The man above is John Wallace Comer and his body servant Burrell.
During the late 19th and early 20th century, Comer was a planter and the owner of the Comer plantation in Spring Hill in northern Barbour County where I grew up. During the War Between the States, he served in the 57th Alabama Infantry Regiment in the Army of Tennessee.
John Wallace Comer was injured during the Battle of Atlanta and was rescued from the battlefield by his loyal slave Burrell. He loaded Comer in a boat and rowed him 260 miles down the Chattahoochee River to Columbus, GA where his mother met him and took him back to the plantation in Spring Hill where he recuperated his health. After the war, Burrell was rewarded with a pension from the State of Alabama. Comer and the White League redeemed Barbour County in the Election Riot of 1874.
I’ve shared the Comer story here before, but I was reminded of it this afternoon when I came across another story about the end of slavery on Henry D. Clayton’s plantation in Barbour County. Clayton was a Major General in the Army of Tennessee and also fought at the Battle of Stones River, Chickamauga and the Battle of Atlanta. He became the president of the University of Alabama after the war.
The following excerpt comes from James Benson Sellers classic book Slavery In Alabama:
“On the Clayton plantation, when the slaves were told that they were no longer bound to remain, their former master offered to each one who decided to go conveyance and provisions for the rest of the year. But the ex-slaves nevertheless chose to remain. Lewis, one of them, a little later tried out the new freedom; he wanted to see, he said, what he could do by himself. He came back the following autumn, moved back into his old cabin, and there remained until he was an old man.
It was Henry D. Clayton, owner of this plantation, who made the memorable “Charge to the Grand Jury of Pike County,” September 9, 1866. Although Clayton deplored the laws granted freedom to Negroes, he said, he believed that all were in honor bound to observe these laws. The Negro was free, but he was “helpless by his want of habits of self-reliance, helpless by his want of experience, and doubly helpless by his want of comprehension to understand and appreciate his condition.” Southern people, who had knew the Negro as slave for so long, were the only people in the world who understood him. To remedy the evils growing out of abolition, Clayton urged that the people of the South “secure the services of the negroes, teach them their places, and how to keep them, and convince them at last that we are indeed their best friends.” None should hold a grudge against the Negro because he was now free, Clayton added:
“He is proud to call you master yet. In the name of humanity, let him do so. He may have been the companion of your boyhood. He may be older than you, and perhaps he carried you in his arms when an infant. You may be bound by a thousand ties which only a Southern man knows, and which he alone can feel in all its force. It may be that when, only a few years ago, you girded on your cartridge-box and shouldered your trusty rifle, to go meet the invaders of your country, you committed to his care your home and your loves ones; and when you were far away upon the weary march, upon the dreadful battlefield, in the trenches, and on the picket line, many and many a time you thought of that faithful old negro and your heart warmed towards him …”
These words, Mr. Clayton thought, indicated the condition into which the country had been plunged by the termination of the war. The ordeal through which the Southern people passed during the process of Reconstruction was, he said, indeed severe. Thousands of Negroes, uneducated, unfitted for anything except to obey and do their duty as directed, were given their freedom and the privilege of citizenship. “Their conduct in this trying time, ” he observed, “should prove to the world the love, fear, and high regard they entertained for their former masters.”
Well … that was an interesting perspective.
This is straight from the horse’s mouth though. I thought I would share it. It seems like more people are bitter about slavery today over 150 years later than the people who lived through it.
What was life like on the Democrat plantation?
“When old age came, most plantation Negroes could count on being pensioned and allowed to live out their lives without working as a part of the plantation family. Social pressure was brought to bear on planters who failed to discharge this part of a slave-owner’s responsibility. “In the South the slaves are taken care of for past services,” observed a New York newspaper writer in 1860. He goes on tell of four old pensioners on a plantation he visited in Alabama. Jim was about eighty years old and had been “lying on his oars for twelve years.” Sylvia had done nothing but eat, drink, and smoke for sixteen years. Agnes, about seventy-five years old, had not worked for thirty years. Harriet was only about fifty years old, but she had been enjoying a pension already for eleven or twelve years.”
Slaves had a comfortable retirement on the plantations.
If life was so awful here, most of them would have left but they didn’t after the war. It wasn’t until the 1910s that the exodus became a flood and that was due to the attraction of wartime industries and the final ruin of the Cotton Kingdom at the hands of soil erosion and the boll weevil.