As would be expected, the letters and invoices for the antebellum period are rarely without some reference to the house servants or field hands who were such important components of plantation life. The Weeks Family Papers document much general information about slavery as an economic system. Legal records pertaining to the purchase and sale of blacks, invoices and letters describing the acquisition of clothing and food, manuscripts discussing the construction of cabins and the annual work schedule for the plantation give us much insight into the daily lives of plantation slaves.
An inventory of the David Weeks estate, conducted on February 12, 1835, in New Iberia at The Shadows, gave a list of “movable property,” i.e. the names of all slaves on the Weeks Plantation in New Iberia, including:
- 1st - A Negro man named Frank aged about 50 years and his wife named Martha aged about sixty years valued at four hundred and fifty dollars
- 5th - a mulatto woman named Charlotte aged 22 years valued Seven hundred and fifty dollars
- 8th - A Negro man named Isaac aged 35 years and Louisa his wife aged about 24 years with their Eight children named Caroline, Perry, Nathan, Little Isaac, Riley, Granville, Ann and the last one not yet named, valued together at the Sum of Three thousand Seven hundred dollars
- 9th - Amos a Negro man aged about 35 years and Patty his wife aged 30 years and their four children named Philippe, Henry, Caleb and Susan, valued together at the Sum of Two thousand three hundred and fifty
At the time of Mary Weeks death on December 29, 1863, only three slaves remained on the plantation: Louisa, 57; Charity, 40; and Sidney, 19. Following their emancipation in 1865 after the Civil War, William F. Weeks, who took on management of the estate in 1844, was forced to strike an agreement with the newly freed men and women:
"During sugar making we agree to work 18 hours out of 24, two hours being allowed us out, this time for eating meals, & we further agree to make every exertion to save the sugar crop of the employer" "No. 1 men $8/month; children 14-17 for food; house rent free; usual allowance of good wholesome food, higher wages for sugar makeing."
The People & Their Lives on the Plantation
Eleven years after this first inventory of the estate in 1835, a second inventory was prepared in 1846. A comparison of these inventories together with Weeks family letters yields a little more information about these people than just a list of names on a legal document.
In a letter dated April 26, 1842, Mary Weeks Moore sent her daughter instructions for the servants at The Shadows. Amos was to haul wood for the cabin fires on Sundays, Martha was to plant seed for mustard greens and black-eyed peas so that the slaves would have “something to boil with their pork as it is very fat.” until the greens were ready for use, Charlotte was to boil corn dumplings for the slaves’ meals.
Amos was 42 years old in 1842, and by 1846 his wife Patty had died and two of his children also, leaving him with three children ranging in age from 9 to 18, Milton, Susan, & Caleb. Susan must have developed a back problem for in 1852 when she was 23, Mary Moore ordered a special “buckskin brace to go over the shoulders, and straps to go below” from New Orleans for Susan.
Martha, who was apparently in charge of planting the kitchen garden, would have been about 67 in 1842. Her eyesight was failing, so Mary Moore wrote to her husband John Moore in November, 1845, asking him to get “a pair of spectacles for old Martha in Franklin…the oldest you can.” By 1846, Martha’s husband Frank who had been ten years younger than she, had died, and Martha at age 70 was appraised as “valueless” on the 1846 inventory.
We can assume that Charlotte, “a mulatto woman” aged 22 in 1835, was the same Charlotte who Mary Moore instructed to “boil corn dumplings” to go with the pork in 1842. If that is the case, according to the 1846 inventory, Mrs. Moore must have needed to find another cook for the plantation, as Charlotte ran away between 1842 and 1846, and had not been “recovered.”
Louisa, listed with her husband Isaac, and their eight children on the 1835 inventory, was housekeeper for The Shadows. She was apparently a much trusted servant who was left in charge of the household whenever Mary Moore was absent. Mrs. Moore wrote in a letter of May 21, 1842, “I know Louisa will take care if her health is good.” By 1846, Louisa’s husband Isaac was dead as were Caroline and Perry, two of their children. Louisa had given birth to four more children, Marcellus, Maria, Isabel, and Daniel. Louisa’s oldest surviving son Nathan was 20 years old in 1846 working as a field hand on the sugar cane plantation at Grand Cote. Another son, “Little Isaac” had reached the age of 18 and following the death of his father, the “Little” had been dropped from his name. Louisa’s son Riley was 15 in 1846, but apparently was inclined to sickness or possibly was a favorite with Mary Moore, as she often inquired after his health when writing home. Alfred Weeks “had a good laugh” at his sister Frances Weeks Magill when their mother mentioned Riley and his brother Granville in an 1846 letter, but didn’t ask after any of her own children.
By the 1860s, Louisa’s son Marcellus was tending the shrubbery at The Shadows. In 1862 when Mary Moore was considering loading carts and leaving the property in the face of advancing Yankee troops, she wrote Judge Moore telling him she could not leave as some of her slaves were sick and confined to their cabins. One of these was 23-year old Marcellus.
While we will probably never know as much as we would like about Louisa, Charity, Marcellus, or their families, it is a vast improvement to be able to speak about some the slaves as individuals rather than have to label these persons so vital to the Shadows history as only “movable property.”