South Carolina African Americans – Charles Manigault's Plantation Gowrie
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Charles Manigault's Gowrie – A Starting Point
Or, Discrepancies in the Lives of a Master and His Slaves
One South Carolina planter referred to his rice plantations on the Savannah River as "gold mines." And with profit rates as high as 26%, they were. But only for the planters. For the African-American slaves who worked on them, they were places of dread, where death was the most common of all companions.
Gowrie was one such plantation. It was bought by Charles Manigault in 1833. Manigault has been described as a "gentleman capitalist" and "cosmopolitan." He spoke French and prided himself on his wealth and social status. He invested $49,500 in Gowrie at its purchase; by 1861 the plantation was worth $266,000 – proving that it was, in fact, a gold mine.
Manigault's records have been well preserved, and through them we are able to get a good idea of what life was like for not only for him, but for his slaves. As you will see, the difference between these was so great, it was often that of life and death.
For example, in 1841 Manigault bought two carriage horses and had them shipped from New York to South Carolina at a cost of $540. His order to his agent was, "Damn the expense." This is the same amount of money it would have cost him to build five two-room frame houses for 40 of his 90 or so Gowrie slaves, with each house costing about $108. In comparison, Marshlands – the house where Manigault spent his winters in the 1850s – had cost $10,000 to build in 1810.
Likewise, in 1859 Manigault paid $160 for a gold watch and chain. This was more than he paid to provide his Gowrie slaves with tobacco and molasses – their equivalent luxuries.
But Gowrie had a horrific child mortality rate. Ninety percent of the children died before they reached age 16. And this estimate doesn't take into account stillbirths or miscarriages. Between 1846 and 1854, there were 52 slave births at Gowrie and 144 slave deaths, for a net loss of 92 African Americans. In spite of this loss in "capital" (the dead slaves were worth at least $44,000), Gowrie still managed to yield a 4% return on investment between 1848 and 1854. And this was not unusual.
Why did so many slaves die? The answers are simple – poor health, poor shelter, poor food, and brutal work.