South Carolina – African-Americans – Everyday Death - 1525-1865

South Carolina SC African-American History SC African-American Everyday Death

Presence of Disease and Death in SC's Slave Community

Child mortality in the slave population

Charles Manigualt's plantation Gowrie wasn't the only plantation to suffer an extreme child mortality rate. Englishwoman Frances Kemble, whose husband Pierce Butler owned a rice plantation on the Altamaha River in Georgia, became famous for her Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839. This book describes her traumatic confrontation with slavery and the society that supported it.

In 1839 she had a conversation with nine of the female African-American slaves who worked on her plantation, Butler Island. All were still in their childbearing years. She found that these nine women had had between them 55 children, or an average of over 6 each. Five of the children were stillborn, 12 were miscarried, and 24 had already died. In other words, out of 55 children, only 14 were still alive. As one slave explained, "I've lost a many; they all goes so."

(Written by Michael Trinkley of the Chicora Foundation)

Disease and owner apathy

There were epidemics of measles, dysentery, and cholera at Gowrie in 1848, 1850, 1852, 1853, and 1854. In addition, there were the chronic killers – malaria and pleurisy. One white overseer at Gowrie complained to Manigault that because water was "oozeing" out of the ground around the slaves' houses, "I can't begin to get the ground dry under the houses."

Likewise, after a May 1854 flood, Manigault's son Louis complained,
Everything is nasty & dirty about the [slave] settlement .... we have no more time now for this year to white wash & all now remain dirty & dingy until next year .... everything is covered with the freshest sediment & the fields 'Stink'!"
Because of these conditions, mortality on Gowrie approached 50 percent. On the day after Christmas in 1854, Louis Manigault wrote to his father,
As Lord Raglan would say to the Duke of Newcastle, so Can I to You, viz.: that "it is now my painful duty to return You a list of the dead," and here they are in the order in which they died. – Hester, Flora, Cain, George, Sam, Eve, Cuffy, Will, Amos, Ellen, Rebecca, – Eleven from Cholera, and two Children viz.: Francis and Jane not from Cholera. – In all Thirteen names no longer on the Plantation Books.
It is telling to note Louis' attitude toward the newly dead. He does not mourn the loss of the slaves' lives, but rather the reduction in the plantation's labor force – and thus its value.

(Written by Michael Trinkley of the Chicora Foundation)

Burial rituals


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