Social Relations In Our Southern States - Chapter VII: Poor White Trash

Social Relations In Our Southern States - Chapter VII: Poor White Trash

This post contains an excerpt from the 1860 book "Social Relations In Our Southern States" by
Daniel Robinson Hundley. The title of the chapter that this text is from is titled, "Poor White Trash."

The chapter tells of how the slave owners, and the Southern elite, viewed poor whites in the Confederate south. Including being the views of the author himself. These Southern elites, the slave owners, the plantation owners, had a view that 'poor white trash' were worthless. They were looked down upon for living in rural areas instead of near plantations. They, the "white trash", wanted to be left alone. On the other hand, Southern elites wanted everything to be their business and for the benefit of their "business". These specific poor whites wanted no part of participating in slave ownership either since most of them were against it. All in all, If the Southern elite could have gotten away with it, they would've also enslaved poor whites.

The views of the Southern elite were purposeful in dehumanizing the poor white trash. They held such views to try and justify their own wickedness. To justify, in their own minds, their gains made off of slavery. That and their gains made from all sorts of atrocities against poor whites and especially slaves. It was this truth that Nat Turner understood during his slave rebellion. He spared poor whites from their actions. Turner and his fellow men saved their actions for those families who owned slaves.

Social Relations In Our Southern States Daniel Robinson Hundley

Book Excerpt:

Every where they are just alike, possess pretty much the same characteristics, the same vernacular, the same boorishness, and the same habits; although in different localities, they are known by different names. Thus, in the extreme South and South-west, they are usually called Squatters; in the Carolinas and Georgia Crackers or Sandhillers; in the Old Dominion, Rag Tag and Bob-tail; in Tennessee and some other States, People in the Barrens--but every where, Poor White Trash, a name said to have originated with the slaves, who look upon themselves as much better off than all "po' white folks" whatever.

To form any proper conception of the condition of the Poor White Trash, one should see them as they are. We do not remember ever to have seen in the New-England States a similar class; though, if what a citizen of Maine has told us be true, in portions of that State the Poor Whites are to be found in large numbers. In the State of New-York, however, in the rural districts, we will venture to assert that more of this class of paupers are to be met with than you will find in any single Southern State. For in examining the statistics of pauperism, as prepared by the Secretary of State for New-York, we learn that the number of her public paupers, permanent and temporary, is set down as 468,302--to support whom requires an annual outlay of one million and a half of dollars, which has to be raised by tax for the purpose. They are also found in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and all the States of the North-west, though in most of these last they came originally from the South.

But every where, North and South, in Maine or Texas, in Virginia or New-York, they are one and the same; and have undoubtedly had one and the same origin, namely, the poor-houses and prison-cells of Great Britain. Hence we again affirm, what we asserted only a moment ago, that there is a great deal more in blood than people in the United States are generally inclined to believe.

Now, the Poor White Trash are about the only paupers in our Southern States, and they are very rarely supported by either the State or parish in which they reside; nor have we ever known or heard of a single instance in the South, in which a pauper was farmed out by the year to the lowest or highest bidder, (whichever it be,) as is the custom in the enlightened States of New-England. Moreover, the Poor White Trash are wholly rural; hence, the South will ever remain secure against any species of agrarianism, since such mob violence always originates in towns and cities, wherein are herded together an unthinking rabble, whom Dryden fitly describes as,

                         "The scum
                         That rises up most, when the nation boils."

The Poor Whites of the South live altogether in the country, in hilly and mountainous regions generally, in communities by themselves, and far removed, from the wealthy and refined settlements. Why it is they always select the hilly, and consequently unproductive districts for their homes, we know not. It can not be, however, as urged by the abolitionists, because the slaveholders have seized on all the fertile lands; for it is well known, that some of the most inexhaustible soils in the South have never yet felt the touch of the ploughshare in their virgin bosoms, and are still to be had at government prices. Neither can it be pleaded in behalf of the Poor White Trash, that they object to labor by the side of slaves (see note 1); for, as we have already shown, the Southern Yeomanry, who, as a class, are poor, work habitually in company with negroes, and usually prefer to own a homestead in the neighborhood of wealthy planters. We apprehend, therefore, that it is a natural feeling with Messrs. Rag Tag and Bobtail--an idiosyncrasy for which they themselves can assign no good reason--why they delight to build their pine-pole cabins among the sterile sand hills, or in the very heart of the dismal solitude of the burr-oak or pine barrens. We remember to have heard an overseer who had spent some time among the Sandhillers, relate something like the following anecdote of a youthful Bobtail whom he persuaded to accompany him out of the hill-country into the nearest alluvial bottoms, where there was any number of extensive plantations in a high state of cultivation, which will aptly illustrate this peculiarity of the class. So soon as the juvenile Bobtail reached the open country, his eyes began to dilate, and his whole manner and expression indicated bewilderment and uneasiness. "Bedadseized!" exclaimed he at last, " ef this yere ked'ntry haint got nary sign ov er tree! How in thunder duz folks live down yere? By G-o-r-j! this beats all that Uncle Snipes tells about Carlina. Tell yer what, I'm goin' ter make tracks fur dad's--yer heer my horn toot!" And he did make tracks for dad's, sure enough.

And the biggest reason that the materialistic Southern elites despised the "poor white trash":

Panics, financial pressures, and the like, are unknown amongst them, and about the only crisis of which they know any thing, is when a poor fellow is called upon to "shuffle off this mortal coil." Money, in truth, is almost a perfectly unknown commodity in their midst, and nearly all of their trafficking is carried on by means of barter alone. In their currency a cow is considered worth so much, a horse so much, a dog so much, a fat buck so much, a wild-turkey so much, a coon-skin so much, et cetera, et cetera; and by these values almost every thing else is rated. Dollars and dimes, or pounds, shillings and pence, they never bother their brains any great deal about.

This chapter, as well as the book, was openly pro-slavery propaganda. See this paragraph on how the author describes educated poor whites:

But if, after he has gained the knowledge and social position to which he so ardently aspires, and has thereby become the pride of his doting old mother and the boast of his hard-working father; he still continues to harbor in his bosom resentment against those whom fortune favored more than himself in the outset of life, and secretly entertains proposals from the deadliest enemies of his native land merely because of such personal spite, to gratify which he also lends himself to aid the schemes of Northern abolitionists; where is there an honest man who would not utterly loathe and despise his meanness of soul? We know he may delude himself into the belief, that the social position of his father as well as that of his mother's family connection is due mainly to the institution of slavery; but is this an excuse for treason? Is it any excuse for his wishing to deprive other men of their property, or for his aiding to stir up a servile insurrection, hoping to see the roofs of his supposed enemies blazing at midnight and tumbling in upon the devoted inmates, while the emancipated blacks are dancing savagely around the ruins in the delirium of a brutal joy?

This chapter above, much like the book, is an attempt to justify slavery. Furthermore, it also outlines the view that the Southern elite, including the author, held the view that "poor white trash" should be afforded the same human rights. Practically saying that they weren't "white" (aka the idea of whiteness) as it were, other than the tone of their skin. All because the majority of poor whites were against slavery.

By their acts and their views, most poor whites were anti-slavery. The lies of the classist author falsely states that the majority, if not all, poor whites were pro-slavery. When, in reality, it was the southern yeomen who were pro-slavery. Especially since they profited off of living near slave owners and their plantations. On the other hand, the "poor white trash" purposefully lived far from the slave owners to not play a part in their actions. 

This book was part of attempts by Southern elites who tried to turn poor whites and slaves against each other. Mainly to create a buffer for themselves (the elites). It was a defense of their inhuman practice as pressure mounted against slavery. Which, as history tells, the buffer failed. Slave rebellion leaders like Nat Turner didn't fall for it. Neither did the unknown numbers of poor whites, out of the ~100,000 Union Army southern whites total, who fought on behalf of the Union Army during the Civil War. 

If you want to read the whole chapter or the whole book: 
Full digital book available for free on Internet Archive (

Biography on Daniel Hundley and a shorter biography here which says that his father was a slaveowner.and names family members. Another biographical entry, from an ebay listing, saying that Hundley married his first cousin. The biographical book is also available on Amazon.

Note 1: This is not because they were racist. Far from it since they were, by and far, opponents of slavery and southern secession. It was because they knew the game of the yeomen go-alongs and especially the slave owners. The wealthy slave owners saw the "poor white trash" as potential sources of a re-imagined, re-invented, and reintroduced indentured servitude. Which the "poor white trash" was wise to from hearing the stories of the older generations of their families that were indentured servants. 

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