Search This Blog

Friday, September 30, 2016

Slave Narratives from Williamson County - In their own words . . .

Writers and researchers have long been interested in capturing the stories of people who had been enslaved.  Below, I have transcribed some of the interviews published with people from Williamson County.  At the bottom of the post is an interview in the 1850s with a man who was born "near Nashville" and later managed to escape to Canada.

The following video includes some audio of narratives of enslaved people collected around the United States.  Unfortunately, none are from people who lived in Williamson County, but they provide some insight into what their lives may have been like. 


Between 1928-1933, two historically African American colleges, Fisk University and Southern University, began collecting oral histories of formerly enslaved people. Some of these interviews were transcribed on manual typewriters in the 1930s and then published in The Unwritten History of Slavery (1968).

Later, in the 1930s the federal government as part of the WPA's Federal Writers Project hired writers to interview former slaves. Interviewers, both white and African American, traveled seventeen states interviewing about 2,500 people and took 500 photographs. The interviews were organized by state and published in 1941 as the Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States. Many of the WPA interviewers attempted to transcribe the dialect in which interviewees spoke - which can make reading them sometimes difficult. The Fisk and WPA interviews were compiled into a multi-volume set that was republished in the 1970s.

Recently another group of interviews conducted by researchers with Southern University have come to light; most of the subjects lived in Texas but a few had ties to Tennessee.

Of all these interviews I have found a few people who identify themselves as having been enslaved in Williamson County, or nearby.

These interviews contain remarkable details about life here as enslaved people - what they ate, their work, family relationships, their treatment by enslavers and overseers, and other descriptions that help paint a fuller picture of the lives slaves in Williamson County lived in the period before the Civil War.

I have combed through these interviews and attempted to map them out to show geographically where they were living when they were interviewed.  This map contains hyperlinks to each of the middle Tennessee interviews that I have been able to locate thus far.