Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Life on a Jackson County Plantation - An Excerpt from the New Book

The following is excerpted from Chapter One of my new book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: The War Between the States. The book is available through Amazon.com by clicking this ad. It is also available at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna.

This excerpt discusses Sylvania, the Jackson County plantation of Confederate Governor John Milton:

"...Milton’s plantation, Sylvania, was centered around a surprisingly modest home all but hidden from view in a grove of lush trees. English tutor Sarah L. Jones (a pseudonym) vividly described her first view of plantation manor:

"It was just light enough to distinguish a long, low dwelling, surrounded by a deep piazza reached by steps extending along the whole front. A very pretty style of building, quite Southern, and in the midst of a wood. Excepting the drive to the house, and a cleared space in front, it was literally in a wood, and was therefore appropriately called ‘Sylvania.’

"Jones quickly discovered that Sylvania was a unique mixture of gentility and boisterousness and her arrival at the home in the trees was quite memorable. She described how she was invited into the parlor for tea by Mrs. Milton, all under the watchful eyes of the family’s ten youngest children:

"A fire was soon blazing in the sitting-room, called the parlour, the evenings being chilly; but the doors remained open, and I heard steps and voices on the piazza, and saw by the light of the blazing fire, splendid black eyes peeping in at the windows, and popping away on meeting mine, and I knew that some of the ten were ascertaining what sort of a looking body ‘the new teacher, Miss Jones’ might be.

"At the tea-table some half-dozen of the ten appeared, and I never saw such a collection of eyes in my life. They were all dark, and all beautiful, and all like their mother’s, but no two pairs alike. ‘Pretty girls, and amiable, evidently; manners perhaps a little uncouth, listless and inexpressive; temper easy, mind undeveloped, and character also expressionless. Such were my pupils in Florida….

"Life at Sylvania, however, soon proved to be a bit more difficult than the young teacher had expected. She quickly discovered to her chagrin that Jim, one of the Milton slaves, was a prankster who enjoyed taking items from the home and hiding them in the woods. Prior to bed one night she had arranged a row of books on a piano in the little one-room plantation schoolhouse, only to return to the building the next morning to find them gone:

"‘I bet a dollar that Jim…has carried them off into the woods,’ said Johnny.
‘Why should he do that.’
‘Oh, just for mischief. I left my violin here one evening, and the next day it was gone. A long time afterwards, which I was hunting in the woods, I found it smashed up under the trees; and I know Jim broke it up for mischief.’ Thus the row of books vanished, their loss borne amiably and unconcernedly, without an effort to recover them.

"Miss Jones soon discovered that the girls of the family were just as playful as Jim. In fact, she soon realized that the Miltons, like other wealthy elites of the Southern planting class, did not discipline their children at all:

"…Southern parents who have been reared on the same principals do not understand the discipline necessary to enforce any system. They are too indulgent, too much accustomed to control an inferior class, and to allow their children to control that class, to reconcile to themselves the idea of compelling obedience in their own children when once past infancy, which would perhaps be placing them too much on a par with the negroes.

"In short, the tutor believed that wealthy Southerners did not discipline their children because doing so would place them on the level of slaves. She described how little Johnny would even call a slave to carry his spade for him while helping her in the garden. As a result, her efforts to teach the Milton children were frustrating in the extreme. The children would come and go from the little school on the grounds as they pleased. Sometimes other children from the neighborhood would come, other times not.

"While Jones’ account provides a fascinating look at life in the Milton home itself, the plantation was first and foremost a place of work and farming. The future governor of Florida held 52 slaves, some were children and others house servants, but most were field hands, who worked all day in the fields and woods of the plantation. Jones paid little attention to them during her sojourn at Sylvania, noting only that they were “too busy planting, or ploughing, or chopping wood” to assist her with her small garden...."

To read more, please consider The History of Jackson County, Florida: The War Between the States.

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