Ask Rufus: Spring Time 1849

April 20, 2013 7:20:38 PM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


The cold snap of the last few days has brought to mind an account of spring time 164 years ago. The plantation journal for a Billups farm in Lowndes County during the spring of 1849 has survived and paints an interesting picture. Sometimes the best way to tell a story is not to tell it but to let a document itself speak.  


The journal begins by describing the overseers contract and then, on a monthly basis, describes farming operations and weather conditions. It is most interesting in that mid-April 1849, saw a cold snap much like Friday's, only colder and with snow. The farm journal entry for 1849 begins: 




"Journal for the year 1849 


Condition of contract with Mr. Bridges as overseer. He to stay closely at home to attend faithfully to business. I am to pay him for services when my cotton is sold $345- find him with bread & bacon one Bl (barrel) of flour, 100 lbs of sugar and 50 lbs coffee 


23 hands constitute my working force. 400 acres in cultivation. 200 acres in cotton .130 in corn. Somewhere in the neighborhood of this amount, possibly not quite so much but very nearly. 12 working mules, four horses & one mule colt. 13 cows and calves. 200 hogs sows & pigs 8 double turning ploughs & 14 single. 10 sweeps & 6 scouters. 24 weeding hoes & 7 grubbing hoes & 5 wedges. 15,000 pounds pork & bacon. 750 (bushels, most likely) corn. 10 double stacks fodder 


January -- This month very wet from the 1st to the 23rd very little ploughing (sic) done during the month; two weeks of the time scarcely any. 


February -- This month remarkably dry -- beautiful weather for bedding land but two slight showers during the month not enough for stopping ploughing longer than half a day each time. 


March -- Commenced planting corn 1st & finished 9th all except hog lot of eight or ten acres. Finished bedding 12th all except hog lot - potatoes bedded out 10th. Finished planting hog lot 22nd. Frost 21st considered no very serious injury done. Commenced planting cotton 23rd & finished 29th. Considerable hail heavy rain & wind on the night of the 24th no serious injury done by hail; but effects very evident. Heavy frost on the nights of the 26 and 27. Corn much injured. In places apparently dead. Some cotton up in the neighborhood -- a great deal killed -- ploughed up & planted over. The month has been moderately dry. On the night of 13th a heavy rain. 15th another heavy rain; followed by three other equally as heavy which fell between this time & 24th. The first and latter part of the month dry the middle wet. 


April -- Commenced ploughing, hoeing & thinning corn on the evening of the 5th. Finished 25 acres morning of the 7th. Stopped for a day to clean out lake. Commenced again on the 9th. Corn looking very well quite as good or better than any in the neighborhood. Now everything on 9th between ankle & half leg high. Finished plowing, hoeing & thinning. Corn 13th all looking remarkably well. On the 15th a slight sprinkle of rain not enough to run off house. Some Snow in the morning, but a remarkably cold day for the season on the morning of the 16th and a very heavy frost destroying vegetation of all kinds -- corn & cotton dead to the ground. Commenced ploughing up & planting over corn 17th & finished 20th. Mode of planting was to open a furrow with cary (?) plough immediately on the old bed. Drop corn & (word not legible) on it with cary A great deal of cotton in the neighborhood plowed up & planted over. My own suffered to remain & got a fine stand. A shower of rain on the night of 23rd, one also morning of the 24th. Pretty cotton, showers not enough to benefit corn The month has been remarkably dry not a drop of rain except on 23rd and then slight in the night is mentioned.. As to stands of cotton and corn, none of either up until 29th. Commenced sweeping cotton one 24th" 




The Billups' corn crop turned out to be excellent making over 9000 bushels. The cotton crop, though, was "exceedingly poor" because of a wet summer and "the ravages of the boll worm." The amount of ginned cotton was 20,985 pounds making 42 bales averaging 499.5 pounds each.

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]