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for National Geographic News June 8, 2005 Unlike the ancestors of many African Americans who were brought to North America as slaves, Priscilla left a paper trail that tells her story and connects her to her living descendants.
Thomalind Martin Polite is Priscilla's seventh-generation granddaughter. At the invitation of the Sierra Leone government, the Charleston, South Carolina, speech therapist recently visited her ancestor's homeland. There, Polite met with other descendents of Priscilla during a celebration last week.
"What makes Priscilla's Homecoming so special, and likely not to be repeated, is that Thomalind can trace her ancestry literally from the day the slave ship left Sierra Leone on April 9, 1756, to the present moment," said Joseph Opala, a historian at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. "We're dealing with a 249-year paper trail."
That paper trail includes correspondence, a ship log, financial accounts, and plantation records.
"For an African-American family to have all of these records forming an unbroken chain is probably unique," said Opala, who is working on a documentary about Priscilla's story. "It's like lightning striking twice in the same place."
More than 12 million Africans were forced from their homelands and transported across the Atlantic between 1530 to 1880. Of these, around 500,000—roughly 4 percent—were brought to North America.
It's impossible to say where Priscilla lived prior to being kidnapped, or where she was sold. The African slave trade was aided and abetted by African kings, who sent men into the interior of their countries to capture men, women, and children. These captives who were later traded to European slave traders for guns, beads, cloth, rum, horses, and other goods.
Ship records reveal that Caleb Godfrey, captain of the Newport, Rhode Island-based ship the Hare, traveled up and down Africa's "Rice Coast" collecting captives. The West African region stretched from Senegal in the north to Benin in the south and had a rice-growing tradition stretching back thousands of years.
Denizens of the Rice Coast were highly prized as slaves by slave owners in South Carolina and Georgia during the 18th century.
Priscilla left Africa from Sierra Leon's Bunce Island, site of one of about 40 European slave-trading castles along the coast of West Africa. The voyage began on April 9, 1756, with the Hare carrying 84 slaves. Records indicate that 16 people died on the ten-week journey to Charleston, South Carolina.
Elias Ball II, a wealthy South Carolina rice plantation owner, purchased four boys and two girls for 600 pounds. He estimated their ages and gave each an English name.
The newly named ten-year-old Priscilla was taken to Ball's Comingtee Plantation, where she lived the rest of her life.
Plantation records unearthed by Edward Ball, a descendant of Elias and the author of the recent prize-winning book Slaves in the Family, show that Priscilla eventually married a man named Jeffrey. The two had 10 children, at least four of which reached adulthood. Priscilla died in 1811, leaving 30 grandchildren.
Rhode Island Connection
The remarkable documentation of Priscilla's journey provides a fresh opportunity to examine slavery in the United States. Priscilla's story has fostered a number of public-awareness projects.
In addition to the Sierra Leone celebration and Opala's documentary, Yale University's Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition has developed an extensive Web site about Priscilla's Homecoming.
Meanwhile the New-York Historical Society, which owns the records of the slave ship Hare,is planning a traveling exhibit on Priscilla and the ship's voyage.
Although the onus of slavery in the United States is frequently placed on the South, several Rhode Island groups are using Priscilla's story to educate the public about the role of northern states.
"Newport, Rhode Island, was one of the major ports in colonial times for the industry of African captivity," said Valerie Tutson, director and co-founder of Rhode Island Black Storytellers.
More than 900 ship voyages originating in Newport made the trip to Africa, ultimately delivering an estimated 100,000 people into slavery in the West Indies and North America.
Tutson is also co-director of Project Priscilla, a Rhode Island group seeking to draw attention to Newport's role in the slave trade. She traveled to Sierra Leone with Thomalind Martin Polite. Upon her return from Sierra Leone, Polite planned to travel to Rhode Island as part of the project's on-going educational effort.
After years of lobbying, historical plaques are being placed around Rhode Island as remembrances of the state's role in the North American slave trade. Presentations are being made to schoolchildren, and Brown University, in Providence, recently held a three-day seminar on the subject.
"Slavery is our great wound here in this country. It's ugly, and it hurts," Tutson said. "Priscilla's story allows people to acknowledge the past and also look at what we can do in the present day. This project is allowing a lot of things to come together."
August 1862 — The Rappahannock River
Day after day the slaves came into camps and everywhere the "Stars and Stripes" waved they seemed to know freedom had dawned to the slave.
— John Washington, 1873, remembering August 1862
John M. Washington was born a slave on May 20, 1838, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Washington begins his narrative with the wry comment that he "never had the pleasure of knowing" his mother's owner, Thomas R. Ware, Sr., who died before John was born. And he supposes "It might have been a doubtful pleasure." So far as can be determined, Washington also never knew his father, though we can assume he was white. As an autobiographer reconstructing his own youthful identity, Washington says revealingly: "I see myself a small light haired boy (very often passing easily for a white boy)."
With these words Washington recollects the complicated story of so many American slaves—mixed racial heritage. The offspring of sexual unions between black women and their white male owners or pursuers suffered a legacy of confusion, shame, and abuse, but they also occasionally benefited from economic and social advantages, especially in towns and cities. Washington was one of more than 400,000 out of four million American slaves by 1860 who were officially categorized as "mulatto" or other terminology to distinguish a person of some white parentage. From 1830 to the Civil War, the state of Virginia especially had gone to great effort, although unsuccessfully in practical terms, to legally establish a color line marking who was white and who was not. White friends, and perhaps relatives, aided John's education and opportunities early in his life. But in Fredericksburg and elsewhere, due to his mother's status and color, he was considered a chattel slave until the war came.
Exactly who Washington's father was, and how John got his middle initial and last name, have been impossible to trace. A John M. Washington, a distant cousin of President George Washington, lived in Fredericksburg, went to West Point in the 1810s, became an artillery officer, and died in a shipwreck in 1853. But no evidence exists for his patrimony of John. Ware had four sons by 1838, ages twenty-six, twenty-four, twenty, and eighteen. Any of them could have been Washington's father, although only the two younger ones, John and William, seem to have been residents of Fredericksburg at the time.
Washington's story is much clearer on his mother's side. Women determined, protected, and supported John's life chances. His maternal grandmother was a slave named Molly who was born in the late 1790s and owned by Thomas Ware. Molly, called "my Negro woman," is acknowledged for her "faithful service" in Ware's 1820 will, in which he bequeathed her and her children (valued at $600) to his wife, Catherine (who would eventually be John's owner). By 1825 Ware's estate inventory lists Molly and four children; John's mother, Sarah, was the oldest at age eight. Molly would have another four children by the 1830s. In June of 1829 this strong-willed mother misbehaved (perhaps running away) in such a manner that Catherine Ware arranged with a punishment house to execute a "warrant against Molly and for whipping her by contract $1.34." Perhaps Molly's defiance was sparked because her sister, Alice, had just been sold away for $350.
We can only imagine the sorrow and scars in Molly's psyche, a woman whose life was spent nursing white children as well as her own and serving the extended Ware family. But she would live to join her grandson on their flight to freedom in 1862. She died a free woman near her daughter, grandson, and great grandchildren. Whether she departed as a sad or a joyful matriarch, John Washington does not tell us. His silence about Molly may reflect that he was telling only his own heroic story, which did not allow for his grandmother's saga, but it could also represent a part of his family history he was not prepared to expose.
Sarah Tucker, John's mother, was likely born in January 1817. Who the men fathering all these children were remains a researcher's mystery. Sarah probably also had a white father; she is described in various documents as being "bright mulatto" and short in height. Ware did not own any men who could have been either Sarah's or John's father. When Sarah gave birth to John in 1838, she was a twenty-one-year-old who had somehow learned to read and write, a less unusual accomplishment for urban slaves in small households than for plantation slaves.
In 1832, when Sarah was a teenager, Catherine Ware married Francis Whitaker Taliaferro, a plantation and slave owner with four grown children. The Taliaferros had their own slaves and hired others when they needed extra hands, as was the common practice; in 1836 Mr. Taliaferro advertised for "ten able-bodied men for the remainder of the year," offering twelve dollars per month to their owners. The Taliaferros also hired out their own slaves on occasion, including Sarah. With John in tow, Sarah was hired out in 1840 to a farm thirty-seven miles west of Fredericksburg, owned by Richard L. Brown of Orange County.
Washington yearningly describes his eight years in the countryside in the idyllic opening section of his narrative. His mother must have worked as a house slave because he played "mostly with white children." He spent summers "wading the brooks" and climbing ridges from which he could see the "Blue Ridge Mountains" and a "moss covered wheel . . . throwing the water off in beautiful showers" at a mill on the Rapidan River. Among these pleasant memories is his going to a circus at Orange Court House, where he got lost from his family, and his attending services with his mother at the "Mount Pisgah" Baptist church, a large structure "with gallerys around for colored people to sit in." John loved the "tall pines" that surrounded the church and remembers the "cakes, candy and fruits" sold under the great trees on Sundays. He relished his recollections of "corn shuckings," a "hog killing," and a joyous Christmas celebration. He also remembered his mother teaching him the child's bedtime prayer, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep," and the "Lord's Prayer." And perhaps most important, by the time he was eight, Sarah had taught him the alphabet.
Equipped with literacy, if not with good spelling or grammar, Washington brilliantly uses all of these images of nature as backdrop for his descent into the hell of slavery. He employs natural beauty as a metaphor for freedom and a reminder of the terror of bondage, knowing that the glories of nature can both inspire the soul and mock human sadness. He worries at one point that his "minute events" would not "interest" his reader, and then he quickly moves his story forward.
These early years were both easy and painful for Washington to remember. He likely had no memory, though, of his mother's attempt to run away when he was only three. On February 19, 1841, Thomas R. Ware, Jr., advertised in a Fredericksburg newspaper for a "negro woman sarah." She is described as "about 20 years of age, a bright Mulatto, and rather under the common size." Clearly she had fled some distance and for some length of time, because the notice offered a twenty-dollar reward if Sarah was captured "more than 20 miles from this place." No evidence survives to indicate how and when Sarah was captured or why she fled. Perhaps she simply took flight from the pressures of daily life for a while. Perhaps she was a young, disgruntled woman "lying out," as the saying went, absconding to the woods or another farm to be with her lover. But she was surely a woman of unusual intelligence and resourcefulness if she managed to escape and remain on her own for a period of time.
A recent study of runaway slaves in the antebellum South found that slaveholders' advertisements often described a slave as "proud, artful, cunning . . . shrewd" or "very smart." Historians Loren Schweninger and John Hope Franklin conclude that the typical runaway exhibited "self-confidence, self-assurance, self-possession . . . self-reliance." It was rare for women to run away, especially those with small children. In the database produced by Schweninger and Franklin, based on extant runaway advertisements in five Southern states, 81 percent of all runaways were male. Of the 195 Virginia runaways from 1838 to 1860, of which Sarah would be one, only seventeen (9 percent) were female.
Sarah likely never told her son the story of her flight, although he eventually might have learned of it from others. That Washington had a mother who herself had been a runaway provided a deep layer of silent inheritance, embedded in his spirit if not in his memory. No doubt, both John's mother and grandmother kept parts of their own physical, emotional, and sexual stories to themselves. Perhaps their experience with white men and with rearing children in the desperately insecure world of slavery left them much like Harriet Jacobs, the author of one of the most important slave narratives. "The secrets of slavery are concealed," wrote Jacobs, "like those of the Inquisition. My master was, to my knowledge, the father of eleven slaves. But did the mothers dare tell who was the father of their children? Did other slaves dare to allude to it, except in whispers among themselves? No indeed!"http://www.fold3.com/footnotepage.php?id=285875316
Secret messages in the form of quilt patterns aided slaves escaping the bonds of captivity in the Southern states before and during the American Civil War.
Slaves could not read or write; it was illegal to teach a slave to do so. Codes, therefore, were part and parcel of the slaves’ existence and their route to freedom, which eventually became known as the Underground Railroad. Some forms of dance, spirituals, code words and phrases, and memorized symbols all allowed the slaves to communicate with each other on a level their white owners could not interpret.
Codes were created by both whites aiding the slaves, and by Blacks aiding the slaves. The Blacks included other slaves, former slaves or free men and women. In slavery, secrecy was one way the blacks could protect themselves from the whites; even the youngest child was taught to effectively keep a secret from anyone outside of the family.
Most quilt patterns had their roots in the African traditions the slaves brought with them to North America when they were captured and forced to leave their homeland. The Africans’ method of recording their history and stories was by committing it to memory and passing it on orally to following generations. Quilt patterns were passed down the same way. It is interesting to note that, in Africa, the making of textiles was done by males; it was not until the slaves’ arrival in North America that this task fell to the females.
The quilt patterns, used in a certain order, relayed messages to slaves preparing to escape. Each pattern represented a different meaning. Some of the most common were “Monkey Wrench”, “Star”, “Crossroads”, and “Wagon Wheel”. Quilts slung over a fence or windowsill, seemingly to air, passed on the necessary information to knowing slaves. As quilts hung out to air was a common sight on a plantation, neither the plantation owner nor the overseer would notice anything suspicious. It was all part of a day’s work for the slaves.
Characteristic of African culture is the communication of secrets through the use of common, everyday objects; the objects are seen so often they are no longer noticeable. This applied to the quilts and their patterns, stitching and knotting. It has been suggested that the stitching and the knotting on slave quilts contained secret information, too, as map routes and the distances between safe houses. Using the quilts, spirituals and code words, the slaves could effectively communicate nonverbally with each other and aid each other to escape.
There is still controversy among historians and scholars over the quilt code theory, and whether or not escaping slaves actually used codes concealed within quilt patterns to follow the escape routes of the Underground Railroad.
As oral histories leave no written record, there is no written proof that the codes in the quilt patterns actually existed. What remains are the stories passed down through the generations from the slaves themselves, and, following the code of secrecy, many of the stories were never told.
April 16, 1937 — Mobile, Alabama
Interviewed by Ila B. Prine
Federal Writers' Project, Dist.2.
April 16, 1937.
Aunt Charity Anderson who claims to be one hundred and one years old, (101) was born at Belle's Landing, Monroe County, Alabama. Her white "Marster" was Mr. Leslie Johnson who kept a public wood yard at Belle's Landing on the Alabama River.
Aunt Charity now lives on St. Stephens Road, about one mile and a half north of Toulminville, a suburb of Mobile, Ala. She lives with a niece, in a very comfortable and modern four-room house.
Although her sight is impaired, and she is a little hard of hearing, her mind seems to be clear and her memory good. She is not able to leave the house, but with the aid of a stick, she manages to hobble around in the house. She quite often falls and recently had two severe falls, which left her with a scar on her forhead; otherwise she is a very nice old Mulotta darky. Fair of complexion and snow-white hair, which was neatly combed and braided at the back of her head.
Having lost all teeth, she cannot eat solid food, but still is a tall, well proportioned woman.
Aunt Charity loves company and is delighted when any one comes to visit her, as she spends the day alone while her niece is away working. When asked if she did not get tired of staying alone in the house? She replied: "I has so much tr'uble gittin' up and down de steps, and tr'uble gittin' ober de groun', I Jes makes myse'f happy her, cause thank de Lord I'se on Zion's March".
Aunt Charity with gingham dress, which had yards of material in the skirt, and her black and white checked apron, white head rag, be-spectaled eyes, sitting in a rocking chair before a fire, sorting and folding clean rags, carried one back to the days of long ago, when she told of her happy life before the Civil War.
She said "Missy, peoples don't live now, and niggers ain't got no manners, and don't know nothin' about waitin' on white folks. I kin remember de days when I was one of de house servants. Dere was six of us in de ol' marster's house, me, Sarai, Lou, Hester, Jerry and Joe. Us didn't know nothin' but good times den. My job was lookin' a'ter de corner table whar nothin' but de desserts sat. Jo and Jerry were de table boys, and dey ne'ber touched nothin' wid dere hans', dey used de waiter to pass things wid. My! dem was good ol' days.
"My old Marster was a good man, he treated all his slaves kind, and took care of dem, he wanted to leave dem hisn chillun. It sho' was hard for us older uns to keep de little cullered chillun out ob de dinin' room whar ol marster ate, cause when dey would slip in and stan' by his cheer, when he finished eatin' he would fix a plate and gib dem and dey would set on de hearth and eat. But honey chile, all white folks warn 't good to dere slaves, cause I'se seen pore niggers almos' tore up by dogs, and whipped unmercifully, when dey did'nt do lack de white folks say . But thank God I had good white folks, dey sho' did trus' me to, I had charge of all de keys in the house and I waited on de Missy and de chillun. I laid out all dey clos' on
Sat 'dy night on de cheers, and den Sund'y mawnings I'd pick up all de dirty clos', they did'nt have to do a thing. And as for working in the field, my marster neber planted no cotton, I neber seed no cotton planted til' a'ter I was free. "But listen, honey, I sho' could wash, iron, knit and weave, bless yuh, I could finish my days' work aroun' de house, and den weave six or seven yards o'cloth. I'se washed, ironed and waited on de fourth generation ob dis family. I l'arned de chillun how to wash, iron, weave, and knit. I jes wish I could tell dese young chillun how to do, if dey would only suffer me to talk to dem, I'd tell dem to be more 'spectful to dere mammas, and to dere white folks and say 'yes mam' an 'no mam', instid of 'yes' and 'no' lack dey do now.
"I ain't neber been in no tr'uble in mah life, I ain't been in no lawsuits, I ain't neber been no witness. I neber had seen a show in my life 'til jes dis pas' year, when a show, wid swings, lights, and all de doings dey have stop' in front ob our house har.
"I'se allus tried to treat eberybody as good as I kin, and I uses my manners as good as I knows how, and de Lord sho' has taken keer ob me. Why, when my house burnt up, de white folks helped me so dat in no time you could'nt tell I had ebber los' a thing.
But honey, de good ol' days is don' gone forebber. Bless you when we lib at Johnson's Landing on de river, folks would come dere to catch de steamboats, and we neber knowed how many to put on breakfas, dinner, or supper fo' cause sometimes de boats would be a little behin' times and sometimes a little before times and we allus had a house full.
And as for paying my fare on de boats, I neber had dat to do, when ole Captain John Quill wars livin' he allus lowed me to ride his boat fo' nothin anywhar I wanted to go. But what's the use thinking about dem times, dey's gone, and de world is 'gettin' wicked'er, sin is bolder and bolder, and religion grows colder and colder".
Interviewed by W.P. Jordan
"OLE JOE HAD REAL 'LIGI0N"
Walter Calloway lives alone half a block off Avenue F, the thoroughfare on the southside of Birmingham on which live many of the leaders in the Negro life of the city. For his eighty-nine years he was apparently vigorous except for temporary illness. A glance at the interior of his cabin disclosed the fact that it was scrupulously neat and quite orderly in its arrangement, a characteristic of many ex-slaves. As he sat in the sunshine on his tiny front porch, his greeting was: "Come in, white folks. You ain't no doctor is you?"
To a negative reply, he explained as he continued, "Fo' de las' past twenty-five years I been keepin' right on, wukkin' for de city in de street department. 'Bout two mont's ago dis mis'ry attackted me an' don't 'pear lak nothin' dem doctors gimme do no good. De preacher he come to see me dis mornin' an' he say he know a white gemman doctor, what he gwine to sen' him to see me. I sho' wants to get well ag'in pow'ful bad, but mebby I done live long 'nuff an' my time 'bout come."
Quizzed about his age and antecedents, he began his story: "Well, Sir, Cap'n, I was born in Richmond, Virginny, in 1848. Befo' I was ole 'nuff to 'member much, my mammy wid me an' my older brudder was sold to Marse John Calloway at Snodoun in Montgomery County, ten miles south of de town of Montgomery.
"Marse John hab a big plantation an' lots of slaves. Dey treated us purty good, but we hab to wuk hard. Time I was ten years ole I was makin' a reg'lar han' 'hin de plow. Oh, yassuh, Marse John good 'nough to us an' we get plenty to eat, but he had a oberseer name Green Bush what sho' whup us iffen we don't do to suit him.
Yassuh, he mighty rough wid us be he didn't do de whippin' hisse'f. He had a big black boy name Mose, mean as de debil an' strong as a ox, and de oberseer let him do all de whuppin'. An', man, he could sho' lay on dat rawhide lash. He whupped a nigger gal 'bout thirteen years old so hard she nearly die, an' allus atterwa'ds she hab spells of fits or somp'n. Dat make Marse John pow'ful mad, so he run dat oberseer off de place an' Mose didn' do no mo' whuppin'.
"Same time Marse John buy mammy an' us boys, he buy a black man name Joe. He a preacher an' de marster let de slaves buil' a bresh arbor in de pecan grove over in de big pastur', an' when de wedder warn't too cold all de slaves was 'lowed to meet dar on Sunday fo' preachin'.
Yassuh, ole Joe do purty good. I speck he had mo' 'ligion dan some of de hifalutin' niggers 'tendin' to preach nowadays. De white folks chu'ch, hit at Hope Hill over on de stage road, an' sometimes dey fetch 'dere preacher to de plantation to preach to de slaves. But dey druther heah Joe.
"Nawsuh, we didn't git no schoolin' 'cep'in' befo' we got big 'nough to wuk in de fiel' we go 'long to school wid de white chillun to take care of 'em. Dey show us pictures an' tell us all dey kin, but it didn't 'mount to much.
"When de war started 'mos' all I know 'bout it was all de white mens go to Montgomery an' jine de army. My brudder, he 'bout fifteen year ole, so he go 'long wid de ration wagon to Montgomery 'mos' ebry week. One day he come back from Montgomery an' he say, 'Hell done broke loose in Gawgy.'
He couldn't tell us much 'bout what done happen, but de slaves dey get all 'cited 'caze dey didn' know what to 'spect. Purty soon we fin' out day some of de big mens call a meetin' at de capitol on Goat Hill in Montgomery. Dey 'lected Mista Jeff Davis president an' done busted de Nunited States wide open.
"Atter dat dar warn't much happen on de plantation 'cep'in' gangs of so'jers passin' th'ough gwine off to de war. Den 'bout ebry so often a squad of Confederate so'jers would come to de neighborhood gatherin' up rations for Gin'ral Lee's army dey say. Dat make it purty hard on bofe whites an' blacks, takin' off some of de bes' stock an' runnin' us low on grub.
"But we wuk right on 'twell one day somebody seen a runner sayin' de Yankees comin'. Ole mistis tell me to hurry ober to Mrs. Freeman's an' tell 'em Wilson's Yankee raiders was on de way an' comin' lak a harrikin. I hop on a mule an' go jes' as fas' as I can make him trabel, but befo' I git back dey done retch de plantation, smashin' things comin' an' gwine.
"Dey broke in de smoke house an' tuk all de hams an' yuther rations dey fin' what dey want an' burn up de res'. Den dey ramshack de big house lookin' fo' money an' jewelry an' raise Cain wid de wimmin folks 'caze dey didn't fin' what dey wanted. Den dey leave dere ole hosses an' mules an' take de bes' we got. Atter dey don dat, dey burn de smoke house, de barns, de cribs an' some yuther prop'ty. Den dey skedaddle some place else.
"I warn't up dar but I heern tell dey burn up piles an' piles of cotton an' lots of steamboats at Montgomery an' lef' de ole town jes' 'bout ruint'. Twarn't long atter dat dey tell us we'se free. But lawdy, Cap'n, we ain't nebber been what I calls free.
'Cose ole marster didn' own us no mo', an' all de folks soon scatter all ober, but iffen dey all lak me day still hafter wuk jes' as hard, an some times hab less dan we useter hab when we stay on Marster John's plantation. "Well, Cap'n, dat's 'bout all I know. I feel dat misery comin' on me now. Will you please, suh, gimme a lif' back in de house. I wisht dat white gemman doctor come on iffen he comin'."
Interviewed by Ruby Pickens Tartt
On the old east road from Livingston to Epes, about six miles northeast of Livingston, is the "double house" built of widely assorted materials, where Emma Crockett lives. The older part of the house is the "settin' room" where the stick-and-clay chimney of its earlier days has been replaced by a new brick chimney. A roof of corrugated sheet metal tops the warped, roughly hewn logs which form the walls. The "new room" is built in the later shanty style--pine boards, unplaned, and nailed upright to a frame of 2x4's, the cracks of the flat joints "stripped" with narrow siding. A roof of "bought" shing1es covers this room.
Connecting the two rooms is an open hall roofed with heavy boards "rived" from pine blocks. Despite its conglomerate architecture this is a better "colored folks'" house than many in the Black Belt. These "double houses" often have no roof for the hall and some also lack a floor, the hall being made entirely of earth, sky and imagination.
Emma settled herself on the top step at the front of the hall to talk to me, after first ironing a tiny wrinkle out of her "string apron" with her hand.
"Miss, I'm 'bout sebenty-nine or eighty year old," she told me, "and I belonged to Marse Bill Hawkins end Miss Betty. I lived on deir plantation right over yander. My mammy was called Cassie Hawkins and my pappy was Alfred Jolly. I was Emma Jolly 'fore I married Old Henry Crockett. Us had five chillun and dey's two of 'em livin' in Bummingham, Fannie and Mary.
"Sometimes I kain't git my min' together so as I kin tell nothin'. I fell out t'other day and had a misery in my head ever since. I wish I could read, but I wa'n't never l'arnt nothin' 'ceptin' atter Surrender Miss Sallie Cotes she showed us how to read printin'; but I kain't read no writin. I kain't tell you so much 'bout de wah' ca'se my recollection ain't no 'count dese days.
All I knowed, 'twas bad times and folks got whupped, but I kain't say who was to blame; some was good and some was bad. I seed de patterollers, and atter Surrender de Ku Kluxes dey come din, but didn't never bother me. See, I wan't so old and I minded ev'ybody, and didn't vex 'em none. Us didn't go to church none, but I goes now to de New Prophet Church and my favorite song is:
Set down, set down, set down,
Set down, set down,
Set down, chile, set down.
Soul so happy till I kain't set down.
Move de member, move Dan-u-el,
Move de member, move Dan-u-el.
Dan-u-el, member, don' move so slow.
Dan-u-el, member, don' move so slow.
Got on my rockin' shoes, Dan-u-el.
Got on my rockin' shoes, Dan-u-el.
Shoes gwine to rock me home,
Shoes gwine to rock me home, Dan-u-el,
Shoes gwine to rock me home, Dan-u-el,
Shoes gwine to rock me home, Dan-u-el,
Shoes gwine to rock by faith,
Shoes gwine to rock by faith, Dan-u-el,
Shoes gwine to rock by faith, Dan-u-el.
Love de member, move Dan-u-el.
Love de member, move Dan-u-el.
Got on my starry crown, Dan-u-el.
Got on my starry crown, Dan-u-el.
"Dat's all I kin tell you today, honey. Come back when dis misery leave my head and I gwine to think up some tales and old songs.
"But I didn't never fool wid no hoodoo and no animal stories neither. I didn't have no time for no sich foolishness. And I ain't scared of nothin' neither. "I lives here wid my grandchile now on Mr. Bob Davis' place. Us gits enough to eat, I reckon, but it's tight, I tell you dat"!
What yo' gwine do when de meat give out?
What yo' gwine do when da meat give out?
Set in de corner wid my lips pooched out!
What yo' gwine do when de meat come in?
What yo' gwine do when da meat come in?
Set in de corner wid a greasy chin!
Dat's about de only little nigger song I know, less'n it be de one about:
"Great big nigger, laying 'hind de log--
Finger on de trigger and eye on the hawg!
Click go de trigger and bang go de gun!
Here come de owner and de buck nigger run!"
And I think I learn both of dem long after I been grown, 'cause I belong to a full-blood Creek Indian and I didn't know nothing but Creek talk long after de Civil War. My mistress was part white and knowed English talk, but she never did talk it because none of de people talked it. I heard it sometime, but it sound like whole lot of wild shoat in de cedar brake scared at something when I do hear it. Dat was when I was little girl in time of de War.
I don't know where I been born. Nobody never did tell me. But my mammy and pappy git me after de War and I know den whose child I is. De men at de Creek Agency help 'em git me, I reckon, maybe.
First thing I remember is when I was a little girl, and I belong to old Tuskaya-hiniha. He was big man in de Upper Creek, and we have a purty good size farm, jest a little bit to de north of de wagon depot houses on de old road at Honey Springs. Dat place was about twenty-five mile south of Fort Gibson, but I don't know nothing about whar de fort is when I was a little girl at dat time. I know de Elk River 'bout two mile north of whar we live, 'cause I been there many de time.
I don't know if old Master have a white name. Lots de Upper Creek didn't have no white name. Maybe he have another Indian name, too, because Tuskayahiniha mean "head man warrior" in Creek, but dat what everybody call him and dat what de family call him too.
My Mistress' name was Nancy, and she was a Lott before she marry old man Tuskaya-hiniha. Her pappy name was Lott and he was purty near white. Maybe so all white. Dey have two chillun, I think, but only one stayed on de place. She was name Luwina, and her husbana was dead. His name was Walker, and Luwina bring Mr. Walker's little sister, Nancy, to live at de place too.
Luwina had a little baby boy and dat de reason old Master buy me, to look after de little baby boy. He didn't have no name cause he wasn't big enough when I was with dem, but he git a name later on, I reckon. We all call him "Istidji." Dat mean "little man."
When I first remember, before de War, old Master had 'bout as many slave as I got fingers, I reckon. I can think dem off on my fingers like dis, but I can't recollect de names.
Dey call all de slaves "Istilusti." Dat mean "black man."
Old man Tuskaya-hiniha was near 'bout blind before de War, and 'bout time of de War he go plumb blind and have to set on de long seat under de bresh shelter of de house all de time. Sometime I lead him around de yard a little, but not very much. Dat about de time all de slave begin to slip out and run off.
My own pappy was name Stephany. I think he take dat name 'cause when he little his mammy call him "Istifani." Dat mean a skeleton, and he was a skinny man. He belong to de Grayson family and I think his master name George, but I don't know. Dey big people in de Creek, and with de white folks too. My mammy name was Serena and she belong to some of de Gouge family. Dey was big people in de Upper Creek, and one de biggest men of the Gouge was name Hopoethleyoholo for his Creek name. He was a big man and went to de North in de War and died up in Kansas, I think. Dey say when he was a littla boy he was called Hopoethli, which mean "good little boy", and when he git grown he make big speeches and dey stick on de "yoholo." Dat mean "loud whooper."
Dat de way de Creek made de name for young boys when I was a little girl. When de boy git old enough de big men in de town give him a name, and sometime later on when he git to going round wid de grown men dey stick on some more name. If he a good talker dey sometime stick on "yoholo", and iffen he make lots of jokes dey call him "Hadjo." If he is a good 1eader dey call him "Imala" and if he kind of mean dey sometime call him "fixigo."
My mammy and pappy belong to two masters, but dey live together on a place. Dat de way de Creek slaves do lots of times. Dey work patches and give de masters most all dey make, but dey have some for demselves. Dey didn't have to stay on de master's place and work like I hear de slave of de white people and de Cherokee and Choctaw people say dey had to.
Maybe my pappy and mammy run off and git free, or maybeso dey buy demselves out, but anyway dey move away some time and my mammy's master sell me to old man Tuskaya-hiniha when I was jest a little gal. All I have to do is stay at de house and mind de baby.
Master had a good log house and a bresh shelter out in front like all de houses had. Like a gallery, only it had de dirt for de flo' and bresh for de roof. Dey cook everything out in de yard in big pots, and dey eat out in de yard too.
Dat was sho' good stuff to eat, and it make you fat too! Roast de green corn on de ears in de ashes, and scrape off some and fry it! Grind de dry corn or pound it up and make ash cake. Den bile de greens--all kinds of greens from out in de woods--and chip up de pork and deer meat, or de wild turkey meat; maybe all of dem, in de big pot at de same time! Fish too, and de big turtle dat lay out on de bank!
Dey always have a pot full of sofki settin right inside de house, and anybody eat when dey feel hungry. Anybody come on a visit, always give 'em some of de sofki. Ef dey don't take none de old man git mad, too!
When you make de sofki you pound up the corn real fine, den pour in de water and dreen it off to git all de little skin from off'n de grain. Den you let de grits soak and den bile it and let it stand. Sometime you put in some pounded hickory nut meats. Dat make it real good.
I don't know whar old Master git de cloth for de clothes, less'n he buy it. Befo' I can remember I think he had some slaves dat weave de cloth, but when I was dar he git it at de wagon depot at Honey Springs, I think. He go dar all de time to sell his corn, and he raise lots of corn, too.
Dat place was on de big road, what we called de road to Texas, but it go all de way up to de North, too. De traders stop at Honey Springs and old Master trade corn for what he want. He git some purty checkedy cloth one time, and everybody git a dress or a shirt made off'n it. I have dat dress 'till I git too big for it.
Everybody dress up fine when dey is a funeral. Dey take me along to mind de baby at two-three funerals, but I don't know who it is dat die. De Creek sho' take on when somebody die!
Long in de night you wake up and hear a gun go off, way off yonder somewhar. Den it go again, and den again, jest as fast as dey can ram de load in. Dat mean somebody dead. When somebody die de men go out in de yard and let de people know dat way. Den dey jest go back in de house and let de fire go out, and don't even tech de dead person till somebody git dar what has de right to tech de dead.
When somebody had sick dey build a fire in de house, even in de summer, and don't let it die down till dat person git well or die. When dey die dey let de fire go out.
In de morning everybody dress up fine and go to de house whar de dead is and stand around in de yard outside de house and don't go in. Pretty soon along come somebody what got a right to tech and handle de dead and dey go in. I don't know what give dem de right, but I think dey has to go through some kind of medicine to git de right, and I know dey has to drink de red root and purge good before dey tech de body. When dey git de body ready dey come out and all go to de graveyard, mostly de family graveyard, right on de place or at some of the kinfolkses.
When dey git to de grave somebody shoots a gun at de north, den de west, den de south, and den de east. Iffen dey had four guns dey used 'em.
Den dey put de body down in de grave and put some extra clothes in with it and some food and a cup of coffee, maybe. Den dey takes strips of elm bark and lays over de body till it all covered up, and den throw in de dirt.
When de last dirt throwed on, everybody must clap dey hands and smile, but you sho hadn't better step on any of de new dirt around de grave, because it bring sickness right along wid you back to your own house. Dat what dey said, anyways.
Jest soon as de grave filled up dey built a little shelter over it wid poles like a pig pen and kiver it over wid elm bark to keep de rain from soaking down in de new dirt.
Den everybody go back to de house and de family go in and scatter some kind of medicine 'round de place and build a new fire. Sometime dey feed everybody befo' dey all leave for home.
Every time dey have a funeral dey always a lot of de people say, "Didn't you hear de stinkini squalling in de night?" "I hear dat stikini all de night1" De "stikini" is de screech owl, and he suppose to tell when anybody going to die right soon. I hear lots of Creek people say dey hear de screech owl close to de house, and sho' nuff somebody in de family die soon.
When de big battle come at our place at Honey Springs dey jest git through having de green corn "busk." De green corn was just ripened enough to eat. It must of been along in July.
Dat busk was just a little busk. Dey wasn't enough men around to have a good one. But I seen lots of big ones. Ones whar dey had all de different kinds of "banga." Dey call all de dances some kind of banga. De chicken dance is de "Tolosabanga", and de "Istifanibanga" is de one whar dey make lak dey is skeletons and raw heads coming to git you.
De "Hadjobanga" is de crazy dance, and dat is a funny one. Dey all dance crazy and make up funny songs to go wid de dance. Everybody think up funny songs to sing and everybody whoop and laugh all de time.
But de worse one was de drunk dance. Dey jest dance ever whichaway, de men and de women together, and dey wrassle and hug and carry on awful! De good people don't dance dat one. Everybody sing about going to somebody elses house and sleeping wid dem, and shout, "We is all drunk and we don't know what we doing and we ain't doing wrong 'cause we is all drunk" and things like dat. Sometime de bad ones leave and go to de woods, too!
Dat kind of doing made de good people mad, and sometime dey have killings about it. When a man catch one his women--maybeso his wife or one of his daughters--been to de woods he catch her and beat her and cut off de rim of her ears!
People think maybeso dat ain't so, but I know it is!
I was combing somebody's hair one time--I ain't going tell who--and when I lift it up off'n her ears I nearly drap dead! Dar de rims cut right off'n 'em! But she was a married woman, and I think maybeso it happen when she was a young gal and got into it at one of dem drunk dances.
Dem Upper Creek took de marrying kind of light anyways. Iffen de younguns wanted to be man and wife and de old ones didn't care dey jest went ahead and dat was about all, 'cepting some presents maybe. But de Baptists changed dat a lot amongst de young ones.
I never forgit de day dat battle of de Civil War happen at Honey Springs! Old Master jest had de green corn all in, and us had been having a time getting it in, too. Jest de women was all dat was left, 'cause de men slaves had all slipped off and left out. My uncle Abe done got up a bunch and gone to de North wid dem to fight, but I didn't know den whar he went. He was in dat same battle, and after the War dey called him Abe Colonel. Most all de slaves 'round dat place done gone off a long time before dat wid dey masters when dey go wid old man Gouge and a man named McDaniel.
We had a big tree in de yard, and a grape vine swing in it for de little baby "Istidji", and I was swinging him real early in de morning befo' de sun up. De house set in a little patch of woods wid de field in de back, but all out on de north side was a little open space, like a kind of prairie. I was swinging de baby, and all at once I seen somebody riding dis way 'cross dat prairie--jest coming a-kiting and a-laying out flat out on his hoss. When he see de house he begin to give de war whoop, "Eya-a-a-a-he-ah!" When he git close to de house he holler to git out de way 'cause dey gwine to be a big fight, and old Master start rapping wid his cane and yelling to git some grub and blankets in de wagon right now!
We jest leave everything setting right whar it is, 'cepting putting out de fire and grabbing all de pots and kettles. Some de nigger women run to git de mules and de wagon and some start gitting meat and corn out of de place whar we done hid it to keep de scouters from finding it befo' now. All de time we gitting ready to travel we hear dat boy on dat horse going on down de big Texas road hollering "Eya-a-a-he-he-ah!"
Den jest as we starting to leave here come something across dat little prairie sho' nuff! We know dey is Indians de way dey is riding, and de way dey is all strung out. Dey had a flag, and it was all red and had a big criss-cross on it dat look lak a saw horse. De man carry it and rear back on it when de wind whip it, but it flap all 'round de horse's head and de horse pitch and rear lak he know something is going to happen, sho!
'Bout dat time it turn kind of dark and begin to rain a little, and we git out to de big road and de rain come down hard. It rain so hard for a little while dat we just have to stop de wagon and set dar, and den long come more soldiers dan I ever see befo'. Dey all white men, I think, and dey have on dat brown clothes dyed wid walnut and butternut, and old Master say dey de Confederate soldiers. Dey dragging some big guns on wheels and most de men slopping 'long in de rain on foot.
Den we hear de fighting up to de north 'long about what de river is, and de guns sound lak hosses loping 'cross a plank bridge way off somewhar. De head men starts hollering and some de hosses start rearing and de soldiers start trotting faster up de road. We can't git out on de road so we jest strike off through de prairie and make for a creek dat got high banks and a place on it we call Rocky Cliff.
We git in a big cave in dat cliff, and spend de whole day and dat night in dar, and listen to de battle going on.
Dat place was about half-a-mile from de wagon depot at Honey Springs, and a little east of it. We can hear de guns going all day, and along in de evening here come de South side making for a getaway. Dey come riding and running by whar we is, and it don't make no difference how much he head men hollers at 'em dey can't make dat bunch slow up and stop.
After while here come de Yankees, right after 'em, and dey goes on into Honey Springs and pretty soon we see de blaze whar dey is burning depot and de houses.
De next morning we goes back to de house and find de soldiers ain't hurt nothing much. De hogs is whar dey is in de pen and de chickens come cackling 'round too. Dem soldiers going so fast dey didn't have no time to stop and take nothing, I reckon.
Den long come lots of de Yankee soldiers going back to the North, and dey looks purty wore out, but dey is laughing and joshing and going on.
Old Master pack up de wagon wid everything he can carry den, and we strike out down de big road to git out de way of any more war, is dey going to be any.
Dat old Texas road jest crowded wid wagons! Everybody doing de same thing we is, and de rains done made de road so muddy and de soldiers done tromp up de mud so bad dat de wagons git stuck all de time.
De people all moving along in bunches, and every little while one bunch of wagons come up wid another bunch all stuck in de mud, and dey put all de hosses and mules on together and pull em out, and den dey go on together awhile.
At night dey camp, and de women and what few niggers dey is have to git supper in de big pots, and de men so tired dey eat everything up from de women and de niggers, purty nigh.
After while we come to de Canadian town. Dat what old man Gouge been and took a whole lot de folks up north wid him, and de South soldiers got in dar ahead of us and took up all de houses to sleep in.
Dey was some of de white soldiers camped dar, and dey was singing at de camp. I couldn't understand what dey sing, and I asked a Creek man what dey say and he tell me dey sing, "I wish I was in Dixie, look away--look away."
I ask him whar dat is, and he laugh and talk to de soldiers and dey all laugh, and make me mad.
De next morning we leave dat town and git to de big river. De rain make de river rise, and I never see so much water! Jest look out dar and dar all dat water!
Dey got some boats we put de stuff on, and float de wagons and swim de mules and finally git across, but it look lak we gwine all drown.
Most de folks say dey going to Boggy Depot and around Fort Washita, but old Master strike off by hisself and go away down in de bottom somewhar to live.
I don't know whar it was, but dey been some kind of fighting all around dar, 'cause we camp in houses and cabins all de time and nobody live in any of 'em.
Look like de people all git away quick, 'cause all de stuff was in de houses, but you better scout up around de house before you go up to it. Liable to be some scouters already in it!
Dem Indian soldiers jest quit de army and lots went scouting in little bunches and took everything dey find. Iffen somebody try to stop dem dey git killed.
Sometime we find graves in de yard whar somebody jest been buried fresh, and one house had some dead people in it when old Mistress poke her head in it. We git away from dar, and no mistake!
By and by we find a little cabin and stop and stay all de time. I was de only slave by dat time. All de others done slip out and run off. We stay dar two year I reckon, 'cause we make two little crop of corn. For meat a man name Mr. Walker wid us jest went out in de woods and shoot de wild hogs. De woods was full of dem wild hogs, and lots of fish in de holes whar he could sicken 'em wid buck root and catch 'em wid his hands, all we wanted.
I don't know when de War quit off, and when I git free, but I stayed wid old man Tuskaya-hiniha long time after I was free, I reckon. I was jest a little girl, and he didn't know whar to send me to, anyways.
One day three men rid up and talk to de old man awhile in English talk. Den he called me and tell me to go wid dem to find my own family. He jest laugh and slap my behind and set me up on de hoss in front of one de men and dey take me off and leave my good checkedy dress at de house!
Before long we git to dat Canadian river again, and de men tie me on de hoss so I can't fall off. Dar was all dat water, and dey ain't no boat, and dey ain't no bridge, and we jest swim de hosses. I knowed sho' I was going to be gone dat time, but we git across.
When we came to de Creek Agency dar is my pappy and my mammy to claim me, and I live wid dem in de Verdigris bottom above Fort Gibson till I was grown and dey is both dead. Den I marries Anderson Davis at Gibson Station, and we git our allotments on de Verdigris east of Tulsa--kind of south too, close to de Broken Arrow town.
I knowed old man Jim McHenry at dat Broken Arrow town. He done some preaching and was a good old man, I think.
I knowed when dey started dat Wealaka school across de river from de Broken Arrow town. Dey name it for de Wilaki town, but dat town was way down in de Upper Creek country close to whar I lived when I was a girl.
I had lots of children, but only two is alive now. My boy Anderson got in a mess and went to dat McAlester prison, but he got to be a trusty and dey let him marry a good woman dat got lots of property dar, and dey living all right now.
When my old man die I come to live here wid Josephine, but I'se blind and can't see nothing and all de noises pesters me a lot in de town. And de children is all so ill mannered, too. Dey jest holler at you all de time! Dey don't mind you neither!
When I could see and had my own younguns I could jest set in de corner and tell 'em what to do, and iffen dey didn't do it right I could whack 'em on de head, 'cause dey was raised de old Creek way, and dey know de old folks know de best!
Source: The American Slave, Vol. 7: 53-64. The narrative is also reproduced, with excellent annotation, in T. Lindsay Baker and Julie P. Baker, eds., The WPA Oklahoma Slave Narratives (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996), 107-17.
Durham, North Carolina
Tempe Herndon Durham
1312 Pine St.
Durham, North Carolina
Interviewed by Travis Jordan
North Carolina District #3
"I was thirty-one years ole when de surrender come. Dat makes me sho nuff ole. Near bout a hundred an' three years done passed over dis here white head of mine. I'se been here, I mean I'se been here. 'Spects I'se de oldest nigger in Durham. I'se been here so long dat I done forgot near 'bout as much as dese here new generation knows or ever gwine know.
My white fo'ks lived in Chatham County. Dey was Marse George an' Mis' Betsy Herndon. Mis Betsy was a Snipes befo' she married Marse George. Dey had a big plantation an' raised cawn, wheat, cotton an' 'bacca. I don't know how many field niggers Marse George had, but he had a mess of dem, an' he had hosses too, an' cows, hogs an' sheeps. He raised sheeps an' sold de wool, an' dey used de wool at de big house too.
Dey was a big weavin' room whare de blankets was wove, an' dey wove de cloth for de winter clothes too. Linda Hernton an' Milla Edwards was de head weavers, dey looked after de weavin' of da fancy blankets. Mis' Betsy was a good weaver too. She weave de same as de niggers. She say she love de clackin' soun' of de loom an' de way de shuttles run in an' out carryin' a long tail of bright colored thread. Some days she set at de loom all de mawnin' peddlin' wid her feets an' her white han's flittin' over de bobbins.
De cardin' an' spinnin' room was full of niggers. I can hear dem spinnin' wheels now turnin' roun' an' sayin' hum-m-m-m, hum-m-m-m, an' hear de slaves singin' while dey spin. Mammy Rachel stayed in de dyein' room. Dey wuzn' nothin' she didn' know 'bout dyein'. She knew every kind of root, bark, leaf an' berry dat made red, blue, green, or whatever color she wanted. Dey had a big shelter whare de dye pots set over de coals. Mammy Rachel would fill de pots wid water, den she put in de roots, bank an' stuff an' boil de juice out, den she strain it an' put in de salt an' vinegar to set de color.
After de wool an' cotton done been carded an' spun to thread, Mammy take de hanks an' drap dem in de pot of boilin' dye. She stir dem 'roun' an' lif' dem up an' down wid a stick, an' when she hang dem up on de line in de sun, dey was every color of de rainbow. When dey dripped dry dey was sent to de weavin' room whare dey was wove in blankets an' things.
When I growed up I married Exter Durham. He belonged to Marse Snipes Durham who had de plantation 'cross de county line in Orange County. We had a big weddin'. We was married on de front po'ch of de big house. Marse George killed a shoat an' Mis' Betsy had Georgianna, de cook, to bake a big weddin' cake all iced up white as snow wid a bride an' groom standin' in de middle holdin' han's. De table was set out in de yard under de trees, an' you ain't never seed de like of eats. All de niggers come to de feas' an' Marse George had a for everybody.
Dat was some weddin'. I had on a white dress, white shoes an' long while gloves dat come to my elbow, an' Mis' Betsy done made me a weddin' veil out of a white net window curtain. When she played de weddin' ma'ch on de piano, me an' Exter ma'ched down de walk an' up on de po'ch to de altar Mis' Betsy done fixed. Dat de pretties' altar I ever seed. Back 'gainst de rose vine dat was full or red roses, Mis' Betsy done put tables filled wid flowers an' white candles.
She spread down a bed sheet, a sho nuff linen sheet, for us to stan' on, an' dey was a white pillow to kneel down on. Exter done made me a weddin' ring. He made it out of a big red button wid his pocket knife. He done cut it so roun' an' polished it so smooth dat it looked like a red satin ribbon tide 'roun' my finger. Dat sho was a pretty ring. I wore it 'bout fifty years, den it got so thin dat I lost it one day in de wash tub when I was washin' clothes.
Uncle Edmond Kirby married us. He was de nigger preacher dat preached at de plantation church. After Uncle Edmond said de las' words over me an' Exter, Marse George got to have his little fun: He say, 'Come on, Exter, you an' Tempie got to jump over de broom stick backwards; you got to do dat to see which one gwine be boss of your househol'.' Everybody come stan' 'roun to watch. Marse George hold de broom 'bout a foot high off de floor.
De one dat jump over it backwards an' never touch de handle, gwine boss de house, an' if bof of dem jump over widout touchin' it, dey won't gwine be no bossin', dey jus' gwine be 'genial. I jumped fus', an' you ought to seed me. I sailed right over dat broom stick same as a cricket, but when Exter jump he done had a big dram an' his feets was so big an' clumsy dat dey got all tangled up in dat broom an' he fell head long.
Marse George he laugh an' laugh, an' tole Exter he gwine be bossed 'twell he skeered to speak less'n I tole him to speak. After de weddin' we went down to de cabin Mis' Betsy done all dressed up, but Exter couldn' stay no longer den dat night kaze he belonged to Marse Snipes Durham an' he had to go back home. He lef' de nex day for his plantation, but he come back every Saturday night an' stay 'twell Sunday night. We had eleven chillun. Nine was bawn befo' surrender an' two after we was set free.
So I had two chillun dat wuzn' bawn in bondage. I was worth a heap to Marse George kaze I had so many chillun. De more chillun a slave had de more dey was worth. Lucy Carter was de only nigger on de plantation dat had more chillun den I had. She had twelve, but her chillun was sickly an' mine was muley strong an' healthy. Dey never was sick.
When de war come Marse George was too ole to go, but young Marse Bill went. He went an' took my brother Sim wid him. Marse Bill took Sim along to look after his hoss an' everything. Dey didn' neither one get shot, but Mis' Betsy was skeered near 'bout to death all de time, skeered dey was gwine be brung home shot all to pieces like some of de sojers was.
(De Yankees wuzn' so bad. De mos' dey wanted was sumpin' to eat. Dey was all de time hungry, de fus' thing dey ax for when dey come was sumpin' to put in dey stomach. An' chicken! I ain' never seed even a preacher eat chicken like dem Yankees. I believes to my soul dey ain' never seed no chicken 'twell dey come down here.
An' hot biscuit too. I seed a passel of dem eat up a whole sack of flour one night for supper. Georgianna sif' flour 'twell she look white an' dusty as a miller. Dem sojers didn' turn down no ham neither. Dat de onlies' thing dey took from Marse George. Dey went in de smoke house an' toted off de hams an' shoulders. Marse George say he come off mighty light if dat all dey want, 'sides he got plenty of shoats anyhow.
We had all de eats we wanted while de war was shootin' dem guns, kaze Marse George was home an' he kep' de niggers workin'. We had chicken, gooses, meat, peas, flour, meal, potatoes an' things like dat all de time, an' milk an' butter too, but we didn' have no sugar an' coffee. We used groun' pa'ched cawn for coffee an' cane 'lasses for sweetnin'. Dat wuzn' so bad wid a heap of thick cream. Anyhow, we had enough to eat to 'vide wid de neighbors dat didn' have none when surrender come.
I was glad when de was stopped kaze den me an' Exter could be together all de time 'stead of Saturday an' Sunday. After we was free we lived right on at Marse George's plantation a long time. We rented de lan' for a fo'th of what we made, den after while we bought a farm.
We paid three hundred dollars we done saved. We had a hoss, a steer, a cow an' two pigs, 'sides some chickens an' fo' geese. Mis' Betsy went up in de attic an' give us enough goose feathers to make two pillows, den she give us a table an' some chairs.
She give us some dishes too. Marse George give Exter a bushel of seed cawn and some seed wheat, den he tole him to go down to de barn an' get a bag of cotton seed. We got all dis den we hitched up de wagon an' th'owed in de passel of chillun an' moved to our new farm, an' de chillun was put to work in de fiel'; dey growed up in de fiel' kaze dey was put to work time dey could walk good.
Freedom is all right, but de niggers was better off befo' surrender, kaze den dey was looked after an' dey didn' get in no trouble fightin' an' killin' like dey do dese days. If a nigger cut up an' got sassy in slavery times, his Ole Marse give him a good whippin' an' he went way back an' set down an' 'haved hese'f. If he was sick, Marse an' Mistis looked after him, an' if he needed store medicine, it was bought an' give to him; he didn' have to pay nothin'.
Dey didn' even have to think 'bout clothes nor nothin' like dat, dey was wove an' made an' give to dem. Maybe everybody's Marse and Mistis wuzn' good as Marse George and Mis' Betsy, but dey was de same as a mammy an' pappy to us niggers."
May 17, 1937 — Ottawa, Kansas
Interviewed by Leta Gray
"My name is Clayton Holbert, and I am an ex-slave. I am eighty-six years old. I was born and raised in Linn County, Tennessee. My master's name was Pleasant "Ples" Holbert. My master had a fairly large plantation; he had, I imagine, around one hundred slaves."
"I was working the fields during the wind-up of the Civil War. They always had a man in the field to teach the small boys to work, and I was one of the boys. I was learning to plant corn, etc. My father, brother and uncle went to war on the Union side."
"We raised corn, barley, and cotton, and produced all of our living on the plantation. There was no such thing as going to town to buy things. All of our clothing was homespun, our socks were knitted, and everything. We had our looms, and made our own suits, we also had reels, and we carved, spun, and knitted. We always wore yarn socks for winter, which we made. It didn't get cold, in the winter in Tennessee, just a little frost was all. We fixed all of our cotton and wool ourselves."
"For our meat we used to kill fifteen, twenty, or fifty, and sometimes a hundred hogs. We usually had hickory. It was considered the best for smoking meat, when we butchered. Our meat we had then was the finest possible. It had a lot more flavor than that which you get now. If a person ran out of meat, he would go over to his neighbor's house, and borrow or buy meat, we didn't think about going to town.
When we wanted fresh meat we or some of the neighbors would kill a hog or sheep, and would divide this, and then when we butchered we would give them part of ours. People were more friendly than they are now. They have almost lost respect for each other. Now if you would give your neighbor something they would never think of paying it back.
You could also borrow wheat or whatever you wanted, and you could pay it back whenever you thrashed." "We also made our own sorghum, dried our own fruits. We usually dried all of our things as we never heard of such a thing as canning."
"We always had brandy, wine, and cider on hand, and nothing was thought of it. We used to give it to the children even. When we had corn husks; log rolling, etc., we would invite all of the neighbors over, and then we would serve refreshments of wine, brandy or cider."
"We made our own maple syrup from the maple sugar trees. This is a lot better than the refined sugar people have nowdays, and is good for you too. You can't get this now though, except sometimes and it is awfully high priced. On the plantations the slaves usually had a house of their own for their families.
They usually built their houses in a circle, so you didn't have to go out doors hardly to go to the house next to you. If you wanted your house away from the rest of the houses, they could build you a house away from the others and separate." "I was never sold, I always had just my one master.
When slave owners died, if they had no near relatives to inherit their property, they would 'Will' the slaves their freedom, instead of giving them to someone else. My grandmother, and my mother were both freed like this, but what they called 'nigger traders' captured them and two or three others, and they took them just like they would animals, and sold them, that was how 'Ples' Holbert got my mother. My grandmother was sent to Texas. My mother said she wrote and had one letter from my grandmother after that, but she never saw her again. "
"My mother used to be a cook, and when she was busy cooking, my mistress would nurse both me and her baby, who was four weeks older than me. If it happened the other way around, my mother would nurse both of us. They didn't think anything about it.
When the old people died, and they left small orphan children, the slaves would raise the children. My young master was raised like this, he has written to me several times, since I have been out here in Kansas, but the last time I wrote, I have had no reply, so I suppose he was dead."
"When anyone died, they used to bury the body at least six feet under the ground. There wasn't such a thing as a cemetery then, they were just buried right on the plantation, usually close to the house. They would put the body in a wagon, and walk to where to bury the person, and they would sing all of the way."
"The slaves used to dance or go to the prayer meeting to pass their time. There were also festivals we went to, during the Christmas vacation. There was always a big celebration on Christmas.
We worked until Christmas Eve and from that time until New Year's we had a vacation. We had no such thing as Thanksgiving, we had never heard of such a thing." "In August when it was the hottest we always had a vacation after our crops were all laid by. That was the time when we usually had several picnics, barbecues or anything we wanted to do to pass our time away."
"After the war was over, and my father, brother and uncle had gone to war, it left my mother alone practically. My mother had always been a cook, and that was all she knew, and after the war she got her freedom, she and me, I was seven or eight years old, and my brother was fourteen, and my sister was about sixteen.
My mother didn't know what to do, and I guess we looked kind of pitiful, finally my master said that we could stay and work for him a year, and then we also stayed there the following year, and he paid us the second year. After that we went to another place, Roof Macaroy, and then my sister got married while we were there, and then she moved on her husband's master's place, and then we went too.
After that I moved on another part and farmed for two or three years, and then we moved to another part of the plantation and lived there three or four years. That was almost the center of things, and we held church there. All of the colored people would gather there. The colored people who had been in the North were better educated than the people in the South. They would come down to the South and help the rest of us.
The white people would also try to promote religion among the colored people. Our church was a big log cabin. We lived in it, but we moved from one of the large rooms into a small one, so we could have church. I remember one time after we had been down on the creek bank fishing, that was what we always did on Sunday, because we didn't know any better; my master called us boys and told us we should go to Sunday school instead of going fishing. I remember that to this day, and I have only been fishing one or two times since. Then I didn't know what he was talking about, but two or three years later I learned what Sunday school was, and I started to go."
"I went to a subscription school. We would all pay a man to come to teach us. I used to work for my room and board on Saturday's, and go to school five days a week. That would have been all right, if I had kept it up, but I didn't for very long, I learned to read and write pretty good though. There were no Government school then that were free."
"We didn't have a name. The slaves were always known by the master's last name, and after we were freed we just took the last name of our masters and used it. After we had got our freedom papers, they had our ages and all on them, they were lost so we guess at our ages..
"Most of the slave owners were good to their slaves although some of them were brutish of course." "In 1877 a lot of people began coming out here to Kansas and in 1878 there were several, but in 1879 there were an awful lot of colored people immigrating. We came in 1877 to Kansas City, October 1.
We landed about midnight. We came by train. Then there was nothing but little huts in the bottoms. The Santa Fe depot didn't amount to anything. The Armours' Packing house was ever smaller that that. There was a swinging bridge over the river. The Raw Valley was considered good-for-nothing, but to raise hemp. There was an awful lot of it grown there though, and there were also beavers in the Kaw River, and they used to cut down trees to build their dams. I worked several years and in 1890 I came to Franklin County."
"We raised alot of corn, and castor beans. That was the money crop. Corn at that time wasn't hard to raise. People never plowed their corn more than three times, and they got from forty to fifty bushels per acre. There were no weeds and it was virgin soil. One year I got seventy-two bushel of corn per acre, and I just plowed it once. That may sound 'fishy' but it is true."
"There used to be a castor bean mill here, and I have seen the wagons of castor beans lined from Logan Street to First Street, waiting to unload. They had to number the wagons to avoid trouble and they made them keep their places. There also used to be a water mill here, but it burned."
There were lots of Indians here in the Chippewas. They were harmless though. They were great to come in town, and shoot for pennies. They were good shots, and it kept you going to keep them supplied with pennies for them to shoot with their bows and arrows, as they almost always hit them. They were always dressed in their red blankets."
"I have never used ones for work. They were used quite a bit, although I have never used them. They were considered to be good after they were broken."
"I was about twenty-two years old when I married, and I have raised six children. They live over by Appanoose. I ruined my health hauling wood. I was always a big fellow, I used to weigh over two hundred eighty-five pounds, but I worked too hard, working both summer and winter."
"My father's mother lived 'till she was around ninety or a hundred years old. She got so bent at the last she 'was practically bent double. She lived about two years after she was set free."
"I used to live up around Appanoose, but I came to Franklin County and I have stayed here ever since."
Leta Gray (Interviewer) May 17, 1937
For The American Guide Topeka, Kansas
Person interviewed in Ottawa, Kansas
Ms. Holmes (first name unknown)
"FATHER GAVE HER T0 HIS WHITE PEOPLE AFTER THE WAR"
Just after the War, or way back there right after slavery, people was treated just as mean and bad as ever. I was born in Morgantown, Kentucky. My mother was a slave, born in Richmond, Virginia.
My father was a slave, but I don't know where he was born, because he said when he knew anything he was in a house with the white people, and they never did tell him anything. Where I was born, it is a mighty fine country, and they was awful mean to the colored people in that country. I had six sisters and six brothers and they are all dead except myself.
They did not live to be old enough to go to school, I did not go to school because they said it was too far to send me to school. I could spell in the old blue back speller. My father's white people taught me that. I was four years old when my father come from war, and he gave me to the white poople, and they took care of me just like I was their own poople. They didn't want me to get out with oolored people, and they didn't want me to get away from them. My father lived five years after he came from war.
His young master was to go to war, but he didn't want to go so they put my father in his place. After he lived in camp three months, in the Confederate army, he stole away and joined the Yankees. My father's name was Frank, and they said Frank was a good nigger; never did but one thing wrong in his life, and that was when he joined the Yankees. They didn't want him to join the Yankees. My mother died after she was the mother of eight ohildren.
When my father came back from the war -- in the old time way of jumping the broom handle -- my mother had married again, so he didn't disturb her, and the little children she had then. He just took me. He was sick, he had scurvy, asthma and all like they would have then after the war. My mother had all her children by her second husband, but me. In those days people married by jumping the broom handle, or marrying with a lamp, or by carrying a glass of water on their head.
They would give you a pass to go over on the other farm, and it you didn't have this pass the padder-rollers would cut your head off. Later on, two white men came over to my mother's house and said you would have to have license now to live with your husband. They said a new law had been passed. But mother said she was just going to stay like she was. She died and left a house full of little children.
They all died like little sheep. My stepfather left them; he was a mighty ladies' man. Tho doctor said then that the reason all these little children died like that was because they were half clad and didn't have enough to eat. Of course, I didn't know what they meant then, but I know now that half clad meant they didn't have clothes. I was just raised up in a house to work. I got married and been married so long I done forgot. I was 17, going on 18.
When I married I had to have license bought, and that was done right in Morgantown. My mother was supposed to sign the papers, but she would not sign them, but the white people where I was living signed them. I have been married only once. We were just like folks are now sometimes, just living together like cats and dogs. I didn't stay with him but only about three or four years. He didn't work, he didn't do nothing. I don't know why I married him.
But I was living up there with those white people, and they never wanted me out. I was raring to get away from white folks. I don't know whether I loved him or not, but I guess I did. After we married it seemed he didn't like dark people, and after we married he talked about my color. He was going with a "yaller" womam, and I whipped all the clothes off her once. I had two children by him. Both are dead now. One lived to be 21.
Back there in those days the people was treated awful mean. For a long distance there were no fences, just field, and you had to work. A white man would ride back and forth and about with spurs and a whip, and you had better not look up from your work. You just had to keep working without looking up for anything.
I sent my child, the one that lived to bo 21 years old, to school. My husband left me and went up to Evansville with a "yaller" woman, and after six years sent for me to come and get him. I tried to get the money to go for him and they told me if I did they would whip me.
But I told them that he was mine, and if I oould get the money I was going to him. I didn't go because I couldn't get the money. I was waahing all day for 25 cents, and that was just about as much as you could get for any work in those days. I sure tried all 'round to get the money, but just couldn't get it. Well, he died. They didn't think about bringing a body home back in those days.
I was converted by just laying off everything that looked like sin. I just run away from everything that looked like sin. You got to tet tired of it, go away and leave it, let it alone. Going to shows, dancing, and all those things, and having your name on the church book is not it. You do all these things and then go to church and pay your quarter, or whatever it is, and think that is right, but it is not. My name was on the church book when I was ten years old. Father's master sprinkled me when I was ten months old.
Since I been grown, 24 years ago or more, I practiced everything everybody else did. I worked for people that danced, I went with people that danced and paid their quarter in the church on Sunday; but I went and heard the holiness preached. I went to church one night and the preacher just preached to me. He preached all about carrying clothes on your head and carrying them on Sunday.
I knew he was preaching to me. I couldn't hardly get home, I never eat nor drink for three days, couldn't do it. I said, "Lord, all these years I been living in church and now going to die and go to hell." He showed me just where I would have went to hell, too. But I know I want to go to a resting place when I am gone. I was tied up in every lodge, club; but those things are rotten to the core.
They have all kinds of people in them, and I am just talking for myself; they are no good. Anybody else can go any way they want to, but they say there is only one way to go in, and that is through the straight and narrow. If you see those deacons and all these old preachers doing the things you would do, they you would say that they can't say anything to you, for they are drinking,
dancing, going to shows, and everything else. Well, the light came after I fasted three days, and all that burden fell off me. You just got to be sure what you are doing. All that burden fell off me. Thc man I was living with said that night that I was going to be hungry, naked or out of doors for talking that way. But I said I didn't care.
He was Ned Turner, and he put me out of my own house. I was living on his ground but I had built with him, and he said it anything happened I would get my money back. He said he would give me that money back. He died long ago. He asked me if I was going to quit the clubs, lodges, and things, and I said, "you just wait." He was a bad man; he believed in everything going on in his house. I am old now, but I believe in everything going on right.
I have been in Nashville I guess about 18 years. I got crippled and came here to be operated on. I thought I could get a home to live here, but I didn't. They told me that my not being a citizen here, I would have to live here so many days or so long before I could enter the City Hospital. But I got acquainted with Dr. Bright and Dr. Hale and they advised me. I am 73 years old the 15th day of March.
In my father's time and all along my mother's time, that's when they chained the colored people and cut them all to pieces with cat-o'nine-tails and sprinkled salt and pepper on them. And when I married, that man put me right out in the field. I pulled corn, shocked corn and everything. He was awful mean; so much so I never wanted to go on in his name, Malone. I went on in my mother's name, Holmes; and I am Holmes yet.
I haven't done any work now for 12 years. The church pays my rent and everybody here is good to me. People that know me and pass by hand me a little money and send me things, I belong to the Church of God, the Sanctified Church on Harding Street, and Reverend Martin is my pastor. He is a mighty fine man, if he is black. 'Course it is all right to be black. Way back, colored people lived more friendly together than they do now.
You couldn't go to one's house but what if you stayed there a meal would be cooked and served you. My mother was brought from Virginia when she was ten years old. She didn't know anything more about her poeple over there. In those days way back there the colored people would do just like they do now, but not as bad.
Like when I married, the old folks would make you stay with him. There was no parting among the old folks like they do now. When they married, two would hold a broom, and one time she had a candle on her and jumped over the broom stick, then the next time she had a glass of water and jumped over. It didn't fall off.
There were no doctors back there. If you got sick, you would go dig a hole and dig up roots and fix your own medicine. There was not as much sickness then as there is now. They would make their own pills and syrups, and so on. They were a country full of people who practiced with herbs; white and colored people did this. There were severa1 kinds of bark you could get and make a syrup, poultice, or something. There was not nearly so much dying as there is now.
When I was in Kentucky I went to church with the white people, at the Methodist Church. I sat way back behind. There were three seats in the back and a gate between this part and the other part in front where the white people sat. When they had revival they would open the gate and come back there and ask them some questions and try to have them believe. And if they said they believed, they would sprinkle them.
The Baptists did the some thing. At the house, I didn't get to eat at the table with the others, but when the old man got through with his meal or got through eating, I could sit down and eat with the rest of them.
I remember two bad locust years. You couldn't walk on the ground for the locust shells, and couldn't hear your ears for them hollowing "Pharoah." They hollowed "Pharoah" for the old Pharoah plague.
June 11, 1937 — Mobile, Alabama
Interviewed by Ila B. Prine June 11, 1937
Standing in the middle of the road of Prichard the incorporated suburb of Mobile, gesticulating while talking to several people, was an old negro man eighty-one years of age. He was tall, straight, dark-skinned negro with grey hair and moustache. When the writer asked him if he was a slave, he said:
"I doesn't kno' w'ether I wuz a slave, but jes' de same I seed General Grant's army when hit went through Virginny. Jes' as sho' as yo' is standing dar, lady, I seed dem men all dressed in dem blue suits a madchin' side by side, gwine down de road pas' our place. Hit tuk dem three days tuh git pas' our house."
"An' does I 'member when dam Yankees, cum tuh out 01' Mistiss house an' take a ladder an' clim' up tuh de roof an' tare de boards outta de ceilin' tuh git dem big hams an' shoulders, dey had hid up afar Yo' women folks make.-
Oh, I means 'serves dat de 01' Miss had de slaves hide wid de meat; an' when dem Yankees find dat stuff, day jes' gib hit all tuh de niggers, an' I 'members too, how 01' Miss, calls us all tuh her atter day lef' and tole us dat us wuz free, but she tole dat us had tuh gib mac' [her?] sum ob de meat an' 'serves 'cayse she didn't hab a bit tuh eat.
Course we wuz glad toh do hit, 'cayse 01' Miss sho' woz good tuh her slaves. I 'member ebery Sunday mawning dat she make de older slaves bring all de little niggers up tuh her big white two-story house, so she sud read de bible tuh us, an' den she gib us plenty ob dem good biscuits an' 'taters dat she had de cook Susanne cook fer us. She'd say 'git 'roun' dere, Susanne, an' he'p dem li'1 niggers' plates', I railly thoughy 01' Miss wuz an angel.
"Talkin' 'bout niggers bein' freed, 01 Miss tole us us wuz free but hit wuz ten or twelve years atter de Surrender befo' I railly knowed whut she meant. I wuz a big boy goin' tuh school afore I had any understandin' as tuh whut she meant.
"01' Miss taught de niggers how tuh read an' write an' sum ob dem got tuh be too proficient wid dere writin', 'cayse dey larn how tuh write too many pass's so de 'patty-rollers' wudn't git dem, an' den dat wuz de onlinest time I ebber knowed 01' Miss tuh hab de slaves punished.
01' Miss nebber 'lowed no mistreatin' ob de slaves, 'cayse dey wuz raisin' slaves for de market, an' hit wudn't be good biziness tuh mistreat dem. Lor' mah white folks wuz rich, dey had as many as five or six hundred niggers, men, women, an' chillun.
De plantation wuz big but I doesn't 'member how many acres, but I 'members de cabins wuz all built out ob logs an' ceiled or chinked wid, boards an' de cabins wuz built in rows, an' dere wuz streets laid out among de cabins. De chimbneys wuz built outta dirt an' sticks, an' yo' kno' up in Virginny hit got turrible cold, an' de snow wud pile up, so when de cabins wuz built, de men wud throw dirt up under de house tuh keep de snow an' cold out. Yo' might think dat dirt wud wash out from under de house, but hit didn't.
Hit jes' made dem so warm an' confor'mable us didn't suffer from the cold. I wuz borned in Henry County, Virginny near Danville, an' I'se been to Vicksburg, an' Petersburg a-many-s-time wid mah daddy to de wheat an tobacey market. Lor' honey, Virginny is de bes' place on earth for good eatin' an' good white folks.
If any body tells yo' dat de white folks wuz mean tuh dere niggers, dey nebber cum from Virginny, 'cayse us wuz tuh near de free states, an den I'se already tole yo' dey raised niggers tah sell an' dey kept dem in good condition, an' in dose days white folks wuz white folks an' black folks wuz black folks. Jes' lac' Booker T. Washington wuz a river between de niggers ob dis later generation in larnin'. He had all dat's fine an' good an' he gib ob de tees' tuh his people, if dey wud take hit.
"Dats wuz de way wid de white folks den, dey didn't do no whippin' an' mistreatin' ob de slaves. Oh! once in a while O1' Miss might slap de cooks face an' tell her tuh bear 'round dere ', an' if she wanted de servin' boys to hurry, she wud say 'cutch hit', meanin' fer dem tuh cut sum steps an' git 'bout in a hurry.
"I'se de oldest rat in de pond, an' 'cayse I aint hung in de smokehouse folks think I'm not as old as I says I is, but, chile, I'se been here. I 'member how Sam usta tuh preach tuh us, when us wuz at de ol' Miss's place, an' when I growed up I 'members how I usta think nobody wuz a Christian 'ceptin' us Baptists, but I knows betta now. An' de longer I lib de more I realize dat de churches go away, 'cayse day leaves off de ordinances of God, altho' us has got de Bible an' mo' Christian literature den ebber afore.
"Mah maw's name wuz Eliza Rowlets an' mah daddy's name wuz Joseph Holmes. Mah daddy had de same name as de people who owned him, an' mah gran'maw's name wuz Lucy Holmes. Gran'maw Lucy lived to be a hundred years old, an' she war de fust person I ebber seed dead. Hit tuk three days tuh bury a person den, 'cayse dey dug de graves as deep as you is tall, which means more than five feet deep.
Lor's sakes a-livin' us had great times, an' ah, yes, I forgot tuh tell yo dat us had home made beds wid two sides nailed tuh de wall, an' de mattresses wuz made outta wheat straw, an' dat 'minds me dat dere warnt no pore cattle in dem times, 'cayse yo' cud go whar day thresh de wheat an' git all de straw yo' wanted an' feed de dry cattle on hit. An' believe yo', me, de fruit us did hab yo' don't nebber see sum ob hit down dis way. Sich as apples, cherries, quinces, peaches and pears.
"As fer huntin' I done plenty ob hit, an' one thing I got tuh git forgiveness fer, wuz when I lef' Virginny, I lef' 'bout sixty or seventy snares sat tuh ketch rabbits an' birds.
"Mah maw had eight chillun an' we wuz raised in pairs. I had a sister who cum alon' wid me, an' if I jumped in de river tuh swim, she did hit tuh, if I clim' a tree, or go through a brair patch, she went, tuh. Many's-a-time Maw wanted tuh know why her clos wuz so tore up, but we'd make hit all right by having a rabbit or coon, sumtime mud turtles. An' as fer 'possums an' coons, us ketch dem in abundance.
"'Bout de fruit, hit makes mah mouth water tuh think about dem cheese apples, dat wuz yeller lac' gold, an' dose Abraham apples. An' dose cherry trees as big as dese oaks, wid long lim's an' big sugar an' sweetheart, an' black heart cherries. Den dere wuz anudder kin' ob cherry called de gorilla cherry dat wuz roun' an' growed as big as de yeller plums de down dis way.
Now, let me tell yo' sumpin' 'bout Virginny, dat had its own law about drink. Dey made de bes' peach an' cherry brandy an' mos' any kin' yo' ebber hyeard ob, 'ceptin' dey didn't 'low yo' tuh make drink out ob anything yo' cud made bread. Now you understan', sich as corn or rye.
"Us had our brandy same as yo' wud coffee, 'cayse hit wuz cold, an' sum mawnings us wud git up an' de snow wud be half way up tuh de doo', an de men wud hab toh ditch it out, so us cud git out ob de house. On dem rail col' mawnings mah daddy wud git de brandy out an' mah maw wud put a li'1 water an' sugar wid hit an' gib tuh us chillun. An' den she'd take sum in her mouf' an' put hit in de baby's mouf an' hit wud open hits eyes an' stamp hits foot rail peart lac.
"Us nebber thought nothin' ob drinkin'. I kinda believes lac' dat ol' infidel Ingersoll, who said dat anything dat wuz de custom wuz dere religion. Really speaking, folks wuz kinda hearted den den dey is now, 'cayse dey kept big dogs tuh huntup people in de snow. Dey all seemed more happy, 'cayse at night day wud go tuh de big house an' spin an' weave, an' make de clos.
"I kin hyar dat ol' loom hummin' now an' see great yards ob cloth cummin' out, an' dem wuz clos' den dat wuz made from hit. Hit tuk fire tuh git it offin' yo' 'cayse hit wuz so strong. I doesn't 'member whut doy used fer dye, but I knows day used copperas as sizin' tuh hoi' de colors. Sum ob de cloth wuzed dyed, red blue an' black.
I jes' can't 'member about de dye, but dey use copperas, 'dat wuz de qualification ob de intelligence ob de primitive age". in using dat'spooeras? Dey not only made our clos but also made our hats. Ob course de warn't very hasty, but wuz more cappy. Dey made dem wid tabs ober de ears, an' tuh tie under de chin, an' wuz doy warm, I'll say!
~Now, when yo' axed 'bout hog killin' time, dat wuz de time ob times. Fer weeks de men wud haul wood an' big rocks, an' pile hit together as high as dis house, an' den hab several piles, lac' dat 'roun' a big hole in de 'group' whut had been filled wid water. Den jes' a li'1 atter midnight, de boss wud blow de ol' horn, an' all de men wud git in dem big hog pens.
Den dey wud set dat pile ob wood on fire an' den start knockin' dem hogs in de haid, us neber shot a hog lac' dey does now, us allus used an ax to kill dem wid. Atter knockin' de hog in de haid, doy wud tie a rope on his laig, an' atter de water got tuh de right heat frum dose red-hot rocks whut had been pushed out ob dat pile ob wood into de water, dey wud throw de hog in an' drag it aroun' awhile, an' take him out an' hab him clean in about three minutes.
Atter he wuz clean dey hung dem up, an' den later cut dem up an' hung dem in de smoke house, an' smoke dem wid great oak logs. Huh, dey don't cuore meat now, dey jes' use sum kinda brush an' liquid, but dey don't hab meat lac' us did.
"Den cum cornshucking time, mah goodness, I jes' wud love tuh be dere now. De corn wud be piled up high an' one man wud git on dat pile, hit usually woz kinda ob a nigger foreman who cud sing an' get de wurk out ob de odder niggers. Dis foreman wud sing a verse sumthin' lac' dis.
"Polk an' Clay went to War. And Polk cum back wid a broken jar."
Den all de niggers wud sing back tuh him, an' hello' a kinda ob shoutin' soun'. Usually dis foreman made up his songs, by pickin' dem up historically. But, Miss, you know whut wuz de motor power ob dat shucking? Hit was de ol' jug dat wuz brung 'roun' ebery hour, dats de only time any ob de slaves really got drunk.
I wish I cud 'member 'dose ol' songs, but all dat hello' done lef' me, 'cayse de only singin' I hyear is de good ol' sisters singin' an' sayin' 'Amen'.
In days gone by, I went tuh plenty ob dances, an' candy pullin's durin' de yule season, but I dosen't do dat any mo'. I'se a preacher, an' when I fust lef' Virginny I cum to Georgia an' stayed dere twenty years, an' I kicked up a plenty ob dust in Georgia. I eben taught school an' built a plenty ob churches dere. Den I cum on tuh Alabamy, an' lived in Evergreen fer 'bout twenty mo' years, an' I built a two story brick church dere. Since I'se been in Mobile Is'e wurked by dat Bienville Square for sich men as ol' man Simon. Damrich, and Van Antwerp, an' all dere chillun has been in dese arms.
I'se been a square citizen, an' dere hasn't been one time in mah life I'se had to call on anybody, an' dat wuz when I had tuh call on Uncle Sam, when ol' man depression got me. But thank God I'se still able to 'bout an' have all my faculties, 'ceptin' mah eyesight is a li'1 porely. I still has all mah teeth 'ceptin' one, an' mah maw allus tuk great pride in mah hair, you see how fine an' silky hit is, an' hit ain't snow white yit. Dere is one thing, tuh be thankful fer is, 'cayse I'se so near home.
Murrells Inlet, South Carolina
Murrells Inlet, South Carolina
Interviewed by Mrs. Genevieve W. Chandler
[Note: There are three separate interviews with Ben Horry, each presented here.]
Interview Transcript #1:
"God knows Missus, glad to yeddy dat! Picture in Washington! You mean bout my fadder? Been in duh - lemme see now kin I remember - 'casionally he would drink a little 'sumpting. Gone to town. Come back. Drink. Bring Jug from town. Drop 'em. Broke 'em.
To disencourage him from doing that again - (boss man lowing nobody to whip my fadder thout he do it!) - overseer, them men give my fadder a piece of the broke Jug (every time he share out rations) to disencourage him bout drink. Thought that a great way to broke him off. And he do so. Fadder have the three brudder - Daniel, Summer and Define."
"Look on you hand! Look on mine! I know you ain't want me black man - buck up, gainst all o' you! And you had the law in you hand all dese day! You had the learning in you head! Give me that pencil to catch up dem thing. I couldn't to save my life! 'Am I my Brudder Keeper?' You'll find that stripture round somewhere bout Cain and Able!
"Missus, I play 'STOP' wid duh lawyer.
"Storm? Yes, Missus, more den one. Carry duh boat out. Carry duh seine outside. As we get the boat outside, been rough. Make the rope been taut. And dat make the breaker have the boat. And I swim till I get the rope hold - wuz on the outside holding the top rope hold and two men on the shore have the end rope.
"I turn over twice outside, When I turn over there in that ocean, been forty odd. Vettril Deas come the Captain o' the crew. September. Nobody drown them trip we didn't have nobody drown outside there. Yorrick - I miss he name by it so long - but he kin to Feenie - dem family - dem relation. Diss a young man jest growed out coming on to get married. Had boat full o' people this last go round.
"Had a boat full o' people this last go round - Miss Mary, he Aunty and the lawyer and I take them out there. And I take them outside there and I come halfway to Drunken Jack. And then breaker start to lick in the boat. And I start to bail. And that been dangerous because we have all women in there - and couldn't swim like a man! And it happen by accident, when the boat swamp our FEET COULD TECH BOTTOM! Only an accident from God. When he turn over, I didn't a do nothing but SWIM FOR MYSELF for I couldn't help nobody. But our feet tech bottom!
"When I swamp out-side we wuz coming from South Santee to North Santee - on government work. Jest as we got 'tween Georgetown and Charleston, the boat get captied with water. Nothing to do. Try to bail. Stay outside. Swim with one hand and hold boat with other. Roughest time I ever had cause it cold wedder. First frost. Missus, I gone through some ROUGH. Old 'before time' yawl boat. Old "make-out" boat - yonder 1877.
Young man then! Boat carry eight oar - four on each side. We wuz there hunting fish you know. Go out-side see big school fish, put dem gang o' man to dat car and dat net get a gang o' fish! After de wedder surrender, went back in dere and get hold o' line going up and down - save net and all!
"In 1893 working for Ravenel and Holmes and Company in dere steamer boat. I wuz taken up in dat storm. Went from Charleston. Start Georgetown. Ginerally start boat five o'clock; never reach Georgetown till nine! Come on breakers and front head o' boat went down. And we had to go in the hold and take all the barrel.
Meet a man got his wife hug to mast. In little thing they call life boat. And I quile my line! I fly dat line! If she go round you neck and you hold that rope you safe! We save five or six different people. One man had a little corn boat. Had he wife and two little children. Had he two chillun rope rop round dat mast. Dem get his wife den gone back and save man and trunk. Quit call me "Ben" den; call me "Rooster."
"On steamer Planter one time. Couldn't talk bout come to no land a tall. Leave Charleston five in Morning and that storm rise on us! Rise at the bell buoy Charleston. Have a Cap'n and a mate. Cap'n Scott - dat wuz duh Cap'n. Dis here man been mate been one 'Brook' - New Jersey.
Missus, people goes out dere for fish to bring in fish for breakfast, dinner, supper! In row boat. See man holding up he hand - but floating. If he catch duh line I save 'em! Miss the line - he drown man! When you come up on next wave, you way yonder! Cap'n Springs hunt dem dead body! He wuz a mighty one out dere!
"After Flagg storm Colonel Ward take me and Peter Carr, give us a horse a pier take that shore to Little River. All two dem chillun find to Dick Pond. Been on Magnolia. Find them in a distant here to that house. Couldn't dentify wedder Miss - or she dater-in-law." (Reported articles of clothing and household linen found all way to Little River).
"I got on this shirt got "Ben" on it. Have no trouble trace when clothes got he mark. One man broke open one trunk, but I didn't care cause I had somebody to my back. Thing you put on your wrist ("bracelet") comb for your hair and all in that trunk find to Myrtle Beach. Sich a thing like towel and collar, I find some; Peter find some. Something else Gracious God! Don't want to see no more sumpting like cat!
White folks dem time move carry dem poetry (poultry). Dead horses, dead cow, ox, turkey, fowl everywhere! But no dead body find on us beach out-side Flagg family, One Northern woman marry in Ward family. Dr. Flagg marry in Ward family. Didn't want to acknowledge this lady richer den him. Dat malice.
All his family and chillun drown out. Doctor wouldn't go this lady house. Wouldn't let none rest go. He had one woman somewhere bout Lenwood - Betsy. Kit, Mom Adele drown! Tom Duncan boy, drown! Couldn't identify who loss from who save - till next morning! Kinder feet (effect) like a fog raise by storm and can't see. If you servant they can put confidence in they send you where the tornado been. My house wash down from block. Didn't broke up.
"Fetch old Doctor body to shore, watch ticking.
"Dem time (fore freedom) most o' people treated right by owner. Diss blue drilling - yards after yards! Have a man wuz tailor. Make little pants for you. And you wuz gal, make dress out of same. Uncle Tomas make the clothes - Tomas Rutledge.
Our Master didn't want to see us patchety up - nor naked! Our Master treat us right. My days they give you (you know we wuz rice-planter! You know these FINE (small) rice they save for feeding Prospect, Watsaw, Longwood, Brookgreen. Never have much grits. Have fine rice. Peck o' grits (large family) half bushel dis fine rice (weeks supply family.)
He got three nets running (to supply fish in plantations.) Send men woods, kill cow. Kill hog. He see that you get garden. Talk bout garden - all run here to see Brookgreen garden. Dem day you could see a garden! Right dere to Marty gate had what you call 'shrubs'. That garden been cross wid lead pipe. Dat were a garden! Orange - every fruit! We use to dig 'em up - ditch up that pipe to melt 'em for shot to shoot duck and ting!"
Interview Transcript #2:
"He was a full-blooded man --- the Cap'n. Didn't disgrace. He put goat on Goat Island. Money was bury to Goat Island. People after people been sent. I dinnah know wedder they find or no.
"Mack McCosky was sent by the State to fetch molasses, meal and hominy and goat on Goat Island. He can't tell you! People can't know sumpin when they ain't born.
"After de war 'e come back and take into big drinkin' and was 'em (waste them) till 'e fall tru. He been fell tru wid his money (lost his property). Didn't bury so destent (decent).
"We smaller one didn't have chance to go to war. My Daddy have for go. Have to go ditch and all and tend his subshun. His subshun was waste and steal. Paris! He the man control all the Buckra sing. And, by God, he go and show Yankee all dem sing! Ole Miss git order to have him kill and don't harm none! She ain't one to see him tru all that thousand head o' nigger for get 'em.
"They come have big dinner. Cap'n come from Muldro. (Marlboro). Drum beatin' little one dancin'. Gone back to Muldro. (Maham Ward and these udder come from Muldro.) And they leave ting in Uncle William Baillard hand. And he carry on till everting surrender And then the Cap'n come home from Muldro and they try give you sumpin to make start on like cow and sing. They ain't treat you like a beast. Ain't take no advance o' you. What the Cap'n do he do for you good. I b' long Dr. Ward. I entitle to bring him two string o' bird. Rice bird come like jest as tick as dat (thick as that). Sometimes a bushel one shot.
"They put you in the flat and put you over there. When they tink Yankee comin' you take to Sandhole Crick for hide. Mr. Carmichael sent by the state. Go to Brookgreen, Longwood, Watsaw. Tell everting surrender. Go to any located place. He's a Gineral. Go open the barn door and give us all us need. He better to we nigger boy den he Daddy been! Wouldn't beat you 'thout the lil' boy really fightin'.
"Time o' the war the colored people hear 'bout Yankee. Not a one eber understand to run way and go to Yankee boat from WE plantation. These Yankee people wuz walkin' 'bout on the beach. And while they come in to the hill, the Reb have a battery to Laurel Hill and they cut off them Yankee from the ocean.
These they cut off they carry dem to Brookgreen barn. Hang one colored man and one white man to Oaks Seashore. White man musser be Sergeant or big Cap'n. Just as soon as the sun go down you see a big streak come over and they BUSS (bust) Duds. Woman in the street killed.
(Street of negro Quarters --- Brookgreen) Blacksmith killed. Cut off he brudder-in-law (Judy's) and kill Judy. Dem shell go clean to Sandy Island. Pump make out o' brick to Brookgreen. Dat boy (shell) come and hit the pump. De horn blow and they make for flat and gwine on to Sandhole down that black crick. There a man for dat --- dat flat. Get everbody line up. Ain't gone there for PLAY. Gone for wuk (work). I wuz big 'nouf to do diss --- go wid my fadder and hold light.
"It this way. You ain't LOW to eat the whole rice you kin make money outer. Beat dat rice. But my Daddy been a great whiskey man. Liquor. Didn't have 'em less he go to town. Money scase.
('E wuz a kind of musicianer for the Ward fambly). But he break he jug. He break he whiskey jug. En when de obersheer (overseer) git out de ration and gib 'em to mah Ma and us chillun he hand mah Pa a piece o' dem break jug! That keep him in mind o' that whiskey jug.
"Yankee come here and butt us colored people. I 'member we youngun's just could 'tote up dem gold pitcher and bury dem in the garden. Not far from the flowers tank. Tank have on 'em a woman head (Flowers' tank was a fountain). All the master fine ting way down there bury! De Ward didn't loss nothin'. They move us out the plantation. Col. Ward took 'em in a 'lat to Mulbro.
"Dr. Heriot after the war took into big drinkin'. Didn't bury so decent. Fell tru wid all he money. Not bury so decent."
Interview Transcript #3:
Uncle Beauregaurd was queer in his latter days.
"Gee Morgan! Haw Lewis!" were the orders he gave to his two feet as he walked the sandy old King's Road. "Giving orders to his foots, Walking through the woods at night time, you could hear him a long way. He'd (hello), holler,
"Whoopee! Whoopee! Whoopee! Whoopee - - e - - e-e-e-e!
"Gone to Georgetown. Eat three four fish while you eat one. Wouldn't pick a bone out. Jess (Just) work 'em out the corner of his mouth. He had married Uncle Cato sister Mary. They's have a son name Beaurie atter his Daddy, Tall as a pine. Yes suh. They take 'em there and put 'em in jail. Holler there on the street right in the middle of the town."
(Uncle Beauregaurd's method of eating fish reminds one of a picture given by a white man who worked in the lumber woods in Georgetown county.)
Dinner time had come. The woods' worker approached an isolated cabin hunting water. A very old colored woman sat on her door step eating from a tin pan with a tin spoon. Desirous of finding out her "diet" the man drew up as close as expedient, having no desire to disturb her. As he watched over her shoulder, he discovered she was eating fish and rice - and in queer fashion. The fish was not picked - the bones and all were put into her mouth and thoroughly chewed. From the left hand corner of her mouth there poured a steady stream of half chewed bones.
As he stood there, a kitten, lured by the delicious smell of the fish, approached steathily and finally reaching the old lady's knee, jumped up and sniffed with appreciation of a good odor. Putting down her spoon and with arms akimbo Auntie measured her uninvited guest with her eyes. Then, becoming articulate, she announced deliberately:
"Kitteny, if you wants to face you God this day, put you nose in my bittle!")
Recorded Sentences -
"You gwine wait a long wait, if you waits for me."
"Didn't eat enough to keep a mosquito wing flapping."
"Stella! Oh, Stella! Come here! Come quick! You deaf? (deaf) Yeddy? You know the voice!" Called Uncle Ben Horry - past eighty - when he wanted Stella to come help him take in a turn of groceries.
"I going to stop fool up wid "sell" awhile," spoke Uncle Ben who had been having trouble with an un-scrupulous lawyer who almost made him sign away his land.
"Missus, I didn't tired. Mr. Burris tell me come on home and get that paper and fetch 'em back to him. And I tek (take) my time till I hit you house."
Uncle Ben Horry, aged 89 walks once or twice weekly (and oftener if notion strikes him) to Conway and back - sixty miles or more the route he travels.
Given by Ben Horry - age 89 Murrells Inlet, S.C.
Source: The American Slave, Supp. Series 1, Vol. 11: 194-203.
June 11, 1949 — Baltimore, Maryland
Interviewed by Hermond Norwood,
Baltimore, Maryland, June 11, 1949.
Hughes: Talk to who?
Norwood: Well, just tell me what your name is.
Hughes: My name is Fountain Hughes. I was born in Charlottesville, Virginia. My grandfather belong to Thomas Jefferson. My grandfather was a hundred an' fifteen years ol' when he died. An' now I am one hundred an', an' one year old. Tha's enough. [recording stops and starts again] She use' to work, but what she made I don' know. I never ask her.
Norwood: You just go ahead and talk away there. You don't mind, do you, Uncle Fountain?
Hughes: No. An' when, now, your husband an' you both are young. You all try to live like young people ought to live. Don' want everything somebody else has got. Whatever you get, if it's yourn be satisfied.
An' don' spen' your money till you get it. So many people get in debt. Well, that was all so cheap when I bought it. You spen' your money fore you get it because you're going in debt for what you want. When you want something, wait until you get the money an' pay for it cash. Tha's the way I've done.
If I've wanted anything, I'd wait until I got the money an' I paid for it cash. I never bought nothing on time in my life. Now plenty people if they want a suit of clothes, they go to work an' they'll buy them on time. Well they say they was cheap. They cheap. If you got the money you can buy them cheaper.
They want something for, for waiting on you for, uh, till you get ready to pay them. An' if you got the money you can go where you choose an' buy it when you go, when you want it. You see? Don't buy it cause somebody else go down an' run a debt an' run a bill or, I'm gonna run it too. Don' do that. I never done it.
Now, I'm a hundred years ol' an' I don' owe nobody five cents, an' I ain't got no money either. An' I'm happy, jus' as happy as somebody that's oh, got million. Nothing worries me. I'm not, my head ain't even white. I, nothing in the worl' worries me.
I can sit here in this house at night, nobody can come an' say, "Mr. Hughes, you owe me a quarter, you owe me a dollar, you owe me five cents." No you can't. I don' owe you nothing. Why? I never made no bills in my life. An' I'm living too. An' I'm a hundred years ol'. An' if you take my advice today, you'll never make a bill. Cause what you want, give your money, pay them cash, an' then the rest of the money is yourn.
But if you run a bill they, well, so much and so much an' you don't have to pay. I's nothing down it's, it's all when you come to pay. I's all, you don' have to pay no more. But they, they'll, they'll charge you more. They getting something or other or else they wouldn' trus' you. But I can't jus' say what they getting. But they getting something or other else they wouldn' want your credit.
Now I tell you that anybody that trusts you for two dollars or have a account with them by the month or by the week, store count or any count. They're getting something out of it. Else they don' want to commodate you that much to trust you. Now, if I want, course I ain' got no clothes, but if I want some clothes, I, I ain' got no money, I'm gonna wait till I get the money to buy them.
Deed I am. I'm not a-gonna say cause I can get them on trust, I go down an' get them. I got to pay a dollar more anyhow. But either they charge you more or they say taxes are so much. But if I've got the money to pay cash, I'll pay the taxes and all down in cash, you know. It's all done with. So many of colored people is head over heels in debt. Trust me, trust. I'll get it on time.
They want a set of furniture, go down an' pay down so much an' the rest on time. You done paid that, you done paid for them then. When you pay down so much an' they charge you fifty dollar, hundred dollars for a set an' you pay down twenty-five dollars cash, you done paid them. That's all it was worth, twenty-five dollars, an' you pay, now you, I'm seventy-five dollars in debt now.
Cause I, I have to pay a hundred dollars for that set, an' i's only worth about twenty-five dollar. But you buying it on time. But people ain' got sense enough to know it. But when you get ol' like I am, you commence to think, well, I have done wrong. I should have kep' my money until I wanted this thing, an' when I want it, I take my money an' go pay cash for it. Or else I will do without it.
Thats supposing you want a new dress. You say, well I'll, I'll buy it, but, uh, I don' need it. But I can get it on time. Well let's go down the store today an' get something on time. Well you go down an' get a dress on time. Something else in there, I want that. They'll sell that to you on time. You won't have to pay nothing down.
But there's a payday coming. An' when that payday comes, they want you come pay them. If you don't, they can't get no more. Well, if you never do that, if you don't start it, you will never end it. I never did buy nothing on time. I must tell you on this, I'm setting right here now today, an' if i's the las' word I've got to tell you, I never even much as tried to buy a, a shirt on time.
An' plenty people go to work, down to the store an' buy uh, three an' four dollars for a shirt. Two, three uh, seven, eight dollars for a pair of pants. Course they get them on time. I don', no, no, no. I say, I got, I buy something for five dollars. Cause I got the five dollars, I'll pay for it. I'm done with that.
Norwood: You talk about how old you are Uncle Fountain. Do you, how far back do you remember?
Hughes: I remember. Well I'll tell you, uh. Things come to me in spells, you know. I remember things, uh, more when I'm laying down than I do when I'm standing or when I'm walking around. Now in my boy days, why, uh, boys lived quite different from the way they live now. But boys wasn' as mean as they are now either. Boys lived to, they had a good time.
The masters di, didn' treat them bad. An' they was always satisfied. They never wore no shoes until they was twelve or thirteen years old. An' now people put on shoes on babies you know, when they're two year, when they month old. I be, I don' know how ol' they are.
Put shoes on babies. Jus' as soon as you see them out in the street they got shoes on. I tol' a woman the other day, I said, "I never had no shoes till I was thirteen years old." She say, "Well but you bruise your feet all up, an' stump your toes." I say, "Yes, many time I've stump my toes, an' blood run out them. That didn' make them buy me no shoes." An' I been, oh, oh you wore a dress like a woman till I was, I [be-believe] ten, twelve, thirteen years old.
Norwood: So you wore a dress.
Hughes: Yes. I didn' wear -no pants, an' of course didn' make. boys' pants. Boys wore dresses. Now only womens wearing the dresses an' the boys is going with the, with the womens wearing the pants now an' the boys wearing the dresses. Still, [laughs]
Norwood: Who did you work for Uncle Fountain when ... ?
Hughes: Who'd I work for?
Hughes: When I, you mean when I was slave?
Norwood: Yeah, when you were a slave. Who did you work for?
Hughes: Well, I belonged to, uh, B., when I was a slave. My mother belonged to B. But my, uh, but, uh, we, uh, was all slave children. An' after, soon after when we found out that we was free, why then we was, uh, bound out to different people. [names of people] an'all such people as that. An' we would run away, an' wouldn' stay with them. Why then we'd jus' go an' stay anywhere we could. Lay out a night in underwear.
We had no home, you know. We was jus' turned out like a lot of cattle. You know how they turn cattle out in a pasture? Well after freedom, you know, colored people didn' have nothing. Colored people didn'have no beds when they was slaves. We always slep' on the floor, pallet here, and a pallet there. Jus' like, uh, lot of, uh, wild people, we didn', we didn' know nothing. Didn' allow you to look at no book. An' there was some free-born colored people, why they had a little education, but there was very few of them, where we was.
An' they all had uh, what you call, I might call it now, uh, jail centers, was jus' the same as we was in jail. Now I couldn' go from here across the street, or I couldn' go through nobody's house out I have a note, or something from my master. An' if I had that pass, that was what we call a pass, if I had that pass, I could go wherever he sent me. An' I'd have to be back, you know, when, uh.
Whoever he sent me to, they, they'd give me another pass an' I'd bring that back so as to show how long I'd been gone. We couldn' go out an' stay a hour or two hours or something like. They send you. Now, say for instance I'd go out here to S.'s place. I'd have to walk. An' I would have to be back maybe in a hour. Maybe they'd give me hour. I don' know jus' how long they'd give me. But they'd give me a note so there wouldn' nobody interfere with me, an' tell who I belong to.
A0n' when I come back, why I carry it to my master an' give that to him, that'd be all right. But I couldn'jus' walk away like the people does now, you know. It was what they call, we were slaves. We belonged to people. They'd sell us like they sell horses an' cows an' hogs an' all like that. Have a auction bench, an' they'd put you on, up on the bench an' bid on you jus' same as you bidding on cattle you know.
Norwood: Was that in Charlotte that you were a slave?
Norwood: Was that in Charlotte or Charlottesville?
Hughes: That was in Charlottesville.
Norwood: Charlottesville, Virginia.
Hughes: Selling women, selling men. All that. Then if they had any bad ones, they'd sell them to the nigger traders, what they calltd the nigger traders. An' they'd ship them down south, an' sell them down south. But, uh, otherwise if you was a good, good person they wouldn' sell you.
But if you was bad an' mean an' they didn' want to beat you an' knock you aroun', they'd sell you what to the, what was call the nigger trader. They'd have a regular, have a sale every month, you know, at the court house. An' then they'd sell you, an' get two hundred dollar, hundred dollar, five hundred dollar.
Norwood: Were you ever sold from one person to another?
Norwood: Were you ever sold?
Hughes: No, I never was sold.
Norwood: Always stayed with the same person. [Norwood and Hughes overlap]
Hughes: All, all. I was too young to sell.
Norwood: Oh I see.
Hughes: See I wasn' old enough during the war to sell, during the Army. And uh, my father got killed in the Army, you know. So it left us small children jus' to live on whatever people choose to, uh, give us.
I was, I was bound out for a dollar a month. An' my mother use' to collect the money. Children wasn', couldn' spen' money when I come along. In, in, in fact when I come along, young men, young men couldn' spend no money until they was twenty-one years old. An' then you was twenty-one, why then you could spend your money. But if you wasn'twenty-one, you couldn'spen'no money. I couldn' take, I couldn' spen' ten cents if somebody give it to me.
Cause they'd say, "Well, he might have stole it." We all come along, you might say, we had to give an account of what you done. You couldn' just do things an' walk off an' say I didn' do it. You'd have to, uh, give an account of it. Now, uh, after we got freed an' they turned us out like cattle, we could, we didn' have nowhere to go. An' we didn' have nobody to boss us, and, uh, we didn' know nothing. There wasn', wasn' no schools.
An' when they started a little school, why, the people that were slaves, there couldn' many of them go to school, cep' they had a father an' a mother. An' my father was dead, an' my mother was living, but she had three, four other little children, an' she had to put them all to work for to help take care of the others. So we had, uh, we had what you call, worse than dogs has got it now.
Dogs has got it now better than we had it when we come along. I know, I remember one night, I was out after I, I was free, an' I din' have nowhere to go. I didn' have nowhere to sleep. I didn't know what to do. My brother an' I was together. So we knew a man that had a, a livery stable. An' we crep' in that yard, an' got into one of the hacks of the automobile, an' slep' in that hack all night long.
So next morning, we could get out an' go where we belonged. But we was afraid to go at night because we didn' know where to go, and didn' know what time to go. But we had got away from there, an' we afraid to go back, so we crep' in, slept in that thing all night until the next morning, an' we got back where we belong before the people got up. Soon as day commenced, come, break, we got out an' commenced to go where we belong.
But we never done that but the one time. After that we always, if there, if there was a way, we'd try to get back before night come. But then that was on a Sunday too, that we done that. Now, uh, when we were slaves, we couldn' do that, see. An' after we got free we didn' know nothing to do. An' my mother, she, then she hunted places, an' bound us out for a dollar a month, an' we stay there maybe a couple of years.
An', an' she'd come over an' collect the money every month. An' a dollar was worth more then than ten dollars is now. An' I, an' the men use' to work for ten dollars a month, hundred an' twenty dollars a year. Use' to hire that-a-way. An', uh, now you can't get a man for, fifty dollars a month. You paying a man now fifty dollars a month, he don' want to work for it.
Norwood: More like fifty dollars a week now-a-days.
Hughes: That's just it exactly. He wants fifty dollars a week an' they ain' got no more now than we had then. An' we, no more money, but course they bought more stuff an' more property an' all like that. We didn' have no property. We didn' have no home. We had nowhere or nothing. We didn' have nothing only just, uh, like your cattle, we were jus' turned out. An' uh, get along the best you could. Nobody to look after us. Well, we been slaves all our lives. My mother was a slave, my sisters was slaves, father was a slave.
Norwood: Who was you father a slave for Uncle Fountain?
Hughes: He was a slave for B. He belong, he belong to B.
Norwood: Didn't he belong to Thomas Jefferson at one time?
Hughes: He didn' belong to Thomas Jefferson. My grandfather belong to Thomas Jefferson.
Norwood: Oh your grandfather did.
Hughes: Yeah. An', uh, my father belong to, uh, B. An', uh, an' B. died during the war time because, uh, he was afraid he'd have to go to war. But, then now, you, an' in them days you could hire a substitute to take your place. Well he couldn' get a substitute to take his place so he run away from home. An' he took cold.
An' when he come back, the war was over but he died. An' then, uh, if he had lived, couldn' been no good. The Yankees just come along an', jus' broke the mill open an' hauled all the flour out in the river an' broke the, broke the store open an' throwed all the meat out in the street an' throwed all the sugar out.
An' we, we boys would pick it up an' carry it an' give it to our missus an' master, young masters, until we come to be, well I don' know how ol'. I don' know, to tell you the truth when I think of it today, I don' know how I'm living. None, none of the rest of them that I know of is living. I'm the oldes' one that I know tha's living. But, still, I'm thankful to the Lord. Now, if, uh, if my master wanted sen' me, he never say, You couldn' get a horse an' ride.
You walk, you know, you walk. An' you be barefooted an' col'. That didn' make no difference. You wasn' no more than a dog to some of them in them days. You wasn' treated as good as they treat dogs now. But still I didn' like to talk about it. Because it makes, makes people feel bad you know. I could say a whole lot I don' like to say. An' I won't say a whole lot more.
Norwood: Do you remember much about the Civil War?
Hughes: No, I don' remember much about it.
Norwood: You were a little young then I guess, huh.
Hughes: I, uh, I remember when the Yankees come along an' took all the good horses an' took all the, throwed all the meat an' flour an' sugar an' stuff out in the river an' let it go down the river. An' they knowed the people wouldn' have nothing to live on, but they done that. An' thats the reason why I don' like to talk about it.
Them people, an', an' if you was cooking anything to eat in there for yourself, an' if they, they was hungry, they would go an' eat it all up, an' we didn' get nothing. They'd just come in an' drink up all your milk, milk. Jus'do as they please. Sometimes they be passing by all night long, walking, muddy, raining. Oh, they had a terrible time. Colored people tha's free ought to be awful thankful. An' some of them is sorry they are free now. Some of them now would rather be slaves
Norwood: Which had you rather be Uncle Fountain? [laughs]
Hughes: Me? Which I'd rather be? You know what I'd rather do? If I thought, had any idea, that I'd ever be a slave again, I'd take a gun an' jus' end it all right away. Because you're nothing but a dog. You're not a thing but a dog.
Night never comed out, you had nothing to do. Time to cut tobacco, if they want you to cut all night long out in the field, you cut. An' if they want you to hang all night long, you hang, hang tobacco. It didn' matter bout you tired, being tired. You're afraid to say you're tired. They just, well [voice trails off]
Norwood: When, when did you come to Baltimore?
Hughes: You know when, you don' remember when Garfiel' died, do you? When they, when they shot Garfield? No, I don' think you was born.
Norwood: I don't think I was then.
Hughes: No, you wasn't. [overlaps with Norwood} Well, I don' remember what year that was myself now, but I know you wasn'born. Well I come to Baltimore that year anyhow. I don' remember what year it was now myself. But if I laid, if I was laying in the bed I could have remembered. But uh, I don' remember now.
Norwood: But did you go to work for Mr. S. when you came to Baltimore?
Hughes: Oh no, no. I work for a man by the name of R. when I firs' come to Baltimore. I use' to, I commence to haul manure for him. De old horses was here then. No lec, no lec, no, no lectric cars, an' no cable cars. They were all horse cars.
An' I use' to haul manure, go aroun' to different stables, you know. Why people, everybody had horses for, for their use when I firs' come here. They had coachmen, an' men to drive them aroun'. Didn' have no, automobiles, they hadn' been here so long. An' uh, an' then they put on a cable car, what they call cable car. Well they run them for a little while, or maybe a couple or three years or four years. Then somebody invented the lectric car.
An' that firs' run on North Avenue. Well, uh, that run a while an' they kep' on inventing an' inventing till they got them all, different kinds of cars, you know. It was, uh, horse cars. Wasn' no electric cars at all. Wasn' no, wasn' no big cars like they got now you know. I jus' can't, I jus' can't think of, uh, what year it was. But uh,
Norwood: You're not getting tired are you Uncle Fountain?
Hughes: No, no I ain't. I'm jus' same as at home. Jus' like I was setting in the house. An' uh, see what. I was thinking 'bout oh, now you know how we served the Lord when I come along, a boy?
Norwood: How was that?
Hughes: We would go to somebody's house. An' uh, well we didn' have no houses like they got now, you know. We had these what they call log cabin. An' they have one ol' one, maybe one ol' colored man would be there, maybe he'd be as old as I am. An' he'd be the preacher. Not as old as I am now, but, he'd be the preacher, an' then we all sit
Source: The original recordings are located at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. This transcript has been adapted from Guy Bailey, Natalie Maynor, and Patricia Cukor-Avila, eds., The Emergence of Black English (Philadelphia: Johns Benjamins Publishing, 1991), 29-37.