Hugh Davis farm journals, 1848-1880

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Hugh Davis (1811-1862) was an Alabama lawyer turned plantation owner. Being a learned man, his record books from the Beaver Bend farm are thorough and articulate, describing both day-to-day activities and overall running of farming operations, including the relationship between master, overseer, and slaves.

A description of the farm’s operational Principles, Rules, and Regulations appears beginning on page 13 of the 1862-1866 journal. Below are some excerpts:

…the plantation shall be governed by a code of law suited to the patriarchal rather than the civil. The employer having the first rank, the overseer the second, and third and last the negroes according to their intelligence and fidelity.

Duty: The overseer is expected to […] study well the Principles, Rules, and Regulations in force on the place, so as to understand and believe in them to which end they are recorded in the farm books.

Punishment: …all discipline and punishment […] shall be inflicted by a broad leathern flail or strap and not by whips, switches, or cow-hides and all punishment should be administered for the purpose of human discipline and free from passion.

Sickness: The manager or overseer is required to report all sick persons at an early time and see that they be attended to during their sickness and is expected to be able to determine sickness from health by the usual signs indicated by the skin, the tongue, the pulse &c., &c.

Lights: …no lights, fire or lamps shall be carried within the gin-house corn-house or other place so liable to take fire…

Equality: No negro shall have authority over the others or to whip them.

Debts: All claims by way of debts among the negroes are strictly forbidden, and the overseer is not to enforce them, and any such claim resulting in a quarrell or fight will be strictly punished.

Sleep: All hands are required to retire to their rooms for rest at nine o-clock P.M.

Babies: Every suckling woman is regarded as half a hand and is to be allowed three quarters of an hour to attend to her baby besides the time for going and coming And shall be kept at work [?] nearer than half a mile

Immorality: All cursing, quarrelling, fighting, and all violations of the right of husband and wife and such other immorality will meet with chastisement From 10 to 50 stripes is the general measure of punishment for stated offenses…


Davis clearly had the meticulousness of a lawyer, but who knows where he got his desire to doodle. Throughout the farm journals, even when others take up the writing for a time, the margins are sprinkled with illustrations related to the day’s activities or weather. Most of them are indications of rain, giving the reader an easy way to scan over the previous weeks and see when and how much it had fallen. Some, though, are a little more creative.

This is a typical page, with those rain symbols as well as shovels marking a period of ditch digging:


Here are some other doodles, illustrating a comment in that day’s record:







The later farm journals were more and more kept by others, from his overseers to his own sons. This is because Davis’s health began to fail.

In June 1859, he suffered his initial sickness. The overseer reports: Mr. Davis very ill at this time last night. he had 4 physicians with him…

Later that year, Davis, in a shaky hand, comments on what the last few months had been like: Being my 48th Birthday. I am suffering from parallasys & have been since 1st June. Unable to walk or to stand alone. have to lie [?] the arms. Today I set at the table & said Grace. I hoped to walk ere thus, yet I have reason to be thankful I am not worse off for I have been very bad in mind and body. I thank my God for his spareing me yet this one time I have good [?] and kind friends.


In March 1860, he finally decides he is unable to act as master of the farm: I have found that attending to my business is too laborious for body and mind even while confined to my bed. Mr. John White agreed to come and attend to my business for some time and I hope he will find it agreeable to continue.

On his birthday that year, he writes: This day I am 49 years old but appear to be 65 I am far more disabled than usual at 70. Nearly 18 months of Palsy have weighed heavily on the best of constitutions & pressed hard on the most buoyant of temperaments. I am still patient & hope still lingers & my prayer is that I may not [?] one when I die. I this year have traveled much for a sick man. I went to the Hot Springs Va, White Sulphur, Healing Springs, […] & also to Richmond & saw many relations & among them the only uncle I have. My health is much improved in a year. Still I am strong [an invalid?], 3 times I have been on horse, can walk very little on foot unless with my crutches or cane. May I trust in God & still grow better every way for the [next year?], and all time unto Eternity.



Two years later, Davis was dead, but his family carried on with Beaver Bend plantation, even in the midst of the Civil War. To see more of the farm journals or to further explore the family papers in the collection, follow this link to the online Finding Aid.

This entry was posted in African-American History, Agriculture, Diaries and Journals, Southern History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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