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Story Archives: Plantation life, burning cotton and slavery's end in 1863
|Plantation life, burning cotton and slavery's end in 1863|
(Seventh in a series)
In 1864 John Roy Lynch, a 16-year-old former slave, was working as a pantryman aboard the Altamount, a Union transport boat anchored at the landing at Natchez.
Since the summer of 1863, life during the Civil War in Natchez and across the river in Concordia Parish had been constantly changing. The Yankees occupied Natchez and Vidalia and were slowly taking firm control of the region, although the Confederates occasionally sent cavalry and infantry to raid for supplies and food.
Aboard the Altamount, John Roy worked for several months at the best job he had ever had in his young life. He was paid $25 a month. Intelligent and ambitious, he had a bright future during which he would serve in Congress and in the Mississippi House of Representatives.
John Roy had been a house servant for a wealthy plantation owner in Natchez. At Dunleith mansion, John Roy was the personal valet of Alfred Vidal Davis and learned about things of the world by listening to conversations between Davis and his wife as well as between Davis and his friends.
Though his work was demeaning, he was generally treated well for a person in bondage. For other former slaves, however, life was not so bright.
In eastern Texas, former slave Mary Reynolds, a teenager like John Roy, was also beginning a new life. She and her mother had followed their former master, Dr. A.R. Kilpatrick, out west. A well-educated man, Kilpatrick left Concordia Parish in September 1863 following the Union's campaign to destroy Fort Beauregard, a Confederate stronghold on the Ouachita River at Harrisonburg in Catahoula Parish.
Kilpatrick's plantation was located on the Black River south of Wildsville, and it was there that Mary Reynolds lived the first 15 years of her life. Later in her early 90s, she told a Federal Writer's Project writer in the 1930s that Kilpatrick "wasn't no piddlin' man. He was a man of plenty."
His plantation was so big, she recalled, "that it would take two days to go all over the land he owned. He had cattle and stock and sheep..." She said Kilpatrick was constantly looking for young, strong slaves and that speculators often came to the plantation where the doctor would "make a swap of the old ones (slaves) and give money for young ones what could work."
She said Kilpatrick farmed cotton, corn, sugarcane and peanuts. Mary said the slaves' diet consisted primarily of pickled pork, cornbread, peas, beans and potatoes. The slaves were allowed to grow their own gardens, which always featured two favorites, peanuts and potatoes. But the only time they were allowed to work their own gardens was at night when plantation work was done.
"They was never as much as we needed," she said.
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