Draft posted 20220312

On any given day at St. Inigoe's Manor in 1815, one might find Nace Butler sitting down to the basic dinner he had been eating for most of his life. After a hard day's work as a blacksmith, Butler was likely to tuck into a serving of cornbread and salt pork, and perhaps some cabbage. If the season was right, there might have been peaches available. Based on his and his family's extra labor, him might enjoy the possibility of some other variety, chicken, sweet potatoes, oysters. But, day after day, year after year, he would be faced with corn and pork provided by the farm manager. The monotony of the experience would have been recognized by most of the rest of the enslaved people who lived in Maryland at the time.

Just as was the case with the provisioning of clothing and housing, providing for the nutritional needs of enslaved people elicited a response that could only be described as minimal. Among slaveholders, the focus remained on providing enought calories for enslaved people to perform the labor assigned to them, and not on the nutritional sufficiency nor on any sense of variety. The Jesuits did not differ from their neighbors in this respect.

In the early years while he was establishing the plantation at St. Joseph’s Manor, Joseph Mosley, SJ described the effort which it took to beginning to provide for basic needs in an area with no market infrastucture. He claimed to have spent a significant amount of his time in 1765, "looking out for provisions for myself, Workmen & Nigroes, which at Times could not hardly be got for Love or Money: I had no Market to go to, for Bread, Meat & Liquor, as you have in England, where nothing can be wanted if you have ye money; here you may have ye money, & yet starve in spite of your Teeth." But, 1766 he had established himself with an array of livestock and a crop of grain for breadmaking.1

Mosley's tale of scarcity might have been resolved within in year, but the situtation for enslaved people remained precarious for decades not due to foodstuffs being unavailable, but rather due to the unwillingness of slave owners to provide sufficiently for their bondspeople. Narratives from people formerly enslaved in Maryland confirm persistent hunger again and again. Charles Ball, who was born on a tobacco plantation in Calvert County, Maryland in 1781, explained he "suffered greatly for want of sufficient and proper food. My master allowed his slaves a peck of corn, each, per week, throughout the year; and this we had to grind into meal in a hand-mill for ourselves. We had a tolerable supply of meat for a short time, about the month of December, when he killed his hogs. After that season we had meat once a week, unless bacon became scarce, which very often happened, in which case we had no meat at all."2 William Green, who was enslaved at Oxford Neck in Talbot County, MD, described the situation of people owned by a neighboring slaveholder: "Their food was of the meanest and coarsest kind. He gave to each man and woman for their week's allowance one hog's face, not a head, only the face, and about a dozen ears of corn, and that to be ground in a hand mill at night, after they came from work, and hardly stopped work at all."3

Frederick Douglass, perhaps the most famous enslaved person to have survived bondage in Maryland, described the meager provisions on provided during his childhood in the 1820s: "The men and the women slaves on Col. Lloyd's farm received as their monthly allowance of food, eight pounds of pickled pork, or its equivalent in fish. The pork was often tainted, and the fish were of the poorest quality. With their pork or fish, they had given them one bushel of Indian meal, unbolted, of which quite fifteen per cent. was more fit for pigs than for men. With this one pint of salt was given, and this was the entire monthly allowance of a full-grown slave, working constantly in the open field from morning till night every day in the month except Sunday. There is no kind of work which really requires a better supply of food to prevent physical exhaustion than the field work of a slave."4 Children on the otherhand were treated as an afterthought, provided with "coarse corn meal boiled. This was called mush. It was put into a large wooden tray or trough, and set down upon the ground. The children were then called, like so many pigs, and like so many pigs they would come and devour the mush; some with oyster-shells, others with pieces of shingle, some with naked hands, and none with spoons. He that ate fastest got most; he that was strongest secured the best place; and few left the trough satisfied."5

What was a matter of survival for enslaved people was frequently viewed as a matter of management and accounting by their owners. This was also true of the Jesuits. By 1815 Joseph Mobberly, SJ was convinced that the Jesuits needed to divest of their enslaved property. His time as manager at St. Inigoe’s had been difficult, and punctuated by the plundering of the estate by the British in the course of the War of 1812. Mobberly had concerns about the spiritual welfare of the enslaved and the their increasing dissatisfaction with their state, but was also concerned by the persistent economic challenge of providing for such a large group of individuals. In pleading his case for transitioning to hired labor, Mobberly offered a very clear picture of the investment the Jesuits made in feed the nearly 45 enslaved people that he oversaw. He calculated that annually he required 630 bushels of corn for bread, 3,468 pounds of bacon, and 68 pounds of hog’s lard to feed 43 people. His records indicated that the estate produced 400 bushels of corn and 6,000 pounds of pork, suggesting that he was failing to break even in feeding the bonds people laboring on the farm.6

After he was dismissed as manager of St. Inigoe's in June 1820, Mobberly reflected on the conditions of the farm and the enslaved people who remained. Mobberly's description of the rations provided for the enslaved people at St. Inigoes mirrors closely the consensus of other slaveholders about the quantity and types of foods that were appropriate to feed enslaved laborers:

One peck of meal a little heaped was always allowed each labourer per week and a half peck to children. Old people who were passed labour were allowed as much per week as a labourer. One peck per week was always found to be a plenty, and some of them did not use it all. What they did not use was preserved for the raising of poultry.7

While Mobberly was writing in the early 19th century, the shift to a standardized ration to individual people began in the late 1800s, and archaeological evidence seems to show a higher presence of pig remains related to slave quarter in relation to cow remains which were present in sites where Europeans lived. Most slave owners seemed to have adhered to the formula that Mobberly rehearsed: two to five pounds of salt pork or bacon and one peck of corn meal, per person, per week. The mix was economical and calorie rich, if not varied or particularly nutrious.8

Certainly, enslaved people were not the only ones whose diet included corn as a major feature. All residents of British North America consumed significant amounts of corn. In the early 18th Century British naturalist, Mark Catesby, in his efforts to catalog and illustrate the vegitation of southern coast and the West Indian, featured Indian Corn, note that enslaved and white people alike ate Indian Corn, prepared as corn pone or bread, mush, or hominy.9 The enslaved people at St. Inigoe's and other Jesuit-owned plantations would have been likely to have made these prepartions themselves with their weekly allotment of corn meal.

Similarly, pigs, which arrived with European explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries, and pork products were a common and longstanding feature of the Southern diet in colonial and Early National periods. Pork proved much more popular than beef for several reasons. For a region dedicated to raising crops for market, such as tobacco and wheat in the upper south, and rice and cotton in the deep south, pig could roam in forest areas, forraging rather than require pastures to graze. Whatever fodder had to be provided could be varied and cheap given pigs willingness to eat grains, but also other kinds of food scraps. Unlike beef which spoiled quickly, pork could be cured by salting, pickling or smoking, making it easy to store for long periods of time. Furthermore, a slaveholder was likely to make use of the whole hog, rather than simply the pork sides.10

Over the years historians have had some disagreement about whether plantation management records that noted the rationing of corn and pork truly meant just corn and pork. For example in their quantitative review of slaveholding practices, in 1976 in Time on the Cross, Fogel and Engerman argued that such a notation was actually shorthand for a range of meat, grains, and vegetables. Richard Sutch, who was one of the immediate respondents to that work forcefully argued that Fogel and Engerman had made a number of quite misplaces assumptions about the food provided for enslaved people. His reading of the sources suggested that there were ocassional substitutions for corn and pork, but that those substitutions were studiously noted in overseers' instructions.11

Joseph Mobberly's hand-draw map of St. Inigoe's Manor from his 1823 diary.
Mobberly's hand-draw map of St. Inigoe's Manor.

In pushing back against Fogel and Engermann's ideas about nutrition for the enslaved, Richard Sutch acknowledged that many southern plantations produced a range of foodstuff. However, he dismissed Fogel and Engermann's claim that the difference between what white people consumed and what was raised and sold must necessarily have gone to feed the enslaved. That surplus certainly could have provided for the enslaved but there was no direct or concrete evidence that it did.12 Mobberly's reflections on his time as manager at St. Inigoe's Manor include a handdrawn map of the estate that confirms the wide array of crops and livestock raised on the estate. He had access to beef, poultry, eggs, apples, peaches, corn, and other grains. Yet, his description of the rations for the enslaved people he managed included only corn, bacon, and lard.

While the rations issued to enslaved people varied slightly from plantation to plantation, individual farming on small plots and hunting or fishing served as supplementary sources of nutrition. As early as 1792, Francis Beeston, SJ, described the parameters for allotting land to the enslaved people at Bohemia Manor for their own use:

The dimensions of a Negroe's patch in the future shall be 100 yards long, & 40 yards wide from the fence of the field, to which it joins. If he be a married man, & his wife live on this Plantation, he shall be allowed a patch 200 yds. in length, & 40 ^yds.^ in breadth from the fence of the adjoining field. If a ^married^ man has a patch of these last dimensions; his wife shall have no separate patch. No boy, nor girl shall be entitled to a patch til he or she is a full hand, with respect to work. -- The patches shall be made only in such places, as the Master shall appoint. -- If any one transgress these rules; he shall, without fail, lose his patch ^& all title to any for the future.13

By granting these provisions grounds to the enslaved laborers at the plantations, managers eased their responsibility for providing sufficient nutrition or any variety for the people under their supervision. Shifting that burden to the enslaved people themselves, the managers also opened up the possibility that those enslaved people might turn their industriousness to their own advantage. Mobberly's description of the allotments for the enslaved people at St. Inigoe's were not as rigid as those offered by Beeston. Rather than providing a set quantity of land, Mobberly made allowances "in proportion to the family," where people raised cabbage, cotton, and sweet potatoes, as well as chickens. These labors could supplement the enslaved's diet, but they could also serve as an important source of income when they were able to sell the excess raised.14 In fact, food historians Sam Hilliard and James Cobb argue that it is very difficult to know how much poultry and eggs enslaved people consumed themselves, despite the fact that raising chickens was quite common. They suggest that selling and trading poultry and eggs would have greatly reduced their home consumption. The same was likely true of any pigs they were able to raise.15

Despite Mobberly's recollections about the sufficiency and consistency of the provisions for the enslaved people at St. Inigoe's and their capacity to raise additional food stuffs to supplement their diets and their income, the state of management at other Jesuit-owned plantations might not have been so stable or clear. In 1820, Peter Kenney, a Jesuit visitor to the Maryland Province detailed with the job of assessing the state of the mission, toured the plantations noting his concerns. At the close of his time traversing the state, Kenney drafted a report from his observations. Where Mobberly depicted consistency, Kenney found "every where there is a sort of arbitrary regulation, which is different from that of other farms, & which is frequently changed by the new manager." Based on this inconsistency, Kenney made a set of recommendations and decision points that would apply to the treatment of the enslaved at all of the Jesuit-owned farms, the first two of which dealt with food: "1. their Rations be fixed -- in some places they have only had one pound & a quarter of meat: often this has not been sound -- 2. Whether they are to be allowed to rear poultry or not? -& hogs."16

Kenney's interest was in bringing some consistency to the management of the estates. That kind of consistency would have saved the enslaved people from suffering the whims of the individual plantation managers, but at the same time it would have further enforced the regime of the repetition. The enslaved families had lived on these plantations for decades, and in some cases for three or four generations. Each of those individuals lived out those years from birth to death that was rarely punctuated by variety. Corn and pork. Everyday.

  1. Letter, Joseph Mosley to Mrs Dunn (his sister), 1766-10-14, Early Jesuits' Papers Collection: Joseph Mosley (Box 1, Folder 7). (CHMC Files\Mosley-MrsDunn-1766-10-14.json)
  2. Charles Ball, Fifty Years in Chains; or, The Life of An American Slave [1859], Electronic Edition (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, 1997). 16-17.
  3. William Green, Narrative of Events in the Life of Wiliam Green, (Formerly a Slave.) Written by Himself [1853], Electronic Edition (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, 2000). 7-8.
  4. Frederick Douglass, Life and times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time [1881] Electronic Edition (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, 1999). 44-46.
  5. Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Written by Himself (1845), Electronic Edition (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, 1999). 26-27.
  6. Letter, Mobberly to Grassi, 1815-03-05, MPA (Box 58, Folder 6),
  7. Joseph P. Mobberly, "One Peck of Meal": Food Rations and Social Conditions at St. Inigoes, The Mobberly Diaries, Part I, 1820. (131-135):
  8. Lorena S. Walsh, Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit: Plantation Management in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1607-1763 (University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 381; Robert Sutch, “The Care and Feeding of Slaves,” in Reckoning with Slavery: A Critical Study in the Quantitative History of the American Negro, ed. David Paul et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 235; Sam Bowers Hilliard and James C. Cobb, Hog Meat and Hoecake: Food Supply in the Old South, 1840-1860 (Athens, UNITED STATES: University of Georgia Press, 2014), ch 3: 14, and ch 5: 10; Marcie Cohen Ferris, The Edible South : The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region (Chapel Hill [North Carolina]: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014), 12.
  9. Ferris, 11, and Hilliard and Cobb, ch 3: 14.
  10. Ferris, 13, and Hilliard and Cobb, ch 3: 15.
  11. Fogel and Engerman, ## and Sutch, 235.
  12. Sutch, 236-242.
  13. Records of Bohemia, 1790-1799, Maryland Province Collection [GTM.Gamms53], Francis Beeston, SJ, December 12, 1792 (Box 1, Folder 1) 28.
  14. Mobberly, The Mobberly Diaries, Part I.
  15. Hilliard and Cobb, ch3 16
  16. Peter Kenney, SJ, Reports, Memorials, and Ordinations (1820) MPA, Box 38, Folder 15, p11