What South Carolina Fears

From The New-York Times December 7, 1860:

A CANDID VIEW OF SECESSION.; EXTRACT OF A PRIVATE LETTER FROM A LADY IN SOUTH CAROLINA RECEIVED IN THIS CITY.

K_____, S.C., Saturday, Dec. 1, 1860.

MY DEAR UNCLE: It is with different feelings that I sit myself to pen these lines to you, from those which actuated me when I wrote you last. Then all looked bright and cheerily in the future, now how gloomy and portentous, still I fervently “pray God that this cup may pass away from us.” The country here is all aglow with the fires of revolution, and such is the intensity of excitement that we can scarcely find time or inclination to talk or think of anything else than the political topics of the day, and the moral and social consequences directly pertaining to secession. I fear that secession and revolution are, with our people, foregone conclusions; that we have gone to far, retraction and recession are impossible, and that civil war with all its consequent horrors is already upon us. I shudder for the wives and mothers, sisters and babes of South Carolina, as I contemplate the immediate future of the State. You need not be surprised at any time to see me and the children in your midst, for no argument could induce me to remain here an hour longer than I should be compelled to, if the worst should come to the worst.

You may imagine, dear uncle, our situation, but you never can realize it in its fullness. Already we tremble in our own homes in anticipation and expectancy of what is liable to burst forth at any moment, a negro insurrection. Could you see the care and precaution displayed here by the proprietors of the negroes, not only planters, but others, you would not for a moment envy us our possessions. Not a night passes that we do not securely lock our field servants in their quarters; but our most loved and valued house servants, who in ordinary times we would trust to any extent, are watched and guarded against with all the scrutiny and care that we possess. Our planters and owners of slave property do not allow their servants to have any intercourse with each other, and the negroes are confined strictly to the premises where they belong. We are all obliged to increase our force of overseers to prevent too free intercourse even among our own servants. The negroes feel and notice these new restraints, and naturally ask “Why is this?” But it is unnecessary for them to ask the question, for they till comprehend the cause as well as we who own them. They have already learned enough to give them an idea of what is going on in the State and nation, and this knowledge they have not gained from Abolitionists, as some suppose, but from the conversation of their owners indirectly held in their presence. They have already heard of LINCOLN’s election, and have heard also that he is for giving their their liberty, and you may imagine the result.

You have heard that our servants all love their masters, and their masters’ families, and would lay down their lives for them — that the colored race in the South prefers Slavery to Freedom — that they would not be free if they could, &c., &c.. That is but the poetry of the case, the reality consists [of] sleeping upon our arms at night — in doubly bolting and barring our doors — in establishing and maintaining an efficient patrol force — in buying watch dogs, and in taking turns in watching our sleeping children, to guard them and ourselves from the vengeance of these same “loving servants.” — a vengeance which, though now smouldering, is liable to burst out at any moment, to overwhelm the State in spite of the Palmetto flags or State precautions.

You at the North are not the only ones who are suffering financially by this new panic. The planters among us are really suffering from the depreciation in their property. Already negroes are not worth half price. No one dares to buy a servant, fearing lest he, in doing so, should be introducing upon his plantation one tinctured with the idea of freedom.

My husband has but a few servants, — I believe but thirty-one all told, — still I feel (and so does he) that they are thirty-one too many in such times as these. He would sell them immediately, if it were possible, but the truth is he could realize nothing for them at present, or at most not over half their real value Slaves are a drug [?] in the market, my husband says, and you know him well enough to judge of his judgment in such matters.

Now, one word as to the military force of the State, to protect us against an insurrection. I presume, with the exception of Charleston, and perhaps a few large towns, that the remainder of the State is situated very much as we are here; and I will give you an idea of how well prepared we are to resist a mob. Upon our place of about 1,200 acres we have; of whites, males — husband, two overseers and my son of 18 years; total, four; females — self and cousin, little Lucy and one of the overseer’s wife — four; of whom only four at the most are capable of bearing, arms, — to offset which we have at least seventeen field hands — sturdy young negroes, — besides the female servants. And this is a fair representation of the force upon our plantations. Considering such a state of facts, do you blame me for desiring to absent myself, my husband and children from the State? **

When this woman said that Civil war was a foregone conclusion I assumed her great fear was Yankee armies burning the South Carolina to the ground. Her great fear at that moment was a slave insurrection. You can read this article at The New-York Times Archives

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