Then and Now: The Story of Cotton at Frogmore Plantation
Cotton is a common sight here in Mississippi. We have field after field of it along our highways and back roads.
As southerners, we always get a kick out of tourists asking us where the nearest cotton fields are because they are determined to see some!
Here, our generation may be used to seeing the cotton fields (I can remember taking cotton bolls to school for “show and tell” in elementary school), but our parents and grandparents know all about picking cotton.
My grandfather recently told me that he picked 400 lbs. of cotton in one day, and, that same night, while his hounds hunted raccoons, he picked another 75 lbs. by the moonlight. He was joking. I think.
He’s always telling junk and having a good laugh. If you missed his story about NOT stealing pineapples in Hawaii, be sure to check that one out.
My mom told us about dragging along the long cotton sacks through the fields, and how bad the burrs on the cotton would cut up her hands.
I think I’ve only ever picked cotton once or twice with my mom when I was little, but only one or two bolls at a time.
I enjoy hearing these stories (true or not) from our family members, so we jumped at the chance to visit a working cotton plantation in Ferriday, Louisiana while on our recent anniversary trip to Natchez, Mississippi.
We were eager to learn more about the history of cotton as well as how it is grown and picked now.
See Related: 30 Things To Do in Natchez, Mississippi
Frogmore Plantation, besides having a great name and the cutest frog logo, is a beautiful area. We were greeted in their general store and walked out to join the continuous, looping tour.
Now, think about this idea of a looping tour for a second…it’s genius! One docent walks from building to building in a continuous circle, speaking about each.
People can join in the tour at any time, and once they’ve seen all the buildings, they leave the tour. This way, one tour guide can accommodate many people, and no one misses anything.
Our knowledgeable guide, Miss Monica, was kind and patient despite my many questions and observations in the blazing southern heat.
See Related: Visiting the Truly Unique New Orleans, Louisiana
I’m sure the heat index was at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit that day. We were all dripping with sweat, but still enjoyed the tour.
We were shown examples of cabins, which were furnished to show what the bedrooms, kitchens, and living areas would have looked like, along with spinning wheels and washing instruments that the women would use.
Corn made up most of the people’s diets. Salted pork was another staple. The salt was used as a preservative in the meat.
After hearing about how the slaves would cook, it became very apparent how our southern food, comfort foods, came to be. Especially things like cornbread and grits!
Frogmore has cotton to pick ten months of the year. It was just our luck that the cotton would not be opening up for a few more days. So close, yet so far from getting to pick our own.
We did get to go into the fields and look at the buds as well as the flowers on the plants, which I had never paid any attention to before.
The beautiful blooms are members of the hibiscus family and come in multiple colors including pink and white.
Of course, we also got to see the outhouse, or the “privy.” This particular privy had TWO seats inside. No, thank you. I’ll wait. Although, I suppose if you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go!
Frogmore has an old cotton gin–one of the first made.
We were shown step-by-step how cotton goes through the process and even learned where some of our southern phrases come from.
For example, cotton is graded on a scale from fair to middle to high. Many older people in the south will often answer the question, “How are you?” with the answer, “Fair to middlin’.” We had no idea that was a cotton phrase!
The focus of the tour was more about cotton rather than slavery, but you can’t learn about one without the other.
The slaves worked long, long hours in the heat, taking care of themselves and each other, picking cotton for their masters.
We were shown where the slaves lived, what they wore, discussed their diet, and how they worked in the fields, often singing songs with secret meanings.
The lyrics of the songs would often have key words to help slaves escape or have warnings in them. This way, the slaves could pass messages along to one another without the masters catching on.
Miss Monica, our guide, recommended many books to us throughout our tour, so I have bought 12 Years a Slave by Soloman Northup. He was a free man that got tricked into slavery.
According to Monica, the plantation that he was forced to work on for 12 years is just a few miles from Frogmore Plantation. It will be very interesting to read about his life after seeing how he would have lived during that time.
Our tour concluded with a break from the heat in a small theater area to watch 2 videos.
The videos went a bit more in-depth with photos and information about the history of the plantation as well as a video of how cotton is prepared now with the use of machinery.
Afterwards, we drove just down the road to view the modern gin. We really felt like we were given a complete history of cotton through the years.
The cotton industry has always been important in the story of the south, and continues to be an important crop here today. Thankfully, slavery was abolished, and advances in technology have made cotton so much easier to produce.
I can’t imagine picking cotton all day long in 100 degree heat though our parents and grandparents know that feeling very well. They thought I was crazy saying we were going to a plantation to pick cotton “for fun.”
Even thought I wasn’t able to pick cotton at Frogmore Plantation, we do live in Mississippi where the cotton is abundant!
I found a field blooming about two months after our trip, and pulled over to check it out. It was definitely more interesting after hearing the stories from my family members and visiting Frogmore Plantation where we experienced the complex history of the south’s most well-known plant.
Have you ever seen a cotton field or picked cotton? When you think of “the south,” what comes to your mind? Let us know in the comments below!
Pin it! Share this post on Pinterest!
Jennifer is the founder of Just Chasing Rabbits travel blog. She lives in Mississippi with husband/travel companion, Mark, and doggie-daughter, Gizmo. After obtaining a BA degree in studio art and working in the field of photography for years, Jenni has combined her love of travel and photography to form this blog. Mark and Jenni share their experiences in hopes of inspiring others to have wonderful adventures and see the world.
You can follow Jenni on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.