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In Their Own Words

March 08, 1839

Fanny Kemble Journal Entry on Slave Medical Facility

On his St. Simons Island plantation, Pierce Butler provided a crude medical facility for treatment of his slaves. His wife, Fanny Kemble Butler, visited the facility and was shocked by what she saw, as noted in her journal:

“… In the afternoon I made my first visit to the hospital of the estate, and found it, as indeed I find everything else here, in a far worse state even than the wretched establishments on the rice island [Butler Island], dignified by that name; so miserable a place for the purpose to which it was dedicated I could not have imagined on a property belonging to Christian owners. The floor (which was not boarded, but merely the damp hard earth itself) was strewn with wretched women, who, but for the moans of pain, and uneasy, restless motions, might very well each have been taken for a mere heap of filthy rags; the chimney refusing passage to the smoke from the pine-wood fire, it puffed out in clouds through the room, where it circled and hung, only gradually oozing away through the windows, which were so far well-adapted to the purpose that there was not single whole pane of glass in them. My eyes, unaccustomed to the turbid atmosphere, smarted and watered, and refused to distinguish at first the different dismal forms, from which cries and wails assailed me in every corner of the place. By degrees I was able to endure for a few minutes what they were condemned to live their hours and days of suffering and sickness through … .”

Source: John A. Scott (ed.), Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 by Frances Anne Kemble (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984), pp. 255-256.