[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
Adams, Rachel Allen, Uncle Wash [TR: originally listed as Rev. W.B. (Uncle Wash)] Allen, Rev. W.B. [TR: different informant] Atkinson, Jack Austin, Hannah Avery, Celestia [TR: also appended is interview with Emmaline Heard that is repeated in Part 2 of the Georgia Narratives] Baker, Georgia Battle, Alice Battle, Jasper Binns, Arrie Bland, Henry Body, Rias Bolton, James Bostwick, Alec Boudry, Nancy Bradley, Alice, and Colquitt, Kizzie [TR: interviews filed together though not connected] Briscoe, Della Brooks, George Brown, Easter Brown, Julia (Aunt Sally) Bunch, Julia Butler, Marshal Byrd, Sarah
Calloway, Mariah Castle, Susan Claibourn, Ellen Clay, Berry Cody, Pierce Cofer, Willis Colbert, Mary Cole, John Cole, Julia Colquitt, Martha
Davis, Minnie Davis, Mose Derricotte, Ike Dillard, Benny
Eason, George Elder, Callie Everette, Martha
Favor, Lewis [TR: also referred to as Favors] Ferguson, Mary Fryer, Carrie Nancy Furr, Anderson
Marshal Butler [TR: not listed in original index] John Cole
[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.]
RACHEL ADAMS, Age 78 300 Odd Street Athens, Georgia
Written by: Sadie B. Hornsby [HW: (White)] Athens
Edited by: Sarah H. Hall Athens
and John N. Booth District Supervisor Federal Writers' Project Residencies 6 & 7 Augusta, Georgia
Rachel Adams' two-room, frame house is perched on the side of a steep hill where peach trees and bamboo form dense shade. Stalks of corn at the rear of the dwelling reach almost to the roof ridge and a portion of the front yard is enclosed for a chicken yard. Stepping gingerly around the amazing number of nondescript articles scattered about the small veranda, the visitor rapped several times on the front door, but received no response. A neighbor said the old woman might be found at her son's store, but she was finally located at the home of a daughter.
Rachel came to the front door with a sandwich of hoecake and cheese in one hand and a glass of water in the other. "Dis here's Rachel Adams," she declared. "Have a seat on de porch." Rachel is tall, thin, very black, and wears glasses. Her faded pink outing wrapper was partly covered by an apron made of a heavy meal sack. Tennis shoes, worn without hose, and a man's black hat completed her outfit.
Rachel began her story by saying: "Miss, dats been sich a long time back dat I has most forgot how things went. Anyhow I was borned in Putman County 'bout two miles from Eatonton, Georgia. My Ma and Pa was 'Melia and Iaaac Little and, far as I knows, dey was borned and bred in dat same county. Pa, he was sold away from Ma when I was still a baby. Ma's job was to weave all de cloth for de white folks. I have wore many a dress made out of de homespun what she wove. Dere was 17 of us chillun, and I can't 'member de names of but two of 'em now—dey was John and Sarah. John was Ma's onliest son; all de rest of de other 16 of us was gals.
"Us lived in mud-daubed log cabins what had old stack chimblies made out of sticks and mud. Our old home-made beds didn't have no slats or metal springs neither. Dey used stout cords for springs. De cloth what dey made the ticks of dem old hay mattresses and pillows out of was so coarse dat it scratched us little chillun most to death, it seemed lak to us dem days. I kin still feel dem old hay mattresses under me now. Evvy time I moved at night it sounded lak de wind blowin' through dem peach trees and bamboos 'round de front of de house whar I lives now.
"Grandma Anna was 115 years old when she died. She had done wore herself out in slavery time. Grandpa, he was sold off somewhar. Both of 'em was field hands.
"Potlicker and cornbread was fed to us chillun, out of big old wooden bowls. Two or three chillun et out of de same bowl. Grown folks had meat, greens, syrup, cornbread, 'taters and de lak. 'Possums! I should say so. Dey cotch plenty of 'em and atter dey was kilt ma would scald 'em and rub 'em in hot ashes and dat clean't 'em jus' as pretty and white. OO-o-o but dey was good. Lord, Yessum! Dey used to go fishin' and rabbit huntin' too. Us jus' fotched in game galore den, for it was de style dem days. Dere warn't no market meat in slavery days. Seemed lak to me in dem days dat ash-roasted 'taters and groundpeas was de best somepin t'eat what anybody could want. 'Course dey had a gyarden, and it had somepin of jus' about evvything what us knowed anything 'bout in de way of gyarden sass growin' in it. All de cookin' was done in dem big old open fireplaces what was fixed up special for de pots and ovens. Ashcake was most as good as 'taters cooked in de ashes, but not quite.
"Summertime, us jus' wore homespun dresses made lak de slips dey use for underwear now. De coats what us wore over our wool dresses in winter was knowed as 'sacques' den, 'cause dey was so loose fittin'. Dey was heavy and had wool in 'em too. Marse Lewis, he had a plenty of sheep, 'cause dey was bound to have lots of warm winter clothes, and den too, dey lakked mutton to eat. Oh! dem old brogan shoes was coarse and rough. When Marse Lewis had a cow kilt dey put de hide in de tannin' vat. When de hides was ready, Uncle Ben made up de shoes, and sometimes dey let Uncle Jasper holp him if dere was many to be made all at one time. Us wore de same sort of clothes on Sunday as evvyday, only dey had to be clean and fresh when dey was put on Sunday mornin'.
"Marse Lewis Little and his wife, Miss Sallie, owned us, and Old Miss, she died long 'fore de surrender. Marse Lewis, he was right good to all his slaves; but dat overseer, he would beat us down in a minute if us didn't do to suit him. When dey give slaves tasks to do and dey warn't done in a certain time, dat old overseer would whup 'em 'bout dat. Marster never had to take none of his Niggers to court or put 'em in jails neither; him and de overseer sot 'em right. Long as Miss Sallie lived de carriage driver driv her and Marse Lewis around lots, but atter she died dere warn't so much use of de carriage. He jus' driv for Marse Lewis and piddled 'round de yard den.
"Some slaves larnt to read and write. If dey went to meetin' dey had to go wid deir white folks 'cause dey didn't have no sep'rate churches for de Niggers 'til atter de war. On our Marster's place, slaves didn't go off to meetin' a t'all. Dey jus' went 'round to one another's houses and sung songs. Some of 'em read de Bible by heart. Once I heared a man preach what didn't know how to read one word in de Bible, and he didn't even have no Bible yit.
"De fust baptizin' I ever seed was atter I was nigh 'bout grown. If a slave from our place ever jined up wid a church 'fore de war was over, I never heared tell nothin' 'bout it.
"Lordy, Miss! I didn't know nothin' 'bout what a funeral was dem days. If a Nigger died dis mornin', dey sho' didn't waste no time a-puttin' him right on down in de ground dat same day. Dem coffins never had no shape to 'em; dey was jus' squar-aidged pine boxes. Now warn't dat turrible?
"Slaves never went nowhar widout dem patterollers beatin' 'em up if dey didn't have no pass.
"Dere was hunderds of acres in dat dere plantation. Marse Lewis had a heap of slaves. De overseer, he had a bugle what he blowed to wake up de slaves. He blowed it long 'fore day so dat dey could eat breakfast and be out dere in de fields waitin' for de sun to rise so dey could see how to wuk, and dey stayed out dar and wukked 'til black dark. When a rainy spell come and de grass got to growin' fast, dey wukked dem slaves at night, even when de moon warn't shinin'. On dem dark nights one set of slaves helt lanterns for de others to see how to chop de weeds out of de cotton and corn. Wuk was sho' tight dem days. Evvy slave had a task to do atter dey got back to dem cabins at night. Dey each one hed to spin deir stint same as de 'omans, evvy night.
"Young and old washed deir clothes Sadday nights. Dey hardly knowed what Sunday was. Dey didn't have but one day in de Christmas, and de only diff'unce dey seed dat day was dat dey give 'em some biscuits on Christmas day. New Year's Day was rail-splittin' day. Dey was told how many rails was to be cut, and dem Niggers better split dat many or somebody was gwine to git beat up.
"I don't 'member much 'bout what us played, 'cept de way us run 'round in a ring. Us chillun was allus skeered to play in de thicket nigh de house 'cause Raw Head and Bloody Bones lived der. Dey used to skeer us out 'bout red 'taters. Dey was fine 'taters, red on de outside and pretty and white on de inside, but white folks called 'em 'nigger-killers.' Dat was one of deir tricks to keep us from stealin' dem 'taters. Dere wern't nothin' wrong wid dem 'taters; dey was jus' as good and healthy as any other 'taters. Aunt Lucy, she was de cook, and she told me dat slaves was skeered of dem 'nigger-killer' 'taters and never bothered 'em much den lak dey does de yam patches dese days. I used to think I seed ha'nts at night, but it allus turned out to be somebody dat was tryin' to skeer me.
"'Bout de most fun slaves had was at dem cornshuckin's. De general would git high on top of de corn pile and whoop and holler down leadin' dat cornshuckin' song 'til all de corn was done shucked. Den come de big eats, de likker, and de dancin'. Cotton pickin's was big fun too, and when dey got through pickin' de cotton dey et and drunk and danced 'til dey couldn't dance no more.
"Miss, white folks jus' had to be good to sick slaves, 'cause slaves was property. For Old Marster to lose a slave, was losin' money. Dere warn't so many doctors dem days and home-made medicines was all de go. Oil and turpentine, camphor, assfiddy (asafetida), cherry bark, sweetgum bark; all dem things was used to make teas for grown folks to take for deir ailments. Red oak bark tea was give to chillun for stomach mis'ries.
"All I can ricollect 'bout de comin' of freedom was Old Marster tellin' us dat us was free as jack-rabbits and dat from den on Niggers would have to git deir own somepin t'eat. It warn't long atter dat when dem yankees, wid pretty blue clothes on come through our place and dey stole most evvything our Marster had. Dey kilt his chickens, hogs, and cows and tuk his hosses off and sold 'em. Dat didn't look right, did it?
"My aunt give us a big weddin' feast when I married Tom Adams, and she sho' did pile up dat table wid heaps of good eatments. My weddin' dress was blue, trimmed in white. Us had six chillun, nine grandchillun, and 19 great-grandchillun. One of my grandchillun is done been blind since he was three weeks old. I sont him off to de blind school and now he kin git around 'most as good as I kin. He has made his home wid me ever since his Mammy died.
"'Cordin' to my way of thinkin', Abraham Lincoln done a good thing when he sot us free. Jeff Davis, he was all right too, 'cause if him and Lincoln hadn't got to fightin' us would have been slaves to dis very day. It's mighty good to do jus' as you please, and bread and water is heaps better dan dat somepin t'eat us had to slave for.
"I jined up wid de church 'cause I wanted to go to Heben when I dies, and if folks lives right dey sho' is gwine to have a good restin' place in de next world. Yes Mam, I sho b'lieves in 'ligion, dat I does. Now, Miss, if you ain't got nothin' else to ax me, I'se gwine home and give dat blind boy his somepin t'eat."
[HW: Dist. 6 Ex-Slv. #4]
WASHINGTON ALLEN, EX-SLAVE Born: December —, 1854 Place of birth: "Some where" in South Carolina Present Residence: 1932-Fifth Avenue, Columbus, Georgia Interviewed: December 18, 1936 [MAY 8 1937]
[TR: Original index refers to "Allen, Rev. W.B. (Uncle Wash)"; however, this informant is different from the next informant, Rev. W.B. Allen.]
The story of "Uncle Wash", as he is familiarly known, is condensed as follows:
He was born on the plantation of a Mr. Washington Allen of South Carolina, for whom he was named. This Mr. Allen had several sons and daughters, and of these, one son—George Allen—who, during the 1850's left his South Carolina home and settled near LaFayette, Alabama. About 1858, Mr. Washington Allen died and the next year, when "Wash" was "a five-year old shaver", the Allen estate in South Carolina was divided—all except the Allen Negro slaves. These, at the instance and insistence of Mr. George Allen, were taken to LaFayette, Alabama, to be sold. All were put on the block and auctioned off, Mr. George Allen buying every Negro, so that not a single slave family was divided up.
"Uncle Wash" does not remember what he "fetched at de sale", but he does distinctly remember that as he stepped up on the block to be sold, the auctioneer ran his hand "over my head and said: Genilmens, dis boy is as fine as split silk". Then when Mr. George Allen had bought all the Allen slaves, it dawned upon them, and they appreciated, why he had insisted on their being sold in Alabama, rather than in South Carolina.
Before he was six years of age, little "Wash" lost his mother and, from then until freedom, he was personally cared for and looked after by Mrs. George Allen; and the old man wept every time he mentioned her name.
During the '60's, "Uncle Wash's" father drove a mail and passenger stage between Cusseta and LaFayette, Alabama—and, finally died and was buried at LaFayette by the side of his wife. "Uncle Wash" "drifted over" to Columbus about fifty years ago and is now living with his two surviving children.
He has been married four times, all his wives dying "nachul" deaths. He has also "buried four chillun".
He was taught to read and write by the sons and daughters of Mr. George Allen, and attended church where a one-eyed white preacher—named Mr. Terrentine—preached to the slaves each Sunday "evenin'" (afternoon). The salary of this preacher was paid by Mr. George Allen.
When asked what this preacher usually preached about, "Uncle Wash" answered: "He was a one-eyed man an' couldn' see good; so, he mout a'made some mistakes, but he sho tole us plenty 'bout hell fire 'n brimstone."
"Uncle Wash" is a literal worshipper of the memory of his "old time white fokes."
REV. W.B. ALLEN, EX-SLAVE 425-Second Ave Columbus, Georgia (June 29, 1937) [JUL 28 1937]
[TR: Original index refers to "Allen, Rev. W.B. (Uncle Wash)"; however, this informant is different from the previous informant, Washington Allen, interviewed on Dec. 18, 1936. The previous interview for Rev. Allen that is mentioned below is not found in this volume.]
In a second interview, the submission of which was voluntarily sought by himself, this very interesting specimen of a rapidly vanishing type expressed a desire to amend his previous interview (of May 10, 1937) to incorporate the following facts:
"For a number of years before freedom, my father bought his time from his master and traveled about over Russell County (Alabama) as a journeyman blacksmith, doing work for various planters and making good money—as money went in those days—on the side. At the close of the war, however, though he had a trunk full of Confederate money, all of his good money was gone.
Father could neither read nor write, but had a good head for figures and was very pious. His life had a wonderful influence upon me, though I was originally worldly—that is, I drank and cussed, but haven't touched a drop of spirits in forty years and quit cussing before I entered the ministry in 1879.
I learned to pray when very young and kept it up even in my unsaved days. My white master's folks knew me to be a praying boy, and asked me—in 1865—when the South was about whipped and General Wilson was headed our way—to pray to God to hold the Yankees back. Of course, I didn't have any love for any Yankees—and haven't now, for that matter—but I told my white folks straight-from-the-shoulder that I could not pray along those lines. I told them flat-footedly that, while I loved them and would do any reasonable praying for them, I could not pray against my conscience: that I not only wanted to be free, but that I wanted to see all the Negroes freed!
I then told them that God was using the Yankees to scourge the slave-holders just as He had, centuries before, used heathens and outcasts to chastise His chosen people—the Children of Israel."
(Here it is to be noted that, for a slave boy of between approximately 15 and 17 years of age, remarkable familiarity with the Old Testament was displayed.)
The Parson then entered into a mild tirade against Yankees, saying:
"The only time the Northern people ever helped the Nigger was when they freed him. They are not friends of the Negro and many a time, from my pulpit, have I warned Niggers about going North. No, sir, the colored man doesn't belong in the North—-has no business up there, and you may tell the world that the Reverend W.B. Allen makes no bones about saying that! He also says that, if it wasn't for the influence of the white race in the South, the Negro race would revert to savagery within a year! Why, if they knew for dead certain that there was not a policeman or officer of the law in Columbus tonight, the good Lord only knows what they'd do tonight"!
When the good Parson had delivered himself as quoted, he was asked a few questions, the answers to which—as shall follow—disclose their nature.
"The lowest down Whites of slavery days were the average overseers. A few were gentlemen, one must admit, but the regular run of them were trash—commoner than the 'poor white trash'—and, if possible, their children were worse than their daddies. The name, 'overseer', was a synonym for 'slave driver', 'cruelty', 'brutishness'. No, sir, a Nigger may be humble and refuse to talk outside of his race—because he's afraid to, but you can't fool him about a white man!
And you couldn't fool him when he was a slave! He knows a white man for what he is, and he knew him the same way in slavery times."
Concerning the punishment of slaves, the Reverend said:
"I never heard or knew of a slave being tried in court for any thing. I never knew of a slave being guilty of any crime more serious than taking something or violating plantation rules. And the only punishment that I ever heard or knew of being administered slaves was whipping.
I have personally known a few slaves that were beaten to death for one or more of the following offenses:
Leaving home without a pass,
Talking back to—'sassing'—a white person,
Hitting another Negro,
Fussing, fighting, and rukkussing in the quarters,
Loitering on their work,
Taking things—the Whites called it stealing.
Plantation rules forbade a slave to:
Own a firearm,
Leave home without a pass,
Sell or buy anything without his master's consent,
Marry without his owner's consent,
Have a light in his cabin after a certain hour at night,
Attend any secret meeting,
Harbor or [HW: in] any manner assist a runaway slave,
Abuse a farm animal,
Mistreat a member of his family, and do
A great many other things."
When asked if he had ever heard slaves plot an insurrection, the Parson answered in the negative.
When asked if he had personal knowledge of an instance of a slave offering resistance to corporal punishment, the Reverend shook his head, but said:
"Sometimes a stripped Nigger would say some hard things to the white man with the strap in his hand, though he knew that he (the Negro) would pay for it dearly, for when a slave showed spirit that way the master or overseer laid the lash on all the harder."
When asked how the women took their whippings, he said:
"They usually screamed and prayed, though a few never made a sound."
The Parson has had two wives and five children. Both wives and three of his children are dead. He is also now superannuated, but occasionally does a "little preaching", having only recently been down to Montezuma, Georgia, on a special call to deliver a message to the Methodist flock there.
[HW: Dist. 6 Ex-Slave #2] Henrietta Carlisle
JACK ATKINSON—EX-SLAVE Rt. D Griffin, Georgia Interviewed August 21, 1936 [MAY 8 1937]
"Onct a man, twice a child," quoted Jack Atkinson, grey haired darkey, when being interviewed, "and I done started in my second childhood. I useter be active as a cat, but I ain't, no mo."
Jack acquired his surname from his white master, a Mr. Atkinson, who owned this Negro family prior to the War Between the States. He was a little boy during the war but remembers "refugeeing" to Griffin from Butts County, Georgia, with the Atkinsons when Sherman passed by their home on his march to the sea.
Jack's father, Tom, the body-servant of Mr. Atkinson, "tuck care of him" [HW: during] the four years they were away at war. "Many's the time I done heard my daddy tell 'bout biting his hands he wuz so hongry, and him and Marster drinking water outer the ruts of the road, they wuz so thirsty, during the war."
"Boss Man (Mr. Atkinson), wuz as fine a man as ever broke bread", according to Jack.
When asked how he got married he stated that he "broke off a love vine and throwed it over the fence and if it growed" he would get married. The vine "just growed and growed" and it wasn't long before he and Lucy married.
"A hootin' owl is a sho sign of rain, and a screech owl means a death, for a fact."
"A tree frog's holler is a true sign of rain."
Jack maintains that he has received "a second blessing from the Lord" and "no conjurer can bother him."
Whitley 1-25-37 [HW: Dis #5 Unedited] Minnie B. Ross
EX TOWN SLAVE HANNAH AUSTIN [HW: about 75-85] [APR 8 1937]
When the writer was presented to Mrs. Hannah Austin she was immediately impressed with her alert youthful appearance. Mrs. Austin is well preserved for her age and speaks clearly and with much intelligence. The interview was a brief but interesting one. This was due partly to the fact that Mrs. Austin was a small child when The Civil War ended and too because her family was classed as "town slaves" so classed because of their superior intelligence.
Mrs. Austin was a child of ten or twelve years when the war ended. She doesn't know her exact age but estimated it to be between seventy and seventy five years. She was born the oldest child of Liza and George Hall. Their master Mr. Frank Hall was very kind to them and considerate in his treatment of them.
Briefly Mrs. Austin gave the following account of slavery as she knew it. "My family lived in a two room well built house which had many windows and a nice large porch. Our master, Mr. Hall was a merchant and operated a clothing store. Because Mr. Hall lived in town he did not need but a few slaves. My family which included my mother, father, sister, and myself were his only servants. Originally Mr. Hall did not own any slaves, however after marrying Mrs. Hall we were given to her by her father as a part of her inheritance.
My mother nursed Mrs. Hall from a baby, consequently the Hall family was very fond of her and often made the statement that they would not part with her for anything in the world, besides working as the cook for the Hall family my mother was also a fine seamstress and made clothing for the master's family and for our family. We were allowed an ample amount of good clothing which Mr. Hall selected from the stock in his store. My father worked as a porter in the store and did other jobs around the house. I did not have to work and spent most of my time playing with the Hall children. We were considered the better class of slaves and did not know the meaning of a hard time.
Other slave owners whipped their slaves severely and often, but I have never known our master to whip any one of my family. If any one in the family became ill the family doctor was called in as often as he was needed.
We did not have churches of our own but were allowed to attend the white churches in the afternoon. The White families attended in the forenoon. We seldom heard a true religious sermon; but were constantly preached the doctrine of obedience to our masters and mistresses. We were required to attend church every Sunday.
Marriages were conducted in much the same manner as they are today. After the usual courtship a minister was called in by the master and the marriage ceremony would then take place. In my opinion people of today are more lax in their attitude toward marriage than they were in those days. Following the marriage of a slave couple a celebration would take place often the master and his family would take part in the celebration.
I remember hearing my mother and father discuss the war; but was too young to know just the effect the war would have on the slave. One day I remember Mr. Hall coming to my mother telling her we were free. His exact words were quote—"Liza you don't belong to me any longer you belong to yourself. If you are hired now I will have to pay you. I do not want you to leave as you have a home here as long as you live." I watched my mother to see the effect his words would have on her and I saw her eyes fill with tears. Mr. Hall's eyes filled with tears also.
Soon after this incident a Yankee Army appeared in our village one day. They practically destroyed Mr. Hall's store by throwing all clothes and other merchandise into the streets. Seeing my sister and I they turned to us saying, "Little Negroes you are free there are no more masters and mistresses, here help yourselves to these clothes take them home with you." Not knowing any better we carried stockings, socks, dresses, underwear and many other pieces home. After this they opened the smoke house door and told us to go in and take all of the meat we wanted.
On another occasion the mistress called me asking that I come in the yard to play with the children". Here Mrs. Austin began to laugh and remarked "I did not go but politely told her I was free and didn't belong to any one but my mama and papa. As I spoke these words my mistress began to cry.
My mother and father continued to live with the Halls even after freedom and until their deaths. Although not impoverished most of the Hall's fortune was wiped out with the war".
Mrs. Austin married at the age of 16 years; and was the mother of four children, all of whom are dead. She was very ambitious and was determined to get an education if such was possible. After the war Northern white people came south and set up schools for the education of Negroes. She remembers the organization of the old Storrs School from which one of the present Negroes Colleges originated.
Mrs. Austin proudly spoke of her old blue back speller, which she still possesses; and of the days when she attended Storrs School.
As the writer made ready to depart Mrs. Austin smilingly informed her that she had told her all that she knew about slavery; and every word spoken was the truth.
[HW: Dist. 5 Ex Slave #1 Ross]
"A FEW FACTS OF SLAVERY" As Told by CELESTIA AVERY—EX-SLAVE [MAY 8 1937]
Mrs. Celestia Avery is a small mulatto woman about 5 ft. in height. She has a remarkably clear memory in view of the fact that she is about 75 years of age. Before the interview began she reminded the writer that the facts to be related were either told to her by her grandmother, Sylvia Heard, or were facts which she remembered herself.
Mrs. Avery was born 75 years ago in Troupe County, LaGrange, Ga. the eighth oldest child of Lenora and Silas Heard. There were 10 other children beside herself. She and her family were owned by Mr. & Mrs. Peter Heard. In those days the slaves carried the surname of their master; this accounted for all slaves having the same name whether they were kin or not.
The owner Mr. Heard had a plantation of about 500 acres and was considered wealthy by all who knew him. Mrs. Avery was unable to give the exact number of slaves on the plantation, but knew he owned a large number. Cotton, corn, peas, potatoes, (etc.) were the main crops raised.
The homes provided for the slaves were two room log cabins which had one door and one window. These homes were not built in a group together but were more or less scattered over the plantation. Slave homes were very simple and only contained a home made table, chair and bed which were made of the same type of wood and could easily be cleaned by scouring with sand every Saturday. The beds were bottomed with rope which was run backward and forward from one rail to the other. On this framework was placed a mattress of wheat straw. Each spring the mattresses were emptied and refilled with fresh wheat straw.
Slaves were required to prepare their own meals three times a day. This was done in a big open fire place which was filled with hot coals. The master did not give them much of a variety of food, but allowed each family to raise their own vegetables. Each family was given a hand out of bacon and meal on Saturdays and through the week corn ash cakes and meat; which had been broiled on the hot coals was the usual diet found in each home. The diet did not vary even at Christmas only a little fruit was added.
Each family was provided with a loom and in Mrs. Avery's family, her grandmother, Sylvia Heard, did most of the carding and spinning of the thread into cloth. The most common cloth for women clothes was homespun, and calico. This same cloth was dyed and used to make men shirts and pants. Dye was prepared by taking a berry known as the shumake berry and boiling them with walnut peelings. Spring and fall were the seasons for masters to give shoes and clothing to their slaves. Both men and women wore brogan shoes, the only difference being the piece in the side of the womens.
One woman was required to do the work around the house there was also one slave man required to work around the house doing odd jobs. Other than these two every one else was required to do the heavy work in the fields. Work began at "sun up" and lasted until "sun down". In the middle of the day the big bell was rung to summon the workers from the field, for their mid-day lunch. After work hours slaves were then free to do work around their own cabins, such as sewing, cooking (etc.)
"Once a week Mr. Heard allowed his slaves to have a frolic and folks would get broke down from so much dancing" Mrs. Avery remarked. The music was furnished with fiddles. When asked how the slaves came to own fiddles she replied, "They bought them with money they earned selling chickens." At night slaves would steal off from the Heard plantation, go to LaGrange, Ga. and sell chickens which they had raised. Of course the masters always required half of every thing raised by each slave and it was not permissible for any slave to sell anything. Another form of entertainment was the quilting party. Every one would go together to different person's home on each separate night of the week and finish that person's quilts. Each night this was repeated until every one had a sufficient amount of covering for the winter. Any slave from another plantation, desiring to attend these frolics, could do so after securing a pass from their master.
Mrs. Avery related the occasion when her Uncle William was caught off the Heard plantation without a pass, and was whipped almost to death by the "Pader Rollers." He stole off to the depths of the woods here he built a cave large enough to live in. A few nights later he came back to the plantation unobserved and carried his wife and two children back to this cave where they lived until after freedom. When found years later his wife had given birth to two children. No one was ever able to find his hiding place and if he saw any one in the woods he would run like a lion.
Mr. Heard was a very mean master and was not liked by any one of his slaves. Secretly each one hated him. He whipped unmercifully and in most cases unnecessarily. However, he sometimes found it hard to subdue some slaves who happened to have very high tempers. In the event this was the case he would set a pack of hounds on him. Mrs. Avery related to the writer the story told to her of Mr. Heard's cruelty by her grandmother. The facts were as follows: "Every morning my grandmother would pray, and old man Heard despised to hear any one pray saying they were only doing so that they might become free niggers. Just as sure as the sun would rise, she would get a whipping; but this did not stop her prayers every morning before day. This particular time grandmother Sylvia was in "family way" and that morning she began to pray as usual. The master heard her and became so angry he came to her cabin seized and pulled her clothes from her body and tied her to a young sapling. He whipped her so brutally that her body was raw all over. When darkness fell her husband cut her down from the tree, during the day he was afraid to go near her. Rather than go back to the cabin she crawled on her knees to the woods and her husband brought grease for her to grease her raw body. For two weeks the master hunted but could not find her; however, when he finally did, she had given birth to twins. The only thing that saved her was the fact that she was a mid-wife and always carried a small pin knife which she used to cut the navel cord of the babies. After doing this she tore her petticoat into two pieces and wrapped each baby. Grandmother Sylvia lived to get 115 years old.
Not only was Mr. Henderson cruel but it seemed that every one he hired in the capacity of overseer was just as cruel. For instance, Mrs. Henderson's grandmother Sylvia, was told to take her clothes off when she reached the end of a row. She was to be whipped because she had not completed the required amount of hoeing for the day. Grandmother continued hoeing until she came to a fence; as the overseer reached out to grab her she snatched a fence railing and broke it across his arms. On another occasion grandmother Sylvia ran all the way to town to tell the master that an overseer was beating her husband to death. The master immediately jumped on his horse and started for home; and reaching the plantation he ordered the overseer to stop whipping the old man. Mrs. Avery received one whipping, with a hair brush, for disobedience; this was given to her by the mistress.
Slaves were given separate churches, but the minister, who conducted the services, was white. Very seldom did the text vary from the usual one of obedience to the master and mistress, and the necessity for good behavior. Every one was required to attend church, however, the only self expression they could indulge in without conflict with the master was that of singing. Any one heard praying was given a good whipping; for most masters thought their prayers no good since freedom was the uppermost thought in every one's head.
On the Heard plantation as on a number of others, marriages were made by the masters of the parties concerned. Marriage licenses were unheard of. If both masters mutually consented, the marriage ceremony was considered over with. After that the husband was given a pass to visit his wife once a week. In the event children were born the naming of them was left entirely to the master. Parents were not allowed to name them.
Health of slaves was very important to every slave owner for loss of life meant loss of money to them. Consequently they would call in their family doctor, if a slave became seriously ill. In minor cases of illness home remedies were used. "In fact," Mrs. Avery smilingly remarked, "We used every thing for medicine that grew in the ground." One particular home remedy was known as "Cow foot oil" which was made by boiling cow's feet in water. Other medicines used were hoarhound tea, catnip tea, and castor oil. Very often medicines and doctors failed to save life; and whenever a slave died he was buried the same day. Mrs. Avery remarked, "If he died before dinner the funeral and burial usually took place immediately after dinner."
Although a very young child, Mrs. Avery remembers the frantic attempt slave owners made to hide their money when the war broke out. The following is a story related concerning the Heard family. "Mr. Heard, our master, went to the swamp, dug a hole, and hid his money, then he and his wife left for town on their horses. My oldest brother, Percy, saw their hiding place; and when the Yanks came looking for the money, he carried them straight to the swamps and showed than where the money was hidden." Although the Yeard [TR: typo "Heard"] farm was in the country the highway was very near and Mrs. Avery told of the long army of soldiers marching to La Grange singing the following song: "Rally around the flag boys, rally around the flag, joy, joy, for freedom." When the war ended Mr. Heard visited every slave home and broke the news to each family that they were free people and if they so desired could remain on his plantation. Mrs. Avery's family moved away, in fact most slave families did, for old man Heard had been such a cruel master everyone was anxious to get away from him. However, one year later he sold his plantation to Mr George Traylor and some of the families moved back, Mrs. Avery's family included.
Mrs. Avery married at the age of 16; and was the mother of 14 children, three of whom are still living. Although she has had quite a bit of illness during her life, at present she is quite well and active in spite of her old age. She assured the writer that the story of slavery, which she had given her, was a true one and sincerely hoped it would do some good in this world.
FOLKLORE (Negro) Minnie B. Ross
[MRS. CELESTIA AVERY]
In a small house at 173 Phoenix Alley, N.E. lives a little old woman about 5 ft. 2 in. in height, who is an ex-slave. She greeted the writer with a bright smile and bade her enter and have a seat by the small fire in the poorly lighted room. The writer vividly recalled the interview she gave on slavery previously and wondered if any facts concerning superstitions, conjure, signs, etc. could be obtained from her. After a short conversation pertaining to everyday occurrences, the subject of superstition was broached to Mrs. Avery. The idea amused her and she gave the writer the following facts: As far as possible the stories are given in her exact words. The interview required two days, November 30 and December 2, 1936.
"When you see a dog lay on his stomach and slide it is a true sign of death. This is sho true cause it happened to me. Years ago when I lived on Pine Street I was sitting on my steps playing with my nine-months old baby. A friend uv mine came by and sat down; and as we set there a dog that followed her began to slide on his stomach. It scared me; and I said to her, did you see that dog? Yes, I sho did. That night my baby died and it wuzn't sick at all that day. That's the truth and a sho sign of death. Anudder sign of death is ter dream of a new-born baby. One night not so long ago I dreamt about a new-born baby and you know I went ter the door and called Miss Mary next door and told her I dreamed about a new-born baby, and she said, Oh! that's a sho sign of death. The same week that gal's baby over there died. It didn't surprise me when I heard it cause I knowed somebody round here wuz go die." She continued:
"Listen, child! If ebber you clean your bed, don't you never sweep off your springs with a broom. Always wipe 'em with a rag, or use a brush. Jest as sho as you do you see or experience death around you. I took my bed down and swept off my springs, and I jest happened to tell old Mrs. Smith; and she jumped up and said, 'Child, you ought not done that cause it's a sign of death.' Sho nuff the same night I lost another child that wuz eight years old. The child had heart trouble, I think."
Mrs. Avery believes in luck to a certain extent. The following are examples of how you may obtain luck:
"I believe you can change your luck by throwing a teaspoonful of sulphur in the fire at zackly 12 o'clock in the day. I know last week I was sitting here without a bit of fire, but I wuzn't thinking bout doing that till a 'oman came by and told me ter scrape up a stick fire and put a spoonful of sulphur on it; and sho nuff in a hour's time a coal man came by and gave me a tub uv coal. Long time ago I used ter work fer some white women and every day at 12 o'clock I wuz told ter put a teaspoonful of sulphur in the fire."
"Another thing, I sho ain't going ter let a 'oman come in my house on Monday morning unless a man done come in there fust. No, surree, if it seem lak one ain't coming soon, I'll call one of the boy chilluns, jest so it is a male. The reason fer this is cause women is bad luck."
The following are a few of the luck charms as described by Mrs. Avery:
"Black cat bone is taken from a cat. First, the cat is killed and boiled, after which the meat is scraped from the bones. The bones are then taken to the creek and thrown in. The bone that goes up stream is the lucky bone and is the one that should be kept." "There is a boy in this neighborhood that sells liquor and I know they done locked him up ten or twelve times but he always git out. They say he carries a black cat bone," related Mrs. Avery.
"The Devil's shoe string looks jest like a fern with a lot of roots. My mother used to grow them in the corner of our garden. They are lucky.
"Majres (?) are always carried tied in the corner of a handkerchief. I don't know how they make 'em.
"I bought a lucky stick from a man onct. It looked jest lak a candle, only it wuz small; but he did have some sticks as large as candles and he called them lucky sticks, too, but you had to burn them all night in your room. He also had some that looked jest lak buttons, small and round."
The following are two stories of conjure told by Mrs. Avery:
"I knowed a man onct long ago and he stayed sick all der time. He had the headache from morning till night. One day he went to a old man that wuz called a conjurer; this old man told him that somebody had stole the sweat-band out of his cap and less he got it back, something terrible would happen. They say this man had been going with a 'oman and she had stole his sweat-band. Well, he never did get it, so he died.
"I had a cousin named Alec Heard, and he had a wife named Anna Heard. Anna stayed sick all der time almost; fer two years she complained. One day a old conjurer came to der house and told Alec that Anna wuz poisoned, but if he would give him $5.00 he would come back Sunday morning and find the conjure. Alec wuz wise, so he bored a hole in the kitchen floor so that he could jest peep through there to der back steps. Sho nuff Sunday morning the nigger come back and as Alec watched him he dug down in the gound a piece, then he took a ground puppy, threw it in the hole and covered it up. All right, he started digging again and all at onct he jumped up and cried: 'Here 'tis! I got it.' 'Got what?' Alec said, running to the door with a piece of board. 'I got the ground puppy dat wuz buried fer her.' Alec wuz so mad he jumped on that man and beat him most to death. They say he did that all the time and kept a lot of ground puppies fer that purpose." Continuing, she explained that a ground puppy was a worm with two small horns. They are dug up out of the ground, and there is a belief that you will die if one barks at you.
Mrs. Avery related two ways in which you can keep from being conjured by anyone.
"One thing I do every morning is ter sprinkle chamber-lye [HW: (urine)] with salt and then throw it all around my door. They sho can't fix you if you do this. Anudder thing, if you wear a silver dime around your leg they can't fix you. The 'oman live next door says she done wore two silver dimes around her leg for 18 years."
Next is a story of the Jack O'Lantern.
"Onct when I wuz a little girl a lot of us chillun used to slip off and take walnuts from a old man. We picked a rainy night so nobody would see us, but do you know it looked like a thousand Jack ma' Lanterns got in behind us. They wuz all around us. I never will ferget my brother telling me ter get out in the path and turn my pocket wrong side out. I told him I didn't have no pocket but the one in my apron; he said, 'well, turn that one wrong side out.' Sho nuff we did and they scattered then."
Closing the interview, Mrs. Avery remarked: "That's bout all I know; but come back some time and maybe I'll think of something else."
MRS. EMMALINE HEARD
[TR: This interview, which was attached to the interview with Mrs. Celestia Avery, is also included in the second volume of the Georgia Narratives.]
On December 3 and 4, 1936, Mrs. Emmaline Heard was interviewed at her home, 239 Cain Street. The writer had visited Mrs. Heard previously, and it was at her own request that another visit was made. This visit was supposed to be one to obtain information and stories on the practice of conjure. On two previous occasions Mrs. Heard's stories had proved very interesting, and I knew as I sat there waiting for her to begin that she had something very good to tell me. She began:
"Chile, this story wuz told ter me by my father and I know he sho wouldn't lie. Every word of it is the trufe; fact, everything I ebber told you wuz the trufe. Now, my pa had a brother, old Uncle Martin, and his wife wuz name Julianne. Aunt Julianne used ter have spells and fight and kick all the time. They had doctor after doctor but none did her any good. Somebody told Uncle Martin to go ter a old conjurer and let the doctors go cause they wan't doing nothing fer her anyway. Sho nuff he got one ter come see her and give her some medicine. This old man said she had bugs in her head, and after giving her the medicine he started rubbing her head. While he rubbed her head he said: 'Dar's a bug in her head; it looks jest like a big black roach. Now, he's coming out of her head through her ear; whatever you do, don't let him get away cause I want him. Whatever you do, catch him; he's going ter run, but when he hits the pillow, grab 'em. I'm go take him and turn it back on the one who is trying ter send you ter the grave.' Sho nuff that bug drap out her ear and flew; she hollered, and old Uncle Martin ran in the room, snatched the bed clothes off but they never did find him. Aunt Julianne never did get better and soon she died. The conjurer said if they had a caught the bug she would a lived."
The next story is a true story. The facts as told by Mrs. Heard were also witnessed by her; as it deals with the conjuring of one of her sons. It is related in her exact words as nearly as possible.
"I got a son named Albert Heard. He is living and well; but chile, there wuz a time when he wuz almost ter his grave. I wuz living in town then, and Albert and his wife wuz living in the country with their two chillun. Well, Albert got down sick and he would go ter doctors, and go ter doctors, but they didn't do him any good. I wuz worried ter death cause I had ter run backards and for'ards and it wuz a strain on me. He wuz suffering with a knot on his right side and he couldn't even fasten his shoes cause it pained him so, and it wuz so bad he couldn't even button up his pants. A 'oman teached school out there by the name of Mrs. Yancy; she's dead now but she lived right here on Randolph Street years ago. Well, one day when I wuz leaving Albert's house I met her on the way from her school. 'Good evening, Mrs. Heard,' she says. 'How is Mr. Albert?' I don't hardly know, I says, cause he don't get no better. She looked at me kinda funny and said, don't you believe he's hurt?' Yes mam, I said, I sho do. 'Well,' says she, 'I been wanting to say something to you concerning this but I didn't know how you would take it. If I tell you somewhere ter go will you go, and tell them I sent you?' Yes mam, I will do anything if Albert can get better. 'All right then', she says. 'Catch the Federal Prison car and get off at Butler St.' In them days that car came down Forrest Ave. 'When you get to Butler St.', she says, 'walk up to Clifton St. and go to such and such a number. Knock on the door and a 'oman by the name of Mrs. Hirshpath will come ter the door. Fore she let you in she go ask who sent you there; when you tell 'er, she'll let you in. Now lemme tell you she keeps two quarts of whisky all the time and you have ter drink a little with her; sides that she cusses nearly every word she speaks; but don't let that scare you; she will sho get your son up if it kin be done.' Sho nuff that old 'oman did jest lak Mrs. Yancy said she would do. She had a harsh voice and she spoke right snappy. When she let me in she said, sit down. You lak whisky?' I said, well, I take a little dram sometimes. 'Well, here take some of this', she said. I poured a little bit and drank it kinda lak I wuz afraid. She cursed and said 'I ain't go conjure you. Drink it.' She got the cards and told me to cut 'em, so I did. Looking at the cards, she said: 'You lak ter wait too long; they got him marching to the cemetery. The poor thing! I'll fix those devils. (A profane word was used instead of devils). He got a knot on his side, ain't he?' Yes, Mam, I said. That 'oman told me everything that was wrong with Albert and zackly how he acted. All at once she said; 'If them d——d things had hatched in him it would a been too late. If you do zackly lak I tell you I'll get him up from there.' I sho will, I told her. 'Well, there's a stable sets east of his house. His house got three rooms and a path go straight to the stable. I see it there where he hangs his harness. Yes, I see it all, the devils! Have you got any money?' Yes, mam, a little, I said. 'All right then,' she said. 'Go to the drug store and get 5c worth of blue stone; 5c wheat bran; and go ter a fish market and ask 'em ter give you a little fish brine; then go in the woods and get some poke-root berries. Now, there's two kinds of poke-root berries, the red skin and the white skin berry. Put all this in a pot, mix with it the guts from a green gourd and 9 parts of red pepper. Make a poultice and put to his side on that knot. Now, listen, your son will be afraid and think you are trying ter do something ter him but be gentle and persuade him that its fer his good.' Child, he sho did act funny when I told him I wanted to treat his side. I had ter tell him I wuz carrying out doctors orders so he could get well. He reared and fussed and said he didn't want that mess on him. I told him the doctor says you do very well till you go ter the horse lot then you go blind and you can't see. He looked at me. 'Sho nuff, Ma, he said, 'that sho is the trufe. I have ter always call one of the chillun when I go there cause I can't see how ter get back ter the house.' Well, that convinced him and he let me fix the medicine for him. I put him ter bed and made the poultice, then I put it ter his side. Now this 'oman said no one wuz ter take it off the next morning but me. I wuz suppose ter fix three, one each night, and after taking each one off ter bury it lak dead folks is buried, east and west, and ter make a real grave out of each one. Well, when I told him not ter move it the next morning, but let me move it, he got funny again and wanted to know why. Do you know I had ter play lak I could move it without messing up my bed clothes and if he moved it he might waste it all. Finally he said he would call me the next morning. Sho nuff, the next morning he called me, ma! ma! come take it off. I went in the room and he wuz smiling. I slept all night long he said, and I feel so much better. I'm so glad, I said, and do you know he could reach down and fasten up his shoe and it had been a long time since he could do that. Later that day I slipped out and made my first grave under the fig bush in the garden. I even put up head boards, too. That night Albert said, 'Mama, fix another one. I feel so much better.' I sho will, I said. Thank God you're better; so fer three nights I fixed poultices and put ter his side and each morning he would tell me how much better he felt. Then the last morning I wuz fixing breakfast and he sat in the next room. After while Albert jumped up and hollered, Ma! Ma!' What is it,' I said. 'Mama, that knot is gone. It dropped down in my pants.' What! I cried. Where is it? Chile, we looked but we didn't find anything, but the knot had sho gone. Der 'oman had told me ter come back when the knot moved and she would tell me what else ter do. That same day I went ter see her and when I told her she just shouted, 'I fixed 'em, The devils! Now, says she, do you [TR: know?] where you can get a few leaves off a yellow peachtree. It must be a yellow peach tree, though. Yes, mam, I says to her. I have a yellow peachtree right there in my yard. Well, she says, get a handful of leaves, then take a knife and scrape the bark up, then make a tea and give him so it will heal up the poison from that knot in his side, also mix a few jimson weeds with it. I come home and told him I wanted ter give him a tea. He got scared and said, what fer, Ma? I had ter tell him I wuz still carrying out the doctor's orders. Well, he let me give him the tea and that boy got well. I went back to Mrs. Hirshpath and told her my son was well and I wanted to pay her. Go on, she said, keep the dollar and send your chillun ter school. This sho happened ter me and I know people kin fix you. Yes sir."
The next story was told to Mrs. Heard by Mrs. Hirshpath, the woman who cured her son.
I used to go see that 'oman quite a bit and even sent some of my friends ter her. One day while I wuz there she told me about this piece of work she did.
"There was a young man and his wife and they worked fer some white folks. They had jest married and wuz trying ter save some money ter buy a home with. All at onct the young man went blind and it almost run him and his wife crazy cause they didn't know what in the world ter do. Well, somebody told him and her about Mrs. Hirshpath, so they went ter see her. One day, says Mrs. Hirshpath, a big fine carriage drew up in front of her door and the coachman helped him to her door. She asked him who sent him and he told her. She only charged 50c for giving advice and after you wuz cured it wuz up ter you to give her what you wanted to. Well, this man gave her 50c and she talked ter him. She says, boy, you go home and don't you put that cap on no more. What cap? he says. That cap you wears ter clean up the stables with, cause somebody done dressed that cap fer you, and every time you perspire and it run down ter your eyes it makes you blind. You jest get that cap and bring it ter me. I'll fix 'em; they's trying ter make you blind, but I go let you see. The boy was overjoyed, and sho nuff he went back and brought her that cap, and it wuzn't long fore he could see good as you and me. He brought that 'oman $50, but she wouldn't take but $25 and give the other $25 back ter him.
"What I done told you is the trufe, every word of it; I know some other things that happened but you come back anudder day fer that."
GEORGIA BAKER, Age 87 369 Meigs Street Athens, Georgia
Written by: Mrs. Sadie B. Hornsby [HW: (White)] Athens
Edited by: Mrs. Sarah H. Hall Athens
and John N. Booth Dist. Supvr. Federal Writers' Project Residencies 6 & 7 Augusta, Ga.
August 4, 1938
Georgia's address proved to be the home of her daughter, Ida Baker. The clean-swept walks of the small yard were brightened by borders of gay colored zinnias and marigolds in front of the drab looking two-story, frame house. "Come in," answered Ida, in response to a knock at the front door. "Yessum, Mammy's here. Go right in dat dere room and you'll find her."
Standing by the fireplace of the next room was a thin, very black woman engaged in lighting her pipe. A green checked gingham apron partially covered her faded blue frock over which she wore a black shirtwaist fastened together with "safety first" pins. A white cloth, tied turban fashion about her head, and gray cotton hose worn with black and white slippers that were run down at the heels, completed her costume.
"Good mornin'. Yessum, dis here's Georgia," was her greeting. "Let's go in dar whar Ida is so us can set down. I don't know what you come for, but I guess I'll soon find out."
Georgia was eager to talk but her articulation had been impaired by a paralytic stroke and at times it was difficult to understand her jumble of words. After observance of the amenities; comments on the weather, health and such subjects, she began:
"Whar was I born? Why I was born on de plantation of a great man. It was Marse Alec Stephens' plantation 'bout a mile and a half from Crawfordville, in Taliaferro County. Mary and Grandison Tilly was my Ma and Pa. Ma was cook up at de big house and she died when I was jus' a little gal. Pa was a field hand, and he belonged to Marse Britt Tilly.
"Dere was four of us chillun: me, and Mary, and Frances, and Mack," she counted on the fingers of one hand. "Marse Alec let Marse Jim Johnson have Mack for his bodyguard. Frances, she wuked in de field, and Mary was de baby—she was too little to wuk. Me, I was 14 years old when de war was over. I swept yards, toted water to de field, and played 'round de house and yard wid de rest of de chillun.
"De long, log houses what us lived in was called "shotgun" houses 'cause dey had three rooms, one behind de other in a row lak de barrel of a shotgun. All de chillun slept in one end room and de grown folkses slept in de other end room. De kitchen whar us cooked and et was de middle room. Beds was made out of pine poles put together wid cords. Dem wheat-straw mattresses was for grown folkses mostly 'cause nigh all de chillun slept on pallets. How-some-ever, dere was some few slave chillun what had beds to sleep on. Pillows! Dem days us never knowed what pillows was. Gals slept on one side of de room and boys on de other in de chilluns room. Uncle Jim, he was de bed-maker, and he made up a heap of little beds lak what dey calls cots now.
"Becky and Stafford Stephens was my Grandma and Grandpa. Marse Alec bought 'em in Old Virginny. I don't know what my Grandma done 'cause she died 'fore I was borned, but I 'members Grandpa Stafford well enough. I can see him now. He was a old man what slept on a trundle bed in the kitchen, and all he done was to set by de fire all day wid a switch in his hand and tend de chillun whilst dere mammies was at wuk. Chillun minded better dem days dan dey does now. Grandpa Stafford never had to holler at 'em but one time. Dey knowed dey would git de switch next if dey didn't behave.
"Now dere you is axin' 'bout dat somepin' t'eat us had dem days! Ida, ain't dere a piece of watermelon in de ice box?" Georgia lifted the lid of a small ice box, got out a piece of melon, and began to smack her thick lips as she devoured it with an air of ineffable satisfaction. When she had tilted the rind to swallow the last drop of pink juice, she indicated that she was fortified and ready to exercise her now well lubricated throat, by resuming her story:
"Oh, yessum! Marse Alec, had plenty for his slaves to eat. Dere was meat, bread, collard greens, snap beans, 'taters, peas, all sorts of dried fruit, and just lots of milk and butter. Marse Alec had 12 cows and dat's whar I learned to love milk so good. De same Uncle Jim what made our beds made our wooden bowls what dey kept filled wid bread and milk for de chillun all day. You might want to call dat place whar Marse Alec had our veg'tables raised a gyarden, but it looked more lak a big field to me, it was so big. You jus' ought to have seed dat dere fireplace whar dey cooked all us had to eat. It was one sho 'nough big somepin, all full of pots, skillets, and ovens. Dey warn't never 'lowed to git full of smut neither. Dey had to be cleant and shined up atter evvy meal, and dey sho was pretty hangin' dar in dat big old fireplace.
"George and Mack was de hunters. When dey went huntin' dey brought back jus' evvything: possums, rabbits, coons, squirrels, birds, and wild turkeys. Yessum, wild turkeys is some sort of birds I reckon, but when us talked about birds to eat us meant part'idges. Some folkses calls 'em quails. De fishes us had in summertime was a sight to see. Us sho et good dem days. Now us jus' eats what-some-ever us can git.
"Summertime us jus' wore what us wanted to. Dresses was made wid full skirts gathered on to tight fittin' waisties. Winter clothes was good and warm; dresses made of yarn cloth made up jus' lak dem summertime clothes, and petticoats and draw's made out of osnaburg. Chillun what was big enough done de spinnin' and Aunt Betsey and Aunt Tinny, dey wove most evvy night 'til dey rung de bell at 10:00 o'clock for us to go to bed. Us made bolts and bolts of cloth evvy year.
"Us went bar'foots in summer, but bless your sweet life us had good shoes in winter and wore good stockin's too. It tuk three shoemakers for our plantation. Dey was Uncle Isom, Uncle Jim, and Uncle Stafford. Dey made up hole-stock shoes for de 'omans and gals and brass-toed brogans for de mens and boys.
"Us had pretty white dresses for Sunday. Marse Alec wanted evvybody on his place dressed up dat day. He sont his houseboy, Uncle Harris, down to de cabins evvy Sunday mornin' to tell evvy slave to clean hisself up. Dey warn't never give no chance to forgit. Dere was a big old room sot aside for a wash-room. Folkses laughs at me now 'cause I ain't never stopped takin' a bath evvy Sunday mornin'.
"Marse Lordnorth Stephens was de boss on Marse Alec's plantation. Course Marse Alec owned us and he was our sho 'nough Marster. Neither one of 'em ever married. Marse Lordnorth was a good man, but he didn't have no use for 'omans—he was a sissy. Dere warn't no Marster no whar no better dan our Marse Alec Stephens, but he never stayed home enough to tend to things hisself much 'cause he was all de time too busy on de outside. He was de President or somepin of our side durin' de war.
"Uncle Pierce went wid Marse Alec evvy whar he went. His dog, Rio, had more sense dan most folkses. Marse Alec, he was all de time havin' big mens visit him up at de big house. One time, out in de yard, him and one of dem 'portant mens got in a argyment 'bout somepin. Us chillun snuck up close to hear what dey was makin' such a rukus 'bout. I heared Marse Alec say: 'I got more sense in my big toe dan you is got in your whole body.' And he was right—he did have more sense dan most folkses. Ain't I been a-tellin' you he was de President or somepin lak dat, dem days?
"Ma, she was Marse Alec's cook and looked atter de house. Atter she died Marse Lordnorth got Mrs. Mary Berry from Habersham County to keep house at de big house, but Aunt 'Liza, she done de cookin' atter Miss Mary got dar. Us little Niggers sho' did love Miss Mary. Us called her "Mammy Mary" sometimes. Miss Mary had three sons and one of 'em was named Jeff Davis. I 'members when dey come and got him and tuk him off to war. Marse Lordnorth built a four-room house on de plantation for Miss Mary and her boys. Evvybody loved our Miss Mary, 'cause she was so good and sweet, and dere warn't nothin' us wouldn't have done for her.
"No Lord! Marse Lordnorth never needed no overseer or no carriage driver neither. Uncle Jim was de head man wat got de Niggers up evvy mornin' and started 'em off to wuk right. De big house sho was a pretty place, a-settin' up on a high hill. De squirrels was so tame dar dey jus' played all 'round de yard. Marse Alec's dog is buried in dat yard.
"No Mam, I never knowed how many acres dere was in de plantation us lived on, and Marse Alec had other places too. He had land scattered evvywhar. Lord, dere was a heap of Niggers on dat place, and all of us was kin to one another. Grandma Becky and Grandpa Stafford was de fust slaves Marse Alec ever had, and dey sho had a passel of chillun. One thing sho Marse Lordnorth wouldn't keep no bright colored Nigger on dat plantation if he could help it. Aunt Mary was a bright colored Nigger and dey said dat Marse John, Marse Lordnorth's brother, was her Pa, but anyhow Marse Lordnorth never had no use for her 'cause she was a bright colored Nigger.
"Marse Lordnorth never had no certain early time for his slaves to git up nor no special late time for 'em to quit wuk. De hours dey wuked was 'cordin' to how much wuk was ahead to be done. Folks in Crawfordville called us 'Stephens' Free Niggers.'
"Us minded Marse Lordnorth—us had to do dat—but he let us do pretty much as us pleased. Us never had no sorry piece of a Marster. He was a good man and he made a sho 'nough good Marster. I never seed no Nigger git a beatin', and what's more I never heared of nothin' lak dat on our place. Dere was a jail in Crawfordville, but none of us Niggers on Marse Alec's place warn't never put in it.
"No Lord! None of us Niggers never knowed nothin' 'bout readin' and writin'. Dere warn't no school for Niggers den, and I ain't never been to school a day in my life. Niggers was more skeered of newspapers dan dey is of snakes now, and us never knowed what a Bible was dem days.
"Niggers never had no churches of deir own den. Dey went to de white folkses' churches and sot in de gallery. One Sunday when me and my sister Frances went to church I found 50c in Confederate money and showed it to her. She tuk it away from me. Dat's de onliest money I seed durin' slavery time. Course you knows dey throwed Confederate money away for trash atter de war was over. Den us young chaps used to play wid it.
"I never went to no baptizin's nor no funerals neither den. Funerals warn't de style. When a Nigger died dem days, dey jus' put his body in a box and buried it. I 'members very well when Aunt Sallie and Aunt Catherine died, but I was little den, and I didn't take it in what dey done bout buryin' 'em.
"None of Marse Alec's slaves never run away to de North, 'cause he was so good to 'em dey never wanted to leave him. De onliest Nigger what left Marse Alec's place was Uncle Dave, and he wouldn't have left 'cept he got in trouble wid a white 'oman. You needn't ax me her name 'cause I ain't gwine to tell it, but I knows it well as I does my own name. Anyhow Marse Alec give Uncle Dave some money and told him to leave, and nobody never seed him no more atter dat.
"Oh yessum! Us heared 'bout 'em, but none of us never seed no patterollers on Marse Alec's plantation. He never 'lowed 'em on his land, and he let 'em know dat he kept his slaves supplied wid passes whenever dey wanted to go places so as dey could come and go when dey got good and ready. Thursday and Sadday nights was de main nights dey went off. Uncle Stafford's wife was Miss Mary Stephen's cook, Uncle Jim's wife lived on de Finley place, and Uncle Isom's belonged to de Hollises, so dey had regular passes all de time and no patterollers never bothered 'em none.
"Whenever Marse Alec or Marse Lordnorth wanted to send a message dey jus' put George or Mack on a horse and sont 'em on but one thing sho, dere warn't no slave knowed what was in dem letters.
"Marse Alec sho had plenty of mules. Some of 'em was named: Pete, Clay, Rollin, Jack, and Sal. Sal was Allen's slow mule, and he set a heap of store by her. Dere was a heap more mules on dat place, but I can't call back dere names right now.
"Most times when slaves went to deir quarters at night, mens rested, but sometimes dey holped de 'omans cyard de cotton and wool. Young folkses frolicked, sung songs, and visited from cabin to cabin. When dey got behind wid de field wuk, sometimes slaves wuked atter dinner Saddays, but dat warn't often. But, Oh, dem Sadday nights! Dat was when slaves got together and danced. George, he blowed de quills, and he sho could blow grand dance music on 'em. Dem Niggers would jus' dance down. Dere warn't no foolishment 'lowed atter 10:00 o'clock no night. Sundays dey went to church and visited 'round, but folks didn't spend as much time gaddin' 'bout lak dey does now days.
"Christmas Day! Oh, what a time us Niggers did have dat day! Marse Lordnorth and Marse Alec give us evvything you could name to eat: cake of all kinds, fresh meat, lightbread, turkeys, chickens, ducks, geese, and all kinds of wild game. Dere was allus plenty of pecans, apples, and dried peaches too at Christmas. Marse Alec had some trees what had fruit dat looked lak bananas on 'em, but I done forgot what was de name of dem trees. Marse Alec would call de grown folkses to de big house early in de mornin' and pass 'round a big pewter pitcher full of whiskey, den he would put a little whiskey in dat same pitcher and fill it wid sweetened water and give dat to us chillun. Us called dat 'toddy' or 'dram'. Marse Alex allus had plenty of good whiskey, 'cause Uncle Willis made it up for him and it was made jus' right. De night atter Christmas Day us pulled syrup candy, drunk more liquor, and danced. Us had a big time for a whole week and den on New Year's Day us done a little wuk jus' to start de year right and us feasted dat day on fresh meat, plenty of cake, and whiskey. Dere was allus a big pile of ash-roasted 'taters on hand to go wid dat good old baked meat. Us allus tried to raise enough 'taters to last all through de winter 'cause Niggers sho does love dem sweet 'taters. No Mam, us never knowed nothin' 'bout Santa Claus 'til atter de war.
"No Mam, dere warn't no special cornshuckin's and cotton pickin's on Marse Alec's place, but of course dey did quilt in de winter 'cause dere had to be lots of quiltin' done for all dem slaves to have plenty of warm kivver, and you knows, Lady, 'omens can quilt better if dey gits a passel of 'em together to do it. Marse Alec and Marse Lordnorth never 'lowed dere slaves to mix up wid other folkses business much.
"Oh Lord! Us never played no games in slavery times, 'cept jus' to run around in a ring and pat our hands. I never sung no songs 'cause I warn't no singer, and don't talk 'bout no Raw Head and Bloody Bones or nothin' lak dat. Dey used to skeer us chillun so bad 'bout dem sort of things dat us used to lay in bed at night a-shakin' lak us was havin' chills. I've seed plenty of ha'nts right here in Athens. Not long atter I had left Crawfordville and moved to Athens, I had been in bed jus' a little while one night, and was jus' dozin' off to sleep when I woke up and sot right spang up in bed. I seed a white man, dressed in white, standin' before me. I sho didn't say nothin' to him for I was too skeered. De very last time I went to a dance, somepin got atter me and skeered me so my hair riz up 'til I couldn't git my hat on my haid, and dat cyored me of gwine to dances. I ain't never been to no more sich doin's.
"Old Marster was powerful good to his Niggers when dey got sick. He had 'em seed atter soon as it was 'ported to him dat dey was ailin'. Yessum, dere warn't nothin' short 'bout our good Marsters, 'deed dere warn't! Grandpa Stafford had a sore laig and Marse Lordnorth looked atter him and had Uncle Jim dress dat pore old sore laig evvy day. Slaves didn't git sick as often as Niggers does now days. Mammy Mary had all sorts of teas made up for us, 'cordin' to whatever ailment us had. Boneset tea was for colds. De fust thing dey allus done for sore throat was give us tea made of red oak bark wid alum. Scurvy grass tea cleant us out in the springtime, and dey made us wear little sacks of assfiddy (asafetida) 'round our necks to keep off lots of sorts of miseries. Some folkses hung de left hind foot of a mole on a string 'round deir babies necks to make 'em teethe easier. I never done nothin' lak dat to my babies 'cause I never believed in no such foolishment. Some babies is jus' natchelly gwine to teethe easier dan others anyhow.
"I 'members jus' as good as if it was yesterday what Mammy Mary said when she told us de fust news of freedom. 'You all is free now,' she said. 'You don't none of you belong to Mister Lordnorth nor Mister Alec no more, but I does hope you will all stay on wid 'em, 'cause dey will allus be jus' as good to you as dey has done been in de past.' Me, I warn't even studyin' nothin' 'bout leavin' Marse Alec, but Sarah Ann and Aunt Mary, dey threwed down deir hoes and jus' whooped and hollered 'cause dey was so glad. When dem Yankees come to our place Mammy Mary axed 'em if dey warn't tired of war. 'What does you know 'bout no war?' Dey axed her right back. 'No, us won't never git tired of doin' good.'
"I stayed on wid my two good Marsters 'til most 3 years atter de war, and den went to wuk for Marse Tye Elder in Crawfordville. Atter dat I wuked for Miss Puss King, and when she left Crawfordville I come on here to Athens and wuked for Miss Tildy Upson on Prince Avenue. Den I went to Atlanta to wuk for Miss Ruth Evage (probably Elliott). Miss Ruth was a niece of Abraham Lincoln's. Her father was President Lincoln's brother and he was a Methodist preacher what lived in Mailpack, New York. I went evvywhar wid Miss Ruth. When me and Miss Ruth was in Philadelphia, I got sick and she sont me home to Athens and I done been here wid my daughter ever since.
"Lawdy, Miss! I ain't never been married, but I did live wid Major Baker 18 years and us had five chillun. Dey is all daid but two. Niggers didn't pay so much 'tention to gittin' married dem days as dey does now. I stays here wid my gal, Ida Baker. My son lives in Cleveland, Ohio. My fust child was borned when I warn't but 14 years old. De war ended in April and she was borned in November of dat year. Now, Miss! I ain't never told but one white 'oman who her Pa was, so you needn't start axin' me nothin' 'bout dat. She had done been walkin' evvywhar 'fore she died when she was jus' 10 months old and I'm a-tellin' you de truth when I say she had more sense dan a heap of white chillun has when dey is lots older dan she was. Whilst I was off in New York wid Miss Ruth, Major, he up and got married. I reckon he's daid by now. I don't keer nohow, atter de way he done me. I made a good livin' for Major 'til he married again. I seed de 'oman he married once.
"Yes Mam," there was strong emphasis in this reply. "I sho would ruther have slavery days back if I could have my same good Marsters 'cause I never had no hard times den lak I went through atter dey give us freedom. I ain't never got over not bein' able to see Marse Alec no more. I was livin' at Marse Tye Elder's when de gate fell on Marse Alec, and he was crippled and lamed up from dat time on 'til he died. He got to be Governor of Georgia whilst he was crippled. When he got hurt by dat gate, smallpox was evvywhar and dey wouldn't let me go to see 'bout him. Dat most killed me 'cause I did want to go see if dere was somepin' I could do for him.
"Lordy Mussy, Miss! I had a time jinin' up wid de church. I was in Mailpack, New York, wid Miss Ruth when I had de urge to jine up. I told Miss Ruth 'bout it and she said: 'Dere ain't no Baptist church in 10 miles of here.' 'Lord, have mussy!' I said. 'Miss Ruth, what I gwine do? Dese is all Methodist churches up here and I jus' can't jine up wid no Methodists.' 'Yes you can,' she snapped at me, 'cause my own Pa's a-holdin a 'vival in dis very town and de Methodist church is de best anyhow.' Well, I went on and jined de Reverend Lincoln's Methodist church, but I never felt right 'bout it. Den us went to Philadelphia and soon as I could find a Baptist church dar, I jined up wid it. Northern churches ain't lak our southern churches 'cause de black and white folkses all belong to de same church dar and goes to church together. On dat account I still didn't feel lak I had jined de church. Bless your sweet life, Honey, when I come back to de South, I was quick as I could be to jine up wid a good old southern Baptist church. I sho didn't mean to live outdoors, 'specially atter I dies." Georgia's eyes sparkled and her flow of speech was smooth as she told of her religious experiences. When that subject was exhausted her eyes dimmed again and her speech became less articulate.
Georgia's reeking pipe had been laid aside for the watermelon and not long after that was consumed the restless black fingers sought occupation sewing gay pieces for a quilt. "Miss, I warn't born to be lazy, I warn't raised dat way, and I sho ain't skeered to die.
"Good-bye, Honey," said Georgia, as the interviewer arose and made her way toward the street. "Hurry back and don't forgit to fetch me dat purty pink dress you is a-wearin'. I don't lak white dresses and I ain't never gwine to wear a black one nohow."
[TR: Return Visit]
Georgia was on the back porch washing her face and hands and quarrelling with Ida for not having her breakfast ready at nine-thirty when the interviewer arrived for a re-visit.
"Come in," Georgia invited, "and have a cheer. But, Miss I done told you all I knows 'bout Marse Alec and dem deys when I lived on his plantation. You know chillun den warn't 'lowed to hang 'round de grown folks whar dey could hear things what was talked about."
About this time Ida came down from a second-floor kitchen with her mother's breakfast. She was grumbling a little louder on each step of the rickety stairway. "Lord, have mussy! Ma is still a-talkin' 'bout dat old slavery stuff, and it ain't nothin' nohow." After Ida's eyes had rested on the yellow crepe frock just presented Georgia in appreciation of the three hours she had given for the first interview, she became reconciled for the story to be resumed, and even offered her assistance in rousing the recollections of her parent.
"Did I tell you" Georgia began, "dat de man what looked atter Marse Alec's business was his fust cousin? He was de Marse Lordnorth I'se all time talkin' 'bout, and Marse John was Marse Lordnorth's brother. Dere warn't no cook or house gal up at de big house but Ma 'til atter she died, and den when Miss Mary Berry tuk charge of de house dey made Uncle Harry and his wife, Aunt 'Liza, house boy and cook.
"Marse Alec growed all his corn on his Googer Crick plantation. He planned for evvything us needed and dere warn't but mighty little dat he didn't have raised to take keer of our needs. Lordy, didn't I tell you what sort of shoes, holestock shoes is? Dem was de shoes de 'omans wore and dey had extra pieces on de sides so us wouldn't knock holes in 'em too quick.
"De fust time I ever seed Marse Alec to know who he was, I warn't more'n 6 years old. Uncle Stafford had went fishin' and cotched de nicest mess of fish you ever seed. He cleant 'em and put 'em in a pan of water, and told me to take 'em up to de big house to Marse Alec. I was skeered when I went in de big house yard and axed, what looked lak a little boy, whar Marse Alec was, and I was wuss skeered when he said: 'Dis is Marse Alec you is talkin' to. What you want?' I tole him Uncle Stafford sont him de fishes and he told me: 'Take 'em to de kitchen and tell 'Liza to cook 'em for me.' I sho ain't never gwine to forgit dat.
"One day dey sont me wid a bucket of water to de field, and I had to go through de peach orchard. I et so many peaches, I was 'most daid when I got back to de house. Dey had to drench me down wid sweet milk, and from dat day to dis I ain't never laked peaches. From den on Marse Alec called me de 'peach gal.'
"Marse Alec warn't home much of de time, but when he was dar he used to walk down to de cabins and laugh and talk to his Niggers. He used to sing a song for de slave chillun dat run somepin lak dis:
'Walk light ladies De cake's all dough, You needn't mind de weather, If de wind don't blow.'"
Georgia giggled when she came to the end of the stanza. "Us didn't know when he was a-singin' dat tune to us chillun dat when us growed up us would be cake walkin' to de same song.
"On Sundays, whenever Marse Alec was home, he done lots of readin' out of a great big old book. I didn't know what it was, but he was pow'ful busy wid it. He never had no parties or dancin' dat I knows 'bout, but he was all time havin' dem big 'portant mens at his house talkin' 'bout de business what tuk him off from home so much. I used to see Lawyer Coombs dere heaps of times. He was a big, fine lookin' man. Another big lawyer was all time comin' dar too, but I done lost his name. Marse Alec had so awful much sense in his haid dat folkses said it stunted his growin'. Anyhow, long as he lived he warn't no bigger dan a boy.
"When Uncle Harry's and Aunt 'Liza's daughter what was named 'Liza, got married he was in Washin'ton or some place lak dat. He writ word to Marse Linton, his half-brother, to pervide a weddin' for her. I knows 'bout dat 'cause I et some of dat barbecue. Dat's all I 'members 'bout her weddin'. I done forgot de name of de bridegroom. He lived on some other plantation. Aunt 'Liza had two gals and one boy. He was named Allen.
"Whilst Marse Alec was President or somepin, he got sick and had to come back home, and it wern't long atter dat 'fore de surrender. Allen was 'pinted to watch for de blue coats. When dey come to take Marse Alec off, dey was all over the place wid deir guns. Us Niggers hollered and cried and tuk on pow'ful 'cause us sho thought dey was gwine to kill him on account of his bein' such a high up man on de side what dey was fightin'. All de Niggers followed 'em to de depot when dey tuk Marse Alec and Uncle Pierce away. Dey kept Marse Alec in prison off somewhar a long time but dey sont Pierce back home 'fore long.
"I seed Jeff Davis when dey brung him through Crawfordville on de train. Dey had him all fastened up wid chains. Dey told me dat a Nigger 'oman put pizen in Jeff Davis' somepin t'eat and dat was what kilt him. One thing sho, our Marse Alec warn't pizened by nobody. He was comin' from de field one day when a big old heavy gate fell down on him, and even if he did live a long time atterwards dat was what was de cause of his death.
"I seed Uncle Pierce 'fore he died and us sot and talked and cried 'bout Marse Alec. Yessum, us sho did have de best Marster in de world. If ever a man went to Heaven, Marse Alec did. I sho does wish our good old Marster was livin' now. Now, Miss, I done told you all I can ricollec' 'bout dem days. I thanks you a lot for dat purty yaller dress, and I hopes you comes back to see me again sometime."
ALICE BATTLE, EX-SLAVE Hawkinsville, Georgia
(Interviewed By Elizabeth Watson—1936) [JUL 20, 1937]
During the 1840's, Emanuel Caldwell—born in North Carolina, and Neal Anne Caldwell—born in South Carolina, were brought to Macon by "speculators" and sold to Mr. Ed Marshal of Bibb County. Some time thereafter, this couple married on Mr. Marshal's plantation, and their second child, born about 1850, was Alice Battle. From her birth until freedom, Alice was a chattel of this Mr. Marshal, whom she refers to as a humane man, though inclined to use the whip when occasion demanded.
Followed to its conclusion, Alice's life history is void of thrills and simply an average ex-slave's story. As a slave, she was well fed, well clothed, and well treated, as were her brother and sister slaves. Her mother was a weaver, her father—a field hand, and she did both housework and plantation labor.
Alice saw the Yankee pass her ex-master's home with their famous prisoner, Jeff Davis, after his capture, in '65. The Yankee band, says she, was playing "We'll hang Jeff Davis on a Sour Apple Tree". Some of the soldiers "took time out" to rob the Marshal smokehouse. The Whites and Negroes were all badly frightened, but the "damyankees didn't harm nobody".
After freedom, Alice remained with the Marshals until Christmas, when she moved away. Later, she and her family moved back to the Marshal plantation for a few years. A few years still later, Alice married a Battle "Nigger".
Since the early '70's, Alice has "drifted around" quite a bit. She and her husband are now too old and feeble to work. They live with one of their sons, and are objects of charity.
JASPER BATTLE, Age 80 112 Berry St., 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
The shade of the large water oaks in Jasper's yard was a welcome sight when the interviewer completed the long walk to the old Negro's place in the sweltering heat of a sunny July afternoon. The old house appeared to be in good condition and the yard was clean and tidy. Jasper's wife, Lula, came around the side of the house in answer to the call for Jasper. A large checked apron almost covered her blue dress and a clean white headcloth concealed her hair. Despite her advanced age, she seemed to be quite spry.
"Jus' come back here whar I'se a-doin' de white folks' washin'," she said. "Jasper's done been powerful sick and I can't leave him by hisself none. I brung him out here in de shade so I could watch him and 'tend to him whilst I wuks. Jasper stepped on a old plank what had two rusty nails in it, and both of 'em went up in his foot a fur ways. I done driv dem nails plumb up to dey haids in de north side of a tree and put jimpson weed poultices on Jasper's foot, but it's still powerful bad off."
By this time we had arrived within sight and earshot of the old rocking chair where Jasper sat with his foot propped high in another chair. His chair had long ago been deprived of its rockers. The injured member appeared to be swollen and was covered with several layers of the jimpson weed leaves. The old man's thin form was clothed in a faded blue shirt and old gray cotton trousers. His clothes were clean and his white hair was in marked contrast to his shining but wrinkled black face. He smiled when Lula explained the nature of the proposed interview. "'Scuse me, Missy," he apologized, "for not gittin' up, 'cause I jus' can't use dis old foot much, but you jus' have a seat here in de shade and rest yourself." Lula now excused herself, saying: "I jus' got to hurry and git de white folks' clothes washed and dried 'fore it rains," and she resumed her work in the shade of another huge tree where a fire was burning brightly under her washpot and a row of sud-filled tubs occupied a long bench.
"Lula, she has to wuk all de time," Jasper explained, "and she don't never have time to listen to me talk. I'se powerful glad somebody is willin' to stop long enough to pay some heed whilst I talks 'bout somepin. Dem days 'fore de war was good old days, 'specially for de colored folks. I know, 'cause my Mammy done told me so. You see I was mighty little and young when de war was over, but I heared de old folks do lots of talkin' 'bout dem times whilst I was a-growin' up, and den too, I stayed right dar on dat same place 'til I was 'bout grown. It was Marse Henry Jones' plantation 'way off down in Taliaferro County, nigh Crawfordville, Georgy. Mammy b'longed to Marse Henry. She was Harriet Jones. Daddy was Simon Battle and his owner was Marse Billie Battle. De Battle's plantation was off down dar nigh de Jones' place. When my Mammy and Daddy got married Marse Henry wouldn't sell Mammy, and Marse Billie wouldn't sell Daddy, so dey didn't git to see one another but twice a week—dat was on Wednesday and Sadday nights—'til atter de war was done over. I kin still 'member Daddy comin' over to Marse Henry's plantation to see us.
"Marse Henry kept a lot of slaves to wuk his big old plantation whar he growed jus' evvything us needed to eat and wear 'cept sugar and coffee and de brass toes for our home-made, brogan shoes. Dere allus was a-plenty t'eat and wear on dat place.
"Slave quarters was log cabins built in long rows. Some had chimblies in de middle, twixt two rooms, but de most of 'em was jus' one-room cabins wid a stick and mud chimbly at de end. Dem chimblies was awful bad 'bout ketchin' on fire. Didn't nobody have no glass windows. Dey jus' had plain plank shutters for blinds and de doors was made de same way, out of rough planks. All de beds was home-made and de best of 'em was corded. Dey made holes in de sides and foots and haidpieces, and run heavy home-made cords in dem holes. Dey wove 'em crossways in and out of dem holes from one side to another 'til dey had 'em ready to lay de mattress mat on. I'se helped to pull dem cords tight many a time. Our mattress ticks was made of homespun cloth and was stuffed wid wheat straw. 'Fore de mattress tick was put on de bed a stiff mat wove out of white oak splits was laid on top of de cords to pertect de mattress and make it lay smooth. Us was 'lowed to pick up all de old dirty cotton 'round de place to make our pillows out of.
"Jus' a few of de slave famblies was 'lowed to do deir own cookin' 'cause Marster kept cooks up at de big house what never had nothin' else to do but cook for de white folks and slaves. De big old fireplace in dat kitchen at de big house was more dan eight feet wide and you could pile whole sticks of cord-wood on it. It had racks acrost to hang de pots on and big ovens and little ovens and big, thick, iron fryin' pans wid long handles and hefty iron lids. Dey could cook for a hunderd people at one time in dat big old kitchen easy. At one time dere was tables acrost one end of de kitchen for de slaves t'eat at, and de slave chillun et dar too.
"Marster was mighty good to slave chillun. He never sont us out to wuk in de fields 'til us was 'most growed-up, say 12 or 14 years old. A Nigger 12 or 14 years old dem days was big as a white child 17 or 18 years old. Why Miss, Niggers growed so fast, dat most of de Nigger nurses warn't no older dan de white chillun dey tuk keer of. Marster said he warn't gwine to send no babies to de fields. When slave chillun got to be 'bout 9 or 10 years old dey started 'em to fetchin' in wood and water, cleanin' de yards, and drivin' up de cows at night. De bigges' boys was 'lowed to measure out and fix de stock feed, but de most of us chillun jus' played in de cricks and woods all de time. Sometimes us played Injuns and made so much fuss dat old Aunt Nancy would come out to de woods to see what was wrong, and den when she found us was jus' a-havin' fun, she stropped us good for skeerin' her.
"Mammy's job was to make all de cloth. Dat was what she done all de time; jus' wove cloth. Some of de others cyarded de bats and spun thread, but Mammy, she jus' wove on so reg'lar dat she made enough cloth for clothes for all dem slaves on de plantation and, it's a fact, us did have plenty of clothes. All de nigger babies wore dresses made jus' alak for boys and gals. I was sho'ly mighty glad when dey 'lowed me to git rid of dem dresses and wear shirts. I was 'bout 5 years old den, but dat boys' shirt made me feel powerful mannish. Slave gals wore homespun cotton dresses, and dey had plenty of dem dresses, so as dey could keep nice and clean all de time. Dey knitted all de socks and stockin's for winter. Dem gals wore shawls, and dere poke bonnets had ruffles 'round 'em. All de shoes was home-made too. Marster kept one man on de plantation what didn't do nothin' but make shoes. Lordy, Missy! What would gals say now if dey had to wear dem kind of clothes? Dey would raise de roof plumb offen de house. But jus' let me tell you, a purty young gal dressed in dem sort of clothes would look mighty sweet to me right now.