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An Account of the Whippings, Rapes, and Violences that Preceded the Civil War in America

I witness more whipping scenes

The Memoirs Of Dolly Morton (Chapter XII)


Jean de Villiot, The Memoirs Of Dolly Morton : The Story of A Woman’s Part in The Struggle to Free The Slaves, An Account of the Whippings, Rapes, and Violences that Preceded the Civil War in America, With Curious Anthropological Observations on the Radical Diversities In the Conformation of the Female Bottom and the Way Different Women endure Chastisement, Ed. Charles Carrington, London, Paris, 1899.

Mr. Harrington’s copulative capabilities; Randolph goes to Charleston on shipping business; I am left in charge with instructions to whip and spare not; I witness more whipping scenes; how the overseers lash delinquent women; how differently women bear punishment; description of the bottom in the quadroon and mulatto female.

We got up late next morning, and, after Randolph had gone to his dressing-room, Rosa came to help me as usual. While she was brushing my hair, I asked her how she had got on with Mr. Harrington during the hour she had spent with him the previous night. She looked at me with a comical expression on her pretty face.

«Oh, Missus,» she replied, giggling, «I tell you all ’bout it. De ole genterman was no good at all. He couldn’t do nuffin to me. He try an’ he try an’ he try. He feel me all over, he play with me with his finger an’ dat did make me squirm, an’ he make me rub him, but it was all no use, his ting would not get stiff enough to go into de place. Den he lay me on my face an’ say I got a very fine bottom, an’ he ask me if de Massa often whip it. I told him dat de Massa sometimes whip it. He laugh, den he give me a little spankin’ an’ afterwards he give me two dollars an’ say dat I am a pretty wench an’ dat he would buy me if de Massa would sell me.»

I smiled, and Rosa went on: «But, oh Missis, ask de Massa not to sell me to de genterman. I’se fond of you now, an’ I don’t want to leave the ole plantation. I was born on it»

I told her that I was sure that her master would not fell such a pretty girl to anyone. She seemed pleased and went away with a smile on her face. Now I went down to the breakfast room, where I found Randolph. In a short time, the three gentlemen; who had stayed in the house all night came into the room: They greeted me politely, without the least sign, of embarrassment. But I felt rather uncomfortable when I met their eyes.

The cook had sent up an excellent breakfast, to which we all did justice. The three girls who waited looked fresh and clean, for though they had taken part; in the races and had been poked, they were not the three who had been kept at work all night.

When breakfast was over and cigars had been smoked, the buggies were brought round to the terrace. The gentlemen then bade me goodbye and smilingly thanked their host for the pleasant night’s entertainment Then they drove away to their respective homes and Randolph went off to look round the plantation while I betook myself to the library and; amused myself with a novel.

A few days after the «races,» Randolph found that he would have to go to Charleston on some business. Connected with the shipping of his cotton, Dinah was told to pack her master’s portmanteau with enough clothes for an absence of ten days.

On the morning he left Woodlands, he spoke to me about the slaves, telling me that I was on no account to interfere with the overseers in their management of field hands. But he gave the full authority over all the women and children in the house. And he said that, if any of them misbehaved, I could, with Dinah’s assistance whip the offender myself, or I could send her to the overseers to receive the whipping. In the latter case I was to send a note to the man specifying the instrument of punishment which was to be used, whether strap, switch or paddle, and also stating the number of strokes which the culprit was to receive.

I told Randolph that I would look after the women, but I said to myself that I would neither whip them with my own hands nor send one of them to be whipped under any circumstances. The idea of grownup women being whipped was intensely repugnant to me, and still is. (However, I think that children of both sexes require an occasional spanking.)

Randolph went away and I was glad to be temporarily my own mistress. It was pleasant to be able to come and go as I pleased and not to be at the beck and call of a master—and Randolph was such, to all intents and purposes.

The days passed quietly. Dinah was most attentive and I had no trouble with any of the other women. I read a good deal and nearly every afternoon I took a long ride in the country on the quiet old horse which Randolph had given me. (I had learned to ride pretty well, but I was always rather nervous when I was on horseback.) I also often walked about the plantation, watching the field hands at work under the supervision of the overseers, each of whom carried a whip.

It was the cotton-picking season, the picking being done entirely by women. Every one had to pick a certain quantity each day, and, at the hour when work ceased, each picker carried her basket of cotton to the weighing shed, where one of the overseers was waiting to check the day’s work. Each woman’s basket was weighed to find out if it contained the right quantity, and, if it did not turn the scale, the woman who brought the basket was whipped then and there, receiving twelve strokes. No excuse ever was taken, and the punishment always was inflicted with the strap, which gave great pain but did not cut or injure the skin. (I once heard an overseer say that he could whip a «nigger» wench’s bottom with the strap for half an hour without drawing a drop of blood, and that her skin at the end of the time would be as smooth as a peeled onion.)

There were seventy female field-hands employed in the cotton picking, and nearly every evening one or two—and sometimes three or four—would be punished for not bringing in the proper amount. I will give you a description of what I once saw, and you must remember that it was almost a daily occurrence, not only on Randolph’s plantation, but on most, if not all, of the other plantations in the South.

I often have heard people—not Southerners—defend slavery and say that it was a fine institution, but those people had never seen what slavery really was. To this day the thought of slavery makes me indignant.

But to proceed. One evening I was returning from a stroll and happened to be passing near the weighing shed just at the hour when work ceased for the day and the women were bringing their baskets of cotton to be weighed. I stopped to watch the scene, and, since there was a hedge between the shed and the path where I was standing, no one saw me, though I could see through the leafy screen. I knew the rules of the plantation, and, as I looked at the women, I hoped for their own sakes that they all had picked their proper weight of cotton.

They were of all ages, from eighteen up to forty years. Some were married, but most were single. They were of various shades; the majority were black, but there were many mulattoes and also several quadroons. All of them were strong, healthy-looking women and they were dressed in cotton gowns of diverse colors, their heads, as a rule, being covered with brightly-colored handkerchiefs, though some of the younger and lighter-skinned women wore linen sun-bonnets or wide-brimmed straw hats. Everyone had on shoes and stockings.

They came along the path, carrying their baskets on their heads, chatting and laughing as if they had not a care in the world. But I noticed that a few of them were looking rather grave, and I thought to myself that they probably had been idling and were not quite sure that they had picked the full weight.

The overseer, with a notebook in his hand and attended by four field hands, stood in front of the shed, near a large pair of scales. The women came up, one by one, each handing her basket to be weighed by the men. If the weight was correct, the overseer ticked off the woman’s name in his book and she went off to her cabin, free to do what she liked till next morning. But if a woman’s basket proved to be of short weight, the overseer put a mark against her name and told her to remain.

The weighing was done quickly. Thus, in a short time, all of the women had gone except six poor things whose baskets had been found to be light. They knew what they were going to get, and they stood in a row, all of them looking doleful, while three of them also were whimpering. If I had possessed any authority on the plantation, I would have saved the women from the lash. But I had no authority. If I had showed myself to the overseer at that moment and asked him to let the culprits off without the regulated punishment, he would have laughed at me.

The overseer did not make a single remark to the delinquents, nor did they attempt to excuse themselves—they knew that no excuse would have saved them. Turning to the woman whose name was first on the list, the overseer said sharply: «Lie down.»

The woman, without hesitation, extended herself upon the ground. Then two of the men knelt in front of her and held her arms stretched out at full length while the other two men, also kneeling, held her legs by the ankles.

She was a big, very stout, coal-black woman, forty years of age. She was married and had two strapping daughters, both of whom were pickers in the same gang. The two girls, who were both over twenty years of age and quite black, had brought in their proper weight and had walked away a little distance from the shed. But when they saw that their mother had been kept back, they stopped, and, standing side by side, looked on in silence while she was being whipped. I dare say it was not the first time they had seen such a sight. Members of families, of both sexes, often were whipped in each other’s presence on Southern plantations.

The overseer turned up the woman’s scanty garments, which consisted only of a skirt, a stiff petticoat and a coarse chemise. Then he scrutinized her great, bare posteriors. Her bottom was enormous and so fat that it was dimpled all over. Her thighs were colossal and her legs were immense. Her black skin, however, was quite smooth and it shone like polished ebony.

The overseer took out of his pocket a strap about two and a half feet long, three inches broad, an eighth of an inch thick. Then, standing over the prostrated woman, he gave her twelve sharp strokes. The leather made a loud crack, like the report of a pistol, each time it fell on the culprit’s great bottom.

Tears rolled down the woman’s cheeks and her fat buttocks quivered, but otherwise she did not move a muscle nor utter the least sound. When the whipping was over, she got up and went to her daughters, who put their arms round her. Then the three walked away. I had noticed that the broad stripes made by the strap showed a livid color on her black skin.

Next on the list was a quadroon—a slim, rather pretty girl not more than eighteen years old. She was in a great fright. Tears were running down her cheeks and she was too nervous to place herself in the proper position when ordered.

«Put her down,» said the overseer. She promptly was seized by the men, and, in a moment, was lying flat on the ground with her petticoats up to her shoulders.

Her bottom was small, with pear-shaped cheeks. At the upper part of her thighs was a small space through which peeped the crisp black hair shading the «spot.» She received her dozen strokes, and, though the overseer did not whip her as hard as he had whipped the black woman, the girl twisted her loins and squealed loudly from the first stroke to the last.

When all was over, her olive-skinned little bottom had become a dusky-red color. She rose to her feet, dancing about for a moment in pain. Then she walked stiffly away, wailing loudly, with both hands pressed to her bottom.

The third culprit was a sturdy mulatto woman, thirty-five years of age. She submissively lay down when ordered, and the overseer soon stripped her. She had a big, round, plump bottom. The skin was smooth and of a yellowish tint, not at all pretty. The strap cracked, striping her bottom with twelve red bands and making her wince, wriggle and cry aloud. But she never once screamed.

The other delinquents—two black women aged respectively twenty-seven and thirty years and a mulatto girl aged twenty years—were then disposed of by the overseer in the same way. The black women bore their punishment with a certain amount of fortitude, but the mulatto girl writhed and squealed, making almost as much outcry as the quadroon.

I will here state that, from what I saw of whipping during my residence in the South, I came to the conclusion that the light-colored slave-women had finer skins than the darker-colored women. Consequently the former felt more pain while being whipped than the latter. Moreover, the whipping of such females by men, besides being cruel and most indecent, was also, in my opinion, extremely unfair as a punishment. For instance, if an octoroon woman and a full-blooded black woman, both of the same age and physique, were to undergo exactly the same punishment, the octoroon would suffer far more than the black.

When the overseer had finished whipping the last culprit and she had gone whimpering away, he told his assistants to go to their quarters. Then, rolling up the strap, he put it in his pocket and strolled leisurely away in the direction of the overseers’ house. (The four men lived together, and I have no doubt they had carnal intercourse with all the best looking field-girls.) The man had been perfectly unmoved throughout the whole affair, not appearing to be the least excited at seeing the naked bottoms of the women writhing and twisting with seemingly lascivious movements under his strokes, and he had whipped the poor creatures with as little compunction as if they had been dogs. However, as it was his almost daily work, he was quite accustomed to it, and I don’t suppose that the cruelty of the enterprise ever struck him.

Slavery had a demoralizing effect upon most of the white people in the South; they hardly looked upon slaves as human beings. I often heard white men use the expression «a nigger is no better than a hog.» But again I am digressing.

View online : Dinah wants a woman whipped (Chapter XIII)

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