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Monday, October 8, 2018

Andrews family in Black & White Part II - Sold from the Block - Vergy's Story

The Unwritten History of Slavery
Fisk University, 1945
Reprinted 1968 
I believe that sometime around 1854, a young enslaved girl named Vergy came to be in John T. Andrews' household near his father's large farm on the west side of Franklin, Tennessee. I have extensively outlined the history of the early Andrews family in my previous post and encourage you to read it for background about the family.

John Thweatt Andrews 

Around 1850, when he was still living at home and just 17 years old John T. was credited in the Census as operating a 100-acre farm worth $2,750.  He would have been using enslaved laborers to accomplish this.  In 1852, he married Amanda Moore Horton. The following year, their first child was born.

Vergy's Story

Vergy was interviewed in 1929 or 1930 by Mrs. Ophelia Settle Egypt, a member of the Research Staff of the Social Science Institute at Fisk University, Her interview, along with 37 others, was originally published in 1945.  In the interviews, most of the subjects are not identified by name or location.  However, Vergy left some clues that allowed me to identify her somewhat and her slaveholding family.  In Vergy's interview, she recalled, 
I was four years old when I was put on the block and sold . . .  I was born in Wilshire County [Williamson County]; then my home was in Franklin,
She, her mother and brother Dave seem to have been sold together. Her father Jackson lived on a nearby farm. Vergy was given the job of caring for Amanda Andrews' babies, even though she was still a child herself:
. . . I had to set by the cradle and rock my old mistress’ baby, and keep the flies off her before I was five years old. 
The baby Vergy remembers rocking in the cradle was likely the Andrews' first child - a daughter Mary Etta - born in 1853.  In 1856 there were rumors in Williamson County of a planned revolt by the enslaved people. These reports proved to be false, but many whites took steps to prevent possible violence anyway.
Yes, I remember when they took [my father] away from us. They said the n****** was gitting ready for an uprising, and they took me and my brother way down in Cheatham County.  . . we went to Cheatham County and stayed about six months with the white folks. . . .‘Course we wasn’t far away from Pappy, but you know, far enough so he couldn’t come to us, and we cried and cried, and when any of the white people went down that way they would see Pappy, and he would send messages to us by them. Yes, dear, they would tell us exactly what Pappy said. . . . 

The New York Times. Wed Dec 10. 1856
Vergy's mother died when she was still a child, leaving her and her brother Dave alone on the John T. Andrews' plantation. 
Well, dear, it was nobody but me and my brother, .... My mother died when I was young, way before the War. We was both together until way after the War, too. ...
My ole mistress [Amanda Moore Andrews] was good in a way and mean in a way, too. She had to be strict, because I had no mother, you see, dearie, and now I realize that she was just strict as any other mother should be with their children. 
Well, it was just like this, when her children got done eating at the table, me and my brother went to that same table and ate. 
I am estimating that John T. and Amanda Andrews' young children who were allowed to eat first at the table were likely Mary Etta (b. 1853), William Robert (b. 1854), George (b. 1856), Mark L. (b. 1859), and Francis (b. 1861).  

Vergy had to work picking cotton, cooking and weaving.
Well, you see, Honey, picking cotton wasn’t so much fun to me because I was compelled to do it. ...
Then, of course, you know from time to time I had to learn how to cook and do most everything about the house. I had my five cuts a day to make, just like the old folks, you know. Well, that is a roll of five threads, and when it turns over five times, well it cracks, and you wind it in a hook like this, and make a loop of several threads; now five of them is five cuts. You see, I had to pull the thread like this, and pull it over the loom like this, and then cord it. It was real work, I tell you, dear. You had that to do until you got that roll spun up; then you started on another one. Then to put it on, you would thread it like this and sorta turn the wheel ‘til it made a twist, then you was ready to start back and forth, back and forth, just like this. Then you took that thread, and you had to run it on a broach and wet a shuck and run it on a spindle, holding that old shuck all the time. Yes, it really was work. . . . 

. . .You know in those days we had a barrel, you know, and we had to pack water a long ways – that is the drinking water, the fresh water, you see. And in the winter time we had a big sled, sometime like that flower box there, and we hauled water up to the house in the barrel, on this sled.

Example of a sled 
 Source here
Well, Pappy used to do all them kinda things to help Mammy, you see. I remember one time the ole missus got mad at Mammy, and my boss was way out in the fields. My Mammy just kept weaving and Ole Missus just kept fussing, and you see Mammy didn’t pay much ‘tention to her, and you know how mad that makes anybody, so she sent me down in the field after the old master; so he could come and whip Mammy. I was a small child, of course, and I never did know what the trouble was one way or the other; but I do know then the ole master [John Thweatt Andrews], he told his ole lady that he didn’t see nowhere to whip her; you see my mammy had carbuncles on her back, and the ole master [John Thweatt Andrews] just bucked against his own wife and wouldn’t hit Mammy a lick, you see. ...

Mammy finally died and left a little bit of a baby, and do you know? I had sense enough to be glad when the baby died, too. Poor little thing wouldn’t have to go through the world like I have come; all alone with no mother. Yes sir, I was a child, but I was really glad when the baby died. It was a girl, too; you see that made it even worse. Yes, I couldn’t see things like that like I can now, but I guess it was just that instinct or something that made me glad when the poor little thing passed away.

Civil War & Emancipation

In 1861, when the Civil War broke out, Vergy was 9 years old.  Early the following year, Franklin was under occupation by US forces.  Vergy provides us with a compelling account of how she and her brother learned of their freedom and the attitude of Amanda Moore Andrews toward Vergy's enthusiasm about the news:
I don’t know how long that was before the War broke out, but we stayed with the same white people until the War ceased. Now you know what happened then. They told us we were free, but of course we didn’t know where to go nor nothing. The ole mistress asked me if I was glad we was free, and I, of course, child like, say yes I sure was; and my ole mistress sure did get mad at me; and she got mad at my brother, and said she was going to send him South, just like he wasn’t free and equal. Well, dear, I didn’t know nothin’ about what they meant, but I just knew that he was going away from me. I didn’t have sense enough to know much, but I knew that much. Well, he was going on a Monday morning – that was on a Saturday. So, on Saturday night I says to my brother, “In the morning you take them clothes you got on now on your arm, as you come through the house, when you go to do your work.” You see, I had to get breakfast, and there wasn’t nobody up that time in the morning but me and my brother. I told him, “I will be in the kitchen and you go down in the field and change your clothes, and go to the courthouse and get yourself a pass.” And then I told him which way to go to get a Pappy’s farm. I didn’t know the names nor the directions, but I just said, “You get such-and such a road and walk till you get to the white fence,” and like that, you know. I knew right where Pappy lived. I told him after he got to a certain place anybody would tell him where Pappy lived.
Well, on Monday morning my old master [John Thweatt Andrews] got up and found my brother’s work wasn’t finished, and I was out there cooking breakfast and he come up and asked me, “Ain’t Dave come to the house yet?” I said, “Naw, I ain’t seen him,” he he [laughing] I told the story and I was scared, too. Well, he looked around a while and went on down in the yard, and then about an hour the men come through the back going to the field across the way to do the plowing, and he asked them about Dave. None of them had seen him. Well, I was so tickled that I couldn’t hardly get breakfast, and then while they was talking a man – he was a friend of me and my brother – from the next farm, and he come up in the yard and I said, “Uncle Bob, Dave’s gone.” He said, “Damn good thing,” and went on through the yard. Don’t nobody know about my brother but me and Uncle Bob.
Eliza Pamela Andrews Balch

 Well, that was on Monday; on Tuesday the old boss [John Thweatt Andrews], went to town and was asking around about Dave. Well, the ole boss’ sister lived right on the edge of town [this might have been Eliza Pamela Andrews Balch -her husband was one of the editors of the Franklin Review newspaper] and she told the ole master that she saw him down by the courthouse early Monday morning.
Well then, by eleven o’clock, I figured he was at my father’s. My Pappy was sure glad to see him; and do you know, they never did know that I had something to do with that. Well, on Saturday I had to churn, so I went to the well to get some water to wash the butter down from the sides of the churn. And just as I got to the well I saw a hat through the grape vines and somebody said, “Make haste,” and I knew it was Pappy. I was the happiest child you ever heard of. Well, I hurried and got that water and went back to the house, and I asked if Pap had been there, and Ole Missus said, “No, I haven’t seen him,” Well, I knew he had done gone on by down to the old boss’ father’s plantation [Rev. Mark L. Andrews' plantation was nearby] to ask his opinion about taking me to my brother. 

A portion of 1878 Map of Williamson County showing the Andrews farms on the west side of Franklin
D.G. Beers & Co, Courtesy, Tennessee State Library and Archives
I didn’t say a word; I just went on with my work. Well, he come on back – ‘course I learned all this later – he come on back and met my own boss man [John Thweatt Andrews], and they talked and talked; and after a while they both come to the house. When Pappy come in he told me, “howdy,” and my old master said, “Vergy, Dave’s up yonder with yo’ pappy, and your pappy come after you. Do you want to go?” Well, dear, I didn’t’ know what to say, so I just hung my head and said, “I don’t know.” Well, poor Pap just burst out crying. He said, “I don’t want to separate you and Dave til you do yourself.” Well, missus [Amanda Moore Andrews], had mistreated my mother while she was living; and he told him that was why he had done a heap of things he had. Well, Mr. John [Thweatt Andrews] said, “Jackson, I have noticed a heap of things you have done, but I didn’t know why, then.” Well, finally my ole missus owned up to it; ‘course you know, dear, she kinda had to with Pappy right there. So I went on back with Pappy; after I heard how she treated Mammy.
This was the way it happened. 

Post War

After Vergy gained her freedom she, her father and her brother Dave lived together at a new home off of the Andrews' farm.  I have not been able to find any of them in the middle Tennessee area - although based on Vergy's interview she seems to have stayed in the area and maintained ties with the family.  She described a visit back to the Andrews' farm in which Amanda Andrews tried to entice her to return and work for her - but Vergy rebuffed the offfer:
Then along a little while later the ole master [John Thweatt Andrews] went for me to come back for a little visit; and one Saturday they came after me; this was before Ole Missus died [Amanda Moore Andrews died in 1880], you see. Well, I dressed up and they come after me, and I went back to the old farm just as spry as you please. I was a big girl then, you know. “Well, now, how did you like your new home?” that’s the first thing the Ole Missus said when I come. I was smart and young, you see, so I says, “Liked it well enough to go back.” Whew, why Ole Missus nearly had a fit. “Why you ought to get fifty lashes for that,” she said. There was an ole white woman working in the kitchen then and she said, “I’ll bet your ole Marse John [Thweatt Andrews] do give you fifty lashes for that, good as he’s done been to you.” Oh yes, but I tell you this. When I was gitting ready to leave with Pappy, my white folks say, “Now, Vergy, don’t go to stay away from us; you come back whenever you get ready.” I come on over with another young girl that was spending the week on the next farm, to see her folks, and we was going back together.
Now, as I was going to say, this is what ole Marse John [Thweatt Andrews] say, “Why she can go back if she want to; that’s her father, and she wants to be with him. No, I ain’t gonna give her no whipping ‘cause she wants to be with her folks.” Now you see that? Then he turned around and asked me all about how I was getting along, and how was Pappy and my brother, n’everything; you see, nobody had done asked me about them. No sir, he said he wasn’t going to separate us; now you think of that! Just goes to show the difference in people. Well, I stayed on that week and they was real nice with me, for good you see. Well, on Friday, Ole Missus went to town and came back with some real pretty material – they used to call it bird-eyed buff [this was a type of woven fabric patterned with diamond shapes resembling the eyes of a bird]  – to make the girl that was cooking for her a skirt out of and she showed it to me, and said she expected she would give me one if I was there much longer. You see, dear, trying to get me to stay. I didn’t say nothing but I knew what she was up to, and I knew just as well that I was going back to Pappy. Yes, I thought to myself, they ain’t enticing me, ‘cause I am going to Daddy.
I got all my things and I remember I had a pretty skirt with five widths in it, and I took and tied all my things up in it and put the bundle on the top of my head, and me and that girl walked seven miles into the country, and got there before night, too.  I stayed with Pappy ‘till Christmas and then I went back to the white folks again, and got myself some gifts. He, he, he [laughing] That was the last time I saw Ole Missus alive [Amanda Moore Andrews died in 1880], and she gave me some old sorghum molasses and make myself some molasses candy; my ole master give me two dollars and I spent one dollar on myself and give the other one to Pappy.

Marriage & Life in Nashville

When Vergy married she moved to Nashville.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to determine the name of her husband - which would be of a big help in locating her later in life.  But this is what she says about her early romantic life as a married woman and young mother.   
Well, I stayed with my father, and then I married and come up here; but before, I was up here and went into that old Noel [Knowles] school what used to be right over yonder before it was finished. My teacher was a Mr. Atchison, and then there was Miss Molly Tatler, and another white man teacher. I was in the second grade and I married and went across Jefferson Street one pretty moonshiny night to live with my husband. I ain’t forgotten a bit of it.
According to one source, the Knowles Street school opened in 1879 and was only open until 1883, before re-opening in 1890.  It was located in an abanded Fisk University building on the corner of Hynes and Knowles Streets in North NashvilleIf this is the time period when Vergy attended, she would have been about 27 years old.

Vergy's relationship with the Andrews family remained close - they visited her upon the birth of her children.  
Then, dear, when I was getting ready to become a mother I went back to see the white folks. Then I come back here and had my first child, and all my ole white folks come around to see it, and I remember I held the baby out of an upstairs window so they could look at it, and then I never seen any of them no more until I had my second child; then I went back down there in the country and stayed all night with the white folks.
. . . my old master’s brother what lives out here on Kayne [11th] Avenue, you know he runs a coal yard, Mark F. [L.] Andrews. 

Listing for Mark L. Andrews on Kayne Avenue in Nashville in XXXX.
Telephone directory for Andrews Coal - showing Mark L. Andrews as president.  He was the brother of John T. Andrews and had been a Confederate soldier during the Civil War.

Vergy also describes how she had a daughter who attended Fisk University in Nashville.  Sadly, she had outlived that daughter as well as two other children and her two husbands.  She stated that she was living with her one remaining child.
... my oldest daughter died, and she was sick, you see, she went to Fisk, too. ... I’ve lost two husbands and three children. There is nobody but me and my other daughter what lives here now....


Vergy spoke a lot in her interview about her strong faith and her conversion to Christianity.

Well, I made profession in Christ after I come to Nashville and was married. It was just this-a-way. I think like this – seeking for religion is just like anything else; that is, being converted into the grace of the Lord you just got to pray hard, that’s all. You can’t give up worldly things all at once; it’s practically impossible. You just have to live so to speak with man in the hand and God in the heart, don’t you dear? You can’t change and do that right off, though. You got to have something revealed to you through your soul, you see. You got to push back everything and show that you are really in earnest; dear, you got to give up wordly things, ain’t you? You understand, don’t you dear: Why, after the Lord converted me, I was a different woman.

I went to church right down yonder on Ninth Avenue. [Probably the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church located at the intersection of 9thAvenue and Charlotte.]  I made a full surrender to the Almighty that night. I remember they were singing, “Why should we wish to die when the Lord God has set us free?” ...

Why, dear, even up to the time my last child was born I was a sinner. I prayed and prayed but seem like I just couldn’t see and feel that new light in my soul. My baby had done been born and had already done died, and I was sitting here in this very chair one day and just thinking. And I saw my baby just naked like it was when it was born, just as plain as I see you right now; yessir, and that baby was dead. I look down and saw that little naked baby in my lap. The Lord come and put my baby in my lap and I heard him say just as plain as day, “’Cept you come as this little child, you can in no way enter the kingdom of heaven.” Dear, I seen it just as plain as I see you, I tell you. Yessir, that’s the truth if I die today.

Equal Rights

Despite her early childhood as an enslaved person, Vergy had no trouble standing up for herself.  She describes how she would politely but firmly insist that white men remove their hats when in her home:
And I tell you another thing, when the white folks steps in this house, especially the men, I demands respect. I always says, “Won’t you rest your hat?” Yessir, just as I feel. ,,,
She also described a story about how she did not back down to a streetcar conductor when he would not accept her ticket book as a fare one night:
Just like once I was on the street car, and you see my white people that I work for had give me a book to ride on, because I had to come home every Sunday evening to see about my girls I got on the car, and handed the conductor my book, and he just looked at me kinda mean, and said, “Pay your fare,” I kept handing him the book; he kept saying, “Pay your fare.” He let me go on by to my seat, ‘cause I wasn’t studying about paying my fare after I had handed him the book. He come on up to the seat I was in and said, “If you don’t pay your fare, I’m going to put you off this car,” and I said, “Just put me off, put me off, and see if I don’t git you put off, too,” I turned round to a man what was sitting next to me, and asked him, “What’s the matter with this book?” then I asked the conductor, “What’s the matter with that book?” And he just kept saying, “Pay your fare.” Then some poor old colored man said, “here lady, here’s a nickel for your fare;” you see he was scared, ‘fraid the man would put me off, but I wasn’t.
[Photograph of Nashville's Cedar Street electric streetcar, ca. 1900,

Vergy's statement that she wasn't scared of being put off the streetcar for standing up for herself is indicative of how she felt throughout her life.  The way she helped her brother to escape rather than being sold south during the Civil War, and how she resisted the efforts by her former enslaver to get her to return to their plantation after emancipation show her internal strength of character.  I wish that I had been able to locate Vergy during Reconstruction, but I am glad to have been able to re-tell some of her story and hope at some point I will fully solve the mystery of Vergy's identity.

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