Friday, June 5, 2015

June 6, 1861 - W.H. Russell: mint juleps in the morning, an old African in the afternoon.

William Howard Russell, the first great war correspondent, was an important contact for British Consul Robert Bunch, Our Man in Charleston. Here, Russell is traveling through  the newly declared Confederate States of America.

June 6th — My chattel Joe, adscriptus mihi domino,  awoke me to a bath of Mississippi water with huge lumps of ice in it, to which he recommended a mint-julep as an adjunct. It was not here that I was first exposed to an ordeal of mint-julep, for in the early morning a stranger in a Southern planter's 
house may expect the offer of a glassful of brandy, sugar, and peppermint beneath an island of ice as an obligatory panacea for all the evils of climate. After it has been disposed of, Pompey may come up again with glass number two : "Massa say fever very bad this morning much dew." It is possible that the degenerate Anglo-Saxon stomach has not the fine tone and temper of that of an Hibernian friend of mine, who considered the finest thing to counteract the effects of a little excess was a tumbler of hot whiskey and water the moment the sufferer opened his eyes in the morning. Therefore, the kindly offering may be rejected. But on one occasion before breakfast the negro brought up mint-julep number three, the acceptance of which he enforced by the emphatic declaration, "Massa says, sir, you had better take this, because it'll be the last he make before breakfast."

Breakfast is served : there is on the table a profusion of dishes grilled fowl, prawns, eggs and ham, fish from New Orleans, potted salmon from England, preserved meats from France, claret, iced water, coffee and tea, varieties of hominy, mush, and African vegetable preparations. Then come the newspapers, which are perused eagerly with ejaculations, "Do you hear what they are doing now infernal villains! that Lincoln must be mad !" and the like.

At one o clock, in spite of the sun, I rode out with Mr. Lee, along the road by the Mississippi, to Mr. Burnside's plantation, called Orange Grove, from a few trees which still remain in front of the overseer's house. We visited an old Negro, called "Boatswain," who lives with his old wife in a wooden hut close by the margin of the Mississippi. His business is to go to Donaldsonville for letters, or meat, or ice for the house a tough row for the withered old man. He is an African born, and he just remembers being carried on board ship and taken to some big city before he came upon the plantation. 

"Do you remember nothing of the country you came from, Boatswain?"

"Yes, sir. Jist remember trees and sweet things my mother gave me, and much hot sand I put my feet in, and big leaves that we play with all us little children and plenty to eat, and big birds and shells."

"Would you like to go back, Boatswain ?"

"What for, sir? No one know old Boatswain there. My old missus Sally inside."

"Are you quite happy, Boatswain?" 

"I'm getting very old, massa. Massa Burnside very good to Boatswain, but who care for such damn old nigger? Golla Mighty gave me fourteen children, but he took them all away again from Sally and me. Nobody care much for damn old nigger like me."

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