[TR: ***] = Transcriber Note [HW: ***] = Handwritten Note
A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves
TYPEWRITTEN RECORDS PREPARED BY THE FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT 1936-1938 ASSEMBLED BY THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS PROJECT WORK PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA SPONSORED BY THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Illustrated with Photographs
Prepared by the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Georgia
Telfair, Georgia 1 Thomas, Cordelia 11 Thomas, Ike 25 Toombs, Jane Mickens 29 Town, Phil 37 [TR: In the interview, he's named Phil Towns.]
Upson, Neal 48
Van Hook, John F. 71 Vinson, Addie 97 Virgel, Emma 115
Walton, Rhodus 123 Ward, William 128, 132 Washington, Lula 134 Willbanks, Green 136 Williamson, Eliza 148 Willingham, Frances 151 Willis, Adeline 161 Willis, Uncle 168 [TR: Willis Bennefield in combined interview.] Winfield, Cornelia 176 Womble, George 179 [TR: Also called Wombly in the interview.] Wright, Henry 194
Young, Dink Walton 205
[Excerpts from Slave Interviews] Adeline 212 Eugene 213 Mary 215 Rachel 216 Laura 216 Matilda 217 Easter 218 Carrie 219 Malinda 219 Amelia 220
[Four Slaves Interviewed by Maude Barragan, Edith Bell Love, Ruby Lorraine Radford] Ellen Campbell 221 Rachel Sullivan 226 Eugene Wesley Smith 230 Willis Bennefield 235 [TR: Uncle Willis in individual interview.]
[Folklore] Emmaline Heard 245 Rosa and Jasper Millegan 251 Camilla Jackson 254 Anna Grant 255 Emmaline Heard 256
COMPILATIONS [Richmond County]
Folklore 261 Conjuration 269 Folk Remedies and Superstitions 282 Mistreatment of Slaves 290 Slavery 308 Work, Play, Food, Clothing, Marriage, etc. 355
[TR: The interview headers presented here contain all information included in the original, but may have been rearranged for readability. Also, some ages and addresses have been drawn from blocks of information on subsequent interview pages. Names in brackets were drawn from text of interviews.]
[TR: Some interviews were date-stamped; these dates have been added to interview headers in brackets. Where part of date could not be determined — has been substituted. These dates do not appear to represent actual interview dates, rather dates completed interviews were received or perhaps transcription dates.]
[TR: In general, typographical errors have been left in place to match the original images. In the case where later editors have hand-written corrections, simple typographical errors have been silently corrected.]
PLANTATION LIFE AS VIEWED BY AN EX-SLAVE
GEORGIA TELFAIR, Age 74 Box 131, R.F.D. #2 Athens, Ga.
Written by: Miss Grace McCune Athens, Ga.
Edited by: Mrs. Sarah H. Hall Athens, Ga.
and Mrs. Leila Harris Augusta, Ga. [Date Stamp: APR 29 1938]
"Yes chile, I'll be glad to tell you de story of my life, I can't tell you much 'bout slav'ry 'cause I wuz jus' six months old when freedom come, but I has heared quite a lot, and I will tell you all I kin 'member 'bout everythin." Said old "Aunt" Georgia Telfair, who lives with her son to whom her devotion is quite evident. Both "Aunt" Georgia and the little home show the excellent care that is given them.
"My pa," she said, "wuz Pleasant Jones, an' he b'longed to Marse Young L.G. Harris. Dey lived at de Harris place out on Dearing Street. Hit wuz all woods out dar den, an' not a bit lak Dearing Street looks now.
"Rachel wuz my ma's name. Us don' know what her las' name wuz 'cause she wuz sold off when she wuz too little to 'member. Dr. Riddin' (Redding) bought her an' his fambly always jus' called her Rachel Riddin'. De Riddin' place wuz whar Hancock Avenue is now, but it wuz all in woods 'roun' dar, jus' lak de place whar my pa wuz. Atter dey wuz married ma had to stay on wid de Riddin' fambly an' her chilluns b'longed to de Riddin's 'cause dey owned her. Miss Maxey Riddin' wuz my brudder's young Missus, an' I wuz give to her sister, Miss Lula Riddin', for to be her own maid, but us didn't git to wuk for 'em none 'cause it wuz jus' at dis time all de slaves got sot free. Atter dat my pa tuk us all wid him an' went to farm on de old Widderspoon (Witherspoon) place.
"It wuz 'way off in de woods. Pa cut down trees an' built us a log cabin. He made de chimbly out of sticks an' red mud, an' put iron bars crost de fireplace to hang pots on for to bile our vittuls an' made ovens for de bakin'. De bes' way to cook 'tatoes wuz to roas' 'em in de ashes wid de jackets on. Dey ain' nothin' better tastin' dan ash-roasted 'tatoes wid good home-made butter to eat wid 'em. An 'us had de butter, 'cause us kep' two good cows. Ma had her chickens an' tukkeys an' us raised plenty of hogs, so we nebber wuz widout meat. Our reg'lar Sunday breakfas' wuz fish what pa cotch out of de crick. I used to git tired out of fish den, but a mess of fresh crick fish would sho' be jus' right now.
"Us always kep' a good gyardan full of beans, corn, onions, peas an' 'taters, an' dey warn't nobody could beat us at raisin' lots of greens, 'specially turnips an' colla'd greens. Us saved heaps of dry peas an' beans, an' dried lots of peaches an' apples to cook in winter. When de wind wuz a howlin an' de groun' all kivvered wid snow, ma would make dried fruit puffs for us, dat sho' did hit de spot.
"When I wuz 'bout eight years old, dey sont me to school. I had to walk from Epps Bridge Road to Knox School. Dey calls it Knox Institute now. I toted my blue back speller in one han' and my dinner bucket in de other. Us wore homespun dresses wid bonnets to match. De bonnets wuz all made in one piece an' had drawstrings on de back to make 'em fit, an' slats in de brims to make 'em stiff an' straight. Our dresses wuz made long to keep our legs warm. I don't see, for to save me, how dey keeps dese young-uns from freezin' now since dey let 'em go 'roun' mos' naked.
"Our brush arbor church wuz nigh whar Brooklyn Mount Pleasant Church is now, an' us went to Sunday School dar evvy Sunday. It warn't much of a church for looks, 'cause it wuz made out of poles stuck in de groun' an' de roof wuz jus' pine limbs an' brush, but dere sho' wuz some good meetin's in dat old brush church, an' lots of souls foun' de way to de heb'enly home right dar.
"Our reg'lar preacher wuz a colored man named Morrison, but Mr. Cobb preached to us lots of times. He wuz a white gemman, an' he say he could a sot all night an' lissen long as us sung dem old songs. Some of 'em I done clar forgot, but de one I lak bes' goes sorter lak dis:
'I want to be an angel An' wid de angels stan' A crown upon my forehead And a harp widin my han'.'
"Another tune wuz 'Roll, Jordan Roll.' Little chillun wuz larnt to sing, 'How Sweetly do de Time Fly, When I Please my Mother,' an' us chillun sho' would do our best a singin' dat little old song, so Preacher Cobb would praise us.
"When I jined de church dere wuz 35 of us baptized de same day in de crick back of de church. While Preacher Brown wuz a baptizin' us, a big crowd wuz standin' on de bank a shoutin' an' singin', 'Dis is de healin' Water,' an', 'Makin' for de Promise Lan! Some of 'em wuz a prayin' too. Atter de baptizin' wuz done dey had a big dinner on de groun's for de new members, but us didn't see no jugs dat day. Jus' had plenty of good somethin' t'eat.
"When us warn't in school, me an' my brudder wukked in de fiel' wid pa. In cotton plantin' time, pa fixed up de rows an' us drap de seeds in 'em. Nex' day us would rake dirt over 'em wid wooden rakes. Pa made de rakes hisse'f. Dey had short wooden teef jus' right for to kivver de seed. Folkses buys what dey uses now an' don't take up no time makin' nothin' lak dat.
"In dem days 'roun' de house an' in de fiel' boys jus' wo' one piece of clo'es. It wuz jus' a long shirt. Dey didn't know nothin' else den, but I sho' would lak to see you try to make boys go 'roun' lookin' lak dat now.
"Dey hired me out to Mr. Jack Weir's fambly when I wuz 'bout fo'teen years old to do washin', ironin', an' cleanin' up de house, an' I wukked for 'em 'til I married. Dey lemme eat all I wanted dere at de house an' paid me in old clo'es, middlin' meat, sirup, 'tatoes, an' wheat flour, but I never did git no money for pay. Not nary a cent.
"Us wukked mighty hard, but us had good times too. De bigges' fun us had wuz at candy pullin's. Ma cooked de candy in de wash pot out in de yard. Fust she poured in some home-made sirup, an' put in a heap of brown sugar from de old sirup barrel an' den she biled it down to whar if you drapped a little of it in cold water it got hard quick. It wuz ready den to be poured out in greasy plates an' pans. Us greased our han's wid lard to keep de candy from stickin' to 'em, an' soon as it got cool enough de couples would start pullin' candy an' singin'. Dat's mighty happy music, when you is singin' an' pullin' candy wid yo' bes' feller. When de candy got too stiff an' hard to pull no mo', us started eatin', an' it sho' would evermo' git away from dar in a hurry. You ain't nebber seed no dancin', what is dancin', lessen you has watched a crowd dance atter dey et de candy what dey done been pullin'.
"Quiltin's wuz a heap of fun. Sometimes two or three famblies had a quiltin' together. Folkses would quilt some an' den dey passed 'roun' de toddy. Some would be cookin' while de others wuz a quiltin' an' den when supper wuz ready dey all stopped to eat. Dem colla'd greens wid cornpone an' plenty or gingercakes an' fruit puffs an' big ole pots of coffee wuz mighty fine eatin's to us den.
"An' dere warn't nothin' lackin' when us had cornshuckin's. A gen'ral of de cornshuckin' wuz appointed to lead off in de fun. He sot up on top of de big pile of corn an' hysted de song. He would git 'em started off singin' somethin' lak, 'Sallie is a Good Gal,' an' evvybody kept time shuckin' an' a singin'. De gen'ral kept singin' faster an' faster, an' shucks wuz jus' flyin'. When pa started passin' de jug 'roun' dem Niggers sho' nuff begun to sing loud an' fas' an' you wuz 'bliged for to 'low Sallie mus' be a Good Gal, de way de shucks wuz comin' off of dat corn so fas'. Dey kep' it up 'til de corn wuz all shucked, an' ma hollered, 'Supper ready!' Den dey made tracks for de kitchen, an' dey didn't stop eatin' an' drinkin' dat hot coffee long as dey could swallow. Ain't nobody fed 'em no better backbones, an' spareribs, turnip greens, 'tato pies, an' sich lak dan my ma set out for 'em. Old time ways lak dat is done gone for good now. Folkses ain't lak dey used to be. Dey's all done got greedy an' don't keer 'bout doin' nothin' for nobody else no more.
"Ma combed our hair wid a Jim Crow comb, or cyard, as some folkses called 'em. If our hair wuz bad nappy she put some cotton in de comb to keep it from pullin' so bad, 'cause it wuz awful hard to comb.
"Evvybody tried to raise plenty of gourds, 'cause dey wuz so handy to use for dippers den. Water wuz toted from de spring an' kept in piggins. Don't spec' you ebber did see a piggin. Dats a wooden bucket wid wire hoops 'roun' it to keep it from leakin'. De wash place wuz nex' to de spring. Pa fixed us up a big old stump whar us had to battle de clo'es wid a battlin' stick. It tuk a sight of battlin' to git de dirt out sometimes.
"If you turned a chunk over in de fire, bad luck wuz sho' to come to you. If a dog howled a certain way at night, or if a scritch owl come in de night, death wuz on de way to you, an' you always had to be keerful so maybe bad spirits would leave you alone.
"Pa built us a new kitchen, jus' lak what de white folkses had dem days. It sot out in de back yard, a little piece of a way from our house. He made it out of logs an' put a big old chimbly wid a big fireplace at one end. Benches wuz built 'roun' de sides for seats. Dere warn't no floor in it, but jus' dirt floor. Dat wuz one gran' kitchen an' us wuz mighty proud of it. [HW: p.4]
"My w'ite folkses begged me not to leave 'em, when I told 'em I wuz gwine to marry Joe Telfair. I'd done been wukkin' for 'em nigh on to six years, an' wuz mos' twenty years old. Dey gimme my weddin' clo'es, an' when I seed dem clo'es I wuz one proud Nigger, 'cause dey wuz jus' lak I wanted. De nightgown wuz made out of white bleachin' an' had lots of tucks an' ruffles an' it even had puff sleeves. Sho' 'nough it did! De petticoat had ruffles an' puffs plum up to de wais' ban'. Dere wuz a cosset kiver dat wuz cut to fit an' all fancy wid tucks an' trimmin', an' de drawers, dey sho' wuz pretty, jus' full of ruffles an' tucks 'roun' de legs. My dress wuz a cream buntin', lak what dey calls serge dese days. It had a pretty lace front what my ma bought from one of de Moss ladies. When I got all dressed up I wuz one mo' gran' lookin' bride.
"Us got married in de new kitchen an' it wuz plum full, 'cause ma had done axed 76 folkses to de weddin'. Some of 'em wuz Joe's folkses, an' us had eight waiters: four gals, an' four boys. De same Preacher Brown what baptized me, married us an' den us had a big supper. My Missus, Lula Weir, had done baked a great big pretty cake for me an' it tasted jus' as good as it looked. Atter us et all us could, one of de waiters called de sets for us to dance de res' of de night. An' sich dancin' as us did have! Folkses don't know how to dance dat good no mo'. Dat wuz sho' nuff happy dancin'. Yes Ma'am, I ain't nebber gonna forgit what a gran' weddin' us had.
"Next day us moved right here an' I done been here ever since. Dis place b'longed to Joe's gran'ma, an' she willed it to him. Us had 15 chillun, but ain't but five of 'em livin' now, an' Joe he's been daid for years. Us always made a good livin' on de farm, an' still raises mos' of what us needs, but I done got so po'ly I can't wuk no more.
"I'se still tryin' to live right an' walk de narrow way, so as I kin go to Heb'en when I dies. I'se gwine to pray for you an' ax de Lawd to bless you, for you has been so good an' patient wid me, an' I'se sho' thankful my son sont you to see me. You done helped me to feel lots better. Good-bye, an' God bless you, an' please Ma'am, come back to see me again."
CORDELIA THOMAS, Age 80 130 Berry Street Athens, Ga.
Written by: Grace McCune [HW: (white)] Athens
Edited by: Sarah H. Hall Athens
Leila Harris Augusta
and John N. Booth District Supervisor Federal Writers' Project Residencies 6 & 7
A long, hot walk over rough, hilly roads brought the visitor to Cordelia's place just after the noon hour of a sweltering July day, and the shade of the tall water oaks near the little cabin was a most welcome sight. The house stood only a few feet from a spur of railroad track but the small yard was enclosed by a luxurious green hedge. Roses predominated among the many varieties of flowers in evidence on the otherwise drab premises.
A dilapidated porch across the front of the residence had no roof and the floorboards were so badly rotted that it did not seem quite safe to walk from the steps to the front door where Cordelia stood waiting. "Come right in, Missy," she invited, "but be keerful not to fall through dat old porch floor." The tall, thin Negress was clad in a faded but scrupulously clean blue dress, a white apron, and a snowy headcloth crowned by a shabby black hat. Black brogans completed her costume. Cordelia led the way to the rear of a narrow hall. "Us will be cooler back here," she explained. Sunlight poured through gaping holes in the roof, and the coarse brown wrapping paper pasted on the walls was splattered and streaked by rain. The open door of Cordelia's bedroom revealed a wooden bed, a marble-topped bureau, and a washstand of the Victorian period. A rocker, two straight chairs, a small table, and a trunk completed the furnishings of the room and left but little space for its occupant to move about.
"I'se jus' a mite tired," Cordelia stated, "'cause I jus' got back from de courthouse whar dem welfare 'omans done gimme a sack o' flour and some other bundles what I ain't opened up yit, but I knows dey's got somepin in 'em to holp me, 'cause dem folks is sho' been mighty good to me since my rheumatiz is been so bad I couldn't wuk enough to make a livin'. De doctor, he say I got de blood presser. I don't rightly know jus' what dat is, but it looks lak somepin's a-pressin' right down in my haid 'til I feels right foolish, so I reckon he's right 'bout it a-bein de blood presser. When I gits down on my knees it takes a long time for me to git straight up on my feet again. De Lord, He's done been wid me all dese years, and old Cordelia's goin' to keep right on kneelin' 'fore Him and praisin' Him often 'til He 'cides de time has come for her to go home to Heben.
"I was borned on Marse Andrew Jackson's plantation down in 'Conee (Oconee) County, twixt here and High Shoals. Marse Andy, he owned my Mammy, and she was named Em'ly Jackson. Bob Lowe was my Daddy, and he b'longed to Marse Ike Lowe. The Lowe plantation was nigh whar Marse Andy's was, down der in 'Conee County. 'Cause neither one of deir marsters wouldn't sell one of 'em to de other marster, Mammy had to stay on de Jackson plantation and Daddy was kept right on wukin' on de Lowe place atter dey had done got married. Marse Bob, he give Daddy a ticket what let him go to see Mammy evvy Wednesday and Sadday night, and dem patterollers couldn't bother him long as he kept dat ticket. When dey did find a slave off his marster's plantation widout no ticket, it was jus' too bad, for dat meant a beatin' what most kilt him. Mammy said dey didn't never git my Daddy, 'cause he allus had his ticket to show.
"I don't ricollect much 'bout days 'fore de big war ended 'cause I was so little den, but many's de time I heared Mammy and Daddy and de other old folks tell 'bout dem times. Us chillun had de bestes' time of anybody dem days, 'cause dey didn't 'low us to do nothin' but jus' eat all us could and play de rest of de time. I don't know how it was on other places, but dat was de way us was raised on our old marster's plantation.
"De cracks of de log cabins whar de slaves lived was chinked wid red mud to keep out de cold and rain. Dere warn't no glass in de windows, dey jus' had plank shutters what dey fastened shut at night. Thin slide blocks kivvered de peepholes in de rough plank doors. Dey had to have dem peepholes so as dey could see who was at de door 'fore dey opened up. Dem old stack chimblies what was made out of sticks and red clay, was all time gittin' on fire. Dem old home-made beds had high posties and us called 'em 'teesters.' To take de place of springs, what hadn't never been seen 'round dar in dem days, dey wove heavy cords lengthways and crostways. Over dem cords dey laid a flat mat wove out of white oak splints and on dat dey put de homespun bed ticks stuffed wid wheat straw. Dey could have right good pillows if dey was a mind to pick de scrap cotton and fix it up, but dere warn't many of 'em keered dat much 'bout no pillows.
"Slaves didn't do no cookin' on our place 'cause Marster fed evvybody up at de big house. Missy, I ain't never gwine to forgit dat big old fireplace up dar. Dey piled whole sticks of cord wood on it at one time, wid little sticks crossways under 'em and, let me tell you, dat was a fire what would cook anything and evvything. De pots hung on swingin' racks, and dere was big ovens, little ovens, long-handled fryin' pans, and heavy iron skillets wid tight, thick lids. It sho' was a sight de way us chillun used to make 'way wid dem ash-roasted 'taters and dat good, fresh butter. Us chillun had to eat supper early 'cause all chillun had to be in bed 'fore dark. It warn't lak dese days. Why Missy, chilluns now stays up 'most all night runnin' 'round dese parts.
"Marster was sho' good 'bout seein' dat his Niggers had plenty to eat and wear. For supper us et our bread and milk wid wooden spoons out of wooden bowls, but for dinner dey give us veg'ables, corn pone, and 'taters. Marster raised all de sorts of veg'ables what dey knowed anything 'bout in dem days, and he had big old fields of wheat, rye, oats, and corn, 'cause he 'lowed dat stock had to eat same as folkses. Dere was lots of chickens, turkeys, cows, hogs, sheep, and some goats on dat plantation so as dere would allus be plenty of meat for evvybody.
"Our Marster evermore did raise de cotton—lots of it to sell, and plenty for clothes for all de folkses, white and black, what lived on his place. All de cloth was home-made 'cept de calico for de best Sunday dresses. Chillun had to spin de thread and deir mammies wove de cloth. 'Fore de end of de war, whilst I was still so little I had to stand on a box to reach de spinnin' wheel good, I could spin six reels a day.
"Chillun was happy when hog-killin' time come. Us warn't 'lowed to help none, 'cept to fetch in de wood to keep de pot bilin' whar de lard was cookin'. Our Mist'ess allus had de lard rendered in de bigges' washpot, what dey sot on rocks in de fireplace. Us didn't mind gittin' de wood for dat, 'cause when dem cracklin's got done, dey let us have all us could eat and, jus' let me tell you, Missy, you ain't never had nothin' good 'less you has et a warm skin cracklin' wid a little salt. One time when dey was renderin' lard, all us chillun was crowdin' 'round close as us could git to see which one could git a cracklin' fust. Mist'ess told us to stand back 'fore somebody got burnt; den Mammy said she was gwine to take de hides off our backs 'bout gittin' so close to dat fire, and 'bout dat time somebody 'hind me gimme a quick push; and in de fire I went. Marster grabbed me 'most time I hit dem red coals, but one hand and arm was burnt so bad I had to wear it in a sling for a long time. Den Marster laid down de law and told us what he would do if he cotch us chillun hangin' 'round de fire whar dey was cookin' lard again.
"Folkses said our Marster must have a powerful sweet tooth on account of he kept so many bee hives. When bees swarmed folkses rung bells and beat on tin pans to git 'em settled. Veils was tied over deir haids to keep de bees from gittin' to deir faces when dey went to rob de hives. Chillun warn't never 'lowed to be nowhar nigh durin' dat job. One day I sneaked out and got up close to see how dey done it, and dem bees got all over me. Dey stung me so bad I couldn't see for days and days. Marster, he jus' fussed and said dat gal, Cordelia, she was allus whar she didn't b'long. Missy, I ain't never wanted to fool wid no more bees, and I don't even lak honey no more.
"Slaves all went to church wid deir white folkses 'cause dere warn't no Nigger churches dem days. All de preachin' was done by white preachers. Churches warn't nigh and convenient dem days lak dey is now and dey was such a fur piece from de plantations dat most of de folkses stayed all day, and dem meetin' days was big days den. De cooks was told to fix de bestes' dinners dey could git up, and chillun was made to know dey had better mind what dey was 'bout when dey was in de meetin' house or it was gwine to be made mighty hot for 'em when dey got back home. Dat was one thing our Marster didn't 'low no foolin' 'bout. His Niggers had to be-have deyselfs at de meetin' house. 'Long 'bout August when craps was laid by, dey had brush arbor meetin's. White folks brought deir slaves and all of 'em listened to a white preacher from Watkinsville named Mr. Calvin Johnson. Dere was lots of prayin' and shoutin' at dem old brush arbor 'vival meetin's.
"Dey had campmeetin's too. De old Freeman place was whar dey had some of dem fust campmeetin's, and Hillsboro, Mars Hill, and Bethabara was some of de other places whar Marster tuk us to campmeetin's. Missy, you jus' don't know nothin' 'bout 'citement if you ain't never been to one of dem old-time campmeetin's. When folkses would git 'ligion dey would holler and shout a-testifyin' for de Lord. Atter de meetin' dey dammed up de crick and let it git deep enough for de baptizin'. Dey dipped de white folkses fust, and den de Niggers. You could hear 'em singin' a mile away dem old songs lak: On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand,—Roll, Jordan Roll,—All God's Chilluns is a-goin' Home, and—Whar de Livin' Waters Flow. I jus' can't 'member half of dem good old songs 'cause my mem'ry ain't good as it used to be." Here Cordelia paused. She seemed oblivious to all around her for several minutes, and then she suddenly smiled. "Lordy, Missy," she began, "if I could jus' call back dem days wid our good old Marster to look atter us and see dat us had what us needed to eat and wear and a good comf'table cabin to live in, wouldn't dis be a happy old 'oman? Lots of de other old folks would lak it too, 'cause our white folkses day sho' did take good keer of deir slaves.
"Did you ever hear of dem logrollin's? On our place dey spent 'bout two whole days cookin' and gittin' ready. Marster axed evvybody from fur and nigh, and dey allus come 'cause dey knowed he was gwine to give 'em a good old time. De way dey rolled dem logs was a sight, and de more good corn liquor Marster passed 'round, de faster dem logs rolled. Come night-time, Marster had a big bonfire built up and sot lots of pitchpine torches 'round so as dere would be plenty of light for 'em to see how to eat dat fine supper what had done been sot out for 'em. Atter supper, dey danced nigh all de rest of de night. Mammy used to tell us 'bout de frolics next day, 'cause us chillun was made to go to bed at sundown. Come day, go day, no matter what might happen, growin' chillun had to be in bed at deir reg'lar time, but Mammy never forgot to tell us all 'bout de good times next day.
"Mammy said dem cornshuckin's meant jus' as much fun and jollification as wuk. Dey gathered Marster's big corn crap and 'ranged it in long, high piles, and sometimes it tuk sev'ral days for dem cornshuckers to git it all shucked, but evvybody stayed right dar on de job 'til it was finished. At night, dey wukked by de light of big fires and torches, den dey had de big supper and started dancin'. Dey stopped so often to swig dat corn liquor Marster pervided for 'em dat 'fore midnight folkses started fallin' out and drappin' down in de middle of de dance ring. De others would git 'em by de heels and drag 'em off to one side 'til dey come to and was ready to drink more liquor and dance again. Dat was de way dey went on de rest of de night.
"Corpses! Buryin's! Graveyards! Why, Miss, dere warn't nigh so many folkses a-dyin' all de time dem days as dere is now. Folkses lived right and was tuk better keer of and dere warn't so much reason for 'em to die out den. When somebody did die, folkses come from miles and miles around to de buryin'. Dey give de slaves de same sort of funerals de white folkses had. De corpses was washed good all over wid hot water and home-made soap, den dey was dressed and laid out on de coolin' boards 'til de cyarpenter man had time to make up de coffins. Lordy, Missy, ain't you never seed no coolin' board? I 'spects dey is all gone now though. Dey looked a good deal lak ironin' boards, only dey had laigs to stand on. Lots of times dey didn't dress de corpses, but jus' wropped 'em in windin' sheets. Dem home-made, pine coffins didn't look so bad atter dey got 'em painted up and lined nice. Dey driv de wagon what had de corpse on it right slow to de graveyard. De preacher talked a little and prayed; den atter de mourners had done sung somepin on de order of Harps [HW: Hark?] From De Tomb, dey shovelled in de dirt over de coffin whilst de preacher said comfortin' words to de fambly of de daid. Evvy plantation had its own graveyard wid a fence around it, and dere was a place in it for de slaves 'nigh whar deir white folks was buried.
"Honey, didn't you never hear tell of Dr. Frank Jackson? He was sho' a grand doctor. Dr. Jackson made up his own medicines and toted 'em 'round wid him all de time. He was close kin to our Marse Andy Jackson's fambly. All dem Jacksons down in 'Conee was good white folks.
"Us stayed on wid Old Marster for a little while atter de war was over, and den right away Mammy died and Daddy hired me out to Mrs. Sidney Rives (Reaves?). I 'spects one reason she was so mighty good to me was 'cause I was so little den. I was nigh grown when I left her to wuk for Dr. Palmer's fambly. All his chillun was little den and I was deir nuss. One of de best of his chillun was little Miss Eunice. She is done growed to be a school teacher and dey tells me she is still a-teachin'. It warn't long atter my Daddy died dat I left de Palmers and started wukkin' for Mr. Dock Dorsey's fambly. If dere ever was a good Christian 'oman in dis here old world it was Miss Sallie Dorsey, Mr. Dock Dorsey's wife. She had been Miss Sallie Chappell 'fore she married Mr. Dorsey. Miss Sallie tried to git evvybody what stayed 'round her to live right too, and she wanted all her help to go to church reg'lar. If Miss Sallie and Marse Dock Dorsey was livin' now, dey would pervide for Old 'Delia jus' lak dey used to do. All deir chillun was nice. Miss Fannie and Miss Sue, dey was extra good gals, but somehow I jus' can't call back de names of dem other ones now. Dey all had to be good wid de sort of mammy and daddy dey had. Miss Sallie, she was sick a long time 'fore she died, and dey let me wait on her. Missy, I tell you de gospel truth, I sho' did love dat 'oman. Not long 'fore she passed on to Heben, she told her husband dat atter she was gone, she wanted him to marry up wid her cousin, Miss Hargrove, so as he would have somebody to help him raise up her chillun, and he done 'zactly what she axed him to. All of my own white folkses has done died out, and Old 'Delia won't be here much longer. One of de Thorntons here—I forgits which one—married up wid my young Mist'ess, Rebecca Jackson. Her gal got married up wid Dr. Jago, a horse-doctor. A insurance man named Mr. Speer married into de Jackson fambly too. He moved his fambly from here to de mountains on account of his son's health, and I jus' los' track of 'em den.
"Lordy, Chile! What you want to know 'bout my weddin' for, nowhow? Dere ain't never gwine to be no more weddin's lak dey had back dere in dem times 'cause folkses thinks dey got to have too much nowadays. When folkses got married den dey was a-thinkin' 'bout makin' sho' 'nough homes for deyselfs, and gittin' married meant somepin sort of holy. Mammy said dat most times when slaves got married dey jus' jumped backwards over a broomstick whilst deir Marster watched and den he pernounced dat dey was man and wife. Now dey is got to go to de courthouse and pay out good money for a license and den go git a preacher or somebody lak a jestice jedge to say de marriage words over 'em.
"Me and Solomon Thomas had to go buy us a license too, but us didn't mind 'bout 'puttin out 'dat money cause us was so much in love. I wore a pretty white dress and a breakfast shawl, and atter us had done went to de preacher man's house and got married, us come right on here to dis very house what had b'longed to Solomon's daddy 'fore it was Solomon's. Us built two more rooms on de house, but all de time Solomon lived us tried to keep de place lookin' a good deal lak it was de day us got married.
"Atter Solomon died, I sold off most of de land to de railroad for de right of way for dat dere track what you sees out dere, and it sho' has made plenty of wuk for me to keep dat soot what dem engines is all time a-spittin' out cleaned off my things in de house. It draps down through dem big holes overhead, and I can't git hold of no money to have de roof patched up.
"Me and Solomon, us had 11 chillun, but dey is all daid out but three. One of my boys is in Baltimore and another boy lives in Louisiana somewhar. My gal, Delia, she stays over in de Newtown part of Athens here. She would love to help her old Mammy, but my Delia's got chillun of her own and she can't git nothin' to do 'cept a little washin' for de white folkses, and she ain't able to pervide what her own household needs to eat. Dem boys of mine is done got so fur off dey's done forgot all 'bout deir old Mammy.
"When us fust got married, Solomon wukked at Mr. Orr's cotton house, and he stayed dere a long time 'fore he went to wuk for Mr. Moss and Mr. Levy. All dem white folks was good to me and Solomon. I kept on wukkin' for de Dorseys 'til us had so many chillun I had to stay home and look atter 'em. Solomon got sick and he lay dere sufferin' a long, long time, but Mr. Moss and Mr. Levy seed dat he didn't want for nothin'. Even atter Solomon died dem good white mens kept on comin' out now and den to see if me and Solomon's chillun had what us needed.
"Solomon, my Solomon, he went out of dis here world, in dat dere room whar you sees dat old bed, and dat is perzactly whar I wants to be when de Blessed Lord lays his hands on me and tells me to come on Home to Glory. I wants to be toted out of dat room, through dis hall and on out to de graveyard jus' lak my man was. I knows dat evvything would be done nice jus' lak I wants it if Mr. Moss and Mr. Levy was a-livin' 'cause dey was both Masons, and members of de Masons is all done swore a oath to look atter deir own folkses. Dey said Solomon and his fambly was lak deir own folkses, Mr. Moss and Mr. Levy did. Most of de folkses, both white and black, dat I has knowed and loved has done gone on over de Jordan, out of dis world of trouble, and it will be happy days for all of us when us meets again in de place 'of many mansions' whar dere won't be nothin' for none of us to pester ourselfs 'bout no more.
"All of my life, I'se had a great desire to travel, jus' to go evvywhar, but atter all dese years of busy livin' I 'spects all de trav'lin' I'll ever do will be on de road to Glory. Dat will be good enough for me 'cause I got so many more of 'em I loves over dar dan is left here."
As the visitor passed out of earshot of Cordelia's cabin the last words she heard from the old Negress were: "Good-bye again, Missy. Talkin' to you has been a heap of consolation to me."
[HW: Dist-2 Ex Slave #105] Alberta Minor Re-search Worker
FOLKLORE EX-SLAVE—IKE THOMAS Heidt Bridges Farm near Rio Georgia Interviewed
September 4, 1936 [Date Stamp: MAY 8 1937]
[TR: This interview contained many handwritten edits; where text was transposed or meaning was significantly changed, it has been noted.]
Ike Thomas was born near Monticello in Jasper County on the Thomas plantation. His mother and father were sold when he was a little boy, and "Missus" Thomas, in picking her house boy, took Ike to raise for a carriage boy. She picked her little niggers by the way they wore their hats. If they set them on the back of their heads, they grew up to be "high-minded", but if they pulled them over their eyes, they'd grow up to be "sneaky and steal".
Mrs. Thomas let him sleep on a trundle bed pulled out at night and put under her bed in the day and fed him under the table. She'd put a piece of meat in a biscuit and hand it down to him and warned him if they had company not to holler when he was thru so he'd touch her on the knee but his mouth was so big and he'd eat so fast that he "jes kep' on teching her on the knee."
During the war, when they got word the Yankees were coming, Mrs. Thomas would hide her "little niggers" sometimes in the wardrobe back of her clothes, sometimes between the mattresses, or sometimes in the cane brakes. After the Yankees left, she'd ring a bell and they would know they could come out of hiding. (When they first heard the slaves were free, they didn't believe it so they just stayed on with their "white folks".) [HW: Transpose to page 3.]
If the negroes were mean or ran away, they would be chased by hounds and brought back for punishment.
When still a young man, Ike ran away with a negro couple coming in a buggy to Blanton Mill near Griffin and worked for Mr. William Blanton until he died. After he had been here a while, he got married. His wife's people had the wedding supper and party. He was a fiddler so had to fiddle most all night then the next day his "white folks" gave him the food for the wedding dinner that he had at his own house.
Ike says every seven [HW: 7] years the locusts come and its sure to be a short crop that "God sends all sorts of cusses" (curses) sometimes its the worms that eat the cotton or the corn or the bugs that eat the wheat. He doesn't believe in "hants" or "conjurin'". It seems Sid Scott was a "mean nigger", [HW: and] everyone was afraid of [HW: him]. He was cut in two by the saw mill and after his funeral whenever anyone pass his house at night that could hear his "hant" going "rat-a-tat-tat-bang, bang, bang" like feet running.
One night when Ike was coming home from "fiddlin'" at a white folks party, he had to pass Scott's house. Now they kept the cotton seed in half of the house and the other half was empty. When Ike got close, he made a racket and sure enough the noise started. "The moon was about an hour up" and he saw these funny white things run out from under the house and scatter. It scared him at first but he looked and looked and saw they were sheep that [HW: having] found a hole into the cotton seed would go in at night to eat.
Before the war the negroes had a big celebration on the 4th of July, a big barbecue, ball game, wrestling matches, lots of music and singing. They had to have a pass from their Masters to attend and pay to get in. The "patta-roll" came by to see your pass and if you didn't have one, they'd whip you and send you home. [HW: When the Negroes first heard that they were free, they didn't believe it so they just stayed on with their white folks.]
After he came to Blanton's, the Negroes could come and go as they pleased for they were free. Ike has been a member of several "Societies" but something has always happened to the President and Secretary or they ran off with the money so now he just has a sick and accident policy.
Ike will be 94 years old next month. His hair is white, his eyes blurred with age, but he's quite active tho' he does walk with a stick.
[HW: Dist 1 Ex-Slave #107]
JANE MICKENS TOOMBS OF WASHINGTON-WILKES Age approx. 82
by Minnie Branham Stonestreet Washington-Wilkes GEORGIA [Date Stamp: JAN 26 1937] [Date Stamp: MAY 8 1937]
A story of happiness and contentment on a big plantation where there were "a heap of us slaves" is told by Jane Mickens Toombs who said she was "five er six years ole when de Wah come on (1860), or maby a lit'le ol'er."
She is a bright old woman, well and spry despite the fact she "wuz conjured onst when I wuz young an' dat lef' me lame an' dis eye plum' out an' de t'other bad."
When asked about the conjuring she said: "No'm, I don't 'zackly know how t'wuz, but enyhow somebody whut knowed how ter 'wu'k roots' got me lame on dis side, an' my eye out, jess kase I wuz a decent, nice lookin' gal, an' went on 'tendin' ter my business an' payin' dem no mind. Dat's de way dey done in dem days, jess jealous of nice colored niggers. Yassum, I wuz sick fer nigh on ter two years an' de doctuhs never knowed what ailed me. Dey done everything dey could, but I wuz conjured an' dey couldn't hep' me. A doctuh-man frum up yander in New Yalk cum down here ter see his folks, an' he tried to kure [HW: cyore] me, but doctuhs kain't [HW: kaan't] kure [HW: cyore] conjured folks, so I had ter lay an' suffer 'til de conjure wore out. Dem whut done dat knowed dey done me wrong, but I kep' trustin' in my Lawd, an' now dey's gone an' I'se er stumblin' roun' yit. No mam, I never knowed jess whut dey done ter me, but hit wuz bad, I kin tell yer dat, hit might nigh kilt me."
Aunt Jane was born on the Gullatt Plantation on the line of Wilkes and Lincoln counties. Her Mother was Liza Gullatt and her father John Mickens who belonged to Mr. Augustus McMekin. "Yassum, my Pa wuz John 'Mickens an' his Marster bought him in Alabamy. All de slaves whut belonged to de McMekins called dey selves 'Mickens. I wuz one of fifteen chillun an' cum er long in betweenst de oldest 'uns an' de youngest sum'ers. I wuz named fer my Mistess Jane Gullatt whut died. Young Marse George Gullatt choosed me out, dough, an' I'd er been his'en ef Freedom hadn't er come. You know dat's de way dey use ter do back in slavery time, de young Mistesses an' Marsters choosed out de little niggers dey wanted fer their'n."
This is another case where the father and mother belonged to different families. The father had a pass to go and come as he pleased, although his family lived a little distance away. Jane said her father's master would have bought her mother if the War hadn't come on and they were set free.
Jane told of the log cabins in the Quarters where all the negroes lived. She said they were all in a row "wid er street in de front, er wide street all set thick wid white mulberry trees fer ter mak' shade fer de chillun ter play in." They never had any punishment only [HW: except] switchings by their Mistess, and that was not often. They played dolls, "us had home-made rag dolls, nice 'uns, an' we'd git dem long grass plumes (Pampas grass) an' mak' dolls out'n dem too. Us played all day long every day. My Mistess' chillun wuz all growed up so jess us little niggers played tergether.
"My Mother spun an' wove de cloth, an' dyed hit, but our Mistess made our clothes. My Grandma, Nancy, wuz de cook an' she fed all de little 'uns in de big ole kitchen whut sot out in de yard. She had a tray she put our victuals on an Uh, Uh, whut good things we had ter eat, an' er plenty of everything! Us et jess whut our white folks had, dey didn't mak' no difference in us when hit cum ter eatin'. My Grandaddy looked atter de meat, he done everything 'bout dat, an' he sho' knowed how ter fix it, too.
"De fust thing I recollects is bein' round in de kitchen when dey wuz makin' ginger cakes an' my Mistess givin' me de pan she made 'em in fer me ter sop hit out. Dey ain't nothin' whut smells good lak' de cookin' in dem days, I kain't smell no victuals lak' dat now. Everything wuz cooked on a big ole open fire place in one end of de kitchen. Dem good ole days done gone now. Folkes done got wiser an' wickeder—dey ain't lak' dey use ter be."
At Christmas Santa Claus found his way to the Quarters on the Gollatt plantation and each little slave had candy, apples, and "sich good things as dat." Aunt Jane gave a glowing description of the preparation for the Christmas season: "Lawdy, how de folks wu'ked gittin' ready fer Chris'mus, fer three er fo' days dey stayed in de kitchen er cookin' an' er bakin'—daye wuz de bes' light bread—great big loaves baked on de fire place, an' cakes an' mo' good ginger cakes. Dey wuz plenty cooked up to las' er long time. An' another thing, dare want no cookin' on Sunday, no mam, no wu'k of no kind. My Mistess had de cook cookin' all day Fridays an' Saddays so when Sunday come dare wuz hot coffee made an' dat wuz all, everything else wuz cooked up an' cold. Everybody went to Church, de grown folks white and black, went to de preachin' an' den all de little niggers wuz called in an de Bible read an' 'splained ter dem.
"Dare wuz preachin' down in de Quarters, but dat wuz at night an' wuz led by de colored preachers. I recollects one night dare wuz a service gwine on in one of de cabins an' all us wuz dare an' ole Uncle Alex Frazier wuz up a linin' off a hymn 'bout
'Broad is de road dat leads ter Death An' there an' here we travel.'
when in come some mens atter a colored feller whut had stole some sheep an' hogs. Dey kotch 'im, but sho broke up de meetin'. In de hot summer time Uncle George Gullatt use ter preach ter de slaves out under de trees. Uncle George waz a kind of er preacher.
"My Pa didn't 'low his chillun ter go 'roun'. No'm, he kep' us home keerful lak. Young folks in dem days didn't go all over de country lak dey does now, dey stayed at home, an' little chillun wuz kep' back an' dey didn' know no badness lak de chillun do terday. Us never even heared de ole folks talk nothin' whut we oughtn't ter hear. Us jess played an' stayed in a child's place. When we wuz sick de white folks seed dat we wuz 'tended to. Dey use ter mak Jerusalem Oak candy an' give us. Dey took de leaves of dat bush an' boiled 'em an' den use dat water dey wuz boiled in an' put sugar 'nough in hit ter mak candy. An dey used plenty of turpentine on us too—plenty ov hit, an' I believes in dat terday, hit's er good medicine."
When asked about the War, Aunt Jane said she didn't remember much about it. "But dare's one thing 'bout hit I sho' does 'member, an' dat's my young Mistess Beckie's husband, Mr. Frazier, being off fightin' in de Wah, an' she gittin' er letter frum him sayin' he wuz comin' home sich an' sich er day. She wuz so happy she had all de grown slaves wu'kin' gittin' ready fer him. Den dey brung her er letter sayin' he had been kilt, an' she wuz in de yard when she read hit an' if dey hadn't er kotch her she'd ov fell. I 'members de women takin' her in de house an' gittin' her ter bed. She wuz so up sot an' took hit so hard. Dem wuz sho' hard times an' sad 'uns too. 'Course I wuz too small ter know much whut wuz gwine on, but I could tell hit wuz bad frum de way de older folks looked.
"I recollects when dey say Freedom had cum. Dare wuz a speakin' fer de slaves up here in town in Barnett's Grove. Dat mornin' Ole Miss sont all de oldes' niggers to de speakin' an' kep' us little 'uns dat day. She kep' us busy sweepin' de yards an' sich as dat. An' she cooked our dinner an' give hit to us herself. I 'members de grown folks leavin' early dat mornin' in a great big waggin.
"A while after de Wah, Pa took us over to de McMekins place an' we lived dare fer a long time. He died an' lef' us an' den us had ter do de bes' we could. Col. Tolbert hired me fer ter nuss his chillun an' I went over ter his place ter live."
Aunt Jane said she isn't superstitious, but likes to see the new moon clear and bow to it for good luck. She said it is better to show it a piece of money, but as she doesn't always have money handy, she "jess bows to hit nice an' polite". She keeps up with the weather by her rheumatism and the cat: "Ef I has de reumatics I knows hit's gwine ter rain, an' when de cat comes 'round an' sets washin' her face, look fer rain, kase hit's er comin'. I've heared folks say dat hit's bad luck ter stump yo' lef' foot, but I don't know boud dat. But I tell yer, when I meets er cat I allus turns er round 'fore I goes on, dat turns de bad luck er way."
When 19 years of age Jane married Albert Toombs. He belonged to the Toombs family of Wilkes county. Aunt Jane said Albert brought her many gifts while he was courting: "He warnt much on bringin' candy an' nothin' lak dat ter eat, but he brung me shawls an' shoes—sumpin' I could wear." They had four children, but only one is living.
"When I wuz a growin' up", said Aunt Jane, "folks had ter wu'k." She worked on the farm, spun, wove, "done seamster wu'k" and knitted stockings, sox and gloves. She said she carded too, "an' in dem times ef a nigger wanted ter git de kinks out'n dey hair, dey combed hit wid de cards. Now dey puts all kinds ov grease on hit, an' buy straightenin' combs. Sumpin' dat costs money, dat's all dey is, old fashion cards'll straighten hair jess as well as all dis high smellin' stuff dey sells now."
Aunt Jane likes to tell of those days of long ago. Her memory is excellent and she talks well. She says she is living out her Miss Jane's time. "Yassum, my Miss Jane died when she wuz so young, I specks I jess livin' out her days kase I named fer her. But I does miss dem good ole days whut's gone. I'se hungry fer de sight ov a spinnin' wheel—does you know whare's one? Things don't look lak' dey use ter, an' as fer whut we has ter eat, dare ain't no victuals ever smelled an' et as good as dem what dey use ter have on de plantation when I wuz a comin' on. Yassum, folkes has got wiser an' know mo' dan dey did, but dey is wickeder—dey kills now 'stid er conjurin' lak' dey did me."
[HW: Dist. 7 Ex-slave #108] District 7 Adella S. Dixon
PHIL TOWNS OLD SLAVE STORY [Date Stamp: — 8 1937]
[TR: This interview contained many handwritten edits; where text was transposed, meaning was significantly changed, or the edit could not be clearly read, it has been noted.]
On June 25, 1824, a son was born to Washington and Clara Towns who resided in Richmond, Virginia. This was the fourth child in a family which finally numbered thirteen. Phil, as he was called, does not recall many incidents on this estate as the family moved when he was in his teens. His grandfather and grandmother were brought here from Africa and their description of the cruel treatment they received is his most vivid recollection. His grandmother, Hannah, lived to be 129 years of age.
Mr. George Towns, called "Governor" by all of his slaves as well as his intimate friends, moved to Georgia and settled at Reynolds in Taylor County. Here he purchased a huge tract of land—1350 acres—and built his new home upon this level area on the Flint River. The "big house," a large unpainted structure which housed a family of eighteen, was in the midst of a grove of trees near the highway that formed one of the divisions of the plantation. It was again divided by a local railway nearly a mile from the rear of the house. Eighty-eight slaves were housed in the "quarters" which were on each side of the highway a little below the planter's home.
These "quarters" differed from those found in the surrounding territory as the size of the houses varied with the number in the family. The interiors were nicely furnished and in most instances the families were able to secure any furniture they desired. Feather mattresses, trundle beds and cribs were common and in families where there were many children, large fireplaces—some as many as eight feet wide—were provided so that every one might be [TR: 'able to keep' crossed out] comfortable in winter. A variety of cooking utensils were given and large numbers of waffle irons, etc., then considered luxuries, were found here.
To consider only the general plan of operation, this plantation was no different from the average one in pre-civil war days but there was a phase of the life here which made it a most unusual home. "Governor" was so exceptionally kind to his slaves that they were known as "Gov. Towns' free negroes" to those on the neighboring farms. He never separated families, neither did he strike a slave except on rare occasions. Two things which might provoke his anger to this extent, were: to be told a lie, and to find that a person had allowed some one to take advantage of him. They were never given passes but obtained verbal consent to go where they wished and always remained as long as they chose.
Phil Towns' father worked in the field and his mother did light work in the house, such as assisting in spinning. Mothers of three or more children were not compelled to work, as the master felt that their children needed care. From early childhood boys and girls were given excellent training. A boy who robbed a bird's nest or a girl who frolicked in a boisterous manner was severely reprimanded. Separate bedrooms for the two sexes were maintained until they married. The girls passed thru two stages—childhood, and at sixteen they became "gals". Three years later they might marry if they chose but the husband had to be older—at least 21. Courtships differed from those of today because there were certain hours for visiting and even though the girl might accompany her sweetheart away from home she had to be back at that hour. They had no clocks but a "time mark" was set by the sun. A young man was not allowed to give his girl any form of gift, and the efforts of some girls to secretly receive gifts which they claimed to have "found", were in vain, for these were taken from them. After the proposal, the procedure was practically the same as is observed today. The consent of the parent and the master was necessary. Marriages were mostly held at night and no pains were spared to make them occasions to be remembered and cherished. Beautiful clothes—her own selections—were given the bride, and friends usually gave gifts for the house. These celebrations, attended by visitors from many plantations, and always by the Towns family, ended in gay "frolics" with cakes, wine, etc., for refreshments.
During the first year of married life the couple remained with the bride's mother who instructed her in the household arts. Disputes between the newlyweds were not tolerated and punishment by the parents was the result of "nagging". At the end of a year, another log cabin was added to the quarters and the couple began housekeeping. The moral code was exceedingly high; the penalty for offenders—married or single, white or colored—was to be banished from the group entirely. Thus illegitimate children were rare enough to be a novelty.
Young Phil was in his teens when he began his first job—coach driver for "Gov." Towns. This was just before they moved to Georgia. He traveled with him wherever he went, and as the Gov. purchased a plantation in Talbot County, (the house still stands), and a home in Macon, (the site of Mt. De Sales Academy), a great deal of his time was spent on the road. Phil never did any other work except to occasionally assist in sweeping the large yard. The other members of this group split rails, did field work, spinning, tailoring and any of the many things that had to be done. Each person might choose the type of work he liked best.
Opportunities to make cash money were plentiful. Some made baskets and did hand work which was sold and the money given the maker. A man or woman who paid Gov. Towns $150.00 might hire himself to the Gov. for a year. When this was done he was paid cash for all the work he did and many were able to clear several hundred dollars in a year. In addition to this opportunity for earning money, every adult had an acre of ground which he might cultivate as he chose. Any money made from the sale of this produce was his own.
Recreation was not considered important so no provision was made in the regular routine. It was, however, possible to obtain "time off" at frequent intervals and these might be termed irregular vacation periods. Evening entertainment at which square dancing was the main attraction, were common. Quill music, from a homemade harmonica, was played when banjoes were not available. These instruments were made by binding with cane five to ten reeds of graduated lengths. A hole was cut in the upper end of each and the music obtained by blowing up and down the scale. Guests came from all neighboring farms and engaged in the "Green Corn" dance which was similar to what is now called Buck dancing. Near the end of such a hilarious evening, the guests were served with persimmon beer and ginger cakes,—then considered delicacies.
"Gov." Towns was interested in assisting any one [HW: wanting to learn]. [TR: Original reads 'desirous of learning.'] The little girls who expressed the desire to become "ladies" were kept in the "big house" and very carefully trained. The tastes of these few were developed to the extent that they excelled the ordinary "quarter" children and were the envy of the group at social affairs.
Sunday was a day of Reverence and all adults were required to attend religious services. The trip was usually made in wagons, oxcarts, etc., although the young women of the big house rode handsome saddle horses. At each church there was placed a stepping block by which they descended from their steeds. White and colored worshipped at the same church, constructed with a partition separating the two parts of the congregation but not extending to the pulpit. Professions of faith were accepted at the same altar while Baptismal services ware held at a local creek and all candidates were baptized on the same day. Regular clothing was worn at this service. Children were not allowed to attend church, and christenings were not common. Small boys, reared entirely apart from strict religious observances, used to slip away and shoot marbles on Sunday.
The health problem was not acute as these people were provided with everything necessary for a contented mind and a robust body. [TR: original line: The health problem was not a very acute one as these people were provided with everything conducive to a contented mind which plays a large part in maintaining a robust body.] However, a Doctor who lived nearby cared for the sick. Two fees were set—the larger one being charged if the patient recovered. Home remedies were used for minor ills—catnip tea for thrash, tea from Samson Snakeroot for cramps, redwood and dogwood bark tea [HW: and horehound candy] for worms, [HW: many] root teas used [HW: medicinally] by this generation. Peach brandy was given to anyone suspected of having pneumonia,—if the patient coughed, it was certain that he was a victim of the disease.
In these days, a mother named her children by a name [TR: unreadable] during pregnancy. [TR: original line: In these days, it was always thought best for the mother to name her children if the proper name for the babe was theoretically revealed to her during pregnancy.] If another name was given the child, the correct one would be so firmly implanted in his subconscious mind that he would never be able to resist the impulse to turn his head when that name was called. The seventh child was always thought to be exceptionally lucky, and [TR: unreadable HW replaces 'the bond of affection between the parents and this child was greater']. This belief persists today in many localities.
Every family was given a weekly supply of food but this was more for convenience than anything else as they were free to eat anything their appetites called for. They killed chickens, ate vegetables, meats, etc. at any time. The presence of guests at the "quarters" roused Mrs. Towns to activity and she always helped to prepare the menu. One of her favorite items was chicken—prepared four different ways, in pie, in stew, fried, and baked. She gave full directions for the preparation of these delicacies to unskilled cooks. Pound cake was another favorite and she insisted that a pound of butter and a dozen eggs be used in each cake. When the meal was nearly ready, she usually made a trip to the cabin to see if it had been well prepared. The hostess could always tell without any comment whether she had satisfied her mistress, for if she had, a serving was carried back to the big house. Fishing was a form of remunerative recreation enjoyed by all. Everyone usually went on Saturday afternoon, but if only a few made the trip, the catch was shared by all.
Sewing was no easy job as there were few small women among the servants. The cloth made at home, was plentiful, however, and sufficient clothing was made for all. Some persons preferred making their own clothes and this privilege was granted; otherwise they were made in a common sewing room. Ten yards was the average amount of cloth in a dress, homespun and gingham, the usual materials. The men wore suits of osnaburg and jeans. This was dyed to more durable colors through the use of [HW: with] indigo [HW: (blue)] and a dye made from railroad bark (brown).
Phil believes that the screeching of an owl, the bellowing of a cow, and the howling of a dog after dark are signs of death because the [HW: immediate] death of a human being is revealed to animals, which [TR: illegible. 'in turn'?] warn humans. Though we may find some way to rid ourselves of the fear of the warning—the death will occur just the same.
On nearly all plantations there were some slaves who, trying to escape work, hid themselves in the woods. [TR: original line: On nearly all plantations there were some slaves who did not wish to work, consequently, for this, or similar reasons, hid themselves in the woods.] They smuggled food to their hiding place by night, and remained away [HW: lost] in some instances, many months. Their belief in witchcraft caused them to resort to most ridiculous means of avoiding discovery. Phil told the story of a man who visited a conjurer to obtain a "hand" for which he paid fifty dollars in gold. The symbol was a hickory stick which he used whenever he was being chased, and in this manner warded off his pursuers. The one difficulty in this procedure was having to "set up" at a fork or cross roads. Often the fugitive had to run quite a distance to reach such a spot, but when the stick was so placed human beings and even bloodhounds lost his trail. With this assistance, he was able to remain in the woods as long as he liked.
Snakes ware frequent visitor in the cabins of the "quarters". One morning while Betty, a cook, was confined to bed, she sent for Mrs. Towns to tell her that a snake had lain across her chest during the previous night and had tried to get under the cover where her young baby lay asleep. Mrs. Towns was skeptical about the size and activities of the reptile but sent for several men to search the house. They had given up the search when one chanced to glance above the sick woman's bed and there lay the reptile on a shelf. The bed was roped and moved to another part of the room and preparations made to shoot him. Quilts were piled high on the bed so that the noise of the gun would not frighten the baby. When all was ready Mrs. Towns asked the old man with the gun—
"Daddy Luke, can you kill the snake?"
"Yessum, mistress," he replied.
"Daddy Luke, can you kill the snake?"
"Daddy Luke, can you kill the snake?"
He took careful aim and fired. The huge reptile rolled to the floor.
When the men returned to the yard to work near the woodpile, the mate was discovered by one of the dogs that barked until a log was moved and the second snake killed.
[HW: In those days] small snakes were not feared and for several years it was customary for women to carry a tiny green snake in their bosoms. This fad was discontinued when one of the women was severely injured through a bite on her chest.
Phil remembers when the stars fell in 1833. "They came down like rain," he said. When asked why he failed to keep some, he replied that he was afraid to touch them even after they became black.
[TR: The following paragraphs contain many crossouts replaced by unreadable handwritten edits, and will be indicated by: 'deleted words' replaced by ??.]
Freedom was discussed on the plantation [TR: ??] for many years before the Civil War began. As contented as [TR: 'they' replaced by ??] were [TR: 'there was something to look forward to when they thought of' replaced by ??] being absolutely free. An ex-slave's description of the real cause of the Civil War, deserves a place here. It seems that Lincoln had sent several messages to Davis requesting that he free the slaves. No favorable response was received. Lincoln had a conference with Mr. Davis and to this meeting he carried a Bible and a gun. He tried in vain to convince Davis that he was wrong according to the Bible, so he finally threw the two upon the table and asked Davis to take his choice. He chose the gun. Lincoln grasped the Bible and rushed home. Thus Davis began the war but Lincoln had God on his side and so he ended it.
One of Gov. Towns' sons went to the army and Phil was sent to care for him while he was there; an aristocratic man never went to the war without his valet. His [HW: Phil's] duty was to cook for him, keep his clothes clean, and to bring the body home if he was killed. Poor soldiers were either buried [HW: where they fell] or left lying on the field for vultures to consume. Food was not so plentiful in the [TR: 'army' replaced by ??] and their diet of flapjacks and canned goods was varied only by coffee and whiskey given when off duty. All cooking was done between two battles or during the lull in a battle. John Towns was soon sent back home as they [HW: the officers] felt he was too [TR: 'valuable a Southerner' crossed out] important to be killed in battle, and his services were needed at home.
Near the close of the war, Sherman made a visit to this vicinity. As was his usual habit, he had [TR: 'obtained' replaced by 'learned'?] the reputation of Gov. Towns before he arrived. He found conditions so ideal [TR: 'that not one thing was touched' replaced by ??]. He talked with [HW: slaves and owners, he] went [TR: 'gaily' deleted] on his way. Phil was so impressed by Sherman that he followed him and camped with the Yankees about where Central City Park is now. He thought that anything a Yankee said was true. [HW: When] One [HW: of them] gave him a knife and told him to go and cut the first man he met, he followed instructions even though he knew the man. [HW: Later] Realizing how foolishly he had acted, he readily apologized and explained why. [HW: The Yankee soldiers robbed beehives barehanded and were never stung, they] seemed to fear nothing but lizards. Never having seen such reptiles they would run in terror at the sight of one. The Confederates never discovered this.
After the close of the war they [HW: federal soldiers] were stationed in the towns to keep order. Union flags were placed everywhere, and a Southerner was accused of not respecting the flag if he even passed under one without bowing. Penalties for this offense were, to be hung up by the thumbs, to carry greasy [HW: greased] poles for a certain time, and numerous other punishments which caused a deal of discomfort to the victims but sent the soldiers and ex-slaves into peals of laughter. The sight of a Yankee soldier sent a Confederate one into hysteria.
[HW: Phil says his fellow] slaves laughed when told they were free, but Gov. Towns was almost indifferent. His slaves, he said, were always practically free, so a little legal form did not [TR: 'add' replaced by ??] much to them. Nearly every one remained there and worked for wages.
For the past thirty-five years, Phil Towns has been almost totally disabled. Long life seems no novelty to him for he says everyone used to live longer when they honored their elders more. He has eighty-four relatives in Virginia—all older than he, but states that friends who have visited there say he looks more aged than any of them. His great desire is to return to Virginia, as he believes he will be able to find the familiar landmarks in spite of the changes that have taken place.
Mr. Alex Block, of Macon, makes no charges for the old shack in which Phil lives; his food furnished by the Department of Public Welfare is supplemented by interested friends.
NEAL UPSON, Age 81 450 4th Street Athens, Georgia
Written by: Miss Grace McCune [HW: (White)] Athens
Edited by: Mrs. Sarah H. Hall Athens
and John N. Booth District Supervisor Federal Writers' Project Residencies 6 & 7 Augusta, Ga.
August 5, 1938
Alternate rain and sunshine had continued for about 10 days and the ditches half filled with water, slippery banks of red clay, and the swollen river necessitating a detour, added to the various difficulties that beset the interviewer as she trudged through East Athens in search of Neal Upson's shabby, three-room, frame house. A magnificent water oak shaded the vine-covered porch where a rocking chair and swing offered a comfortable place to rest.
"Good mornin', Miss," was the smiling greeting of the aged Negro man who answered a knock on the front door. "How is you? Won't you come in? I would ax you to have a cheer on the porch, but I has to stay in de house cause de light hurts my eyes." He had hastily removed a battered old felt hat, several sizes too large for him, and as he shuffled down the hall his hair appeared almost white as it framed his black face. His clean, but faded blue overalls and shirt were patched in several places and heavy brogans completed his costume. The day was hot and humid and he carefully placed two chairs where they would have the advantage of any breeze that might find its way through the open hallway.
"Miss, I'se mighty glad you come today," he began, "cause I does git so lonesome here by myself. My old 'oman wuks up to de court'ouse, cookin' for de folkses in jail, and it's allus late when she gits back home. 'Scuse me for puttin' my old hat back on, but dese old eyes jus' can't stand de light even here in the hall, less I shades 'em."
When asked to tell the story of his life, he chuckled. "Lawsy, Missy," he said. "Does you mean dat you is willin' to set here and listen to old Neal talk? 'Tain't many folkses what wants to hear us old Niggers talk no more. I jus' loves to think back on dem days 'cause dem was happy times, so much better'n times is now. Folkses was better den. Dey was allus ready to holp one another, but jus' look how dey is now!
"I was borned on Marster Frank Upson's place down in Oglethorpe County, nigh Lexin'ton, Georgy. Marster had a plantation, but us never lived dar for us stayed at de home place what never had more'n 'bout 80 acres of land 'round it. Us never had to be trottin' to de sto' evvy time us started to cook, 'cause what warn't raised on de home place, Marster had 'em raise out on de big plantation. Evvything us needed t'eat and wear was growed on Marse Frank's land.
"Harold and Jane Upson was my Daddy and Mammy; only folkses jus' called Daddy 'Hal.' Both of 'em was raised right der on de Upson place whar dey played together whilst dey was chillun. Mammy said she had washed and sewed for Daddy ever since she was big enough, and when dey got grown dey jus' up and got married. I was deir only boy and I was de baby chile, but dey had four gals older'n me. Dey was: Cordelia, Anna, Parthene, and Ella. Ella was named for Marse Frank's onliest chile, little Miss Ellen, and our little Miss was sho a good little chile.
"Daddy made de shoes for all de slaves on de plantation and Mammy was called de house 'oman. She done de cookin' up at de big 'ouse, and made de cloth for her own fambly's clothes, and she was so smart us allus had plenty t'eat and wear. I was little and stayed wid Mammy up at de big 'ouse and jus' played all over it and all de folkses up der petted me. Aunt Tama was a old slave too old to wuk. She was all de time cookin' gingerbread and hidin' it in a little trunk what sot by de fireplace in her room. When us chillun was good Aunt Tama give us gingerbread, but if us didn't mind what she said, us didn't git none. Aunt Tama had de rheumatiz and walked wid a stick and I could git in dat trunk jus' 'bout anytime I wanted to. I sho' did git 'bout evvything dem other chillun had, swappin' Aunt Tama's gingerbread. When our white folkses went off, Aunt Tama toted de keys, and she evermore did make dem Niggers stand 'round. Marse Frank jus' laughed when dey made complaints 'bout her.
"In summertime dey cooked peas and other veg'tables for us chillun in a washpot out in de yard in de shade, and us et out of de pot wid our wooden spoons. Dey jus' give us wooden bowls full of bread and milk for supper.
"Marse Frank said he wanted 'em to larn me how to wait on de white folkses' table up at de big 'ouse, and dey started me off wid de job of fannin' de flies away. Mist'ess Serena, Marse Frank's wife, made me a white coat to wear in de dinin' room. Missy, dat little old white coat made me git de onliest whuppin' Marse Frank ever did give me." Here old Neal paused for a hearty laugh. "Us had comp'ny for dinner dat day and I felt so big showin' off 'fore 'em in dat white coat dat I jus' couldn't make dat turkey wing fan do right. Dem turkey wings was fastened on long handles and atter Marster had done warned me a time or two to mind what I was 'bout, the old turkey wing went down in de gravy bowl and when I jerked it out it splattered all over de preacher's best Sunday suit. Marse Frank got up and tuk me right out to de kitchen and when he got through brushin' me off I never did have no more trouble wid dem turkey wings.
"Evvybody cooked on open fireplaces dem days. Dey had swingin' racks what dey called cranes to hang de pots on for bilin'. Dere was ovens for bakin' and de heavy iron skillets had long handles. One of dem old skillets was so big dat Mammy could cook 30 biscuits in it at one time. I allus did love biscuits, and I would go out in de yard and trade Aunt Tama's gingerbread to de other chilluns for deir sheer of biscuits. Den dey would be skeered to eat de gingerbread 'cause I told 'em I'd tell on 'em. Aunt Tama thought dey was sick and told Marse Frank de chilluns warn't eatin' nothin'. He axed 'em what was de matter and dey told him dey had done traded all deir bread to me. Marse Frank den axed me if I warn't gittin' enough t'eat, 'cause he 'lowed dere was enough dar for all. Den Aunt Tama had to go and tell on me. She said I was wuss dan a hog atter biscuits, so our good Marster ordered her to see dat li'l Neal had enough t'eat.
"I ain't never gwine to forgit dat whuppin' my own daddy give me. He had jus' sharpened up a fine new axe for hisself, and I traded it off to a white boy named Roar what lived nigh us when I seed him out tryin' to cut wood wid a sorry old dull axe. I sold him my daddy's fine new axe for 5 biscuits. When he found out 'bout dat, he 'lowed he was gwine to give me somepin to make me think 'fore I done any more tradin' of his things. Mist'eas, let me tell you, dat beatin' he give me evermore was a-layin' on of de rod.
"One day Miss Serena put me in de cherry tree to pick cherries for her, and she told me not to eat none 'til I finished; den I could have all I wanted, but I didn't mind her and I et so many cherries I got sick and fell out of de tree. Mist'ess was skeered, but Marse Frank said: 'It's good enough for him, 'cause he didn't mind.'
"Mammy never did give me but one whuppin' neither. Daddy was gwine to de circus and I jus' cut up 'bout it 'cause I wanted to go so bad. Mist'ess give me some cake and I hushed long as I was eatin', but soon as de last cake crumb was swallowed I started bawlin' again. She give me a stick of candy and soon as I et dat I was squallin' wuss dan ever. Mammy told Mist'ess den det she knowed how to quiet me and she retch under de bed for a shoe. When she had done finished layin' dat shoe on me and put it back whar she got it, I was sho willin' to shet my mouth and let 'em all go to de circus widout no more racket from me.
"De fust school I went to was in a little one-room 'ouse in our white folkses' back yard. Us had a white teacher and all he larnt slave chillun was jus' plain readin' and writin'. I had to pass Dr. Willingham's office lots and he was all de time pesterin' me 'bout spellin'. One day he stopped me and axed me if I could spell 'bumble bee widout its tail,' and he said dat when I larnt to spell it, he would gimme some candy. Mr. Sanders, at Lexin'ton, gimme a dime onct. It was de fust money I ever had. I was plumb rich and I never let my Daddy have no peace 'til he fetched me to town to do my tradin'. I was all sot to buy myself a hat, a sto-bought suit of clothes, and some shoes what warn't brogans, but Missy, I wound up wid a gingercake and a nickel's wuth of candy. I used to cry and holler evvy time Miss Serena went off and left me. Whenever I seed 'em gittin' out de carriage to hitch it up, I started beggin' to go. Sometimes she laughed and said; 'All right Neal.' But when she said, 'No Neal,' I snuck out and hid under de high-up carrigge seat and went along jus' de same. Mist'ess allus found me 'fore us got back home, but she jus' laughed and said: 'Well, Neal's my little nigger anyhow.'
"Dem old cord beds was a sight to look at, but dey slept good. Us cyarded lint cotton into bats for mattresses and put 'em in a tick what us tacked so it wouldn't git lumpy. Us never seed no iron springs dem days. Dem cords, criss-crossed from one side of de bed to de other, was our springs and us had keys to tighten 'em wid. If us didn't tighten 'em evvy few days dem beds was apt to fall down wid us. De cheers was homemade too and de easiest-settin' ones had bottoms made out of rye splits. Dem oak-split cheers was all right, and sometimes us used cane to bottom de cheers but evvybody laked to set in dem cheers what had bottoms wove out of rye splits.
"Marster had one of dem old cotton gins what didn't have no engines. It was wuked by mules. Dem old mules was hitched to a long pole what dey pulled 'round and 'round to make de gin do its wuk. Dey had some gins in dem days what had treadmills for de mules to walk in. Dem old treadmills looked sorter lak stairs, but most of 'em was turned by long poles what de mules pulled. You had to feed de cotton by hand to dem old gins and you sho had to be keerful or you was gwine to lose a hand and maybe a arm. You had to jump in dem old cotton presses and tread de cotton down by hand. It tuk most all day long to gin two bales of cotton and if dere was three bales to be ginned us had to wuk most all night to finish up.
"Dey mixed wool wid de lint cotton to spin thread to make cloth for our winter clothes. Mammy wove a lot of dat cloth and de clothes made out of it sho would keep out de cold. Most of our stockin's and socks was knit at home, but now and den somebody would git hold of a sto-bought pair for Sunday-go-to-meetin' wear.
"Colored folkses went to church wid deir own white folkses and sot in de gallery. One Sunday us was all settin' in dat church listenin' to de white preacher, Mr. Hansford, tellin' how de old debbil was gwine to git dem what didn't do right." Here Neal burst into uncontrollable laughter. His sides shook and tears ran down his face. Finally he began his story again: "Missy, I jus' got to tell you 'bout dat day in de meetin' 'ouse. A Nigger had done run off from his marster and was hidin' out from one place to another. At night he would go steal his somepin t'eat. He had done stole some chickens and had 'em wid him up in de church steeple whar he was hidin' dat day. When daytime come he went off to sleep lak Niggers will do when dey ain't got to hustle, and when he woke up Preacher Hansford was tellin' 'em 'bout de debbil was gwine to git de sinners. Right den a old rooster what he had stole up and crowed so loud it seemed lak Gabriel's trumpet on Judment Day. Dat runaway Nigger was skeered 'cause he knowed dey was gwine to find him sho, but he warn't skeered nuffin' compared to dem Niggers settin' in de gallery. Dey jus' knowed dat was de voice of de debbil what had done come atter 'em. Dem Niggers never stopped prayin' and testifyin' to de Lord, 'til de white folkses had done got dat runaway slave and de rooster out of de steeple. His marster was der and tuk him home and give him a good, sound thrashin'.
"Slaves was 'lowed to have prayermeetin' on Chuesday (Tuesday) and Friday 'round at de diffunt plantations whar deir marsters didn't keer, and dere warn't many what objected. De good marsters all give deir slaves prayermeetin' passes on dem nights so de patterollers wouldn't git 'em and beat 'em up for bein' off deir marster's lands. Dey 'most nigh kilt some slaves what dey cotch out when dey didn't have no pass. White preachers done de talkin' at de meetin'houses, but at dem Chuesday and Friday night prayermeetin's, it was all done by Niggers. I was too little to 'member much 'bout dem meetin's, but my older sisters used to talk lots 'bout 'em long atter de war had brung our freedom. Dere warn't many slaves what could read, so dey jus' talked 'bout what dey had done heared de white preachers say on Sunday. One of de fav'rite texties was de third chapter of John, and most of 'em jus' 'membered a line or two from dat. Missy, from what folkses said 'bout dem meetin's, dere was sho a lot of good prayin' and testifyin', 'cause so many sinners repented and was saved. Sometimes at dem Sunday meetin's at de white folkses' church dey would have two or three preachers de same dey. De fust one would give de text and preach for at least a hour, den another one would give a text and do his preachin', and 'bout dat time another one would rise up and say dat dem fust two brudders had done preached enough to save 3,000 souls, but dat he was gwine to try to double dat number. Den he would do his preachin' and atter dat one of dem others would git up and say: 'Brudders and Sisters, us is all here for de same and only purpose—dat of savin' souls. Dese other good brudders is done preached, talked, and prayed, and let the gap down; now I'm gwine to raise it. Us is gwine to git 'ligion enough to take us straight through dem pearly gates. Now, let us sing whilst us gives de new brudders and sisters de right hand of fellowship. One of dem old songs went sort of lak dis:
'Must I be born to die And lay dis body down?'
"When dey had done finished all de verses and choruses of dat dey started:
'Amazin' Grace, How sweet de sound Dat saved a wretch lak me.'
"'Fore dey stopped dey usually got 'round to singin':
'On Jordan's stormy banks I stand, And cast a wishful eye, To Canaan's fair and happy land Whar my possessions lie.'
"Dey could keep dat up for hours and it was sho' good singin', for dat's one thing Niggers was born to do—to sing when dey gits 'ligion.
"When old Aunt Flora come up and wanted to jine de church she told 'bout how she had done seed de Hebenly light and changed her way of livin'. Folkses testified den 'bout de goodness of de Lord and His many blessin's what He give to saints and sinners, but dey is done stopped givin' Him much thanks any more. Dem days, dey 'zamined folkses 'fore dey let 'em jine up wid de church. When dey started 'zaminin' Aunt Flora, de preacher axed her: 'Is you done been borned again and does you believe dat Jesus Christ done died to save sinners?' Aunt Flora she started to cry; and she said: 'Lordy, Is He daid? Us didn't know dat. If my old man had done 'scribed for de paper lak I told him to, us would have knowed when Jesus died?" Neal giggled. "Missy," he said, "ain't dat jus' lak one of dem old-time Niggers? Dey jus' tuk dat for ign'ance and let her come on into de church.
"Dem days it was de custom for marsters to hire out what slaves dey had dat warn't needed to wuk on deir own land, so our marster hired out two of my sisters. Sis' Anna hired to a fambly 'bout 16 miles from our place. She didn't lak it dar so she run away and I found her hid out in our 'tater 'ouse. One day when us was playin' she called to me right low and soft lak and told me she was hongry and for me to git her somepin t'eat but not to tell nobody she was dar. She said she had been dar widout nothin' t'eat for several days. She was skeered Marster might whup her. She looked so thin and bad I thought she was gwine to die, so I told Mammy. Her and Marster went and brung Anna to de 'ouse and fed her. Dat pore chile was starved most to death. Marster kept her at home for 3 weeks and fed her up good, den he carried her back and told dem folkses what had hired her dat dey had better treat Anna good and see dat she had plenty t'eat. Marster was drivin' a fast hoss dat day, but bless your heart, Anna beat him back home dat day. She cried and tuk on so, beggin' him not to take her back dar no more dat he told her she could stay home. My other sister stayed on whar she was hired out 'til de war was over and dey give us our freedom.
"Daddy had done hid all Old Marster's hosses when de yankees got to our plantation. Two of de ridin' hosses was in de smokehouse and another good trotter was in de hen 'ouse. Old Jake was a slave what warn't right bright. He slep' in de kitchen, and he knowed whar Daddy had hid dem hosses, but dat was all he knowed. Marster had give Daddy his money to hide too, and he tuk some of de plasterin' off de wall in Marster's room and put de box of money inside de wall. Den he fixed dat plasterin' back so nice you couldn't tell it had ever been tore off. De night dem yankees come, Daddy had gone out to de wuk 'ouse to git some pegs to fix somepin (us didn't have no nails dem days). When de yankees rid up to de kitchen door and found Old Jake right by hisself, dat pore old fool was skeered so bad he jus' started right off babblin' 'bout two hosses in de smoke'ouse and one in de hen 'ouse, but he was tremblin' so he couldn't talk plain. Old Marster heared de fuss dey made and he come down to de kitchen to see what was de matter. De yankees den ordered Marster to git 'em his hosses. Marster called Daddy and told him to git de hosses, but Daddy, he played foolish lak and stalled 'round lak he didn't have good sense. Dem sojers raved and fussed all night long 'bout dem hosses, but dey never thought 'bout lookin' in de smoke'ouse and hen 'ouse for 'em and 'bout daybreak dey left widout takin' nothin'. Marster said he was sho proud of my Daddy for savin' dem good hosses for him.
[TR: 'Horses saved' written in margin.]
"Marster had a long pocketbook what fastened at one end wid a ring. One day when he went to git out some money he dropped a roll of bills dat he never seed, but Daddy picked it up and handed it back to him right away. Now my Daddy could have kept dat money jus' as easy, but he was a 'ceptional man and believed evvbody ought to do right.
"Aunt Tama's old man, Uncle Griff, come to live wid her on our place atter de war was over. 'Fore den he had belonged to a man named Colquitt.[HW: !!] Marster pervided a home for him and Aunt Tama 'til dey was both daid. When dey was buildin' de fust colored Methodist church in dat section Uncle Griff give a whole hundred dollars to de buildin' fund. Now it tuk a heap of scrimpin' for him to save dat much money 'cause he never had made over $10 a month. Aunt Tama had done gone to Glory a long time when Uncle Griff died. Atter dey buried him dey come back and was 'rangin' de things in his little cabin. When dey moved dat little trunk what Aunt Tama used to keep gingerbread in, dey found jus' lots of money in it. Marster tuk keer of dat money 'til he found Uncle Griff's own sister and den he give it all to her.
"One time Marster missed some of his money and he didn't want to 'cuse nobody, so he 'cided he would find out who had done de debbilment. He put a big rooster in a coop wid his haid stickin' out. Den he called all de Niggers up to de yard and told 'em somebody had been stealin' his money, and dat evvybody must git in line and march 'round dat coop and tetch it. He said dat when de guilty ones tetched it de old rooster would crow. Evvybody tetched it 'cept one old man and his wife; dey jus' wouldn't come nigh dat coop whar dat rooster was a-lookin' at evvybody out of his little red eyes. Marster had dat old man and 'oman sarched and found all de money what had been stole.
"Mammy died about a year atter de war, and I never will forgit how Mist'ess cried and said: 'Neal, your mammy is done gone, and I don't know what I'll do widout her.' Not long atter dat, Daddy bid for de contract to carry de mail and he got de place, but it made de white folkses mighty mad, 'cause some white folkses had put in bids for dat contract. Dey 'lowed dat Daddy better not never start out wid dat mail, 'cause if he did he was gwine to be sorry. Marster begged Daddy not to risk it and told him if he would stay dar wid him he would let him have a plantation for as long as he lived, and so us stayed on dar 'til Daddy died, and a long time atter dat us kept on wukin' for Old Marster.
"White folkses owned us back in de days 'fore de war but our own white folkses was mighty good to deir slaves. Dey had to larn us 'bedience fust, how to live right, and how to treat evvybody else right; but de best thing dey larned us was how to do useful wuk. De onliest time I 'member stealin' anything 'cept Aunt Tama's gingerbread was one time when I went to town wid Daddy in de buggy. When us started back home a man got in de seat wid Daddy and I had to ride down in de back of de buggy whar Daddy had hid a jug of liquor. I could hear it slushin' 'round and so I got to wantin' to know how it tasted. I pulled out de corncob stopper and tuk one taste. It was so good I jus' kep' on tastin' 'til I passed out, and didn't know when us got home or nuffin else 'til I waked up in my own bed next day. Daddy give me a tannin' what I didn't forgit for a long time, but dat was de wussest drunk I ever was. Lord, but I did love to follow my Daddy.
"Folkses warn't sick much in dem days lak dey is now, but now us don't eat strong victuals no more. Us raked out hot ashes den and cooked good old ashcakes what was a heap better for us dan dis bread us buys from de stores now. Marster fed us plenty ashcake, fresh meat, and ash roasted 'taters, and dere warn't nobody what could out wuk us.
"A death was somepin what didn't happen often on our plantation, but when somebody did die folkses would go from miles and miles around to set up and pray all night to comfort de fambly of de daid. Dey never made up de coffins 'til atter somebody died. Den dey measured de corpse and made de coffin to fit de body. Dem coffins was lined wid black calico and painted wid lampblack on de outside. Sometimes dey kivvered de outside wid black calico lak de linin'. Coffins for white folkses was jus' lak what dey had made up for deir slaves, and dey was all buried in de same graveyard on deir own plantations.
"When de war was over dey closed de little one-room school what our good Marster had kept in his back yard for his slaves, but out young Miss Ellen larnt my sister right on 'til she got whar she could teach school. Daddy fixed up a room onto our house for her school and she soon had it full of chillun. Dey made me study too, and I sho did hate to have to go to school to my own aister for she evermore did take evvy chance to lay dat stick on me, but I s'pects she had a right tough time wid me. When time come 'round to celebrate school commencement, I was one proud little Nigger 'cause I never had been so dressed up in my life before. I had on a red waist, white pants, and a good pair of shoes; but de grandest thing of all 'bout dat outfit was dat Daddy let me wear his watch. Evvybody come for dat celebration. Dere was over 300 folks at dat big dinner, and us had lots of barbecue and all sorts of good things t'eat. Old Marster was dar, and when I stood up 'fore all dem folks and said my little speech widout missin' a word, Marster sho did laugh and clap his hands. He called me over to whar he was settin' and said: 'I knowed you could larn if you wanted to.' Best of all, he give me a whole dollar. [TR: 'for reciting a speech' written in margin.] I was rich den, plumb rich. One of my sisters couldn't larn nothin'. De only letters she could ever say was 'G-O-D.' No matter what you axed her to spell she allus said 'G-O-D.' She was a good field hand though and a good 'oman and she lived to be more dan 90 years old.
"Now, talkin' 'bout frolickin', us really used to dance. What I means, is sho 'nough old-time break-downs. Sometimes us didn't have no music 'cept jus' beatin' time on tin pans and buckets but most times Old Elice Hudson played his fiddle for us, and it had to be tuned again atter evvy set us danced. He never knowed but one tune and he played dat over and over. Sometimes dere was 10 or 15 couples on de floor at de same time and us didn't think nothin' of dancin' all night long. Us had plenty of old corn juice for refreshment, and atter Elice had two or three cups of dat juice, he could git 'Turkey in de Straw' out of dat fiddle lak nobody's business.
"One time a houseboy from another plantation wanted to come to one of our Saddy night dances, so his marster told him to shine his boots for Sunday and fix his hoss for de night and den he could git off for de frolic. Abraham shined his marster's boots 'till he could see hisself in 'em, and dey looked so grand he was tempted to try 'em on. Dey was a little tight but he thought he could wear 'em, and he wanted to show hisself off in 'em at de dance. Dey warn't so easy to walk in and he was 'fraid he might git 'em scratched up walkin' through de fields, so he snuck his Marster's hoss out and rode to de dance. When Abraham rid up dar in dem shiny boots, he got all de gals' 'tention. None of 'em wanted to dance wid de other Niggers. Dat Abraham was sho sruttin' 'til somebody run in and told him his hoss had done broke its neck. He had tied it to a limb and sho 'nough, some way, dat hoss had done got tangled up and hung its own self. Abraham begged de other Nigger boys to help him take de deid hoss home, but he had done tuk deir gals and he didn't git no help. He had to walk 12 long miles home in dem tight shoes. De sun had done riz up when he got dar and it warn't long 'fore his Marster was callin': 'Abraham, bring, me my boots.' Dat Nigger would holler out: 'Yas sah! I'se a-comin'. But dem boots wouldn't come off 'cause his foots had done swelled up in 'em. His marster kept on callin' and when Abraham seed he couldn't put it off no longer, he jus' cut dem boots off his foots and went in and told what he had done. His marster was awful mad and said he was a good mind to take de hide off Abraham's back. 'Go git my hoss quick, Nigger, 'fore I most kills you,' he yelled. Den Abraham told him: 'Marster I knows you is gwine to kill me now, but your hoss is done daid.' Den pore Abraham had to out and tell de whole story and his marster got to laughin' so 'bout how he tuk all de gals away from de other boys and how dem boots hurt him dat it looked lak he never would stop. When he finally did stop laughin' and shakin' his sides he said: 'Dat's all right Abraham. Don't never let nobody beat your time wid de gals.' And dat's all he ever said to Abraham 'bout it.