Plantation Life

  • The Hub of Everything

    When B.J. Barnett came, he did like so many other Jews who landed in New York. He got himself together, ready to go out and be a business man, an entrepreneur. He got a pushcart, or whatever they pushed, whatever they got about in, and he became what they called a peddler. And he—they always usually headed south, those peddlers. All the Jews in the South—many of them—come from those people who came down as peddlers. So he had his peddling business, and he came down through the South. How long it took him—how long he did that—I don’t know. Daddy didn’t used to much talk about stuff like that. We had to dig it out of him. I was interested when I was college-age, I would ask him questions, but he would just answer whatever you asked. He wouldn’t elaborate. I don’t know that he knew too much. I don’t think he bothered asking his parents too much. He was a man of his times, he didn’t live in the past—you could always say that about him, and the other Barnetts, too. Never talked about the past much—he didn’t hide it, but he never dwelt on it. Anyway, so he finally had, when he came through this area, had enough money to buy some land, and he bought a place in—we called it Manville, M-A-N-V-I-double L— You’ve heard of Manville before? It’s on the way to between here and Bishopville in Lee County. There was a swamp near there, and it was called the Scape Ore Swamp—means “escape over.” Some slaves escaped over this swamp, so it’s called Scape Ore Swamp. At least that’s what Daddy called it—“’scape over.” And if you ever wanted to get Daddy mad—and we used to love to do that, needle him—you’d say, “You lived in the country. You lived on the swamp.” “CERTAINLY DID NOT!” He’d say, “Why, we were the hub of everything out there!” The reason [he] was in the hub of everything [was] because on the edge of Scape Ore Swamp was where their house was, and they had a farm that went with it, but Daddy’s house was down right back from the road, and on the road was a store. They ran the store that was the center of the community of the people that lived here, there, and yon, around between Bishopville and there, and on the town towards Sumter. That was the gathering place, where they came to the store, and they picked up their mail there. The oldest daughter, Minnie Barnett—not the one that, don’t mix her up with Minnie Loryea Barnett—Minnie Barnett, the one who was the big mother to everybody, she was the postmistress. She got her a little job as the postmistress at the store, and all the people in the rural area there came to that store to get their mail, so they knew the whole county. They knew everybody. They knew all the gossip and all the news and everything that was happening and going on. That’s why Daddy’d get so mad if you wanted to get his goat—we loved to do that, you know. “Poppy, you was the hub of everything where they lived!”

  • Story from: Kaye, Ruth Barnett |
  • Those Thrilling Times

    My father was a cotton planter, and they had farms up at Dalzell Center, which is in this county. It’s just about eight or nine miles up the road from here. I used to ride out with him when I was—[I] can remember, but none of the other children can, because I was the oldest. He still rode in a buggy with a horse. He would go on a day’s trip out to the farm and talk to the overseers, and talk about the planting and what was going on, and drive all over fields, and on some days I was permitted to go with him. I will never forget those thrilling times. The other children never had that opportunity because cars came along, and after that he didn’t use the horse and buggy anymore, after a few years.

  • Story from: Kaye, Ruth Barnett |
  • When the Crop was Laid By

    When the crop would be, as what he used to call, “laid by,” it meant that you planted it in the spring—the cotton—and you hoed it, and you took care of the weevils by hoeing and so on, you’d fertilize it and everything, and then it got to where the limbs of this cotton stock shaded the ground and you couldn’t get in there to hoe anymore. What determines the moment that you could stop it, they call that when the crop was “laid by.” That was the time you took your vacation—it was generally the month of August. So my father was in the habit of going almost every August up—he would go to New York. He had a store as well. It was sort of a commissary for the people on the farms, that would come into the stores and get things that they needed, and then they would run an account which would be paid when the crop came in. And he used to— That store became more and more of—what we would say—a commissary, but in far back days when his father was living, and he worked there, they carried all kinds of merchandise in there. Not the kind that would appeal to the higher-class trade, but just to the workers. They had all kinds of things—umbrellas, I remember, and all kinds of shoes, things like that. So he would go on a buying trip to New York for the store, and then, after that, he would go over to Atlantic City for two weeks or so. That was a very popular gathering place for Jewish people in those days and for quite a long time after that. They would meet—couples, many couples, met at Atlantic City, because Jews from one area would meet Jews from another area, and the South would meet people from the West and North and so on. My mother was in Atlantic City because her uncle was the rabbi in Sumter—his name is Rabbi Klein. Her father was a rabbi too. My grandfather was the older of the rabbis and his brother, Henry Klein, was rabbi in Sumter in those days. The temple would not have services through the summer—and that continued for quite a time after that time, too, maybe they don’t anymore now, either—I don’t know how it is. But anyway, they didn’t have regular services through the summer, and the rabbi and his wife were entitled to go wherever they wanted and enjoy the summer. However, they had one grave responsibility, which was to come back for funerals. People would die in the summer and it was a terrible mess for them. So this involved a funeral, and the rabbi had to come home—it always had to be on the train in those days—and he and his wife were in a hotel in Atlantic City, so my mother was detailed to go there and stay with his wife, because it was unseemly that this lady could stay alone in a hotel. So Momma went there to stay with her, the aunt, and Daddy was there on vacation, and [her aunt] introduced him as “a gentleman from our congregation.” That’s how it went.

  • Story from: Kaye, Ruth Barnett |
  • Vinegar Hill

    There was Lockhart Plantation, which was on the Charlotte Highway North. It was about seven miles north of Camden, and that was the largest, and I rarely went to it. I don’t remember it much at all. Vinegar Hill, which I pass by frequently on the way to Columbia and I look at—every time I go by I blow it a kiss. I remember we used to go there and see the overseer. His name was Ben Chestnut and he was a wonderful black man, he really was. He was very courteous and wonderful. It was a huge cotton farm. It went back for miles. And I never realized how many miles it went back until recently I went back to visit some friends’ friends who lived off of this plantation, still on the original land, and I said, my God, this is our original land. Lugoff, the smaller of the three, had about 400 acres, I would guess, and 1700 acres on Vinegar Hill, and 2400 acres up in Lockhart. Vinegar Hill, my grandfather said the land was so sour nothing would grow there and they grew cotton and over and over again. Of course, in those days they didn’t know anything about leaving the land farrow for a year or two and letting it regain its health and so the land just got poorer and poorer. They didn’t know about fertilizer back then, it hadn’t been invented as yet. Down here in this area, anyway. And, you know, we were getting over the war in this area back in that era. So, they did the best they could with what they had. We were not big slave owners, I know that. I know that we had house slaves and I don’t know about the plantations at all. I only remember as a child the people who worked there and they were all whites except Ben Chestnut was a black. And they were like sharecroppers and they worked and shared the crop. This was during the Depression era.

  • Story from: Baum, Norman E. |