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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. 

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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. I have transcribed them here below. They contain remarkable details about life here as slaves - what they ate, their work, family relationships, their treatment by masters, and other descriptions that help paint a fuller picture of the life slaves in Williamson County lived in the period before the Civil War.

All My Bosses Were N*****-Traders -This Chapter appears in the Fisk compilation beginning on page 129. I believe that the unidentified male slave is Freeman (Cruthers) Thomas, a veteran of the US Colored Troops, - whom I have previously written about.

"I wasn't very old when the Civil War began. I had just turned into my sixteen year. I remember when the Yankees come to this town. My old boss hit me that morning' and he didn't know the Yankees were in town, and when he found it out he come back begin' me to stay with him, and said he was sorry. We were livin' one and a half miles from the depot. All my bosses were n*****-traders till they married, and then they settled down. I've seen them sell women away from little children, and women would be crying' and they'd slap 'em about cryin'.

They had guards at the church meetings, waiting for you to come out, to see if you had a pass. Those that had 'em would come out and the others would run away. They had padderollers after night. They came to mass's one night and I was there. They took me out to whip me, and he said "Lay down there right close, so my rig' won't be in the sun," He had a broad strap and he whipped me fourteen licks. He was counting and I was counting, and at the fourteenth lick I was up. He said, "How come you run?" and I said, "I didn't know your voice, mass. If I had, I wouldn't of run."


When I went to the War I was turning seventeen. I was in the Battle of Nashville, when we whipped old Hood. I went to see my mistress on my furlough, and she was glad to see me. She said, "You remember when you were sick and I had to bring you to the house to nurse you?" and I told her, "Yes'm, I remember," And she said, "And now you are fighting me!" I said, "No'm, I ain't fighting you, I'm fighting to get free."


(Slave Droves) Yes'm I've seen droves of 'em come through, all chained together. And I laughed; I didn't know no better. I belonged to Jim Caruthers. He was a good man, and he had about one hundred darkies. I was just a little motherless child, kicked and knocked about. Yes, I know Betty (Mrs. Lowe). The firs year I was hired out sh was not big enough to wait on the table. The first man I was hired out to was her master. I was nearly sixteen, and she was just a little thing, but she looks older than I do now. Her father died during the War. He was in the hospital when I was. Miles German was her father. He belonged to the same man as my father.

When I was on the farm I was not big enough to do much. I could chop cotton, but I was quit young. I was sick once and Dr. Clifford said, "Let him eat anything he wants, 'cause he can't be raised." Master told old missus if she could raise mesh could have me, and she took me in the house with her and nursed me till I got well.


My old boss never would have his hands up before day. If he had an overseer the twas bad the slaves would run away so's he'd have to get another one. They wouldn't suffer it. He wouldn't sell none of them that he raised; bu the just wouldn't give them no meat at night. He would expect you to steal what you got at night. If he would read of a reward being out for something that was stolen, he would come around tell us, and say, "If I catch any of it there, damn you, I'll kill you."


We had beef soup, cabbage, beans and things like that for dinner. Of course we had meat and bread for breakfast; but you could go in the cellar and get all the meal you wanted. We stole so many chickens that if a chicken would see a darker he'd run right straight to the house. I always wanted some boots and one old lady said, "If you'll kill me a pig I'll get you a boot." I give her three or four pigs, but I never did get no boots. Oh, yes, long in the fall he'd give his drakes shoes, and he'd have 'em half soled once a year. We'd get a coat every other year, and he'd give you a fun suit and two pair of pants that winter. And he'd give you two course cotton shirts to carry you through the winter. Little children wore what their parents put on 'em.



Mary Ashton Rice Livermore, The Story of My Life (Hartford, 1897), p. 337
They'd have to shuck corn at night when they'd come from the field. There was so many of them on our place it wouldn't take 'em no later than ten o'clock to get through. I've been to many a corn shucking at night, five miles from here. There was a crowd from Big Harper and a crowd from Little Harper, and after we got through the shucking they'd give us whiskey, and there'd be plenty of fighting, and the Little Harper white folks would take up for their darkies and the Big Harper white folks would do the same. I used to think them was the best times. They had some kind of biscuit mixed with sweet potatoes and I thought it was the best eating. They would have a big dance, too, and often after the dance they would go to fighting. Sometimes they would have a dance and would turn the pot down to keep the white folks from catching 'em. The padderollers would come there and couldn't find nobody, but they would go away and stay about an hour, and when they come back they'd be pretty sure to catch some.

Slavery was not such a bad time for me. I was young and my mother and father died when I was real young. We'd play marbles and run rabbits, and there was always eighty or ninety little chilled on our place. They had an old woman there to look after them - one that had broke down. When company would come, they would put clothes on them and march them up to the house so they could see his little n******. We was feared to go ou pro the house. I 'member once he built a house for young master and he said he was gonna let the darkies have a dance there, and they thought he was sure 'tough; but he didn't so they decided to have a dance anyhow. It was a moonlight night, and they had had this big dance in the field, and the padderollers come and caught one man and threw him right on me, and he come and got me and said "God damn you" and keep this hand right in my collar and her doe and took me home to master. He told master that he had told me that if I would tell who all was there he wouldn't whip me, but if I didn't he would whip me all day light, and you ought to heard me telling! It was around the time when the n****** was rising, and they asked me did I hear them shooting? "Did you see any guns?" And I said, "No, I didn't see no guns, but I heard them shooting." I hadn't heard a thing, but I knowed what they wanted to hear, so I said I did. They caught Tom Hodge, too, and he had to tell. I couldn't go to none of the parties after that. The n****** would kick me out if they saw me; they wouldn't have me there.


I’ve seen ‘em handcuffed long as from here to the fence out there, women screaming and hollering about leaving their children. Yes, I’ve seen many a one (runaway slaves) and darkies would help ‘em round. The Mississippi n*****s in our camp used to get to talking, and they told once about a man named Bullens, who had hounds trained to catch the n*****s, and they would tree you and carry you back. They say that when anybody would come for the hounds to run a n*****, the hounds say, “Our Father, I’ve got a heavenly home up yonder, hallelujah, hallelujah.”


My sister was carried away from me, and I went to see her, ‘reckly after the War. I thought she was dead after that visit, but I met a tramp one day and he said he was from Sheffield, Alabama. I told him I used to have a sister there, and he asked me what was her name, and I told him and he said, “saw her yesterday.” I said, “You’re lying; she’s been dead for years,” But he told me all about them and told it so straight, and how many chillen she had, and everything, that I went to see her, and she was 98 years old, and we a sure ‘nough meeting. She was so glad to see me, and she told everybody, “That’s my youngest brother.” My sister that’s living now stays up on Locklayer in Nashville. She’s 84. Clay Farmer lives in that same neighborhood, too. We was boys together. Yes, his marster was a very nice old man; one of his men married a sister of mine, but he was unruly and they had to sell him to Mississippi. Yes, he would fight, fight white and colored, too. Yes, I know Mrs. Glass; ‘course she was a slave; slaves don’t give as much trouble as the young folks do now. I got two sons, and they never give me any trouble. One is in St. Louis, working in the Post Office and the other is at the Andrew Jackson Building in Nashville. My daughter lives in my other house on the highway. I have buried many a man out in that cemetery on the Murfreesboro Pike. We had so many to bury a day, and we had to wait ‘till the wagon would bring ‘em in, and then we would put ‘em on our shoulders and take him and bury him; you could hear men cussing and saying, “Somebody’s got my man,” They would hide him and go off to see the girls, and then come back going to bury hi late that night, and somebody would steal him and bury him. I wouldn’t do that now.


I never got ‘rested bit once. And that was om the War. We all got in a contest as to whether I would want a n***** or a white man to arrest me; I said I don’t want no n***** to arrest me ‘cause it made him too biggity, and one of the n***** officers told to take me to a guard house ‘cause I said, “Damn a n***** officer.” They started after me but I went running to the Captain and told him what had happened. He said to the officer, “You told him to spend his opinion, didn’t you? Well, you are not going to take him nowhere.” We used to do all kind of tricks in the army, and once a man got shot at a trick. There was a young boy in the picket line, and they made it up to scare that boy, so they went up and the boy shot and hollered at the same time, and it shot that man right in the mouth and the ball came out through his jaw just done by foolishness. I went out one night to Squire Henderson’s to get some apples and a Colonel turned the corner on me. He was with some girls and he passed on a little, but then he said to me, “Did you get permission?” and I said, “No,” so he made me double quick back for about half a mile. He said to the Captain, “There’s that prisoner out yonder,” and the Captain and him et dinner and then he (Captain) come and let me out (guard house). He asked me if I didn’t think that we had had ‘nough of Squire Henderson’s apples and I told him, “Yes, but when I joined the army I went to get some medicine for Squire Henderson’s wife and he said he would give me some apples for it, and I was just going to get them, and if he hadn’t given them to me I wasn’t gonna take ‘em.” That Captain was my friend. I wanted a furlough, and they all said, “You know he ain’t gonna let you go, and we got wives and chillen and can’t go,” but he let me and I come on home. I went in the name of Caruthers then.

The first battle the colored ever got into was Fort Pillow; they buried some of ‘em (colored soldiers) alive. Then when they went to Mobile, Alabama, they would just shoot ‘em down, and they would just say that he broke to run and they had to shoot him to keep him from getting away. They’d do that any time they got afraid that they would run into the Yankees and they would take the n***** prisoners from them. I saw ‘em hanging the Rebels right there in the penitentiary during the War. They tried to hang everyone that was in that battle, for the way they done the colored soldiers . I saw ‘em captured just as barefooted, and it was snow on the ground. I’ve been right to the bridge where I was a guard.

Some of ‘em treated ‘em mighty tough and some pretty well. The Hodges were good feeders; Bill Matthews was, too. I know a man Bill Matthews undertook to whip him, and he wouldn’t let him do it, so the white men were all there in droves to whip him, and he just fought ‘em till they shot him down and killed him. Sure, they would kill a n*****; he’s no more’n a wolf.

Yes’m, they’d preach your funeral. I can just recollect when my mother died and the funeral was preached right over there by Farmer’s Bluff. We had some n***** preachers but they would say, “Obey your mistress and marster.” They didn’t know nothing else to say. The white preacher would tell you what you had to do, too. If you had prayer meeting you would have it on the sly. We’d sing old time hymns then, but you youngsters have done away with them now. Yes, mam, I’ve heard them pray for freedom. I thought it was foolishness then, but the old time folks always felt they was to be free. It must haved been something ‘vealed unto ‘em. Back there if they’d catch you writing they would break yo if they had to cut off your finger, and still they knew they would be free. It must hve been ‘vealed to ‘em.


Betty’s mother, she broke and run and carried her daughters with her, but they caught her. I saw it, ‘cause I was working right there. I don’t reckon Betty ever seed her father to know him, but I knowed him. I was in there wounded and he was in there wounded he died from it. When the Yankees got near Nashville, the n*****s started running to ‘em.


I wasn’t big enough to court; I had to slip. I knowed the road she’d come, and I could slip off and meet her sometimes, but we had to dodge the old folks ‘cause they would whip me sho’. I’d walk a little piece with her, but I didn’t’ know what to say. Young folks then wasn’t like they are now. If I was at some old folks, house and started cutting up they would whip me, and when they’d see my mother they’d tell her and she would whip me again. But you just hit somebody’s child now and they’ll have you in court. I would just ask her (girl) what was the news, and I thought I doing big courting then; I would brag to the boys about it.


I’d been better off if I’d bought in the country. I married when I was 21 years old, and I didn’t owe but seven dollars on my place. I always wanted a home and a gun, and I got both of them, but my boy took my gun when they had the riot in St. Louis, and I never did buy another one.

‘Course I seen ‘em marry. We had one to marry right at my boss’ front gate. The preacher married them there. They would always give ‘em a kind of supper and big dance. They wouldn’t marry ‘less they could have a dance. Some of them say they don’t see why I vote for the Yankees; they say they didn’t do nothing for me, but I tell ‘em the Yankees done ‘nough when they set me free. I had two sisters and they were sent off, and there was three brothers. My sisters were given to my young mistress when she married.

Yes, but there wasn’t but one family of half-white chillen on our place. The old lady would be meaner to them than she was to the black ones. Some of them was marster’s chillen and old mistress would not have one of them for a house servant. She would get one right black and wouldn’t have noen of them in there looking as white as her.


I’ve seen ‘em buck and gag ‘em; they’d tie your hands here and put a stick there and then roll you about and whip you. The biggest whipping I ever got was from the old women (slaves). Marster would shake my ears, but he seldom would hit me.


(Colored preachers) Old Brother Bill Perkins, Peter Stynes, Uncle Tom Bell – he was the leading preacher; he’s a mulatto. Some of ‘em learned to read in the books; white folks would let ‘em preach. I saw a preacher in Mississippi carry on a revival and he had persuaded the white man’s son to go, and he professed and they would let him have meetings any time, ‘cause that white man’s son professed under him.

Interview with Naisy Reece - Naisy was living at 710 Overton Street in Nashville at the time of her interview by the WPA workers in the 1930s. It appears on pp 64-65 of the Volume 16 of the Federal Writers' Project: Slave Narrative Project. She would have been born around 1857. The interview was conducted by Della Yoe,

"I wuz bawn in slavery, in Williamson County, guess I'se 'bout 80 y'ars ole. Think I wuz fou' w'en de wah started."  "Mah mammy en daddy wuz Mary en Ennock Brown." 

"Mah missis en marster wuz Polly en Randall Brown."

"Dunno ob any ob our fam'ly bein' sold. W'en freedum wuz declar' we wuz tu'n loose wid nothin'. Mah daddy tuk us down in de kuntry, raised crops en made us wuk in de fiel'."


"I'se cooked a leetle fer urther peeple, but mos' ob mah wuk has bin laundry. I didn't go ter schul much. I dunno w'at ter say 'bout de younger gineratshun; dere ez sich a diff'unce now ter w'at hit wuz w'en I wuz a girl. Dunno any tales dat I useter 'year."


"Didn't see any Klu Klux Klan, but I alluz got skeered en hid w'en we'd 'year dey wuz kumin'. I 'long ter de Baptist Church. I neber went ter menny camp-meetin's, but went ter a lot ob baptizins."


"Mammy tole us how de sta'rs fell en how skeered eberybody got. I saw de long tail comet."

Signs: "Good luck ter git up 'fore day-lite ef'n youer gwin sum place er start sum wuk." "Bad luck ter sweep flo' atter dark en sweep de dirt out."


Songs: "I Couldn't Hear Anybody Pray." "Ole Time 'Ligion." "Cross De Riber Jordan."


"I'se neber voted, en hab neber had any frens in office. Neber knowed nothin' 'bout de slave mart er de 'structshun days."


Federal Writers' Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 15, Tennessee, Batson-Young. 1936. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/mesn150/. (Accessed September 28, 2016.)


Interview with Pricilla Gray at her home at 807 Ewing Ave. Nashville, Tenn. Pricilla's interview appears on pages 24-26 of the WPA Slave Narratives compilation.

I think I'se 107 Y'ars ole. Wuz bawn in Williamson County 'fore de Civil wah. Guess de reason I hab libed so long wuz cose I tuk good keer ob mahself en wore warm clo'es en still do, w'ar mah yarn pettycoats now. Hab had good health all mah life. Hab tuk very lettle medicine en de wust sickness I eber had wuz small-pox. I'se bin a widah 'bout 70 years.

Mah mammy d'ed w'en I wuz young but mah daddy libed ter be 103 y'ars ole. I nebber went ter schul a day in mah life, ma'ied 'fore freedum en w'en I got free, had ter wuk all de time ter mek a libin' fer mah two chillen. One libes in California en I lives wid de uther, tergedder wid mah great, great, grandson, five y'ars ole, in Nashville.


Mah fust marster en missis wuz Amos en Sophia Holland en he made a will dat we slaves wuz all ter be kep' among de fam'ly en I wuz heired fum one fam'ly ter 'nother. Wuz owned under de "will" by Haddas Holland, Missis Mary Haddock en den Missis Synthia Ma'ied Sam Pointer en I libed wid her 'til freedum wuz 'cleared.


Mah fust mistress had three looms en we had ter mek clothes fer ev'ery one on de plan'ashun. I wuz taught ter weav', card, spin en 'nit en ter wuk in de fiel's. I wuz 'feared ob de terbacker wums at fust but Aunt Frankie went 'long by me en showed me how ter pull de wum's head off. Hab housed terbacker till 9 o'clock at nite. Our marster whupped us w'en we needed hit. I got menny a whuppin'.


Marster Amos wuz a great hunter en had lots ob dogs en me en mah cousin had de job ob cookin' dog food en feedin' de dogs. One day de marster went huntin' en lef three dogs in de pen fer us her feed. One ob de dogs licked out ob de pan en we got a bunch ob switches en started wearin' de dogs out. We thought de marster wuz miles 'way w'en he walked up on us. He finished wearin' de bunch ob switches out on us. Dat wuz a whuppin' I'll nebber fergit.

W'en I wuz heired ter Missis Synthis, I wuked in de fiel's 'til she started ter raise chillens en den I wuz kep in de house ter see atter dem. Missis had a lot ob cradles en dey kep two 'omen in dat room takin' keer ob de babies en lettle chillens 'longin' ter dere slaves. Soon as de chillens, wuz seven y'ars ole, dey started dem ter 'nitty'.


Marster Sam Pointer, husband of Missis Synthis, wus a good man en he wuz good ter us en he fed en clothed us good. We wore yarn hoods, sha'ls, en pantletts which wuz 'nit things dat kum fum yo shoe tops ter 'bove yo knees.


De marster wuz also a 'ligious man en he let us go ter chuch. He willed land fer a culled chuch at Thompson Station. I 'longs ter de foot washin' Baptist, called de Free Will Baptist. De marster bought mah husband William Gray en I ma'ied 'im were.

W'en de Civil wah wuz startin' dere wuz soldiers an tents eve'ywhar. I had ter 'nit socks en he'ps mek soldiers coats en durin' de wah, de marster sent 100 ob us down in Georgia ter keep de Yankees fum gittin' us en we camped out durin' de whole three years.


I member de Klu Klux. One nite a bunch ob us went out, dey got atter us. We waded a big crik en hid in de bushes ter keep dem fum gittin' us.


Hab gon' ter lots ob camp-meetin's. Dey'd hab lots ob good things ter eat en fed eberbody. Dey'd hab big baptizin's down at de Cumberland Riber and menny things.


W'en freed, our white folks didn't gib us nuthin'. We got 'way en hired out fer an'thin' we could git. Nebber knowed ob any plantashuns [TR: illegible; possibly "men"] be divided. D'ant member 'bout slave 'risings en n******s voting en wuz not ole er'nuff ter member de sta'rs fallin'. Songs we use'ter sing wuz, "On Jordan's Bank I Stand en Cast a Wistful Eye en Lak Drops ob Sweat, Lak Blood Run Down, I Shed mah Tears."

I try not ter think 'bout de ole times. Hit's bin so long ago so I don' member any tales now.


I'se had a lot ob good times in mah day. Our white folks would let us hab "bran dances" an we'd hab a big time. I has nebber voted en I think dat ez a man's wuk. Don't b'leeve in signs, I hab allus tho't whut ez gwine ter be will be, en de only way ter be ez de rite way.


Eber since slavery I'se cooked fer peeple. I cooked fer Mr. Lea Dillon fifteen y'ars. Wuked at de Union Depot fer y'ars. Five y'ars fer Dr. Douglas at his Infirmary en I cooked fer en raised Mrs Grady's baby. Hab wuked fer diff'ent folks ovuh town ter mek mah livin'. I ain't bin able ter wuk fer eight y'ars. Dunno how much I weigh now, I hab lost so much. (she weighs now at least 250 pounds).


All de ex-slaves I know hab wuked at diff'ent jobs lak I has.


Federal Writers' Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 15, Tennessee, Batson-Young. 1936. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/mesn150/. (Accessed September 28, 2016.)



Person Interviewed: Mary Scott, DeValls Bluff or Biscoe

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson

"I said if ever I seed you agin I'd show you dis here scar on my head. See here [a puffed-out, black, rusty, not quite round place, where no hair grew]. Dat dar what my young mistress put on me when I was a chile. Dock Hardy hired me. He was rich and married a pore gal. It went to her head. He was good to me. She was mean. She had him whoop me a time or two for nothin'. They had two little babies, I stayed round wid. I loved em. I churned, brought in all the wood mighty near, brought bout all the water from the spring. Master Dock be coming horseback from Franklin, Tennessee. I knowed bout time I take the babies to meet him. He'd wait at a big stump we could climb on his horse, take the baby in front and us up behind him, and put us off on the back piazza at the house. I wrapped up the churn and quit. She ax me what I quit churnin' for. I say the butter come. She say it ain't had time. I say it ready to take up anyhow. She got so mad she throwed a stick of stove wood, hit me on my head. I run out crying, the blood streamin' down. I started to the spring, come back and got the water bucket. I got me some water and brought back a fresh bucket full. I washed my head in cool water where it was bleedin'. It bled all way back. She say, 'Where you been?' I say I been to the spring, brought some cool water to the babies. I give em some I told her. When I got water I always give them some. She took the bucket, made me go wid her, poured the water out in the path under a shade tree, and made me take 'nother bucketful home. I thought she was so mean; I didn't know what she was doing that about. Got to the house she put me on a clean chemisette. I slipped off down to the feed house, lay down, my head on the cotton seeds, and went to sleep.
"When Master Dock come he woke me up, wanted to know why I didn't meet him. He seen that blood. Went on to the house. He ask her what done my head that way. She say, 'She went to the spring, fell down, spilled the water, and hurt it on a rock.' I told him that wasn't so—not so! I told him all bout it. He told her she ought to be 'shamed treat good little n***** chap mean. He was so sorry for me. She didn't care. They had been goin' to old missis house every week. It was three weeks 'fo she would go. I got to see my mama, 'fo she died.
"Old Mistress Emily was a doctor woman. Dock told her, 'Mama, Scrubbs jumps and screams bout a hour late every evening wid her head.' When it got late it hurt and I screamed and jump up and down. Mistress Emily come got me in her arms, put me to sleep. When I woke up Dock and Kitty gone home with the babies. I cried bout being from the babies; I loved em, never been away from em 'fo. She got three maggots and says, 'Scrubbs, see what I got out your little head.' Mama had died then. She say, 'Your mama would want me to keep you here wid me.' She kept me till it healed up. Them maggots big as a sage broom straw. We swept the floor wid sage straw tied together then. Mistress Emily kept me a month with her and doctored my head every day. I slept on a pallet and on a little bed she had in the room. When I went back to Kitty's she wasn't as mean to me as she been—but mean nough then.
"My mama named Amy Hardy. She had five boys, three girls. She died with a young baby. I reckon they had different papas. I was my papa's only chile. They all said that. Bout a month after I went to Dock and Kitty's, it was surrender. He (the little Negro girl's father) come, stayed all night, and took me wid him to live. Dock wanted me to stay; I love Dock and the children. Every year till a few years ago my head get sore and run. We tried all kinds medicine on it. Don't know what cured it.
"The week 'fo I left there I had a task to make a cut of thread every night, a reel. When I heard papa was coming to git me, I put cotton bats under the reels and kivered em up. Good thing papa got me—Kitty would killed me when she went to spin next week. She been so mean why I done that way.
"They never sold any of our set but some on the place was sold. The mothers grieve and grieve over their children bein' sold. Some white folks let their slaves have preachin', some wouldn't. We had a bush arbor and set on big logs. Children set round on the ground. 'Fo freedom I never went to preachin'. I kept Kitty's babies so she went. Mothers didn't see their children much after they was sold.
"Fo freedom they would turn a wash pot upside-down at the door and have singin' and prayer meetin'. The pot would take up the noise. They done that when they danced too. I don't know how they found out the iron pot would take up the noise. They had plenty of em settin' round in them days. Somebody found it out and passed it on."
Link - Project Gutenberg, Slave Narratives: Arkansas Narratives Arkansas Narratives, Part 6


Oklahoma Writers' Project
Ex-Slaves
NANCY GARDNER Age 79 yrs.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma


Well, to tell you de truth I don't know my age, but I was born in 1858, in Franklin, Tennessee. Now, you can figger for yourself and tell how old I is. I is de daughter of Prophet and Callie Isaiah, and dey was natives of Tennessee. Dere was three of us children, two boys and myself. I'm de only girl. My brothers names was Prophet and Billie Isaiah. I don't 'member much about dem as we was separated when I was seven years old. I'll never forget when me, my ma and my auntie had to leave my pa and brothers. It is jest as clear in my mind now as it was den, and dat's been about seventy years ago.

Oh God! I tell you it was awful dat day when old Jeff Davis had a bunch of us sent to Memphis to be sold. I can see old Major Clifton now. He was a big n***** trader you know. Well, dey took us on up dere to Memphis and we was sold jest like cattle. Dey sold me and ma together and dey sold pa and de boys together. Dey was sent to Mississippi and we was sent to Alabama. My pa, O how my ma was grieved to death about him! She didn't live long after dat. She didn't live long enough to be set free. Poor ma, she died a slave, but she is saved though. I know she is, and I'll be wid her some day.

It was thirty years before my pa knew if we was still living. Finally in some way he heard dat I was still alive, and he began writing me. Course I was grown and married den and me and my husband had moved to Missouri. Well, my pa started out to see me and on his way he was drowned in de Missouri River, and I never saw him alive after we was sold in Memphis.

I can't tell you much 'bout work during de slave days 'cause you see I was jest a baby you might say when de War broke out. I do remember our[Pg 109]Master's name though, it was Dr. Perkins, and he was a good Master. Ma and pa sure hated to have to leave him, he was so good to dem. He was a rich man, and had a big fine house and thousands of acres of land. He was good to his n*****s too. We had a good house too, better dan some of dese houses I see folks living in now. Course Dr. Perkins n****** had to work, but dey didn't mind 'cause he would let dem have little patches of dey own such as 'tatoes, corn, cotton and garden. Jest a little, you know. He couldn't let dem have much, there was so many on Dr. Perkins plantation.

I don't remember seeing anybody sick in slavery time. You see I was jest a kid and dere's a lot of things I can't remember.

I am a Christian. I jined de church nigh on seventy years ago and when I say dat, I don't mean I jest jined de church. I mean I gave myself up to de Heavenly Father, and I've been gwine straight down de line for Him ever since. You know in dem days, we didn't get religion like young folks do now. Young folks today jest find de church and den call theyselves Christians, but they aint.

I remember jest as well when I was converted. One day I was thinking 'bout a sermon de preacher had preached and a voice spoke to me and said, "De Holy Ghost is over your head. Accept it!" Right den I got down on my knees and prayed to God dat I might understand dat voice, and God Almighty in a vision told me dat I should find de church. I could hardly wait for de next service so I could find it, and when I was in de water getting my baptisement, dat same voice spoke and said, "Now you have accepted don't turn back 'cause I will be wid you always!" O you don't know nothing 'bout dat kind of religion!

I 'member one night shortly after I jined de church I was laying in bed and dere was a vine tied 'round my waist and dat vine extended into de[Pg 110] elements. O my God! I can see it now! I looked up dat vine and away in de elements I could see my Divine Master and he spoke to me and said, "When you get in trouble shake dis vine; I'm your Master and I will hear your cry."

I knowed old Jeff Davis good. Why I was jest as close to him as I am to dat table. I've talked wid him too. I reckon I do know dat scoundrel! Why, he didn't want de n****** to be free! He was known as a mean old rascal all over de South.

Abraham Lincoln? Now you is talking 'bout de n****** friend! Why dat was de best man God ever let tramp de earth! Everybody was mighty sad when poor old Abraham was 'sassinated, 'cause he did a mighty good deed for de colored race before he left dis world.

I wasn't here long during slavery, but I saw enough of it to know it was mighty hard going for most of de n****** den, and young folks wouldn't stand for dat kind of treatment now. I know most of the young folks would be killed, but they jest wouldn't stand for it. I would hate to have to go through wid my little share of it again.

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Benjamin Drew, a Boston abolitionist acting in cooperation with officers of the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society, visited various towns of Upper Canada around the middle 1850's, interviewing scores of refugees from the slave states and copying their words soon after they were spoken. For reasons of safety, he protected the identity of his informants and used fictitious names. There were about 30,000 people of African descent at that time in Upper Canada, mostly adults who had once been enslaved. 


Testimony of WILLIAM A. HALL

I was born seven miles from Nashville, Tenn., Davidson county. I lived one year in Mississippi. I saw there a great deal of cotton-growing and persecution of slaves by men who had used them well in Tennessee. No man would have thought there could have been such a difference in treatment, when the masters got where they could make money. They drove the hands severely. My mother and brothers and sisters, when they changed their country, changed their position from good to bad. They were in Mississippi the last I heard of them, and I suppose they are there yet. It makes me miserable to consider that they are there: for their condition has been kept fresh in my memory, by seeing so much suffering and enduring so much. I went from Mississippi to Bedford county, Tenn. My master died here, and I was in hopes to go to see my mother. The doctor who attended my master had me sold at auction, and bought me himself, and promised he would never sell me to anybody; but in six months he tried to sell me. Not making out, he sent me to his father's farm in Tennessee, where I was treated tolerably well.


I remained there one year, then he took me horse-driving to Louisiana and back.


I saw some of the dreadfulest treatment on the sugar farms in the sugar-making season. The mill did not stop only to gear horses. People would come to my master and beg money to buy a loaf of bread. I saw them chained. I saw twelve men chained together, working on the levees. I saw three hundred that speculators had, dressing them up for sale. The overseers were about the mills, carrying their long whips all the time and using them occasionally. When they wanted to whip severely, they put the head and hands in stocks in a stooping posture.


The last two years I was in Tennessee, I saw nine persons at different times, made fast to four stakes, and whipped with a leather strap from their neck to their heels and on the bottoms of their feet, raising blisters: then the blisters broken with a plaited whip, the overseer standing off and fetching hard blows. I have seen a man faint under this treatment. I saw one about eighteen years old, as smart as you would see on the foot, used in this way: seven weeks after he fainted in consequence; his nerves were so shattered that he seemed like a man of fifty.


The overseer tied me to a tree, and flogged me with the whip. Afterwards he said he would stake me down, and give me a farewell whipping, that I would always remember. While he was eating supper, I got off my shoe, and slipped off a chain and ran: I ran, I suppose, some six hundred yards: then hearing a dog, which alarmed me, I climbed a hill, where I sat down to rest. Then I heard a shouting, hallooing, for dogs to hunt me up. I tried to understand, and made out they were after me. I went through the woods to a road on a ridge. I came to a guide-board-in order to read it, I pulled it up, and read it in the moonlight, and found I was going wrong-turned about and went back, travelling all night: lay by all day, travelled at night till I came where Duck River and Tennessee come together. Here I found I was wrong,-went back to a road that led down Tennessee River, the way I wanted to go. This was Monday night,- the day before they had been there for me. A colored man had told them, " God's sake to tell me not to get caught, for they would kill me:" but that I knew before. I got something to eat, and went on down the river, and travelled until Saturday night at ten, living on green corn and watermelons. Then I came to a house where an old colored man gave me a supper: another kept me with him three days. My clothes were now very dirty: I got some soap of a woman, and went to a wash-place, and washed my clothes and dried them. A heavy rain came on at daybreak, and I went down to the river for a canoe-found none-and went back for the day,-got some bread, and at night went on down the river; but there were so many roads, I could not make out how to go. I laid all day in a corn field. At night I found a canoe, 12 feet long, and travelled down the river several days, to its mouth. There I got on an island, the river being low. I took my canoe across a tongue of land,-a sand-bar-into the Ohio, which I crossed into Illinois. I travelled three nights, not daring to travel days, until I came to Golconda, which I recognized by a description I had been given on a previous attempt,-for this last time when I got away was my fourth effort. I went on to three forks in the road, took the left, travelled through the night, and lay by. At two, I ventured to go on, the road not being travelled much. But it seemed to go too far west: I struck through the woods, and went on till so tired I could walk no further. I got into a tobacco-pen, and stayed till morning. Then I went through the woods, and came to where a fire had been burning-I kindled it up, roasted a lot of corn, then travelled on about three miles completely lost. I now came to a house, and revolved in my mind some hours whether to go or not, to ask. At last I ventured, and asked the road-got the information-reached Marion: got bewildered, and went wrong again, and travelled back for Golconda, -but I was set right by some children. At dark I went on, and at daybreak got to Frankfort-13 miles all night long, being weak from want of food. A few miles further on I found an old friend, who was backward about letting me in, having been troubled at night by white children. At last he let me in, and gave me some food, which I much needed. The next night he gave me as much as I could carry with me.


I went on to within five miles of Mount Vernon. At 4 A.M., I lay down, and slept till about noon. I got up and tried to walk, but every time I tried to stoop under the bushes, I would fall down. I was close to a house, but did not dare to go to it; so I laid there and was sick -vomited, and wanted water very bad. At night I was so badly off that I was obliged to go to the house for water. The man gave me some, and said," Are you a runaway? " I said, &qout No-I am walking away." " Where do you live? " " I live here now." "Are you a free man?" "Why should I be here, if I am not a free man?-this is a free country." "Where do you live, anythow?" "I live here, do n't you understand me?" "You are a free man, are you?" "Do n't you see he is a free man, who walks in a free country?" "Show me your pass -I s'pose you've got one." "Do you suppose men need a pass in a free country? this is a free country." "I suppose you run away-a good many fugitives go through here, and do mischief." Said I, "I am doing no mischief-I am a man peaceable, going about my own business; when I am doing mischief, persecute me,-while I am peaceable, let no man trouble me." Said he, "I'll go with you to Mount Vernon." "You may go, if you have a mind to: I am going, if it is the Lord's will that I shall get there. Good evening;" and I started out of the gate. He said, "Stop!" Said I, "Man, do n't bother me,-I'm sick, and do n't feel like being bothered." I kept on: he followed me,-"Stop, or I'll make you stop!" "Man, did n't I tell you I was sick, and do n't want to be bothered." I kept on,-he picked up a little maul at a wood-pile, and came with me, his little son following, to see what was going on.


He walked a mile and a quarter with me, to a neighbor of his called-there came out three men. He stated to them, "Here's a runaway going to Mount Vernon: I think it would be right to go with him." I made no reply. He said, "We'll go in with him, and if he be correct, we'll not injure him,-we'll not do him no harm, no- how." I stood consulting with myself, whether to fight or run; I concluded to run first, and fight afterward. I ran a hundred yards: one ran after me to the edge of the woods, and turned back. I sat down to rest,-say an hour. They had gone on ahead of me on horses. I took a back track, and found another road which led to Mount Vernon, which I did not reach until daybreak, although he said `t was only five miles. I hastened on very quick through town, and so got off the track again: but I found a colored friend who harbored me three days, and fulfilled the Scriptures in one sense to perfection. I was hungry, and he fed me; thirsty, and he gave me drink; weary, and he ministered to my necessities; sick, and he cared for me till I got relieved: he took me on his own beast, and carried me ten miles, and his wife gave me food for four days' travel. His name was Y----.I travelled on three nights, and every morning found myself close to a town. One was a large one. I got into it early,-I was scared, for people was stirring,-but I got through it by turning to my right, which led me thirty miles out of my way. I was trying to get to Springfield. Then I went on to Taylorville. I lay out all day, two miles out, and while there, a man came riding on horseback within two feet of me. I thought he would see me, but he wheeled his horse, and away he went. At dark I got up and started on. It rained heavily. I went on to the town. I could discover nothing-the ground was black, the sky was cloudy. I travelled a while by the lights in the windows; at last ventured to ask the way, and got a direction for Springfield. After the rain the wind blew cold; I was chilled: I went into a calf-lot, and scared up the calves, and lay where they had been lying, to warm myself. It was dark yet. I stayed there half an hour, trying to get warm, then got up, and travelled on till daybreak. It being in a prairie, I had to travel very fast to get a place to hide myself. I came to a drain between two plantations, and got into it to hide. At sundown I went on, and reached Springfield, as near as I could guess, at 3 o'clock. I got into a stable, and lay on some boards in the loft.


When I awoke, the sun was up, and people were feeding horses in the stable. I found there was no chance to get out, without being discovered, and I went down and told them that I was a stranger, knowing no one there; that I was out until late, and so went into the stable. I asked them if there was any harm. They said "No." I thanked them and pursued my way. I walked out a little and found a friend who gave me breakfast. Then I was taken sick, and could not get a step from there for ten days: then I could walk a little, and had to start.


I took directions for Bloomington,-but the directions were wrong, and I got thirty miles out of my way again: so that when I reached Bloomington, I was too tired to go another step. I begged for a carriage, and if they had not got one, the Lord only knows what would have happened. I was conveyed to Ottawa, where I found an abolitionist who helped me to Chicago. From about the middle of August to the middle of November, I dwelt in no house except in Springfield, sick,-had no bed till I got to Bloomington. In February, I cut wood in Indiana,-I went to Wisconsin, and staid till harvest was over; then came to a particular friend, who offered me books. I had no money for books: he gave me a Testament, and gave me good instruction. I had worn out two Testaments in slavery, carrying them with me trying to get some instruction to carry me through life. "Now," said he, "square up your business, and go to the lake, for there are men here now, even here where you are living, who would betray you for half a dollar if they knew where your master is. Cross the lake: get into Canada." I thanked him for the book, which I have now; settled up and came to Canada.


I like Canada. If the United States were as free as Canada, I would still prefer to live here. I can do as much toward a living here in three days, as there in six.



Testimony of WILLIAM STREET.

I am from Middle Tennessee, where I worked as a blacksmith, another man taking my wages. All I got was my victuals and clothes, and not much at that. Twenty-five years I was a slave,--was bred and born a slave, and cannot read or write.

My mother has several times told me that her father was sick, and his mistress drove him out of the house, and he leaned his breast over the fence and died. She often showed me the place where he died. I was hired out when very young--did not get the lash. It was never "Can you do it?" or "Will you do it?"--but "You must go and do it." Sometimes I would do a good day's work, and then have another job put on me. I can't paint it as bad as it is. I have seen a man at the iron-works--Perkins's--who said he did not believe that there was a bit of skin on him that he was born with,--they had whipped it all off.

If a northern man were to go right into a slave State, he would not see the worst of slavery. By the time he was up in the morning, the slaves would be a mile off--he would see but little of the evil--he would n't get to see it.

My master died when I was seven; my mistress when I was twenty-five. Then we were divided out: I fell to a son who lived in Mississippi. I had been living with a doctor two years, and I asked him to buy me. But my master wouldn't sell--the doctor offered $1,100 for me. I was put in jail five days--I and my brother, who had fallen to the same man, were there. Our owner came in with irons and handcuffs, and put them on, and took us to the blacksmith to have them riveted. I left two men in the jail who had run away from Mississippi, and had lain there eleven months,--in one month to be sold. One of them was a great fellow to pray: I'd hear him praying every morning for the Lord to help him. He said he wished the doctor would buy me. The rivets were fixed: we went to Nashville, and were put on board a steamboat, I and my brother chained together. They were loading the boat, which takes two or three days. I heard some one tell a colored man to pump the boilers full, and they'd put out in the morning. I said to my brother, "When you hear me say to-night, the dog's dead, then we 'll put out."

At 11 o'clock we laid down. I made believe that something ailed me, and kept going out. By and by, I said "the dog's dead." We crept into the wheelhouse, and down on the wheel, to the outside of the guard, and got on board a stone-coal boat. We walked eighteen miles that night,--but we were not away yet--yet had no thought about Canada. I had heard of it, but had no thought about getting to it. We laid down, meaning to stay till next night.

Two men went out to hunt partridges, and at about one o'clock they came across us. "What are you doing here, boys?" We had broken off the chains, but the handcuffs were on each of us. "I am going to Columbia--did n't you see that wagon with the boiler on it?" They said, "Come, go this way," and one threatened with his gun. We up and ran. The slaveholders both followed us. We ran across a field about half a mile: when we got across there was a mill and a creek. We ran through the creek: there was a big hill. I went one side, and my brother the other: they followed after me. I stopped and hailed, "What do you want?" They thought I was coming in to give up,--but I passed them and went into the creek, where I fell down, and got wet all over. I crossed at the mill; they after me: there was a horse tied there, and there were several men about the mill; one a colored man, who had the horse. "Can I take your horse?" "No." I took him any how. I cut the bridle, jumped on, and started. Then a white man put his gun over a tree and shot me--some eight or ten small shot went in--they are most of them in me now. The horse then put out with me--then I was shut of them. They had no horse--he put out like lightning--I did not know where I was going,--I rode two miles, got off, hitched the horse, and went away and left him. Thinks I, they 've gone from the mill now--I'll go back and get my clothes now,--I had left them in my hurry. As I went back to the mill, I saw them and took them, and then I saw the men coming back from pursuing my brother. I heard them say, "Yonder he is! yonder he is!" I ran to an open field where there was a little grass, and laid down. They did not see--they hunted about and gave it up: then I went to an old house that had hay in it, and put my clothes in there. I then walked right before the door of a house where were slaves at work--nobody spoke a word to me. After I got through them, I saw an old colored man with a wagon. He told me, "You go this way, and when they come I'll tell 'em you 've gone that way." I did as he advised me, and got into a tree that had been burned out, and stayed in it till night: then I went and got my clothes, and started for the old place where I was raised.

I went on to where my oldest brother lived in Tennessee, and told him the circumstances. I was then told to go into the barn-loft, and stay there,--I did--stayed three days hid in the wheat: then I went in the woods, and stayed eight months without ever going into a house,--from Christmas until the last of August. Then my owner came from Mississippi, with a man named T--, who brought three bloodhounds along with him. A white man who saw me the day before, told them where they had seen me. They went to that place, and put the bloodhounds on my track. I had never seen a bloodhound, but I heard them, and I spoke to myself; says I, "I'm gone." I had a pistol, a big stick, and a big knife. Then I ran out of the corn field into a little skirt of woods, and the bloodhounds got over the fence when I did. I wheeled and shot one of them through and through. He never got away from the place at all. I got back to the corn field, the others both with me in the field; one hold of my wrist, the other of my leg. I have the marks--here they are on my wrist. I struck at the dog with my knife a number of times--but he dodged every time. Then my master came up with a pistol, and said if I did'nt stand, he'd put a ball through me. T--came up and struck me with a hickory stick five or six blows, on the back of my neck. I cried, "Oh Lord! Oh Lord!" then T--made the dogs let go. He then took out his handcuffs and chains, and put them on, and took me to a blacksmith's, to have them riveted, putting in another chain between the cuffs, to make 'em strong, so I could n't get away anyhow.

They concluded I must know where my youngest brother was, but I did not and could not tell them any thing about it. They did n't believe that, I was standing up; a great many gathered round to see me: I was chewing tobacco. T--said, "G--d--you, quit chewing tobacco, and tell us where your brother is, for I know you know." Some fellow asked my master what he was going to do with me,--he said he was going to give me up to T--, because I had killed the bloodhound,--T--would n't have taken five hundred dollars for him; said "he was worth more than him, d--n him." He was the fastest one they had; before they brought them from Mississippi, they had caught a man and torn out his entrails,--T--told me so himself. They kept me going round from that day, Tuesday, to Friday, trying to find my brother,--chaining me to the bedstead at night. Thursday morning they thought they had heard of him; went eighteen miles to Shelbyville. A great many went with them for the fun of the thing. This was in the beginning of September, 1851.

I was now at the old place where I was bred, and was left with master's brother-in-law, in his care. At three o'clock, the brother had some sheep to shear: he took me into the stable, put on shackles, and took off my handcuffs, so I could shear. After dinner, said I, "Mr. E--, won't you give me some grease, if you please, to grease my boots?" "Oh, yes." I went into the kitchen where my mother had lived, close by, and thought over all things that had passed before. Pretty soon he told me to fill a kettle with water. The kettle was some fifty yards from the house; there were some six men on the piazza, who could watch me. I filled the kettle. "Did you see my boys?" says he. I told him, "Yes--behind the barn." The barn was further off than the kettle. "Shall I go and tell them to make a fire about the kettle?" Says he, "Yes." They wanted to kill a shoat against the folks got home with my brother. I stepped to the barn to tell them; I looked round,--no one was looking. I told them. They all started for wood, etc. I looked up to the sun, and said to myself, "it's three o'clock." I threw my boots over a stump, and drew them so I could run, I kept my boots, and ran off to Canada. . . . .

It is above my language to tell how overjoyed I was on getting into Canada. Nothing harasses a man so much as slavery. There is nothing under the sun so mean: after a man is dead, they won't let him rest. It is a horrible thing to think of, the ignorance slaves are brought up in. There is not a man born, who can represent slavery so bad as it is.

I work here at blacksmithing: I own this shop. I have plenty of work, and good pay.