The Water-Melon Boats” contains a description of antebellum Georgia, mingled with a little advice on getting along with other children; it’s also one of the few pieces in The Youth’s Companion to take slavery casually.


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[Moral Tales] “The Watermelon Boats” (from The Youth’s Companion, August 12, 1847; pp. 57-58)

James and Henry Lawson live in what is called “the up country” of Georgia, (the low country is that near the sea,) near the junction of the Ocmulgee river with one of its branches called Big Indian Creek. Their father is a wealthy planter, with some thousand acres of land, and scores of negroes to raise on it cotton, corn, wheat, sugar cane, &c. I must remind some of my readers here, that Georgia is a new settled State, compared with New England. It was the last settled of the thirteen original states, and has increased but very slowly, so that it is very common for one man to possess several thousand acres instead of five or six hundred, which would be a large farm in most parts of New England. Some of the inquisitive little boys of Yankee land, who have learned from the Geography, that rice grows at the South, and in Georgia, may wish to ask if Mr. Lawson does not raise that on his plantation, and I am glad to give them a bit of information on this point. Little boys and girls can never know too much, especially about their own country. Rice is sometimes cultivated in the “up-country,” but it grows best in low wet grounds, which are too unhealthy for settlement, and is raised mostly in the salt marshes near the sea.

* * * * *

It was near the close of one of the most sultry days of summer, that Jame and Henry with their sisters and other brothers, had been sometime sitting in the piazza, watching the progress of a terrific thunder storm, accompanied with hail and wind, which threatened no little injury to the crops.

“Come, Jem,” said Henry, as soon as the rain ceased a little, “let’s go and see if the melons are broken off.” They had that very day, selected some half-dozen of the largest water-melons to make, as they said, “a line of ships to New York,” when they should have grown a little more.

“All right, Hen,” said James, who had run ahead and reached the melon vines first, so Henry walked off in another direction, soon followed by his brother, to see if injury had befallen anything else in the garden. They soon got so engaged talking about their ships, that they forgot to look for the injury done, till they found themselves at the end of the long potato patch, and in the midst of more melon vines, which they had not seen before, in a remote corner of the garden.

“Why, who knew these were here?” asked James.

“I suppose old Cain planted them here for his own use:” said Henry, “he thought nobody would ever come away here, to see them, and he would have “a right smart chance” of melons, and nobody know it. But we will take one of them, and pay old Cain for it, to his satisfaction.”

He might have talked a long time in this way, but just at that moment he discovered a prodigious water-melon, nearly concealed by the large leaves of the black jack bushes, (a species of oak,) and the expression of his face changed somewhat as he exclaimed, “Look, look, there is a great feller,” and pointed to the melon. James moved away the bushes, and sure enough it was a great fellow, for a melon, larger probably, than any boy has ever seen at the north. It was two and a half feet long, and it is not very common for them to grow larger than that, even at the south.

“Well,” said James, “that will make a splendid pair of boats, but we shall have to take it now, or the first we shall know, Cain will carry it over to the Lane Settlement to his wife.”

“Yes, and we must rig and launch them to-morrow,” said Henry. Just then their sister Mary came running through the garden, calling “Jamie, Jamie, what have you got there?” and followed by cousin Julia.

“A great ripe watermelon,” answered James, “and we are going to cut it to morrow, and make a couple of our ships, so you and Julia must get your passengers ready.[”]

“Oh yes, it is a great one,” said both the girls at once as they came up to the place, and saw it. They had promised the boys that they would make some paper men and women, for passengers to New York, and as to morrow was holiday, they anticipated a fine time launching their ships, and seeing them sail off, out of Big Indian Creek, and down the Ocmulgee, on their way to the ocean.

The next day came, and it was a fine day for sport. The sun shone brightly, and the fresh breezes blew as gaily, as played the merry smiles upon the happy faces of the young people of Lawson settlement. Cain was paid liberally for his melon. The melon had been brought from the garden, cut in halves lengthwise, the middle of it eaten, and now all the young Lawsons, baby and all, and some half dozen little negroes besides, were seated on the ground in the back yard, under a thick shade, making

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p. 58

their boats. They had sent to the canebrake, (a thicket of canes) and got large canes which are very light and strong, for the masts, which they had already fastened in the thick rind of the melon. Some old shingles were in process of preparation for seats, and cousin Julia, had long before, cut the sails of newspaper, fastened by pieces of coarse thread into the corners for ropes, and folded them up, till Jamie was ready for them. Mary and Julia were now making their paper sailors and passengers, occasionally looking up to see the success of the boat-builders. The boats were completed long before noon, for “many hands make quick work,” and the sailors and passengers were fastened to different places, where their different stations required them to be, either with tacks or cords. One held a fish-line, another a telescope of cane; some seemed to be pulling at the rigging, some were sitting on the shingle seats, &c. All being ready, they all set off for a little pine grove on the bank of Big Indian Creek, where they were going to take their dinners, and afterwards launch their boats. Three little negro boys went with them, to carry the boats and dinner things. There are no large flat rocks all about in Georgia, as in New England, for children to use as Pic-nic tables, so they had a nice white table cloth laid on the grass, and their dinner placed on that. One thing in making the boats they had forgotten—to put on their names; and this was their first business after dinner. They came near getting into a dispute, as to what they should be called, but it was decided unanimously at last, to call them Mary and Julia; so as soon as the names were cut in the green rind, they set them up on two inclined planes, with blocks at the prows, to keep them from sliding off, till every thing was ready, and the signal given, when the blocks were taken away, and off they went, splash into the creek. There was a brisk wind, they soon began to sail down the river, and the boys were delighted to see how finely the passengers looked at a little distance. They all watched them, till they were nearly out of sight, when they gave orders to have them return. Before launching them, the boys had fastened to the prow of each boat, one end of a ball of strong cord, and all the while the boats had been sailing off, two of the negroes had held the balls and unwound them, as fast as the boats went; now they began to wind up again, and soon the boats turned about, and came back. There was much talk among the children, about unloading the freight, and sending off another cargo. They put in a variety of things, unwound the balls, and let them off again. They amused themselves in this way till almost night, and the last time the boats went, they concluded to load them with provisions for Ireland, and not wait for them to come back; so they threw in the fragments of their dinner, cut the cords and sent them off. The children watched them till they were quite out of sight, then the negroes gathered up the dinner things, and they all went home. They told Mrs. Lawson that they had had a delightful time, for nobody had been cross, or quarrelsome all day, and there hadn’t been a bit of any thing to make them wish they had staid at home.

Let my little readers remember this, that the way to have always delightful times, in your plays, is, not to be cross and quarrelsome, but pleasant and kind to each other, and honestly pay for any thing you may want, as means for your gratification.

Georgia, July, 1847.

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