AN INSIDE VIEW OF SLAVERY

Dr. Charles Grandison Parsons, an ardent abolitionist, abhorred slavery.  The Maine physician wanted to personally see what slavery was really like.  So, in the autumn of 1852, he left his comfortable home in the Far North  and set out to go to the South to conduct what he called, “A Tour Among the Planters.”

In his writings and speeches, Parsons, who fought for temperance as well, saw slavery as a sin and a blight on the nation.  In his travels throughout the South, Dr. Parsons wanted to interview both master and slave.  Along his way, he kept meticulous notes which he assembled into his landmark 1855 work, “A Inside View of Slavery.”  Abolitionists praised the work, while Southerners marked it as pure propaganda. One of his stops was a visit to the home of Governor George M. Troup of Laurens County.

Focusing mainly on Georgia in his writings, Dr. Parsons, a graduate of Bowdoin College,  arrived on November 22, 1852 in Savannah, where he first visited with relatives before setting out on his travels.  

During one of his adventures into the interior of Georgia, Parsons became deathly ill.  After recovering, he set out along the Darien-Milledgeville Road, the coast to capital highway which ran along the northern bank of the Altamaha and the eastern bank of the Oconee River.

His prime target was the venerable George M. Troup, one of the states’ largest slaveholders. Troup was an early leader of State Rights in America after serving Georgia as a Congressman, Senator and Governor.

Parsons arrived at the Troup home, known as Valdosta, where he found the former governor eating his early afternoon dinner.    Troup, as he invariably did,  invited his guest to dine with him.  Troup was feasting on a meal of cornbread, bacon and corned beef.  When Troup learned of the doctor’s feeble health, he ordered a servant to prepare his visitor a pot of coffee, instead of his normal fare of spirits of all kinds.

Parsons observed, “ The upper part of a pig's head — "the minister's face"— was on the table. The ears had not been cut off previous to baking, and they were so very long, and stood up so straight, and wore a mark so singular, that 1 was probably eyeing it too sharply to seem respectful.”

Troup facetiously remarked, "You see I am an honest man, sir, for that is my own mark in the pig's ear."

As the interview unfolded, the doctor discovered that Troup was a typical large slaveholder, who had been unfortunate with his sons.

Troup’s slaves, which numbered approximately one thousand, were spread among  several plantations, Rosemont and the Mitchell Place in Montgomery County and Valdosta, Vallambrosa and the Thomas Cross Roads plantations in Laurens County.  The Montgomery County plantations were originally managed by his brother, Dr. Robert L. Troup.

“He led a dissipated life, and found an early grave. I was told that he confessed to a minister, a few days prior to his death, that he had terrible remorse of conscience in the reflection that many of his own children would be left as his brother's slaves.” Parsons wrote of the late, lamented physician.

In his will, Dr. Troup left his slaves to the governor and his son, George M. Troup, Jr.  The younger Troup, although a graduate of the University of Georgia and an officer during the Indian Wars of 1836, was somewhat of a ne’er-do-well.

Of the junior Troop, Parsons noted, “ Troup's eldest son succeeded his brother as the manager of the lower plantation, where he lived a few years in dissipation, and died from its effects. His youngest, and now only son, was sent to take the place of the first, and he followed in his footsteps. After being wrecked both in morals and mind, he was sent, as I heard, to the Insane Hospital, — and I suppose he was there at the time of my visit.”

Parsons was impressed, if not stunned, as he described some of the slaves in the Troup household, a series of disjointed, unimpressive and atypical of a mansion befitting such a man of Troup’s standing  in society.

“If the sons of his Excellency were as fine looking as any one of the bright boys I saw about his house, he surely had good reason to lament their untimely end. I saw no young men on that river who appeared so intellectual, and so highly endowed with natural qualities, as some of the mulatto servants in Governor Troup's family,” the author recorded.

“They seemed devoted to his happiness, but I ascertained that they fully appreciated their liability to a worse fate after his death, — as he was far advanced in years, and his only heirs were two maiden daughters, who would not be likely to keep the slaves together long after they should be left upon their hands,” Parsons continued.

“Two of the whitest boys walked at my side as I rode to the gate, about fifty rods from the old house, — and I felt so deep an interest in their welfare that I took the liberty to converse with them in relation to their situation,” said the traveler who found an instant affection for the youngsters.

"You have an easy life here, boys," the physician  remarked and added, "You are lucky to find a home so good as this."

"Oh, yes, master," one of the boys sadly replied.  “But we don't know how soon our master may die, and then we shall be sold away, and our lot may then be much harder," one of the young boys commiserated.

Parsons replied, "Well, boys, I would not borrow trouble, but would rather be thankful for so many blessings. You fare so much better than the slaves generally do, that you ought to be happy."

The young boy concluded, "I know that, master," replied one of them, "but still we cannot help thinking what we may have to suffer by and by."

As he resumed his travels, the Yankee doctor counseled the boys, “ Well, be good boys, — don't drink whiskey, — take good care of your old master, — always do right, and you will be sure to fare the better for it. Good evening!"

During his travels in the South, what Charles Parsons observed had a profound influence on his life.  Parsons died in 1864, living just long enough to see Abraham Lincoln  issue the Emancipation Proclamation, but not long enough to the see the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

In summarizing the results of his travels, Dr. Parsons declared, “No man can visit the South for the first time without having his views of slavery, whatever they may be, to some extent modified” 

Comments

Rhonda Cumpsty said…
Scott, that was interesting. Do you think that he found the conditions to be much less severe than he had feared? Do you think his writings were propaganda? Are there descendants of the Troup family still in the area?
Scott Thompson said…
Rhonda, I haven't read the whole book yet. I am sure it varied from place to place. In a way, nearly all writings of this sort are some type of propaganda or what the author wanted his readers to know. It is human nature. With his writings about Troup, I seem to think they are legitimate. Yes, there are many, many Troup descendants in this area and around the country. A lot of them changed their surname to Edwmond between 1870 and 1880.