Mary Boykin Chesnut (was Re: Genovese)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sat Oct 14 16:43:23 PDT 2000

>The famous Confederate
>diarist Mary Chestnut wondered why she and others of her class did not have
>to worry that their slaves would not cut their throats while they slept. ANd
>thsi was during the war, when the armed forces were away at the front and the
>slaves were becoming openly restive! Yoshie might contemplate why not, if her
>theory was right. --jks

Are you talking about Mary Boykin Chesnut? If so, my memory of her words is completely opposite of yours. What follows is representative of her thoughts on Negro slaves:

***** ...Mary Boykin Chesnut

Mary Chesnut was a cultured Southern lady who loved the South and detested slavery for its debasing effect on white Southerners and for its economic wastefulness. Her attitudes toward blacks varied depending upon whether she was discussing her own, or blacks in general. For the black race in general, she expresses continual fear, mistrust, and doubt, as can be seen in the following quotes, each of which is from Mary Chesnut's Civil War, 1981 edition....

ON NEGROES MURDERING WHITES: "I began to read [a letter] aloud. . .and I broke down. Poor Cousin Betsey Witherspoon was murdered. . .by her own people. Her negroes." She goes on to explain how the servants took the old lady out of her house one night and lynched her from an apple tree.

"I remember when Dr. Keitt was murdered by his negroes." (Keitt, while lying on his sickbed, had his throat cut by negroes.)

ON THE NEGROES AND THE WAR: "They are not really enemies of their masters -- and yet I believe they are all spies for the other side."

After the fall of Port Royal, SC, to the Federals: "[T]he negroes show such exultation at the enemies making good their entrance at Port Royal." "When the enemy overran James Island, the negro men went to the [Federal] fleet, but the women and children came to us. So many more mouths to feed -- a good way to subdue us by starvation. How they laugh at our calamity. And mock when our fear cometh."

"On Pinckney Island the negroes have been reinforced by runaways and outlaws. They are laying supplies, getting in provisions, making a king. . ."

ON THE NEGROES' INTELLIGENCE: "I know how hard it is to teach them, for I have tried it, and I soon let my Sunday school all drift into singing hymns. . .Lord Monboddo's ideas were always in my head while engaged with my Sunday class. I determined to wait until they developed more brains." (Lord Monboddo was a pre-Darwininian evolutionist, who authored Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. He believed that Negroes were the result of human beings interbreeding with orangutans, an origin we know today to be false.)

ON USING BLACKS AS SOLDIERS: "Our men are all heroes. . .We know all that. But they are all in the army now and in one year we seem at the end of our row. Armies must be recruited. . .No new supply possible-unless we put negroes in our army. Can we trust them? Never."

ON THE END OF SLAVERY: "The negroes would be a good riddance. A hired man is far cheaper than a man whose father and mother, his wife and his twelve children have to be fed, clothed, housed, nursed, taxes paid, and doctor's bills-all for his half-done, slovenly, lazy work. So for years we have thought -- negroes a nuisance that did not pay."

ON THE NEGROES' RESPONSE TO FREEDOM: "Quantities of negro mothers running after the Yankee army left their babies by the wayside. . .So Adam [a black] came in exultant: 'Oh, Missis, I have saved a wagon load of babies for you. Dem n-words run away and' lef' dem chillun all 'long de road. . .'" [Note: Later on, Miss Chesnut reveals that these mothers, eighteen of them in all, were later found on the road, stabbed to death by the Yankee troops, who could rid themselves of the women in no other way. "Poor animals," she says.]

"Yesterday there was a mass meeting of negroes, thousands of them were in town, eating, drinking, dancing, speechifying. Preaching and prayer was also a popular amusement. They have no greater idea of amusement than wild prayers -- unless it be getting married or going to a funeral. . .We are in for a new St. Domingo [site of the famous slave rebellion, where the entire white population was slaughtered by the most babaric means imaginable]. The Yankees have raised the devil, and now they cannot guide him."

Final words, 2 August 1865: "Never let me hear that the blood of the brave has been shed in vain! No; it sends a cry down through all time."

- A Diary From Dixie

There is much more. Read Mary's diary for yourself.

< Boykin Chesnut> *****


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list