able to see, Davis was a rare exception in his application of this bondage. I fully agree his slaves were probably very happy and glad they were owned by him. But what choice did they have in their feelings? And that's the problem, even 26 years later, in a Jim Crow era, how the heck can we be sure of their true feelings?

No, I just cannot go along with the idea that because they weren't beaten every day to ensure they went out among the fields to work or they were 'kindly' treated by their 'Master,' (the very use of the word in this context infuriates me) the bottom line is that they were all slaves, considered as something less than human, only fit to be guided by a 'kind master' who saw them as nothing more than most of us today would view our favorite, four-footed, pets.

Davis's treatment of his human property nor his happy contented slaves holds no charms or praise from me.

They were still just slaves held in bondage.

Unionblue
PS: I know that you are not extolling slavery or finding it right, but the subject is, as you can tell, a sore point with me. My apologies if my above has given offense.
 

Andersonh1

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Location
South Carolina
I'm sorry, but I find the idea that they treated their slaves "well" like, what's the word? An oxymoron.

The idea of a slave being treated "well" by a master strikes me as minus points on the humanity scale, with the idea the term slave being the biggest negative in any so-called treatment they might receive from master.

The idea that in the 19th century that slavery was "just the way it was" might have been true in the slaveholding, 19th century South, but even the rest of the planet was putting slavery on notice that the practice, no matter how benign, was flat-out wrong.

I cannot come to grips with Jefferson Davis being held in high regard by his slaves as anything as "remarkable." If he had the courage to release his slaves and pay them wages for their labor, I wonder how much more regard those unfortunate slaves would have had for him.

Despite being owned by the man, after they were free they did not seek retribution, and indeed some considered Davis a friend. The Davis family helped them after the war, and many attended his funeral when he died. Sounds like an admirable level of forgiveness and kindness rather than the long-after-the-fact anger we see today. I think we could learn something about reconciliation from those former slaves.

Food for thought.
 

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
So, this thread is not about the evils of slavery, but about how wonderful Davis treated his slaves and is not about the right or wrong about slavery, but about his treatment of them.

Sorry, but no matter how well the cell is padded to keep the prisoner safe and from harm, it's still a cell. And every time slavery is brought to the fore as not being so bad, some slaves were treated as family, some slaves actually showed feelings of affection for their masters, or Davis was a swell slaveholder, even his slaves liked him, etc., I want to gag.

Certain phrases go off like alarm bells to me. "those in his charge," "treated so well," "they loved him," "if I were a slave."

I don't care if Davis gave his slaves presents on their birthdays, weekends off, free medical care, and had Santa drop off packages down the slave quarter chimneys. Davis, even in his kindest of days, considered these people the same as some farmers considered their favorite cows. They weren't fully human nor deserving of the consideration that they had greater potential as human beings when free, rather than being kindly treated as a prized work animal.

Slavery is a degrading and evil institution, no matter how kind, no matter how gently applied, no matter to what degree it is enforced. And we both should be able to see, Davis was a rare exception in his application of this bondage. I fully agree his slaves were probably very happy and glad they were owned by him. But what choice did they have in their feelings? And that's the problem, even 26 years later, in a Jim Crow era, how the heck can we be sure of their true feelings?

No, I just cannot go along with the idea that because they weren't beaten every day to ensure they went out among the fields to work or they were 'kindly' treated by their 'Master,' (the very use of the word in this context infuriates me) the bottom line is that they were all slaves, considered as something less than human, only fit to be guided by a 'kind master' who saw them as nothing more than most of us today would view our favorite, four-footed, pets.

Davis's treatment of his human property nor his happy contented slaves holds no charms or praise from me.

They were still just slaves held in bondage.

Unionblue
PS: I know that you are not extolling slavery or finding it right, but the subject is, as you can tell, a sore point with me. My apologies if my above has given offense.
Unionblue thanks for the response. No offense taken whatsoever. I'm glad we can engage in discussions about sensitive subjects regarding our nation's past. None is more sensitive than slavery. Take care, my friend. and Happy New Year!
 

unionblue

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Despite being owned by the man, after they were free they did not seek retribution, and indeed some considered Davis a friend. The Davis family helped them after the war, and many attended his funeral when he died. Sounds like an admirable level of forgiveness and kindness rather than the long-after-the-fact anger we see today. I think we could learn something about reconciliation from those former slaves.

Food for thought.

Sorry, I'm full and I'm afraid the food you offer is not healthy to me or my own sense and knowledge of slavery.
 

unionblue

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Unionblue thanks for the response. No offense taken whatsoever. I'm glad we can engage in discussions about sensitive subjects regarding our nation's past. None is more sensitive than slavery. Take care, my friend. and Happy New Year!

@Tom Hughes ,

Thank you for your understanding and your patience when dealing with my responses.

I wish you and yours a Happy, and SAFE, New Year.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 

Viper21

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No, I just cannot go along with the idea that because they weren't beaten every day to ensure they went out among the fields to work or they were 'kindly' treated by their 'Master,' (the very use of the word in this context infuriates me) the bottom line is that they were all slaves, considered as something less than human, only fit to be guided by a 'kind master' who saw them as nothing more than most of us today would view our favorite, four-footed, pets.
Not the best analogy in my opinion. I know of several dogs that live better lives than many people do. I'm not joking when I say, I care more about my dog, than some of the people I've encountered in life.

We've both seen a lot in life. Here in our shared country, & some others. The more ugly I see in people, the more I love & respect dogs. Especially this year......

Davis' actions concerning his servants, was exceptional, & not the norm for his time. As I've read repeatedly over the last few years, why don't we just take their word for it..?
 

unionblue

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Not the best analogy in my opinion. I know of several dogs that live better lives than many people do. I'm not joking when I say, I care more about my dog, than some of the people I've encountered in life.

We've both seen a lot in life. Here in our shared country, & some others. The more ugly I see in people, the more I love & respect dogs. Especially this year......

Davis' actions concerning his servants, was exceptional, & not the norm for his time. As I've read repeatedly over the last few years, why don't we just take their word for it..?

I know my dog has a great life and she is better than most 3rd world human citizens. My current thought is that people should be more like dogs and we would all be better off.

But I have never in my life ever thought or said that people should be more like slaves (not even the happy ones).

I have not said that Davis's slaves did not say what they said. But 'happy' slaves is nothing more than a fresh coat of paint on a rotting house.

And when you say Davis's slaves were "not the norm" I can fully appreciate the irony of that.

I'll take your word for that, if it means anything.

Unionblue
 

Viper21

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I know my dog has a great life and she is better than most 3rd world human citizens. My current thought is that people should be more like dogs and we would all be better off.

But I have never in my life ever thought or said that people should be more like slaves (not even the happy ones).

I have not said that Davis's slaves did not say what they said. But 'happy' slaves is nothing more than a fresh coat of paint on a rotting house.

And when you say Davis's slaves were "not the norm" I can fully appreciate the irony of that.

I'll take your word for that, if it means anything.

Unionblue
Glad to hear. I have a hard time with folks who don't like dogs. Their hearts (dogs') are pure. I'm also skeptical of folks my dog doesn't like...lol.

To the "not the norm" that I bolded in your post, I didn't say his slaves weren't the norm. I said Davis' actions towards them weren't the norm. He was quite exceptional for his time. With today's vocabulary, we would call him progressive, or perhaps, ahead of his time.

As disgusting as the thought of human slavery sounds to us today, some were more fortunate than others. It certainly appears Davis' servants were in the, more fortunate category. I'd also go so far as to say, there are many people who have lived worse lives (even today), than the Davis servants. I don't expect you to agree with me but, you & I both know, there are places in the world today worse than antebellum America. We just don't focus on those places. We're more focused on this subject/period of time. I agree with a comment you made in another thread, even some of our friends/family think we're all a little weird for our fascination..lol.

Happy New Year UB. I look forward to our conversations in the New Year.
 

unionblue

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Glad to hear. I have a hard time with folks who don't like dogs. Their hearts (dogs') are pure. I'm also skeptical of folks my dog doesn't like...lol.

To the "not the norm" that I bolded in your post, I didn't say his slaves weren't the norm. I said Davis' actions towards them weren't the norm. He was quite exceptional for his time. With today's vocabulary, we would call him progressive, or perhaps, ahead of his time.

As disgusting as the thought of human slavery sounds to us today, some were more fortunate than others. It certainly appears Davis' servants were in the, more fortunate category. I'd also go so far as to say, there are many people who have lived worse lives (even today), than the Davis servants. I don't expect you to agree with me but, you & I both know, there are places in the world today worse than antebellum America. We just don't focus on those places. We're more focused on this subject/period of time. I agree with a comment you made in another thread, even some of our friends/family think we're all a little weird for our fascination..lol.

Happy New Year UB. I look forward to our conversations in the New Year.

And Happy New Year to you and yours, my friend, and above all, STAY SAFE!
 
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