The following case 8 of the struggle of a share renter in the plantation economy of the soil-exhausted Eastern Belt begins with the story of his father: John Smith is as handy a name as any for this man whose house can be seen from Raleigh, whose story is set down here just as he told it not three afternoons ago. His father may be called Jim Smith.
Jim Smith was a day laborer, working on a farm in the eastern end of Wake County. He got eight dollars a month 50 years ago, and rations. By rations, his employer meant five pounds of meat and a peck of meal weekly. He plowed throughout the crop-growing months, and was paid his eight dollars. The agreement held until September, and then Jim Smith picked cotton. He got 35 cents per hundred, and his weekly wage could be raised to as much as five or six dollars.
The land was owned by Southerland Stewart. He had a farm of 600 acres, 18 mules, and two horses that were used for the family buggy through the week, and to hitch to the carriage on Sunday. He raised cotton, ginned it at his own gin, and in due season marketed it. About half the plantation population was the wage-earning negro, and half the wage earning white men.
Jim Smith had married a wife. She couldn't read or write, but she could work. They both worked hard, she at a fixed wage per day, usually 25 cents, and Jim got his eight dollars per month. She hoed cotton all day, rising before dawn to cook breakfast and often cooking the three meals at night to do them the next day. The house was small, two or three rooms, and its furniture exceedingly scant.
Children were born, and for a few weeks the wife stayed home from the fields. Cotton picking time saw her again in the field, with the child left on a quilt in the shade of a bush nearby. Its mother suckled it occasionally, and picked cotton. The father picked cotton also at that season. In the spring the mother returned to the field, working if possible near her own house, and leaving the child at home.
Saturday afternoons the mother did the week's washing for the family and the father went off somewhere. Sometimes to a town nearby, and perhaps brought home a sack of candy to the wife and the children. If the mother had time after
she had done the week's washing, she hoed the family collard patch. In the fall, the father went hunting, most likely, and Sunday for dinner there was squirrel.
Nine children were born to Jim Smith and his wife. They were reared in the field where the mother was at work, and by the time they were seven or eight years old, the smaller ones were left to care for themselves, and the older went to work. They were very handy at cotton picking time, and often the family income was swelled to the point that enabled them all to have a pair of shoes, or to go to the circus or something. Maybe the woman got a dress and hat that she could go to church in. They rarely went to church. Such social life as they had they got from visiting around the plantation on Sunday.
The children were not healthy. Fat meat and corn bread, with an occasional ration of biscuit are not conducive to health, nor is work at the age of six years conducive to strong growing. When John Smith was 23 years old, he married. The other eight children had died. Presently his father died, and his mother. John Smith was alone in the world, with his young wife. Neither had ever been to school a day in their lives. They had no vices, other than the use of snuff. They knew how to work.
They went to work. The first year as wage-earners, and the second as croppers. A new system had taken hold, and was rooting out the wageworker. The second year he bar gained with Southerland Stewart for a one-horse crop, agree ing to plant 20 acres of cotton, and five acres of corn. That ratio was maintained all over the plantation. Smith was to get one-third of the cotton, one-third of the corn, and Stew art all the cotton seed.
Back of the big house where Stewart lived he had built a place that was called the commissary. Here the landowner sold to his tenants at prodigious prices, meal and meat and flour and sugar and molasses, the simpler working garments, cheap cloth and shoes. John Smith plowed his crop and his wife hoed it. Together they raised a fairly good crop, and marketed it. That was 26 years ago.