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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

His Views on the South: Solomon S. Mead Tells of the Sights He has Seen, and Gives His Opinion of “Dixie Land.”

Source: Greenwich Graphic. Saturday, June 27, 1903

June 2d, 1903

Mr. Editor:

I am now on board the “Princess Annie,” of the Old Dominion line of steamers from Norfolk Va, to New York. I left Cedar Town, Georgia, on Monday morning, June 1st, and went to Atlanta and left Atlanta same evening at 8:10 and arrived at Norfolk in time for steamer at 7:10 p.m.,  on Tuesday a railroad ride of over 700 miles to Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. I am sorry to say that the whole country was rather forbidding; there was much more poor land than good and I think planting was much behind this year and so said the planters. They said the spring I have been so wet that the ground could not be worked and they planted the crop of cotton and corn without cultivating first and instead cultivating after. I do not remember seeing two mules hitched to one plow. I did to a wheelbarrow. I saw no fields fenced in and the cattle that were kept near a house were always tied with a long rope and often they went across the travel path, and one had to get by in a wagon as best they could. The cotton is yet so small that one could not see the plants in passing and the corn no larger than I expect to see at home. We passed a good many cabins that were useful in slavery days, but they are fast disappearing. I should say they were about 10 x 15 in size and often no windows at all. I wonder how poor old Tom could read his Bible. I saw a very good specimen of old Tom and approached him and shook his hand and I called him Uncle Tom. He said I was mistaken, his name was not Tom, it was Cy Richardson, but he looked it so strong I thought it ought to be Tom and I addressed him as Tom. To me there seems to be very few roads but everybody drives where they please, right through people’s grain field and cotton and corn and ford the rivers. It makes it handy for the horse to get I drink.

Everybody is entitled to an opinion, and I only can give mine, but my opinion is that the South is far more shiftless in farming than the North and that is useless. One poor mule to plow and cultivate I considered poor farming, and then to go into a lot full of weeds 12 to 15 inches high and draw a furrow and plant the cotton or corn and wait for to grow and cultivate was more than I have been accustomed to see. I noticed very crooked rows and I said I supposed they did it as more would grow on a crooked row than on a straight one, and was told it was for that but to protect the ground from washing in a heavy rain. When I came on the last of North Carolina and through Virginia I saw many fields of corn and cotton in rows so straight one couldn't beat it by drawing a line and so regular in distance apart. I passed many grapevines; I think one may of contained at least fifty acres and they make wine.

There were good many old dilapidated churches or meeting houses on my way and I thought what a chance for John D Rockefeller to do a good act by building and repairing these churches. I was told they only had services in many of them once in four or six weeks. The south is very far behind the age and cultivating the soil. But you meet a great many well-dressed and genteel looking girls both white and cream-colored. Where they get their money to dress well and appear so well on the street I know not, but they are there all the same. 

I attended church every Sunday but one while I was in the south and there was plenty of room for me. I was not at all crowded in any church. I was in the Tampa Bay Hotel Casino seeing the Sons of Ham exhibition, but plenty of room in all the churches. One church I attended there were Baptist, Episcopalian and Methodists and they all assembled in the Methodist Church as the others had no service and it was not one-half enough to fill the church. I pity the poor preachers that preach to more pews than people; perhaps it does the pews as much good as if they were fuller. I have not seen much difference in the climate, the warm and cold I mean. Nearly all the houses are built on stiles and the cold air goes up through the floor and out of the roof. There is scarcely any houses that have cellars under them. The people say they would not have a cellar on no account as it makes the house damp and unhealthy to have a cellar under it. They may be right but I did not agree with them.

One lady told me of her suffering from the cold winter, said she had to pile all the clothing she could and take hot water bottles with her to bed and then she suffered so badly she could not sleep. Her house was nearly new and a very good house and in the center of Florida and then I thought of the poor colored people whose huts were only 10 x 15 and no windows and when I saw the open door I could look through the cracks beyond.  

I cannot believe the weather is more hot south than in the north only lasts so much longer and I do not believe the northern people suffer more with the cold than the south because they prepare for the cold. There is a great field here for improvement and about the year 3000, I told them, they would have the Garden of Eden for a home and they answered what it was to them. I asked them if they had not heard the preachers tell of the millennium where they would be not be anymore rattlesnakes or bears, etc., to destroy the peace and happiness of the people. There are two things in Florida that are sacred and protected by law; the ones the buzzards and the other the razor-back hog that run loose all over the state and kill snakes. The hog is a deadly enemy to the rattlesnake and all others and they make the snakes valuable, as I saw advertised, “5000 snakes wanted at once. Apply within.” 

Even allocators and all wild animals are now sought in Florida for curiosities. There is a great field here to learn and observe what is what is to be now and hereafter.

I write this on the ship and we are out to sea and not sick of the sea but seasick. I ate my supper first-rate after 600 miles of car ride and then I took a hearty vomit. The water was not at all rough but it did not save me and this morning I attempted to shave myself and I held onto the side of my room as well as I could but it was useless; I had to vomit and it was all in favor of the steamship company as I could not eat breakfast or dinner and it was too bad, as I had paid for it. 

When I get time I will write up about Atlanta and Cedar Town and many more interesting things about the south, but I am too seasick just now to write anything.

SOLOMON S. MEAD (See also this link to a picture of his house in North Greenwich)