Last week during a visit to Macon, GA I visited Jarrell Plantation. It is very typical of the plantations in the southeastern United States, and nothing like our image of a plantation formed by watching “Gone With The Wind”. In this part of the world plantation really describes a large working farm, and that is what I found at Jarrell Plantation.
In 1820 pioneers Blake and Zilpha Jarrell moved their family and 2 slaves to the rolling hills of Jones County. By 1850 when their son took over he had 840 acres and 19 slaves. By 1863 he had 42 slaves and the farm produced cotton, wheat, potatoes, yams, peas, wool, honey, cane syrup, pork, beef, and ginned cotton. You can tell by the dates that the good times are about to end, and we’re heading for trouble!
In 1864 during General Sherman’s famous “March To The Sea” the Union army burned the cotton gin house and took livestock, wagons, and food, and freed the slaves. As was true all over the south, the plantations could not be run without slave labor, and Jarrell Plantation fell into ruin. But the Jarrell family were remarkable in their industriousness and their ability to plan for a new future. By the time John Jarrell died in 1884 at age 74 he had re-built the gin-house, re-stocked the herds, and hired a number of the former slaves as either tenant farmers or farm laborers.
His son Dick took over at John’s death, and continued to improve the plantation. He built a saw mill and they ginned their neighbor’s cotton as well as their own. They did the same with sugar cane to make syrup. All was once again well and prosperous at Jarrell Plantation.
That is, until the arrival of the boll weevil in 1920. Nobody ever said farming was easy! The boll weevil destroyed cotton farming all over the southeast. But Dick Jarrell persevered, changing the farm over to raise more wheat, corn, rye, turnips, peas, yams, and sugar cane. He built a mill, and began milling lumber for their neighbors. They also milled the wheat and corn. They could do all this because he installed one of the very first steam engines in the southeast. Members of the Jarrell family continued to farm the land until 1974 when they donated the land and buildings to the state of Georgia, so that others could see what life had been like in the 19th and 20th centuries on a plantation in middle Georgia.