San José State University
Department of Economics
Thayer Watkins

The Diary of Bennet H. Barrow, Louisiana Slaveowner

Source: H.G. Gutman, Slavery and the Numbers Game, University of Illinois Press, 1975, pp. 22-24.

Background on Bennet H. Barrow and his Plantation

Source: Edwin Adam Davis, Plantation Life in the Florida Parishes of Louisiana, 1836-1846, AMS Press, New York, 1967.

The father of Bennet H. Barrow migrated from North Carolina at the end of the 1790's to the area of Louisiana east of the Mississippi called Nueva Feliciana. This was wilderness being converted into farmland.

Bennet, the youngest son, was born in 1811. After being tutored at home until his twelfth year he was taken to Washington, D.C. to complete his education. His father died when Bennet was nineteen and Bennet took over management of a major section of the family plantation. Bennet's share was roughly 1500 acres and included the family mansion.

Bennet Barrow prided himself upon being an efficient manager. He composed a formal set of rules for the operation of the plantation. Barrow was constantly in debt, in part, because of his land deals. He also had some debts due to endorsing (co-signing) of notes for the borrowings of friends and relatives. One friend, a British physician, disappeared leaving Barrow to pay more than ten thousand dollar on a loan. That same friend also had forged Barrow's name to some smaller notes. Barrow also borrowed money from banks to be able to loan money to relatives. Barrow himself borrowed a large amount from his brother-in-law who later suddenly called for repayment at a time when Barrow was financially distressed. After a period of time Barrow was able to repay that loan to his brother-in-law but they were not on good terms thereafter. Later in his diary Barrow remarked upon seeing that brother-in-law, "Fat and pockets full of money."

The main product of the plantation was cotton but Barrow was experimenting with growing sugar cane. He sold his product and bought his supplies through business agents, called "factors." Barrow frequently was heavily in debt to these factors.

To be continued.

Excerpts from Barrow's diary

Note: Some of the worst spelling errors have been corrected to improve readability.


Dec. 26 House Jerry & Israel chained during Christmas
bad conduct - for a year and better - Israel bad conduct during cotton picking season

Sept. 4 ... had a general whipping frolic

Oct. 2 More whipping to do this Fall than altogether in three years owing to my D[amned] mean Overseer

Dec. 31 ran two of Uncle Bat's Negroes off last night-for making a disturbance - no pass - broke my sword cane over one of their skulls

Jan. 23
my House Servants Jane Lavenia & E. Jim broke into my store room - and helped themselves very liberally to every thing - I whipped [them] ... worse than I ever whipped any one before

Sept. 28 Dennis and Tom "Beauf" ran off on Wednesday - . . . if I can see either of them and have a gun at the time will let them have the contents of it ...

Oct. 12 [Tom ran off again] will whip him more than I ever whip one, I think he deserves more - the second time he has done so this year ...
Oct. 20 whipped about half today

Oct. 26 Whipped 8 or 10 for weight today -those that pick least weights generally most trash ...
Oct. 27 Dennis ran off yesterday - & after I had whipped him

Nov. 2 Dennis came in sick on Tuesday - ran off again yesterday - without my ever seeing him -will carry my gun & small shot for him - I think I shall cure him of his rascality
Nov. 7 Dennis came in last night - had him fasted - attempted to escape. ran as far as the creek but was caught - the D[ammedest] rascal on the place

Dec. 30 Demps gave his wife Hetty a light cut or two & then locked her up to prevent her going to the Frolic-I reversed it turning her loose & fastening him

Jan. 4 Whipped every hand in the field this evening commencing with the driver

April 27 My hands worked very badly-so far general whipping yesterday

July 19 Gave L. Dave a good whipping for some of his rascality intend chaining him & Jack nights & Sunday till I think they are broke in - to behave
Sept. 9 whipped G. Jerry & Dennis for their shirking

Sept. 30 Had G. Jerry T. Fill & Bat's Nat up here washing all yesterday as punishment - generally dirty & ragged

Oct. 2 Lewis still out. no doubt but he is down at Uncle Bat's where his father lives -which proves the impropiety of having slaves off the plantation

Oct. 3 Told Dennis I intended to whip him. [Dennis fled] ... started Jack after him - to give him $50 if he catches him - I had rather a Negro would do anything else than runaway. Dennis & his brother Lewis & G. Jerry the only ones that gives me any trouble to make do their part

Oct. 4 Boy Lewis came in last night -gave him the worst whipping I ever gave any young Negro. I predict he will not runaway soon. Building a jail for him Dennis & Ginny Jerry - intend jailing them for Saturday nights 'til Monday mornings

Oct. 13 Put Darcas in jail last night for pretending to be sick, repeatedly - the first one ever put in the jail & G Jerry

Oct. 20 Gave my Negroes about my lot the worst whipping they ever had

Oct. 23 Gave every cotton picker a whipping last night for trash & of late my driver has lost considerable authority with them
[Dec. 23 Dennis caught]

Dec. 24 Intend exhibiting Dennis during Christmas on a scaffold in the middle of the Quarter & with a red flannel cap on
Dec. 25 Let Darcas out of jail - Dennis confined in jail


Jan. 9 Darcas began to shirk again -let her out of jail Christmas she
promised to do well &c.

April 18 gave my driver a few licks this evening, not knowing who had done bad work

April 19 had a general whipping among the House ones & two carters for stealing, &c.

July 5 had Jack rigged out this evening with red flannel on his ears & a feather in them & sheet on, "in the Quarter." every Negro up. Made Alfred and Betsey ride him round the Quarter dismount and take a kiss, for quarreling, Jack & Lize, Frank & Fanney the same.

July 30 [The cook Lavenia had run away and was found] Lavenia thought she had been whipped unjustly owing to Jane (the Cook), let Lavenia give her a good drubbing, &c.

I think my hands have picked cotton worse this year than in several years picked it very trashy & not better weights nor as good as common, intend whipping them straight

Oct. 15 am satisfied the best plan is to give them every thing they require for their comfort and never that they will do without whipping or some punishment


Jan. 3 [Barrow gave the Negroes a dinner] and afterwards inspected their manners in the ballroom several acted very rude as usual. put them in jail

Aug. 16 Ginney Jerry has been shirking about ever since [he] began to pick cotton. after whipping him yesterday told him if ever he dodged about from me again would certainly shoot him. this morning at Breakfast time Charles came & told me that Jerry was about to run off. took my gun found him in the Bayou behind the Quarter, shot him in the thigh

Sept. 16 Ginney Jerry ran off Last Thursday today a week, after being shot, Will shoot to kill him should I be fortunate enough [sic] to meet him, Will sell him &c.

More hands attempting to shirk for two weeks past than I ever knew, Gave a number of them a good flogging


June 15 [Ginney Jerry ran away again] will shoot to kill him if an opportunity offers.... has not been touched this year, nor have I said a word to him, pray for a shot at him.

Nov. 6 Friday night Jack Let Jerry slip for purpose of getting a pig thinking as Jerry was jailed at night there would be no suspicion of him - for some reason told Alfred Jerry had a pig in his house A. went and found it as Jack thought. put him in jail & in the stocks in the morning there was nothing of Jerry stocks Broke & door - no doubt some one turned him out - one concerned in the pig - gave about a dozen severe whipping in the Yard & all -Jack old Jenny & Darcas the most severe hand sawing


Nov. 28 Whipped all my grown cotton pickers today

Nov. 29 [Dennis ran off and was then caught] gave him the worst whipping he ever had - & ducking


May 27 [Darcas cut her husband with a hatchet in the hip. Very dangerous cut - will make her sick of the sight of a hatchet as Long as she lives

June 4 missed several of my young hogs, found 8 or 10 guilty, ducked & gave them a good thrashing, Mr. Ginney Jerry next morning felt insulted at his treatment & put out, would give "freely" $100 to get a shot at him

The Negro hunters came this morning, Were not out long before we struck the trail of Ginny Jerry, ran and trailed for about a mile, treed him, made the dogs pull him out of the tree, bit him very badly, think he will stay home a while

Oct. 18 Fell quite unwell for two days past, effect of Negro hunting

Oct. 27 Went with the Negro dogs to hunt Ruffins runaways, & his small house boy Ed. ran off still out, 12 years of age- no Luck-Negro dogs here - tired of them

Nov. 11 the Negro dogs to Mrs Wades Quarter.... dogs soon tore him naked, took him home before the other Negro, & made the dogs give him another overhauling, has been drawing a knife & pistol on persons about town


No Negro shall leave the place at any time without my permission, or in my absence that of the Driver the driver in that case being responsible, for the cause of such absence. which ought never to be omitted to be enquired into -

The Driver should never leave the plantation, unless on business of the plantation -
No Negro shall be allowed to marry out of the plantation

No Negro shall be allowed to sell anything without my express permission I have ever maintained the doctrine that my Negroes have no time whatever, that they are always liable to my call without questioning for a moment the propriety, of it, I adhere to this on the grounds of expediency and right. The very security of the plantation requires that a general and uniform control over the people of it should be exercised. Who are to protect the plantation from the intrusions of ill designed persons When every body is abroad? Who can tell the moment when a plantation might be threatened with destruction from fire - could the flames be arrested if the Negroes are scattered throughout the neighborhood, seeking their amusement. Are these not duties of great importance, and in which every Negro himself is deeply interested to render this part of the rule justly applicable, however, it would be necessary that such a settled arrangement should exist on the plantation as to make it unnecessary for a Negro to leave it - or to have a good plea for doing so - You must, therefore make him as comfortable at home as possible, affording him what is essentially necessary for his happiness - you must provide for him yourself and by that means create in him a habit of perfect dependence on you - Allow it once to be understood by a Negro that he is to provide for himself, and you that moment give him an undeniable claim on you for a portion of his time to make this provision, and should you from necessity, or any other cause, encroach upon his time - disappointment and discontent are seriously felt - if I employ a laborer to perform a certain quantum of work per day and I agree to pay him a certain amount for the performance of said work When he has accomplished it I of course have no further claim on him for his time or services - but how different is it with a slave - Who can calculate the exact profit or expense of a slave one year with another, if I furnish my Negro with every necessary of life, without the least care on his part - if I support him in sickness, however long it may be, and pay all his expenses, though he does nothing - if I maintain him in his old age, when he is incapable of rendering either himself or myself any service, am I not entitled to an exclusive right to his time good feelings, and a sense of propriety would all ways prevent unnecessary employment on the Sabbath, and policy would check any exaction of excessive labor in common - Whatever other privilages I allow the Driver, he is not suffered to send any Negro off the plantation, unless he sends him to me or some extraordinary circumstances arises that could make it proper that a message should be sent to a neighbor for as his transactions are confined solely to the plantation there rarely could exist a necessity to communicate with me, if he sends him for his own purpose, he is answerable for his absence as the Negro would be, did he go away without any permission at all - I never give a Negro a pass to go from home without he first states particularly where he wishes to go, and assigns a cause for his desiring to be absent. If he offers a good reason, I never refuse, but otherwise, I never grant him a pass, and feel satisfied that no practice is more prejudicial to the community, and to the Negroes themselves, than that of giving them general Passes - to go Where they please I am so opposed to this plan that I never permit any Negro to remain on my plantation, whose Pass does not authorize him expressly to come to it - So They think that after a Negro has done his work it is an act of oppression to confine him to the plantation, when he might be strolling about the neighborhood for his amusement and recreation - this is certainly a mistaken humanity. Habit is everything - The Negro who is accustomed to remain constantly at home, is just as satisfied with the society on the plantation as that which he would find elsewhere, and the very restrictions laid upon him being equally imposed on others, he does not feel them, for society is kept at home for them - As the Driver is answerable for the good conduct of the Negroes, and the proper application of their time he ought always to be present to attend, otherwise he could never with propriety be charged with neglect, in which case all responsibility would be at an End - No rule that I have stated is of more importance than that relating to Negroes marrying out of the plantation it seems to me, from what observations I have made it is utterly impossible to have any method, or regularity when the men and women are permitted to take wives and husbands indiscriminatelyoff the plantation, Negroes are very much desposed to pursue a course of this kind, and without being able to assign any good reason, though the motive can be readily perceived, and is a strong one with them, but one that tends not in the least to the benefit of the master, or their ultimate good. The inconveniences that at once strikes one as arising out of such a practice are these -

First - in allowing the men to marry out of the plantation, you give them an uncontrolable right to be frequently absent

2d Wherever their wives live, there they consider their homes, consequently they are indifferent to the interest of the plantation to which they actually belong -

3d - It creates a feeling of independance, from being, of right, out of the control of the masters for a time -

4th - They are repeatedly exposed to temptation from meeting and asociating with Negroes from different directions, and with various habits & vices -

5th - Where there are several women on a plantation, they may have husbands from different plantations belonging to different persons. These men posess different habits are acustomed to different treatment, and have different privileges, so your plantation every day becomes a rendeezvous of a medly of characters. Negroes who have the privilege of a monthly Passes to go where they please, and at any hour that they say they have finished their work, to leave their master's plan and come into yours about midday, when your Negroes are at work, and the Driver engaged, they either take possession of houses their wives live - and go to sleep or stroll about in perfect idleness - feeling themselves accessible to every thing. What an example to those at work at the time - can any circumstance be more Intrusive of good order and contentment

Sixthly - When a man and his wife belong to different persons, they are liable to be separated from each other, as well as their children, either by caprice of either of the parties, or when there is a sale of property - this keeps up an unsettled state of things, and gives rise to repeated now connections it might be asked how does this rule answer when there are several men on a plantation and few women - or vice versa, When there several women, & few men - For to adopt rules merely because they are good in themselves and not to pursue a plan which would make them applicable, would be fallacious - I prefer giving them money of Christmas to their making any thing, thereby creating an interest with you and yours. &c. I furnish my Negroes regularly with their full share of allowance weekly. 4 pound & 5 pound of meat to everything that goes in the field 2 pound over 4 years 1 Y2 between 15 months and 4 years old Clear good meat - I give them cloths twice a year, two suits one pair shoues for winter every third year a blanket - "single Negro - two." I supply them with tobacco if a Negro is suffered to sell any thing he chooses without any inquiry being made, a spirit of trafficing at once is created. to carry this on, both means and time are necessary, neither of which is he of right possessed. A Negro would not be content to sell only what be raises or makes or either corn (should he be permitted) or poultry, or the like, but he would sell a part of his allowance also, and would be tempted to commit robberies to obtain things to sell. Besides, he would never go through his work carefully, particularly when other engagements more interesting and pleasing are constantly passing through his mind, but would be apt to slight his work That the general conduct of master has a very considerable influence on the character and habits of his slave, will be readily admitted. When a master is uniform in his own habits & conduct, his slaves know his wishes, and what they are to expect if they act inopposition to, or conformity with them, therefore, the more order and contentment exist.

A plantation might be considered as a piece of machinery, to operate successfully, all of its parts should be uniform and exact, and the impelling force regular and steady; and the master, if he pretended at all to attend to his business, should be their impelling force, if a master exhibits no extraordinary interest in the proceedings on his plantation, it is hardly to be expected that any other feelings but apathy, and perfect indifference could exist with his Negroes, and it would be unreasonable for him, Who as the principal incitements, And is careless, to expect attention and exaction from those, Who have no other interest than to avoid the displeasure of their master. in the different departments on the plantation as much destinction and separation are kept up as possible with a view to create responsibility - The Driver has a directed charge of everything, but there are subordinate persons, who take the more immediate care of the different departments. For instance, I make one persons answerable for my stock. Horses cattle bogs &c. another the plantation utensils &e. one the sick - one the poultry. another providing for and taking care of the children whose parents are in the field &c. As good a plan as could be adopted, to establish security and good order on the plantation is that of constituting a watch at night, consisting of two or more men. they are answerable of all trespasses commited during their watch, unless they produce the offender. or give immediate alarm. When the protection of a plantation is left to the Negroes generally, you at once percieve the truth of the maxim that what is everyone's business, is no one's business. but when a regular watch is established, Each in turn performs his tour of duty, so that the most careless is at times, made to be observant and watchful - the very act of organizing a watch bespeaks a care and attention on the part of a master, which, has the dtie influence on the Negro -

Most of the above rules "in fact with the exception of the last" I have adopted since 1833. And with success get your Negroes once disciplined and planting is a pleasure A h[ell] without it. never have an Overseer - Every Negro to come up Sunday after their allowance Clean & head well combed - it gives pride to every one, the fact of master feeling proud of them, when clean &c.

Never allow any man to talk to your Negroes, nothing more injurious,

Bennet H. Barrow

For more on slavery and its economics see Time On the Cross.

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