The Stuggles as A Former Slave Mitress
Catherine and Patrick owned eighty-eight slaves between their two plantations, Looking Glass and Hascosea, and lived in a Southern society dominated by racial hierarchy, so its not surprising that Catherine was a strong advocate for the institution of slavery. Not only did elite Southern woman fall into separate gender spheres, they also encountered diverse spheres of race and class, in which women shaped their southern identity. Southern refinement encouraged the ideal “plantation mistress” and as Patrick leaves the domestic duties of the plantation to Catherine, she finds herself in a vulnerable and defenseless situation that leaves her struggling to maintain and delegate her racial power over her own slaves. [Item 508]. One way Catherine is able to hold on to this hierarchy is through her diary. Catherine articulates her deep seeded angst and distaste for salves and de-humanizes and disenfranchises slaves in order to maintain a psychological upper hand. On May 13th, 1865 she writes,
“The poor creatures seem as usual, only terribly dejected & are much more tender & affectionate in their manner to us than ever before. It is a terrible cruelty to them, this unexpected, unsolicited gift of freedom, & they are at their wits ends. Their old moorings are rudely & suddenly cut loose, & they drift without a rudder into the unknown sea of freedom. God help such philanthropy” (Edmondston, 711).
Throughout her diary, she express her prejudice opinions of not only African American slaves themselves, but also African American Union Regiments, as well as freedmen, however her ardent support transforms into a frustrated demeanor as the Southern culture, built on slavery, falls around her during the course of the war. Catherine denounces this new-slave labor system and criticizes, for example, the Freedman’s Bureau as the “ Free Nigger’s Christ” and a nuisance to the whole country itself (Edmondston, 718). On December 29th,1865, in regards to the new labor system and her plantation slaves, she writes,
“They will do nothing but sleep & get wood for themselves, & even tho living under his roof, eating his bread, & burning his wood, with but two exceptions they refuse to do the daily necessary plantation labour, the care of the stock — & here ere the year closes I must pause to record the only instance of faithfulness which out of so large a number has fallen under my immediate notice” (Edmondston, 722).
Catherine shifts her attention from events of the Civil War and, to and extent, projects her hatred of the North to the freed slaves of the South. As this new society of freed slaves and Federal control looms over Catherine, she inevitably remains a staunch Confederate patriot woman serving her country. However, at the end of her diary, she becomes aware of her incapability to change this drastic transformation of the post-war South and accepts the new terms, yet still remaining, in her eyes, the very essence of a Southern woman. In 1866, she wrote, “The Demon of change & discontent was abroad, so with sullen looks & unwilling footsteps they went off discontentedly to begin the year’s labor”[Item 522].