Part 2 out of 5
easily noticed that the woman was an expectant mother. Mrs. Lincoln was
horrified at the situation and expressed herself as being so, saying
that she was going to tell the President as soon as she returned to the
White House. Whether this incident had any bearing upon Mr. Lincoln's
actions or not, those slaves who were present and Irene says that they
all believed it to be the beginning of the President's activities to end
Besides these incidents, Irene remembers that women who were not strong
and robust were given such work as sewing, weaving and minding babies.
The cloth from which the Sunday clothes of the slaves was made was
called _ausenburg_ and the slave women were very proud of this. The
older women were required to do most of the weaving of cloth and making
shirts for the male slaves.
When an old woman who had been sick, regained her strength, she was sent
to the fields the same as the younger ones. The ones who could cook and
tickle the palates of her mistress and master were highly prized and
were seldon if ever offered for sale at the auction block.
The slaves were given fat meat and bread made of husk of corn and wheat.
This caused them to steal food and when caught they were severely
Irene recalls the practice of blowing a horn whenever a sudden rain
came. The overseer had a certain Negro to blow three times and if
shelter could be found, the slaves were expected to seek it until the
The master had sheds built at intervals on the plantation. These
accomodated a goodly number; if no shed was available the slaves stood
under trees. If neither was handy and the slaves got wet, they could not
go to the cabins to change clothes for fear of losing time from work.
This was often the case; she says that slaves were more neglected than
Another custom which impressed the child-mind of Irene was the tieing of
slaves by their thumbs to a tree limb and whipping them. Women and young
girls were treated the same as were men.
After the Bedells took Irene to live in their home they traveled a deal.
After bringing her to Jacksonville, when Jacksonville was only a small
port, they then went to Camden County, Georgia.
Irene married while in Georgia and came back to Jacksonville with her
husband Charles, the year of the earthquake at Charleston, South
Carolina, about 1888.
Irene and Charles Coates have lived in Jacksonville since that time. She
relates many tales of happenings during the time that this city grew
from a town of about four acres to its present status.
Irene is the mother of five children. She has nine grandchildren and
eight great-grandchildren. Her health is fair, but her eyesight is poor.
It is her delight to entertain visitors and is conversant upon matters
pertaining to slavery and reconstruction days.
1. Irene Coates, 2015 Windle Street, Jacksonville, Florida
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Martin D. Richardson, Field Worker
Interesting tales of the changes that came to the section of Florida
that is situated along the Putnam-Clay County lines are told by Neil
Coker, old former slave who lives two miles south of McRae on the road
Coker is the son of a slave mother and a half-Negro. His father, he
states, was Senator John Wall, who held a seat in the senate for sixteen
years. He was born in Virginia, and received his family name from an old
family bearing the same in that state. He was born, as nearly as he can
remember, about 1857.
One of Coker's first reminiscences is of the road on which he still
lives. During his childhood it was known as the 'Bellamy Road,' so
called because it was built, some 132 years ago, by a man of that name
who hailed from West Florida.
The 'Bellamy Road' was at one time the main route of traffic between
Tallahassee and St. Augustine. (Interestingly enough, the road is at
least 30 miles southwest of St. Augustine where it passes through
Grandin; the reason for cutting it in such a wide circle, Coker says was
because of the ferocity of the Seminoles in the swamps north and west of
Wagons, carriages and stages passed along this road in the days before
the War Between the States, Coker says. In addition to these he claims
to have seen many travellers by foot, and not infrequently furtive
escaped slaves, the latter usually under cover of an appropriate
background of darkness.
The road again came into considerable use during the late days of the
War. It was during these days that the Federal troops, both whites and
Negroes, passed in seemingly endless procession on their way to or from
encounters. On one occasion the former slave recounts having seen a
procession of soldiers that took nearly two days to pass; they travelled
on horse and afoot.
Several amusing incidents are related by the ex-slave of the events of
this period. Dozens of the Negro soldiers, he says, discarded their
uniforms for the gaudier clothing that had belonged to their masters in
former days, and could be identified as soldiers as they passed only
with difficulty. Others would pause on their trip at some plantation,
ascertain the name of the 'meanest' overseer on the place, then tie him
backward on a horse and force him to accompany them. Particularly
retributive were the punishments visited upon Messrs. Mays and
Prevatt--generally recognized as the most vicious slave drivers of the
Bellamy, Coker says built the road with slave labor and as an
investment, realizing much money on tolls on it for many years. A
remarkable feature of the road is that despite its age and the fact that
County authorities have permitted its former good grading to deterierate
to an almost impassable sand at some seasons, there is no mistaking the
fact that this was once a major thoroughfare.
The region that stretches from Green Cove Springs in the Northeast to
Grandin in the Southwest, the former slave claims, was once dotted with
lakes, creeks, and even a river; few of the lakes and none of the other
bodies still exist, however.
Among the more notable of the bodies of water was a stream--he does not
now remember its name--that ran for about 20 miles in an easterly
direction from Starke. This stream was one of the fastest that the
former slave can remember having seen in Florida; its power was utilised
for the turning of a power mill which he believes ground corn or other
grain. The falls in the river that turned the water mill, he states, was
at least five or six feet high, and at one point under the Falls a man
named (or possibly nicknamed) "Yankee" operated a sawmill. Coker
believes that this mill, too, derived its power from the little stream.
He says that the stream has been extinct since he reached manhood. It
ended in 'Scrub Pond,' beyond Grandin and Starke.
Some of the names of the old lakes of the section were these: "Brooklyn
Lake; Magnolia Lake; Soldier Pond (near Keystone); Half-Moon Pond, near
Putnam Hall; Hick's Lake" and others. On one of them was the large grist
mill of Dr. McCray; Coker suggests that this might be the origin of the
town of McRae of the present period.
To add to its natural water facilities, Coker points out, Bradford
County also had a canal. This canal ran from the interior of the county
to the St. John's River near Green Cove Springs, and with Mandarin on
the other side of the river still a major shipping point, the canal
handled much of the commerce of Bradford and Clay Counties.
Coker recalls vividly the Indians of the area in the days before 1870.
These, he claims to have been friendly, but reserved, fellows; he does
not recall any of the Indian women.
Negro slaves from the region around St. Augustine and what is now
Hastings used to escape and use Bellamy's Road on their way to the area
about Micanopy. It was considered equivalent to freedom to reach that
section, with its friendly Indians and impenetrable forests and swamps.
The little town of Melrose probably had the most unusual name of all the
strange ones prevalent at the time. It was call, very simply,
"Shake-Rag." Coker makes no effort to explain the appelation.
1. Interview with subject, Neil Coker, Grandin, Putnam County
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Rachel Austin, Field Worker
YOUNG WINSTON DAVIS
Young Winston Davis states that he was born in Ozark, Alabama, June 28,
1855 on the plantation of Charles Davis who owned about seven hundred
slaves and was considered very wealthy. Kindness and consideration for
his slaves, made them love him.
Reverend Davis was rather young during his years in slavery but when he
was asked to tell something about the days of slavery, replied: "I
remember many things about slavery, but know they will not come to me
now; anyway, I'll tell what I can think of."
He tells of the use of iron pots, fireplaces with rods used to hold the
pots above the fire for cooking peas, rice, vegetables, meats, etc.; the
home-made coffee from meal, spring and well water, tanning rawhide for
leather, spinning of thread from cotton and the weaving looms.
"There was no difference," he states, "in the treatment of men and women
for work; my parents worked very hard and women did some jobs that we
would think them crazy for trying now; why my mother helped build a
railroad before she was married to my father. My mother's first husband
was sold away from her; shucks, some of the masters didn't care how they
treated husbands, wives, parents and children; any of them might be
separated from the other. A good price for a 'nigger' was $1500 on down
and if one was what was called a stallion (healthy), able to get plenty
children he would bring about $2500.
"They had what was called legal money--I did have some of it but guess
it was burned when I lost my house by fire a few years ago.
"Now, my master had three boys and two girls; his wife, Elizabeth, was
about like the ordinary missus; Master Davis was good, but positive; he
didn't allow other whites to bother his slaves.
"When the war came, his two boys went first, finally Master Davis went;
he and one son never returned.
"The Yankees killed cows, etc., as they went along but did not destroy
any property 'round where I was.
"We had preachers and doctors, but no schools; the white preachers told
us to obey and would read the Bible (which we could not understand) and
told us not to steal eggs. Most of the doctors used herbs from the woods
and "Aunt Jane" and "Uncle Bob" were known for using "Samson's Snake
Root," "Devil's shoe-string" for stomach troubles and "low-bud Myrtle"
for fevers; that's good now, chile, if you can get it.
"The 'nigger' didn't have a chance to git in politics during slavery,
but after Emancipation, he went immediately into the Republican Party; a
few into the Democratic Party; there were many other parties, too.
"The religions were Methodist and Baptist; my master was Baptist and
that's what I am; we could attend church but dare not try to get any
education, less we punished with straps.
"There are many things I remember just like it was yesterday--the
general punishment was with straps--some of the slaves suffered terribly
on the plantations; if the master was poor and had few slaves he was
mean--the more wealthy or more slaves he had, the better he was. In some
cases it was the general law that made some of the masters as they were;
as, the law required them to have an overseer or foreman (he was called
"boss man") by the 'niggers' and usually came from the lower or poorer
classes of whites; he didn't like 'niggers' usually, and took authority
to do as he pleased with them at times. Some plantations preferred and
did have 'nigger riders' that were next to the overseer or foreman, but
they were liked better than the foreman and in many instances were
treated like foremen but the law would not let them be called "foremen."
Some of the masters stood between the 'nigger riders' and foremen and
some cases, the 'nigger' was really boss.
"The punishments, as I said were cruel--some masters would hang the
slaves up by both thumbs so that their toes just touched the floor,
women and men, alike. Many slaves ran away; others were forced by their
treatment to do all kinds of mean things. Some slaves would dig deep
holes along the route of the "Patrollers" and their horses would fall in
sometimes breaking the leg of the horse, arm or leg of the rider; some
slaves took advantage of the protection their masters would give them
with the overseer or other plantation owners, would do their devilment
and "fly" to their masters who did not allow a man from another
plantation to bother his slaves. I have known pregnant women to go ten
miles to help do some devilment. My mother was a very strong woman (as I
told you she helped build a railroad), and felt that she could whip any
ordinary man, would not get a passport unless she felt like it; once
when caught on another plantation without a passport, she had all of us
with her, made all of the children run, but wouldn't run
herself--somehow she went upstream, one of the men's horse's legs was
broken and she told him "come and get me" but she knew the master
allowed no one to come on his place to punish his slaves.
"My father was a blacksmith and made the chains used for stocks, (like
handcuffs), used on legs and hands. The slaves were forced to lay flat
on their backs and were chained down to the board made for that purpose;
they were left there for hours, sometimes through rain and cold; he
might 'holler' and groan but that did not always get him released.
"The Race became badly mixed then; some Negro women were forced into
association, some were beaten almost to death because they refused. The
Negro men dare not bother or even speak to some of their women.
"In one instance an owner of a plantation threatened a Negro rider's
sweetheart; she told him and he went crying to this owner who in turned
threatened him and probably did hit the woman; straight to his master
this sweetheart went and when he finished his story, his master
immediately took his team and drove to the other plantation--drove so
fast that one of his horses' dropped dead; when the owner came out he
levelled his double-barrel shotgun at him and shot him dead. No, suh;
some masters did not allow you to bother their slaves.
"A peculiar case was that of Old Jim who lived on another plantation was
left to look out for the fires and do other chores around the house
while 'marster' was at war. A bad rumor spread, and do you know those
mean devils, overseers of nearby plantations came out and got her dug a
deep hole, and despite her cries, buried her up to her neck--nothing was
left out but her head and hair. A crowd of young 'nigger boys' saw it
all and I was one among the crowd that helped dig her out.
"Oh, there's a lots more I know but just cant get it together. My
mother's name was Caroline and my father Patrick; all took the name of
Davis from our master. There were thirteen children--I am the only one
Mr. Davis appears well preserved for his age; he has most of his teeth
and is slightly gray; his health seems to be good, although he is a
cripple and uses a cane for walking always; this condition he believes
is the result of an attack of rheumatism.
He is a preacher and has pastored in Alabama, Texas and Florida. He has
had several years of training in public schools and under ministers.
He has lived in Jacksonville since 1918 coming here from Waycross,
He was married for the first and only time during his 62 years of life
to Mrs. Lizzie P. Brown, November 19, 1935. There are no children. He
gives no reason for remaining single, but his reason for marrying was
"to give some lady the privilege and see how it feels to be called
1. Interview with Young Winston Davis, 742 W. 10th Street, Jacksonville,
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
James Johnson, Field Worker
South Jacksonville, Florida
January 11, 1937
In South Jacksonville, on the Spring Glen Road lives Douglas Dorsey, an
ex-slave, born in Suwannee County, Florida in 1851, fourteen years prior
to freedom. His parents Charlie and Anna Dorsey were natives of Maryland
and free people. In those days, Dorsey relates there were people known
as "Nigger Traders" who used any subterfuge to catch Negroes and sell
them into slavery. There was one Jeff Davis who was known as a
professional "Nigger Trader," his slave boat docked in the slip at
Maryland and Jeff Davis and his henchmen went out looking for their
victims. Unfortunately, his mother Anna and his father were caught one
night and were bound and gagged and taken to Jeff Davis' boat which was
waiting in the harbor, and there they were put into stocks. The boat
stayed in port until it was loaded with Negroes, then sailed for Florida
where Davis disposed of his human cargo.
Douglas Dorsey's parents were sold to Colonel Louis Matair, who had a
large plantation that was cultivated by 85 slaves. Colonel Matair's
house was of the pretentious southern colonial type which was quite
prevalent during that period. The colonel had won his title because of
his participation in the Indian War in Florida. He was the typical
wealthy southern gentleman, and was very kind to his slaves. His wife,
however was just the opposite. She was exceedingly mean and could easily
be termed a tyrant.
There were several children in the Matair family and their home and
plantation were located in Suwannee County, Florida.
Douglas' parents were assigned to their tasks, his mother was house-maid
and his father was the mechanic, having learned this trade in Maryland
as a free man. Charlie and Anna had several children and Douglas was
among them. When he became large enough he was kept in the Matair home
to build fires, assist in serving meals and other chores.
Mrs. Matair being a very cruel woman, would whip the slaves herself for
any misdemeanor. Dorsey recalls an incident that is hard to obliterate
from his mind, it is as follows: Dorsey's mother was called by Mrs.
Matair, not hearing her, she continued with her duties, suddenly Mrs.
Matair burst out in a frenzy of anger over the woman not answering. Anna
explained that she did not hear her call, thereupon Mrs. Matair seized a
large butcher knife and struck at Anna, attempting to ward off the blow,
Anna received a long gash on the arm that laid her up for for some
time. Young Douglas was a witness to this brutal treatment of his mother
and he at that moment made up his mind to kill his mistress. He intended
to put strychnine that was used to kill rats into her coffee that he
usually served her. Fortunately freedom came and saved him of this act
which would have resulted in his death.
He relates another incident in regard to his mistress as follows: To his
mother and father was born a little baby boy, whose complexion was
rather light. Mrs. Matair at once began accusing Colonel Matair as being
the father of the child. Naturally the colonel denied, but Mrs. Matair
kept harassing him about it until he finally agreed to his wife's desire
and sold the child. It was taken from its mother's breast at the age of
eight months and auctioned off on the first day of January to the
highest bidder. The child was bought by a Captain Ross and taken across
the Suwannee River into Hamilton County. Twenty years later he was
located by his family, he was a grown man, married and farming.
Young Douglas had the task each morning of carrying the Matair
children's books to school. Willie, a boy of eight would teach Douglas
what he learned in school, finally Douglas learned the alphabet and
numbers. In some way Mrs. Matair learned that Douglas was learning to
read and write. One morning after breakfast she called her son Willie to
the dining room where she was seated and then sent for Douglas to come
there too. She then took a quill pen the kind used at that time, and
began writing the alphabet and numerals as far as ten. Holding the paper
up to Douglas, she asked him if he knew what they were; he proudly
answered in the affirmative, not suspecting anything. She then asked him
to name the letters and numerals, which he did, she then asked him to
write them, which he did. When he reached the number ten, very proud of
his learning, she struck him a heavy blow across the face, saying to him
"If I ever catch you making another figure anywhere I'll cut off your
right arm." Naturally Douglas and also her son Willie were much
surprised as each thought what had been done was quite an achievement.
She then called Mariah, the cook to bring a rope and tying the two of
them to the old colonial post on the front porch, she took a chair and
sat between the two, whipping them on their naked backs for such a time,
that for two weeks their clothes stuck to their backs on the lacerated
To ease the soreness, Willie would steal grease from the house and
together they would slip into the barn and grease each other's backs.
As to plantation life, Dorsey said that the slaves lived in quarters
especially built for them on the plantation. They would leave for the
fields at "sun up" and remain until "sun-down," stopping only for a meal
which they took along with them.
Instead of having an overseer they had what was called a "driver" by
the name of Januray[TR:?]. His duties were to get the slaves together in
the morning and see that they went to the fields and assigned them to
their tasks. He worked as the other slaves, though, he had more
priveliges. He would stop work at any time he pleased and go around to
inspect the work of the others, and thus rest himself. Most of the
orders from the master were issued to him. The crops consisted of
cotton, corn, cane and peas, which was raised in abundance.
When the slaves left the fields, they returned to their cabins and after
preparing and eating of their evening meal they gathered around a cabin
to sing and moan songs seasoned with African melody. Then to the tune of
an old fiddle they danced a dance called the "Green Corn Dance" and "Cut
the Pigeon wing." Sometimes the young men on the plantation would slip
away to visit a girl on another plantation. If they were caught by the
"Patrols" while on these visits they would be lashed on the bare backs
as a penalty for this offense.
A whipping post was used for this purpose. As soon as one slave was
whipped, he was given the whip to whip his brother slave. Very often the
lashes would bring blood very soon from the already lacerated skin, but
this did not stop the lashing until one had received their due number of
Occasionally the slaves were ordered to church to hear a white
minister, they were seated in the front pews of the master's church,
while the whites sat in the rear. The minister's admonition to them to
honor their masters and mistresses, and to have no other God but them,
as "we cannot see the other God, but you can see your master and
mistress." After the services the driver's wife who could read and write
a little would tell them that what the minister said "was all lies."
Douglas says that he will never forget when he was a lad 14 years of
age, when one evening he was told to go and tell the driver to have all
the slaves come up to the house; soon the entire host of about 85 slaves
were gathered there all sitting around on stumps, some standing. The
colonel's son was visibly moved as he told them they were free. Saying
they could go anywhere they wanted to for he had no more to do with
them, or that they could remain with him and have half of what was
raised on the plantation.
The slaves were happy at this news, as they had hardly been aware that
there had been a war going on. None of them accepted the offer of the
colonel to remain, as they were only too glad to leaver the cruelties of
the Matair plantation.
Dorsey's father got a job with Judge Carraway of Suwannee where he
worked for one year. He later homesteaded 40 acres of land that he
received from the government and began farming. Dorsey's father died in
Suwannee County, Florida when Douglas was a young man and then he and
his mother moved to Arlington, Florida. His mother died several years
ago at a ripe old age.
Douglas Dorsey, aged but with a clear mind lives with his daughter in
1. Interview with Douglas Dorsey, living on Spring Glen Road, South
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Martin D. Richardson, Field Worker
In 1861, when he was 16 years old, Ambrose Hilliard Douglass was given a
sound beating by his North Carolina master because he attempted to
refuse the mate that had been given to him--with the instructions to
produce a healthy boy-child by her--and a long argument on the value of
having good, strong, healthy children. In 1937, at the age of 92,
Ambrose Douglass welcomed his 38th child into the world.
The near-centenarian lives near Brooksville, in Hernando County, on a
run-down farm that he no longer attempts to tend now that most of his 38
children have deserted the farm for the more lucrative employment of the
cities of the phosphate camps.
Douglass was born free in Detroit in 1845. His parents returned South to
visit relatives still in slavery, and were soon reenslaved themselves,
with their children. Ambrose was one of these.
For 21 years he remained in slavery; sometimes at the plantation of his
original master in North Carolina, sometimes in other sections after he
had been sold to different masters.
"Yassuh, I been sold a lot of times", the old man states. "Our master
didn't believe in keeping a house, a horse or a darky after he had a
chance to make some money on him. Mostly, though, I was sold when I cut
"I was a young man", he continues, "and didn't see why I should be
anybody's slave. I'd run away every chance I got. Sometimes they near
killed me, but mostly they just sold me. I guess I was pretty husky, at
"They never did get their money's worth out of me, though. I worked as
long as they stood over me, then I ran around with the gals or sneaked
off to the woods. Sometimes they used to put dogs on me to get me back.
"When they finally sold me to a man up in Suwannee County--his name was
Harris--I thought it would be the end of the world. We had heard about
him all the way up in Virginia. They said he beat you, starved you and
tied you up when you didn't work, and killed you if you ran away.
"But I never had a better master. He never beat me, and always fed all
of us. 'Course, we didn't get too much to eat; corn meal, a little piece
of fat meat now and then, cabbages, greens, potatoes, and plenty of
molasses. When I worked up at 'the house' I et just what the master et;
sometimes he would give it to me his-self. When he didn't, I et it
"He was so good, and I was so scared of him, till I didn't ever run away
from his place", Ambrose reminisces; "I had somebody there that I liked,
anyway. When he finally went to the war, he sold me back to a man in
North Carolina, in Hornett County. But the war was near over then; I
soon was as free as I am now.
"I guess we musta celebrated 'Mancipation about twelve times in Hornett
County. Every time a bunch of No'thern sojers would come through they
would tell us we was free and we'd begin celebratin'. Before we would
get through somebody else would tell us to go back to work, and we would
go. Some of us wanted to jine up with the army, but didn't know who was
goin' to win and didn't take no chances.
"I was 21 when freedom finally came, and that time I didn't take no
chances on 'em taking it back again. I lit out for Florida and wound up
in Madison County. I had a nice time there; I got married, got a plenty
of work, and made me a little money. I fixed houses, built 'em, worked
around the yards, and did everything. My first child was already born; I
didn't know there was goin' to be 37 more, though. I guess I would have
stopped right there....
"I stayed in Madison County until they started to working concrete rock
down here. I heard about it and thought that would be a good way for me
to feed all them two dozen children I had. So I came down this side.
That was about 20 years ago.
"I got married again after I got here; right soon after. My wife now is
30 years old; we already had 13 children together. (His wife is a
slight, girlish-looking woman; she says she was 13 when she married
Douglass, had her first child that year. Eleven of her thirteen are
"Yossuh, I ain't long stopped work. I worked here in the phosphate mine
until last year, when they started to paying pensions. I thought I
would get one, but all I got was some PWA work, and this year they told
me I was too old for that. I told 'em I wasn't but 91, but they didn't
give nothin' else. I guess I'll get my pension soon, though. My oldest
boy ought to get it, too; he's sixty-five."
FOLK STUFF, FLORIDA
Jules A. Frost
May 19, 1937
"Who is the oldest person, white or colored, that you know of in Tampa?"
"See Mama Duck," the grinning Negro elevator boy told me. "She bout a
hunnert years old."
So down into the "scrub" I went and found the old woman hustling about
from washpot to pump. "I'm mighty busy now, cookin breakfast," she said,
"but if you come back in bout an hour I'll tell you what I can bout old
times in Tampa."
On the return visit, her skinny dog met me with elaborate demonstrations
"Guan way fum here Spot. Dat gemmen ain gwine feed you nothin. You keep
your dirty paws offen his clothes."
Mama duck sat down on a rickety box, motioning me to another one on the
shaky old porch. "Take keer you doan fall thoo dat old floor," she
cautioned. "It's bout ready to fall to pieces, but I way behind in the
rent, so I kaint ask em to have it fixed."
"I see you have no glass in the windows--doesn't it get you wet when it
"Not me. I gits over on de other side of de room. It didn't have no door
neither when I moved in. De young folks frum here useta use it for a
"Courtin-house. Dey kept a-comin after I moved in, an I had to shoo em
away. Dat young rascal comin yonder--he one of em. I clare to
goodness--" and Mama Duck raised her voice for the trespasser's benefit,
"I wisht I had me a fence to keep folks outa my yard."
"Qua-a-ck, quack, quack," the young Negro mocked, and passed on
"Dat doan worry me none; I doan let _nothin_ worry me. Worry makes folks
gray-headed." She scratched her head where three gray braids, about the
length and thickness of a flapper's eyebrow, stuck out at odd angles.
"I sho got plenty chancet to worry ifen I wants to," she mused, as she
sipped water from a fruit-jar foul with fingermarks. "Relief folks got
me on dey black list. Dey won't give me rations--dey give rations to
young folks whas workin, but won't give me nary a mouthful."
"Why is that?"
"Well, dey wanted me to go to de poor house. I was willin to go, but I
wanted to take my trunk along an dey wouldn't let me. I got some things
in dere I been havin nigh onta a hunnert years. Got my old blue-back
Webster, onliest book I ever had, scusin my Bible. Think I wanna throw
dat stuff away? No-o, suh!" Mama Duck pushed the dog away from a
cracked pitcher on the floor and refilled her fruit-jar. "So day black
list me, cause I won't kiss dey feets. I ain kissin _nobody's_
feets--wouldn't kiss my own mammy's."
"Well, we'd all do lots of things for our mothers that we wouldn't do
for anyone else."
"Maybe you would, but not me. My mammy put me in a hickry basket when I
was a day an a half old, with nothin on but my belly band an diaper.
Took me down in de cotton patch an sot me on a stump in de bilin sun."
"What in the world did she do that for?"
"Cause I was black. All de other younguns was bright. My granmammy done
hear me bawlin an go fotch me to my mammy's house. 'Dat you mammy?' she
ask, sweet as pie, when granmammy pound on de door.
"'Doan you never call me mammy no more,' granmammy say. 'Any woman
what'd leave a poor lil mite like dis to perish to death ain fitten to
be no datter o' mine.'
"So granmammy took me to raise. I ain never seen my mammy sincet, an I
ain never wanted to."
"What did your father think of the way she treated you?"
"Never knew who my daddy was, an I reckon she didn't either."
"Do you remember anything about the Civil War?"
"The Civil War, when they set the slaves free."
"Oh, you mean de fust war. I reckon I does--had three chillern, boys,
borned fore de war. When I was old enough to work I was taken to Pelman,
Jawja. Dey let me nust de chillern. Den I got married. We jus got
married in de kitchen and went to our log house.
"I never got no beatins fum my master when I was a slave. But I seen
collored men on de Bradley plantation git frammed out plenty. De whippin
boss was Joe Sylvester. He had pets amongst de women folks, an let some
of em off light when they deserved good beatins."
"How did he punish his 'pets'?"
"Sometimes he jus bop em crosst de ear wid a battlin stick."
"Battlin stick, like dis. You doan know what a battlin stick is? Well,
dis here is one. Use it for washin clothes. You lift em outa de wash pot
wid de battlin stick; den you lay em on de battlin block, dis here
stump. Den you beat de dirt out wid de battlin stick."
"A stick like that would knock a horse down!"
"Wan't nigh as bad as what some of de others got. Some of his pets
amongst de mens got it wusser dan de womens. He strap em crosst de sharp
side of a barrel an give em a few right smart licks wid a bull whip."
"And what did he do to the bad ones?"
"He make em cross dere hands, den he tie a rope roun dey wrists an throw
it over a tree limb. Den he pull em up so dey toes jus touch de ground
an smack em on da back an rump wid a heavy wooden paddle, fixed full o'
holes. Den he make em lie down on de ground while he bust all dem
blisters wid a raw-hide whip."
"Didn't that kill them?"
"Some couldn't work for a day or two. Sometimes dey throw salt brine on
dey backs, or smear on turputine to make it git well quicker."
"I suppose you're glad those days are over."
"Not me. I was a heap better off den as I is now. Allus had sumpun to
eat an a place to stay. No sich thing as gittin on a black list. Mighty
hard on a pusson old as me not to git no rations an not have no reglar
"How old are you?"
"I doun know, zackly. Wait a minnit, I didn't show you my pitcher what
was in de paper, did I? I kaint read, but somebody say dey put how old I
is under my pitcher in dat paper."
Mama Duck rummaged through a cigar box and brought out a page of a
Pittsburgh newspaper, dated in 1936. It was so badly worn that it was
almost illegible, but it showed a picture of Mama Duck and below it was
given her age, 109.
Jules Abner Frost
May 19, 1937
1. Name and address of informant, Mama Duck, Governor & India Sts.,
2. Date and time of interview, May 19, 1937, 9:30 A.M.
3. Place of interview, her home, above address.
4. Name and address of person, if any, who put you in touch with
informant, J.D. Davis (elevator operator), 1623 Jefferson St., Tampa,
5. Name and address of person, if any accompanying you (none).
6. Description of room, house, surroundings, etc.
Two-room unpainted shack, leaky roof, most window panes missing, porch
dangerous to walk on. House standing high on concrete blocks. Located in
alley, behind other Negro shacks.
NOTE: Letter of Feb. 17, 1939, from Mr. B.A. Botkin to Dr. Corse states
that my ex-slave story, "Mama Duck" is marred by use of the question and
answer method. In order to make this material of use as American Folk
Stuff material, I have rewritten it, using the first person, as related
by the informant.
Personal History of Informant
[TR: Repetitive information removed.]
1. Ancestry: Negro.
2. Place and date of birth: Richard (probably Richmond), Va., about
3. Family: unknown.
4. Places lived in, with dates: Has lived in Tampa since about 1870.
5. Education, with dates: Illiterate.
6. Occupations and accomplishments, with dates: None. Informant was a
slave, and has always performed common labor.
7. Special skills and interests: none.
8. Community and religious activities: none.
9. Description of informant: Small, emaciated, slightly graying, very
thin kinky hair, tightly braided in small pigtails. Somewhat wrinkled,
toothless. Active for her age, does washing for a living.
10. Other points gained in interview: Strange inability of local Old Age
Pension officials to establish right of claimants to benefits.
Inexplainable causes of refusal of direct relief.
Gwan away f'm here, Po'-Boy; dat gemmen ain't gwine feed you nuthin. You
keep yo' dirty paws offen his close.
Come in, suh. Take care you don't fall thoo dat ol' po'ch flo'; hit
'bout ready to go t' pieces, but I 'way behind on rent, so I cain't ask
'em to have hit fixed. Dis ol' house aint fitten fer nobody t' live in;
winder glass gone an' roof leaks. Young folks in dese parts done be'n
usin' it fer a co't house 'fore I come; you know--a place to do dey
courtin' in. Kep' a-comin' atter I done move in, an' I had to shoo 'em
Dat young rascal comin' yondah, he one of 'em. I claiah to goodness, I
wisht I had a fence to keep folks outa my yahd. Reckon you don't know
what he be quackin' lak dat fer. Dat's 'cause my name's "Mama Duck." He
doin' it jus' t' pester me. But dat don't worry me none; I done quit
I sho' had plenty chance to worry, though. Relief folks got me on dey
black list. Dey give rashuns to young folks what's wukkin' an' don't
give me nary a mouthful. Reason fer dat be 'cause dey wanted me t' go t'
de porehouse. I wanted t' take my trunk 'long, an' dey wouldn't lemme. I
got some things in dere I be'n havin' nigh onto a hunnert years. Got my
ol' blue-back Webster, onliest book I evah had, 'scusin' mah Bible.
Think I wanna th'ow dat away? No-o suh!
So dey black-list me, 'cause I won't kiss dey feets. I ain't kissin
_nobody's_, wouldn't kiss my own mammy's.
I nevah see my mammy. She put me in a hick'ry basket when I on'y a day
and a half old, with nuthin' on but mah belly band an' di'per. Took me
down in de cotton patch an' sot de basket on a stump in de bilin sun.
Didn't want me, 'cause I be black. All de otha youngins o' hers be
Gran'mammy done tol' me, many a time, how she heah me bawlin' an' go an'
git me, an' fotch me to mammy's house; but my own mammy, she say, tu'n
me down cold.
"Dat you, Mammy" she say, sweet as pie, when gran'mammy knock on de do'.
"Dont you _nevah_ call me 'Mammy' no mo'," gran'mammy tol' 'er. "Any
woman what'd leave a po' li'l mite lak dat to perish to death ain't
fitten t' be no dotter o' mine."
So gran'mammy tuk me to raise, an' I ain't nevah wanted no mammy but
her. Nevah knowed who my daddy was, an' I reckon my mammy didn't know,
neithah. I bawn at Richard, Vahjinny. My sistah an' brothah be'n dead
too many years to count; I de las' o' de fam'ly.
I kin remember 'fore de fust war start. I had three chillen, boys,
taller'n me when freedom come. Mah fust mastah didn't make de li'l
chillen wuk none. All I done was play. W'en I be ol' enough t' wuk, dey
tuk us to Pelman, Jawjah. I never wukked in de fiel's none, not den. Dey
allus le me nuss de chillens.
Den I got married. Hit wa'nt no church weddin'; we got married in
gran'mammy's kitchen, den we go to our own log house. By an' by mah
mahster sol' me an' mah baby to de man what had de plantation nex' to
ours. His name was John Lee. He was good to me, an' let me see my
I nevah got no beatin's. Onliest thing I evah got was a li'l slap on de
han', lak dat. Didn't hurt none. But I'se seen cullud men on de Bradley
plantation git tur'ble beatin's. De whippin' boss was Joe Sylvester, a
white man. He had pets mongst de wimmen folks, an' used t' let 'em off
easy, w'en dey desarved a good beatin'. Sometimes 'e jes' bop 'em crost
de ear wid a battlin' stick, or kick 'em in de beehind.
You don't know what's a battlin' stick? Well, dis here be one. You use
it fer washin' close. You lif's de close outa de wash pot wid dis here
battlin' stick; den you tote 'em to de battlin' block--dis here stump.
Den you beat de dirt out wid de battlin' stick.
De whippin' boss got pets 'mongst de mens, too, but dey got it a li'l
wusser'n de wimmens. Effen dey wan't _too_ mean, he jes' strap 'em
'crost de sharp side of a bar'l an' give 'em a few right smaht licks wid
a bull whip.
But dey be some niggahs he whip good an' hard. If dey sass back, er try
t' run away, he mek 'em cross dey han's lak dis; den he pull 'em up, so
dey toes jes' tetch de ground'; den he smack 'em crost de back an' rump
wid a big wood paddle, fixed full o' holes. Know what dem holes be for?
Ev'y hole mek a blister. Den he mek 'em lay down on de groun', whilst he
bus' all dem blisters wid a rawhide whip.
I nevah heard o' nobody dyin' f'm gittin' a beatin'. Some couldn't wuk
fer a day or so. Sometimes de whippin' boss th'ow salt brine on dey
backs, or smear on turpentine, to mek it well quicker.
I don't know, 'zackly, how old I is. Mebbe--wait a minute, I didn't show
you my pitcher what was in de paper. I cain't read, but somebody say dey
put down how old I is undah mah pitcher. Dar hit--don't dat say a
hunndrt an' nine? I reckon dat be right, seein' I had three growed-up
boys when freedom come.
Dey be on'y one sto' here when I come to Tampa. Hit b'long t' ol' man
Mugge. Dey be a big cotton patch where Plant City is now. I picked some
cotton dere, den I come to Tampa, an' atter a while I got a job nussin'
Mister Perry Wall's chillen. Cullud folks jes' mek out de bes' dey
could. Some of 'em lived in tents, till dey c'd cut logs an' build
houses wid stick-an'-dirt chimbleys.
Lotta folks ask me how I come to be called "Mama Duck." Dat be jes' a
devil-ment o' mine. I named my own se'f dat. One day when I be 'bout
twelve year old, I come home an' say, "Well, gran'mammy, here come yo'
li'l ducky home again." She hug me an' say, "Bress mah li'l ducky." Den
she keep on callin' me dat, an' when I growed up, folks jes' put de
I reckon I a heap bettah off dem days as I is now. Allus had sumpin t'
eat an' a place t' stay. No sech thing ez gittin' on a black list dem
days. Mighty hard on a pusson ol' az me not t' git no rashuns an' not
have no reg'lar job.
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Pearl Randolph, Field Worker
January 30, 1937
Born in Brooks County, Georgia, 83 years ago on February 24th,
Willie[TR:?] Dukes jovially declares that he is "on the high road to
livin' a hund'ed years."
He was one of 40 slaves belonging to one John Dukes, who was only in
moderate circumstances. His parents were Amos and Mariah Dukes, both
born on this plantation, he thinks. As they were a healthy pair they
were required to work long hours in the fields, although the master was
not actually cruel to them.
On this plantation a variety of products was grown, cotton, corn,
potatoes, peas, rice and sugar cane. Nothing was thrown away and the
slaves had only coarse foods such as corn bread, collard greens, peas
and occasionally a little rice or white bread. Even the potatoes were
reserved for the white folk and "house niggers."
As a child Willis was required to "tote water and wood, help at milking
time and run errands." His clothing consisted of only a homespun shirt
that was made on the plantation. Nearly everything used was grown or
manufactured on the plantation. Candles were made in the big house by
the cook and a batch of slaves from the quarters, all of them being
required to bring fat and tallow that had been saved for this purpose.
These candles were for the use of the master and mistress, as the slaves
used fat lightwood torches for lighting purposes. Cotton was used for
making clothes, and it was spun and woven into cloth by the slave women,
then stored in the commisary for future use. Broggan shoes were made of
tanned leather held together by tacks made of maple wood. Lye soap was
made in large pots, cut into chunks and issued from the smoke house.
Potash was secured from the ashes of burnt oak wood and allowed to set
in a quantity of grease that had also been saved for the purpose, then
boiled into soap.
The cotton was gathered in bags of bear grass and deposited in baskets
woven with strips of white oak that had been dried in the sun.
Willis remembers the time when a slave on the plantation escaped and
went north to live. This man managed to communicate with his family
somehow, and it was whispered about that he was "living very high" and
actually saving money with which to buy his family. He was even going to
school. This fired all the slaves with an ambition to go north and this
made them more than usually interested in the outcome of the war between
the states. He was too young to fully understand the meaning of freedom
but wanted very much to go away to some place where he could earn
enough money to buy his mother a real silk dress. He confided this
information to her and she was very proud of him but gave him a good
spanking for fear he expressed this desire for freedom to his young
master or mistress.
Prayer meetings were very frequent during the days of the war and very
often the slaves were called in from the fields and excused from their
labors so they could hold these prayer meetings, always praying God for
the safe return of their master.
The master did not return after the war and when the soldiers in blue
came through that section the frightened women were greatly dependent
upon their slaves for protection and livelihood. Many of these black man
chose loyalty to their dead masters to freedom and shouldered the burden
of the support of their former mistresses cheerfully.
After the war Willis' father was one of those to remain with his widowed
mistress. Other members of his family left as soon as they were freed,
even his wife. They thus remained separated until her death.
Willis saw his first bedspring about 50 years ago and he still thinks a
feather mattress superior to the store-bought variety. He recalls a
humorous incident which occurred when he was a child and had been
introduced for the first time to the task of picking a goose.
After demonstrating how it was done to a group of slave children, the
person in charge had gone about his way leaving them busily engaged in
picking the goose. They had been told that the one gathering the most
feathers would receive a piece of money. Sometimes later the overseer
returned to find a dozen geese that had been stripped of all the
feathers. They had been told to pick only the pin feathers beneath the
wings and about the bodies of the geese. Need we guess what happened to
the over ambitious children?
He had heard of ice long before he looked upon it and he only thought of
it as another wild experiment. Why buy ice, when watermelons and butter
could be ley down into the well to keep cool?
One of Willis' happiest moments was when he earned enough money to buy
his first pair of patern leather shoes. To possess a paid of store
bought shoes had been his ambition since he was a child, when he had to
shine the shoes of his master and those of the master's children.
He next owned a horse and buggy of which he was very proud. This
increased his popularity with the girls and bye and bye he was married
to Mary, a girl with whom he had been reared. Nobody was surprised but
Mary, explained Mr. Dukes. "Me and everybody else knowed us ud get
married some day. We didn't jump over no broom neither. We was married
like white folks wid flowers and cake and everything."
Willis Dukes has been in Florida for "Lawd knows how long" and prefers
this state to his home state. He still has a few relatives there but has
never returned since leaving so long ago.
1. Personal Interview with Willis Dukes, Valdosta Road, near Jeslamb
Church, Madison, Florida
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Pearl Randolph, Field Worker
John A. Simms, Editor
October 8, 1936
SAM AND LOUISA EVERETT
Sam and Louise Everett, 86 and 90 years of age respectively, have
weathered together some of the worst experiences of slavery, and as they
look back over the years, can relate these experiences as clearly as if
they had happened only yesterday.
Both were born near Norfolk, Virginia and sold as slaves several times
on nearby plantations. It was on the plantation of "Big Jim" McClain
that they met as slave-children and departed after Emancipation to live
the lives of free people.
Sam was the son of Peter and Betsy Everett, field hands who spent long
back-breaking hours in the cotton fields and came home at nightfall to
cultivate their small garden. They lived in constant fear that their
master would confiscate most of their vegetables; he so often did.
Louisa remembers little about her parents and thinks that she was sold
at an early age to a separate master. Her name as nearly as she could
remember was Norfolk Virginia. Everyone called her "Nor." It was not
until after she was freed and had sent her children to school that she
changed her name to Louisa.
Sam and Norfolk spent part of their childhood on the plantation of "Big
Jim" who was very cruel; often he would whip his slaves into
insensibility for minor offences. He sometimes hung them up by their
thumbs whenever they were caught attempting to escape--"er fer no reason
On this plantation were more than 100 slaves who were mated
indiscriminately and without any regard for family unions. If their
master thought that a certain man and woman might have strong, healthy
offspring, he forced them to have sexual relation, even though they were
married to other slaves. If there seemed to be any slight reluctance on
the part of either of the unfortunate ones "Big Jim" would make them
consummate this relationship in his presence. He used the same procedure
if he thought a certain couple was not producing children fast enough.
He enjoyed these orgies very much and often entertained his friends in
this manner; quite often he and his guests would engage in these
debaucheries, choosing for themselves the prettiest of the young women.
Sometimes they forced the unhappy husbands and lovers of their victims
to look on.
Louisa and Sam were married in a very revolting manner. To quote the
"Marse Jim called me and Sam ter him and ordered Sam to pull off his
shirt--that was all the McClain niggers wore--and he said to me: 'Nor,
do you think you can stand this big nigger?' He had that old bull whip
flung acrost his shoulder, and Lawd, that man could hit so hard! So I
jes said 'yassur, I guess so,' and tried to hide my face so I couldn't
see Sam's nakedness, but he made me look at him anyhow."
"Well, he told us what we must git busy and do in his presence, and we
had to do it. After that we were considered man and wife. Me and Sam was
a healthy pair and had fine, big babies, so I never had another man
forced on me, thank God. Sam was kind to me and I learnt to love him."
Life on the McClain plantation was a steady grind of work from morning
until night. Slaves had to rise in the dark of the morning at the
ringing of the "Big House" bell. After eating a hasty breakfast of fried
fat pork and corn pone, they worked in the fields until the bell rang
again at noon; at which time they ate boiled vegetables, roasted sweet
potatoes and black molasses. This food was cooked in iron pots which had
legs attached to their bottoms in order to keep them from resting
directly on the fire. These utensils were either hung over a fire or set
atop a mound of hot coals. Biscuits were a luxury but whenever they had
white bread it was cooked in another thick pan called a "spider". This
pan had a top which was covered with hot embers to insure the browning
of the bread on top.
Slave women had no time for their children. These were cared for by an
old woman who called them twice a day and fed them "pot likker"
(vegetable broth) and skimmed milk. Each child was provided with a
wooden laddle which he dipped into a wooden trough and fed himself. The
older children fed those who were too young to hold a laddle.
So exacting was "Big Jim" that slaves were forced to work even when
sick. Expectant mothers toiled in the fields until they felt their labor
pains. It was not uncommon for babies to be born in the fields.
There was little time for play on his plantation. Even the very small
children were assigned tasks. They hunted hen's eggs, gathered poke
berries for dyeing, shelled corn and drove the cows home in the evening.
Little girls knitted stockings.
There was no church on this plantation and itinerant ministers avoided
going there because of the owner's cruelty. Very seldom were the slaves
allowed to attend neighboring churches and still rarer were the
opportunities to hold meetings among themselves. Often when they were in
the middle of a song or prayer they would be forced to halt and run to
the "Big House." Woe to any slave who ignored the ringing of the bell
that summoned him to work and told him when he might "knock off" from
Louisa and Sam last heard the ringing of this bell in the fall of 1865.
All the slaves gathered in front of the "Big House" to be told that they
were free for the time being. They had heard whisperings of the War but
did not understand the meaning of it all. Now "Big Jim" stood weeping on
the piazza and cursing the fate that had been so cruel to him by robbing
him of all his "niggers." He inquired if any wanted to remain until all
the crops were harvested and when no one consented to do so, he flew
into a rage; seizing his pistol, he began firing into the crowd of
frightened Negroes. Some were _killed_ outright and others were maimed
for life. Finally he was prevailed upon to stop. He then attempted to
take his own life. A few frightened slaves promised to remain with him
another year; this placated him. It was necessary for Union soldiers to
make another visit to the plantation before "Big Jim" would allow his
former slaves to depart.
Sam and Louisa moved to Boston, Georgia, where they sharecropped for
several years; they later bought a small farm when their two sons became
old enough to help. They continued to live on this homestead until a few
years ago, when their advancing ages made it necessary that they live
with the children. Both of the children had settled in Florida several
years previous and wanted their parents to come to them. They now live
in Mulberry, Florida with the younger son. Both are pitifully infirm but
can still remember the horrors they experienced under very cruel owners.
It was with difficulty that they were prevailed upon to relate some of
the gruesome details recorded here.
1. Personal interview with Sam and Louisa Everett, P.O. Box 535 c/o
E.P.J. Everett, Mulberry, Florida
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Pearl Randolph, Field Worker
November 24, 1936
Duncan Gaines, the son of George and Martha Gaines was born on a
plantation in Virginia on March 12, 1853. He was one of four children,
all fortunate enough to remain with their parents until maturity. They
were sold many times, but Duncan Gaines best remembers the master who
was known as "old man Beever."
On this plantation were about 50 slaves, who toiled all day in the
cotton and tobacco fields and came home at dusk to cook their meals of
corn pone, collards and sweet potatoes on the hearths of their one room
cabins. Biscuits were baked on special occasions by placing hot coals
atop the iron tops of long legged frying pans called spiders, and the
potatoes were roasted in the ashes, likewise the corn pone. Their
masters being more or less kind, there was pork, chicken, syrup and
other foodstuffs that they were allowed to raise as their own on a small
scale. This work was often done by the light of a torch at night as they
had little time of their own. In this way slaves earned money for small
luxuries and the more ambitious sometimes saved enough money to buy
their freedom, although this was not encouraged very much.
The early life of Duncan was carefree and happy. With the exception of
carrying water to the laborers and running errands, he had little to do.
Most of the time of the slave children was spent in playing ball and
wrestling and foraging the woods for berries and fruits and playing
games as other children. They were often joined in their play by the
master's children, who taught them to read and write and fired Duncan
with the ambition to be free, so that he could "wear a frill on his
colar and own a pair of shoes that did not have brass caps on the toes"
and require the application of fat to make them shine.
Wearing his shoes shined as explained above and a coarse homespun suit
dyed with oak bark, indigo or poke berries, he went to church on Sunday
afternoons after the whites had had their services and listened to
sermons delivered by white ministers who taught obedience to their
masters. After the services, most of the slaves would remove their shoes
and carry them in their hands, as they were unaccustomed to wearing
shoes except in winter.
The women were given Saturday afternoons off to launder their clothes
and prepare for Sunday's services. All slaves were required to appear on
Monday mornings as clean as possible with their clothing mended and
Lye soap was used both for laundering and bathing. It was made from
fragments of fat meat and skins that were carefully saved for that
purpose. Potash was secured from oak ashes. This mixture was allowed to
set for a certain period of time, then cooked to a jelly-like
consistency. After cooling, the soap was cut into square bars and
"lowanced out" (allowance) to the slaves according to the number in each
family. Once Duncan was given a bar of "sweet" soap by his mistress for
doing a particularly nice piece of work of polishing the harness of her
favorite mare and so proud was he of the gift that he put it among his
Sunday clothes to make them smell sweet. It was the first piece of
toilet sopa that he had ever seen; and it caused quite a bit of envy
among the other slave children.
Duncan Gaines does not remember his grandparents but thinks they were
both living on some nearby plantation. His father was the plantation
blacksmith and Duncan liked to look on as plowshares, single trees,
horse shoes, etc were turned out or sharpened. His mother was strong and
healthy, so she toiled all day in the fields. Duncan always listened for
his mother's return from the field, which was heraled by a song, no
matter how tired she was. She was very fond of her children and did not
share the attitude of many slave mother who thought of their children as
belonging solely to the masters. She lived in constant fear that "old
marse Seever" would meet with some adversity and be forced to sell them
separately. She always whispered to them about "de war" and fanned to a
flame their desire to be free.
At that time Negro children listened to the tales of _Raw Head and
Bloody Bones_, various animal stories and such childish ditties as:
"Little Boy, Little Boy who made your breeches?
Mamma cut 'em out and pappa sewed de stitches."
Children were told that babies were dug out of tree stumps and were
generally made to "shut up" if they questioned their elders about such
Children with long or large heads were thought to be marked to become
"wise men." Everyone believed in ghosts and entertained all the
superstitions that have been handed down to the present generation.
There was much talk of "hoodooism" and anyone ill for a long time
without getting relief from herb medicines was thought to be "fixed" or
suffering from some sin that his father had committed.
Duncan was 12 years of age when freedom was declared and remembers the
hectic times which followed. He and other slave children attended
schools provided by the Freedmen' Aid and other social organizations
fostered by Northerners. Most of the instructors were whites sent to the
South for that purpose.
The Gaines were industrious and soon owned a prosperous farm. They
seldom had any money but had plenty of foodstuffs and clothing and a
fairly comfortable home. All of the children secured enough learning to
enable them to read and write, which was regarded as very unusual in
those days. Slaves had been taught that their brain was inferior to the
whites who owned them and for this reason, many parents refused to send
their children to school, thinking it a waste of time and that too much
learning might cause some injury to the brain of their supposedly
Of the various changes, Duncan remembers very little, so gradual did
they occur in his section. Water was secured from the spring or well.
Perishable foodstuffs were let down into the well to keep cool. Shoes
were made from leather tanned by setting in a solution of red oak bark
and water; laundering was done in wooden tubs, made from barrels cut in
halves. Candles were used for lighting and were made from sheep and beef
tallow. Lightwood torches were used by those not able to afford candles.
Stockings were knitted by the women during cold or rainy weather.
Weaving and spinning done by special slave women who were too old to
work in the fields; others made the cloth into garments. Everything was
done by hand except the luxuries imported by the wealthy.
Duncan Gaines is now a widower and fast becoming infirm. He looks upon
this "new fangled" age with bare tolerance and feels that the happiest
age of mankind has passed with the discarding of the simple, old
fashioned way of doing things.
1. Personal interview with Duncan Gaines, Second Street near Madison
Training School for Negroes, Madison, Florida
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Rachel Austin, Secretary
April 16, 1937
Clayborn Gantling was born in Dawson, Georgia, Terrell County, January
20, 1848 on the plantation of Judge Williams.
Judge Williams owned 102 heads of slaves and was known to be "tolable
nice to 'em in some way and pretty rough on 'em in other ways" says Mr.
Gantling. "He would'nt gi' us no coffee, 'cept on Sunday Mornings when
we would have shorts or seconds of wheat, which is de leavins' of flour
at mills, yu' know, but we had plenty bacon, corn bread, taters and
"As a child I uster have to tote water to de old people on de farm and
tend de cows an' feed de sheep. Now, I can' say right 'zackly how things
wuz during slavery 'cause its been a long time ago but we had cotton and
corn fields and de hands plowed hard, picked cotton grabbled penders,
gathered peas and done all the other hard work to be done on de
plantations. I wuz not big 'nuff to do all of dem things but I seed
plenty of it done.
"Dey made lye soap on de farms and used indigo from wood for dye. We
niggers slept on hay piled on top of planks but de white folks had
"I don't 'member my grandparents but my mas was called Harriet Williams
and my pa was called Henry Williams; dey wuz called Williams after my
master. My mas and pa worked very hard and got some beatings but I don't
know what for. Dey wuz all kinds of money, five and ten dollar bills,
and so on then, but I didn't ever see them with any.
"When war came along and Sherman came through the old people wuz very
skeered on account of the white owners but there was no fighting close
to me. My master's sons Leo and Fletcher joined the army and lots of de
other masters went; de servants wuz sent along to wait on de young white
men. Guess you'd like to know if any were killed. 'I should smile,' two
I know were killed.
"During those days for medicine, the old people used such things as
butterfly root and butterfly tea, sage tea, red oak bark,
hippecat--something that grow--was used for fevers and bathing children.
They wuz white doctors and plenty of colored grannies.
"When de Yankees came they acted diffunt and was naturally better to
servants than our masters had been; we colored folks done the best we
could but that was not so good right after freedom. Still it growed on
and growed on getting better.
"Before freedom we always went to white churches on Sundays with passes
but they never mentioned God; they always told us to be "good niggers
and mind our missus and masters".
"Judge Williams had ten or twelve heads of children but I can' 'member
the names of 'em now; his wife was called Mis' 'Manda and she was jes'
'bout lak Marse Williams. I had 'bout eighteen head of boys and five
girls myself; dere was so many, I can' 'member all of dem."
Mr. Gantling was asked to relate some incidents that he could remember
of the lives of slaves, and he continued:
"Well the horn would blow every morning for you to git up and go right
to work; when the sun ris' if you were not in the field working, you
would be whipped with whips and leather strops. I 'member Aunt Beaty was
beat until she could hardly get along but I can' 'member what for but do
you know she had to work along till she got better. My ma had to work
pretty hard but my oldest sister, Judy, was too young to work much.
"A heap of de slaves would run away and hide in de woods to keep from
working so hard but the white folks to keep them from running away so
that they could not ketch 'em would put a chain around the neck which
would hang down the back and be fastened on to another 'round the waist
and another 'round the feet so they could not run, still they had to
work and sleep in 'em, too; sometimes they would wear these chains for
three or four months.
"When a slave would die they had wooden boxes to put 'em in and dug
holes and just put then in. A slave might go to a sister or brother's
"My recollection is very bad and so much is forgotten, but I have seen
slaves sold in droves like cows; they called 'em 'ruffigees,' and white
men wuz drivin' 'em like hogs and cows for sale. Mothers and fathers
were sold and parted from their chillun; they wuz sold to white people
in diffunt states. I tell you chile, it was pitiful, but God did not let
it last always. I have heard slaves morning and night pray for
deliverance. Some of 'em would stand up in de fields or bend over cotton
and corn and pray out loud for God to help 'em and in time you see, He
"They had whut you call "pattyrollers" who would catch you from home and
'wear you out' and send you back to your master. If a master had slaves
he jes' could not rule (some of 'em wuz hard and jes' would not mind de
boss), he would ask him if he wanted to go to another plantation and if
he said he did, then, he would give him a pass and that pass would read:
"Give this nigger hell." Of course whan the "pattyrollers" or other
plantation boss would read the pass he would beat him nearly to death
and send him back. Of course the nigger could not read and did not know
what the pass said. You see, day did not 'low no nigger to have a book
or piece of paper of any kind and you know dey wuz not go teach any of
'em to read.
"De women had it hard too; women with little babies would have to go to
work in de mornings with the rest, come back, nurse their chillun and go
back to the field, stay two or three hours then go back and eat dinner;
after dinner dey would have to go to de field and stay two or three more
hours then go and nurse the chillun again, go back to the field and stay
till night. One or maybe two old women would stay in a big house and
keep all de chillun while their mothers worked in de fields.
"Now dey is a heap more I could tell maybe but I don't think of no more
Mr. Gantling came to Florida to Jennings Plantation near Lake Park and
stayed two years, then went to Everett's Plantation and stayed one year.
From there he went to a place called High Hill and stayed two or three
years. He left there and went to Jasper, farmed and stayed until he
moved his family to Jacksonville. Here he worked on public works until
he started raising hogs and chickens which he continued up to about
fourteen years ago. Now, he is too old to do anything but just "sit
around and talk and eat."
He lives with his daughter, Mrs. Minnie Holly and her husband, Mr. Dany
Holly on Lee Street.
Mr. Gantling cannot read or write, but is very interesting.
He has been a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church for more
than fifty years.
He has a very good appetite and although has lost his teeth, he has
never worn a plate or had any dental work done. He is never sick and has
had but little medical attention during his lifetime. His form is bent
and he walks with a cane; although his going is confined to his home, it
is from choice as he seldom wears shoes on account of bad feet. His
eyesight is very good and his hobby is sewing. He threads his own
needles without assistance of glasses as he has never worn them.
Mr. Gantling celebrated his 89th birthday on the 20th day of November
He is very small, also very short; quite active for his age and of a
very genial disposition, always smiling.
1. Interview with Mr. Clayborn Gantling, 1950 Lee Street, Jacksonville,
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Martin Richardson, Field Worker
(Verbatim Interview with Arnold Gragston, 97-year-old ex-slave whose
early life was spent helping slaves to freedom across the Ohio River,
while he, himself, remained in bondage. As he puts it, he guesses he
could be called a 'conductor' on the underground railway, "only we didn't
call it that then. I don't know as we called it anything--we just knew
there was a lot of slaves always a-wantin' to get free, and I had to
"Most of the slaves didn't know when they was born, but I did. You see,
I was born on a Christmas mornin'--it was in 1840; I was a full grown
man when I finally got my freedom."
"Before I got it, though, I helped a lot of others get theirs. Lawd only
knows how many; might have been as much as two-three hundred. It was
'way more than a hundred, I know.
"But that all came after I was a young man--'grown' enough to know a
pretty girl when I saw one, and to go chasing after her, too. I was born
on a plantation that b'longed to Mr. Jack Tabb in Mason County, just
across the river in Kentucky."
"Mr. Tabb was a pretty good man. He used to beat us, sure; but not
nearly so much as others did, some of his own kin people, even. But he
was kinda funny sometimes; he used to have a special slave who didn't
have nothin' to do but teach the rest of us--we had about ten on the
plantation, and a lot on the other plantations near us--how to read and
write and figger. Mr. Tabb liked us to know how to figger. But sometimes
when he would send for us and we would be a long time comin', he would
ask us where we had been. If we told him we had been learnin' to read,
he would near beat the daylights out of us--after gettin' somebody to
teach us; I think he did some of that so that the other owners wouldn't
say he was spoilin' his slaves."
"He was funny about us marryin', too. He would let us go a-courtin' on
the other plantations near anytime we liked, if we were good, and if we
found somebody we wanted to marry, and she was on a plantation that
b'longed to one of his kin folks or a friend, he would swap a slave so
that the husband and wife could be together. Sometimes, when he couldn't
do this, he would let a slave work all day on his plantation, and live
with his wife at night on her plantation. Some of the other owners was
always talking about his spoilin' us."
"He wasn't a Dimmacrat like the rest of 'em in the county; he belonged
to the 'know-nothin' party' and he was a real leader in it. He used to
always be makin' speeches, and sometimes his best friends wouldn't be
speaking to him for days at a time."
"Mr. Tabb was always specially good to me. He used to let me go all
about--I guess he had to; couldn't get too much work out of me even when
he kept me right under his eyes. I learned fast, too, and I think he
kinda liked that. He used to call Sandy Davis, the slave who taught me,
'the smartest Nigger in Kentucky.'
"It was 'cause he used to let me go around in the day and night so much
that I came to be the one who carried the runnin' away slaves over the
river. It was funny the way I started it too."
"I didn't have no idea of ever gettin' mixed up in any sort of business
like that until one special night. I hadn't even thought of rowing
across the river myself."
"But one night I had gone on another plantation 'courtin,' and the old
woman whose house I went to told me she had a real pretty girl there who
wanted to go across the river and would I take her? I was scared and
backed out in a hurry. But then I saw the girl, and she was such a
pretty little thing, brown-skinned and kinda rosy, and looking as scared
as I was feelin', so it wasn't long before I was listenin' to the old
woman tell me when to take her and where to leave her on the other
"I didn't have nerve enough to do it that night, though, and I told them
to wait for me until tomorrow night. All the next day I kept seeing
Mister Tabb laying a rawhide across my back, or shootin' me, and kept
seeing that scared little brown girl back at the house, looking at me
with her big eyes and asking me if I wouldn't just row her across to
Ripley. Me and Mr. Tabb lost, and soon as dust settled that night, I was
at the old lady's house."
"I don't know how I ever rowed the boat across the river the current
was strong and I was trembling. I couldn't see a thing there in the
dark, but I felt that girl's eyes. We didn't dare to whisper, so I
couldn't tell her how sure I was that Mr. Tabb or some of the others
owners would 'tear me up' when they found out what I had done. I just
knew they would find out."
"I was worried, too, about where to put her out of the boat. I couldn't
ride her across the river all night, and I didn't know a thing about the
other side. I had heard a lot about it from other slaves but I thought
it was just about like Mason County, with slaves and masters, overseers
and rawhides; and so, I just knew that if I pulled the boat up and went
to asking people where to take her I would get a beating or get killed."
"I don't know whether it seemed like a long time or a short time,
now--it's so long ago; I know it was a long time rowing there in the
cold and worryin'. But it was short, too, 'cause as soon as I did get on
the other side the big-eyed, brown-skin girl would be gone. Well, pretty
soon I saw a tall light and I remembered what the old lady had told me
about looking for that light and rowing to it. I did; and when I got up
to it, two men reached down and grabbed her; I started tremblin' all
over again, and prayin'. Then, one of the men took my arm and I just
felt down inside of me that the Lord had got ready for me. 'You hungry,
Boy?' is what he asked me, and if he hadn't been holdin' me I think I
would have fell backward into the river."
"That was my first trip; it took me a long time to get over my scared
feelin', but I finally did, and I soon found myself goin' back across
the river, with two and three people, and sometimes a whole boatload. I
got so I used to make three and four trips a month.
"What did my passengers look like? I can't tell you any more about it
than you can, and you wasn't there. After that first girl--no, I never
did see her again--I never saw my passengers. I would have to be the
"black nights" of the moon when I would carry them, and I would meet 'em
out in the open or in a house without a single light. The only way I
knew who they were was to ask them; "What you say?" And they would
answer, "Menare." I don't know what that word meant--it came from the
Bible. I only know that that was the password I used, and all of them
that I took over told it to me before I took them.
"I guess you wonder what I did with them after I got them over the
river. Well, there in Ripley was a man named Mr. Rankins; I think the
rest of his name was John. He had a regular station there on his place
for escaping slaves. You see, Ohio was a free state and once they got
over the river from Kentucky or Virginia. Mr. Rankins could strut them
all around town, and nobody would bother 'em. The only reason we used to
land quietly at night was so that whoever brought 'em could go back for
more, and because we had to be careful that none of the owners had
followed us. Every once in a while they would follow a boat and catch
their slaves back. Sometimes they would shoot at whoever was trying to
save the poor devils.
"Mr. Rankins had a regular 'station' for the slaves. He had a big
lighthouse in his yard, about thirty feet high and he kept it burnin'
all night. It always meant freedom for slave if he could get to this
"Sometimes Mr. Rankins would have twenty or thirty slaves that had run
away on his place at the time. It must have cost him a whole lots to
keep them and feed 'em, but I think some of his friends helped him.
"Those who wanted to stay around that part of Ohio could stay, but
didn't many of 'em do it, because there was too much danger that you
would be walking along free one night, feel a hand over your mouth, and
be back across the river and in slavery again in the morning. And nobody
in the world ever got a chance to know as much misery as a slave that
had escaped and been caught.
"So a whole lot of 'em went on North to other parts of Ohio, or to New
York, Chicago or Canada; Canada was popular then because all of the
slaves thought it was the last gate before you got all the way _inside_
of heaven. I don't think there was much chance for a slave to make a
living in Canada, but didn't many of 'em come back. They seem like they
rather starve up there in the cold than to be back in slavery.
"The Army soon started taking a lot of 'em, too. They could enlist in
the Union Army and get good wages, more food than they ever had, and
have all the little gals wavin' at 'em when they passed. Them blue
uniforms was a nice change, too.
"No, I never got anything from a single one of the people I carried over
the river to freedom. I didn't want anything; after had made a few trips
I got to like it, and even though I could have been free any night
myself, I figgered I wasn't getting along so bad so I would stay on Mr.
Tabb's place and help the others get free. I did it for four years.
"I don't know to this day how he never knew what I was doing; I used to
take some awful chances, and he knew I must have been up to something; I
wouldn't do much work in the day, would never be in my house at night,
and when he would happen to visit the plantation where I had said I was
goin' I wouldn't be there. Sometimes I think he did know and wanted me
to get the slaves away that way so he wouldn't have to cause hard
feelins' by freein 'em.
"I think Mr. Tabb used to talk a lot to Mr. John Fee; Mr. Fee was a man
who lived in Kentucky, but Lord! how that man hated slavery! He used to
always tell us (we never let our owners see us listenin' to him, though)
that God didn't intend for some men to be free and some men be in
slavery. He used to talk to the owners, too, when they would listen to
him, but mostly they hated the sight of John Fee.
"In the night, though, he was a different man, for every slave who came
through his place going across the river he had a good word, something
to eat and some kind of rags, too, if it was cold. He always knew just
what to tell you to do if anything went wrong, and sometimes I think he
kept slaves there on his place 'till they could be rowed across the
river. Helped us a lot.
"I almost ran the business in the ground after I had been carrying the
slaves across for nearly four years. It was in 1863, and one night I
carried across about twelve on the same night. Somebody must have seen
us, because they set out after me as soon as I stepped out of the boat
back on the Kentucky side; from that time on they were after me.
Sometimes they would almost catch me; I had to run away from Mr. Tabb's
plantation and live in the fields and in the woods. I didn't know what a
bed was from one week to another. I would sleep in a cornfield tonight,
up in the branches of a tree tomorrow night, and buried in a haypile the
next night; the River, where I had carried so many across myself, was no
good to me; it was watched too close.
"Finally, I saw that I could never do any more good in Mason County, so
I decided to take my freedom, too. I had a wife by this time, and one
night we quietly slipped across and headed for Mr. Rankin's bell and
light. It looked like we had to go almost to China to get across that
river: I could hear the bell and see the light on Mr. Rankin's place,
but the harder I rowed, the farther away it got, and I knew if I didn't
make it I'd get killed. But finally, I pulled up by the lighthouse, and
went on to my freedom--just a few months before all of the slaves got
their's. I didn't stay in Ripley, though; I wasn't taking no chances. I
went on to Detroit and still live there with most of 10 children and 31
"The bigger ones don't care so much about hearin' it now, but the little
ones never get tired of hearin' how their grandpa brought Emancipation
to loads of slaves he could touch and feel, but never could see."
1. Interview with subject, Arnold Gragston, present address, Robert
Hungerford College Campus, Eatonville (P.O. Maitland) Florida
(Subject is relative of President of Hungerford College and stays
several months in Eatonville at frequent intervals. His home is Detroit,
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Pearl Randolph, Field Worker
December 18, 1936
Born on December 6, 1838, Harriett Gresham can recall quite clearly the
major events of her life as a slave, also the Civil War as it affected
the slaves of Charleston and Barnwell, South Carolina.
She was one of a, group of mulattoes belonging to Edmond Bellinger, a
wealthy plantation owner of Barnwell. With her mother, the plantation
seamstress and her father, a driver, she lived in the "big house"
quarters, and was known as a "house nigger." She played with the
children of her mistress and seldom mixed with the other slaves on the
To quote some of her quaint expressions: "Honey I aint know I was any
diffrunt fum de chillen o' me mistress twel atter de war. We played and
et and fit togetter lak chillen is bound ter do all over der world.
Somethin allus happened though to remind me dat I was jist a piece of
"I heard der gun aboomin' away at Fort Sumpter and fer de firs' time in
my life I knowed what it was ter fear anythin' cept a sperrit. No, I
aint never seed one myself but--"
"By der goodness o'God I done lived ter waltz on der citadel green and
march down a ile o' soldiers in blue, in der arms o' me husban', and
over me haid de bay'nets shined."
"I done lived up all my days and some o' dem whut mighta b'longed ter
somebody else is dey'd done right in der sight o' God." "How I know I so
old?" "I got documents ter prove it." The documents is a yellow sheet of
paper that appears to be stationery that is crudely decorated at the top
with crissed crossed lines done in ink. Its contents in ink are as
Harriett Pinckney, born September 25, 1790. Adeline, her daughter, born
October 1, 1809. Betsy, her daughter, born September 11, 1811. Belinda,
her daughter, born October 4, 1813. Deborah, her daughter, born December
1, 1815. Stephen, her son, born September 1, 1818.
Bella, the daughter of Adeline born July 5, 1827. Albert, son of Belinda
born August 19, 1833. Laurence, son of Betsy born March 1, 1835. Sarah
Ann Elizabeth, daughter of Belinda born January 3, 1836. Harriett,
daughter of Belinda born December 6, 1838. (This record was given
Harriett by Mrs. Harriett Bellinger, her mistress. Each slave received a
similar one on being freed.)
As a child Harriett played about the premises of the Bellinger estate,
leading a very carefree life as did all the slave children belonging to
Edmond Bellinger. When she was about twelve years old she was given
small tasks to do such as knitting a pair of stockings or dusting the
furniture and ample time was given for each of these assignments.
This was a very large plantation and there was always something for the
score of slaves to do. There were the wide acres of cotton that must be
planted, hoed and gathered by hand. A special batch of slave women did
the spinning and weaving, while those who had been taught to sew, made
most of the clothing worn by slaves at that time.
Other products grown here were rice, corn, sugarcane, fruits and
vegetables. Much of the food grown on the plantation was reserved to
feed the slaves. While they must work hard to complete their tasks in a
given time, no one was allowed to go hungry or forced to work if the
Very little had to be bought here. Candles ware made in the kitchen of
the "big house," usually by the cook who was helped by other slaves.
These were made of beeswax gathered on the plantation. Shoes were made
of tanned dried leather and re-inforced with brass caps; the large herds
of cattle, hogs and poultry furnished sufficient meat. Syrup and sugar
were made from the cane that was carried to a neighboring mill.
Harriett remembers her master as being exceptionally kind but very
severe when his patience was tried too far. Mrs. Bellinger was dearly
loved by all her slaves because she was very thoughtful of them.
Whenever there was a wedding, frolic or holiday or quilting bee, she
was sure to provide some extra "goody" and so dear to the hearts of the
women were the cast off clothes she so often bestowed upon them on these
The slaves were free to invite those from the neighboring plantations to
join in their social gatherings. A Negro preacher delivered sermons on
the plantation. Services being held in the church used by whites after
their services on Sunday. The preacher must always act as a peacemaker
and mouthpiece for the master, so they were told to be subservient to
their masters in order to enter the Kingdom of God. But the slaves held
secret meetings and had praying grounds where they met a few at a time
to pray for better things.
Harriett remembers little about the selling of slaves because this was
never done on the Bellinger plantation. All slaves were considered a
part of the estate and to sell one, meant that it was no longer intact.
There were rumors of the war but the slaves on the Bellinger place did
not grasp the import of the war until their master went to fight on the
side of the Rebel army. Many of them gathered about their mistress and
wept as he left the home to which he would never return. Soon after that
it was whispered among the slaves that they would be free, but no one
After living in plenty all their lives, they were forced to do without
coffee, sugar salt and beef. Everything available was bundled off to
the army by Mrs. Bellinger who shared the popular belief that the
soldiers must have the best in the way of food and clothing.
Harriett still remembers very clearly the storming of Fort Sumpter. The
whole countryside was thrown into confusion and many slaves were mad
with fear. There were few men left to establish order and many women
loaded their slaves into wagons and gathered such belongings as they
could and fled. Mrs. Bellinger was one of those who held their ground.
When the Union soldiers visited her plantation they found the plantation
in perfect order. The slaves going about their tasks as if nothing
unusual had happened. It was necessary to summon them from the fields to
give them the message of their freedom.
Harriett recalls that her mistress was very frightened but walked
upright and held a trembling lip between her teeth as they waited for
her to sound for the last time the horn that had summoned several
generations of human chattel to and from work.
Some left the plantation; others remained to harvest the crops. One and
all they remembered to thank God for their freedom. They immediately
began to hold meetings, singing soul stirring spirituals. Harriett
recalls one of these songs. It is as follows:
T'ank ye Marster Jesus, t'ank ye,
T'ank ye Marster Jesus, t'ank ye,
T'ank ye Marster Jesus, t'ank ye
Da Heben gwinter be my home.
No slav'ry chains to tie me down,
And no mo' driver's ho'n to blow fer me
No mo' stocks to fasten me down
Jesus break slav'ry chain, Lord
Break slav'ry chain Lord,
Break slav'ry chain Lord,
Da Heben gwinter be my home.
Harriett's parents remained with the widowed woman for a while. Had they
not remained, she might not have met Gaylord Jeannette, the knight in
Blue, who later became her husband. He was a member of Company "I", 35th
Regiment. She is still a bit breathless when she relates the details of
the military wedding that followed a whirlwind courtship which had its
beginning on the citadel green, where the soldiers stationed there held
their dress parade. After these parades there was dancing by the
soldiers and belles who had bedecked themselves in their Sunday best and
come out to be wooed by a soldier in blue.
Music was furnished by the military band which offered many patriotic
numbers that awakened in the newly freed Negroes that had long been
dead--patriotism. Harriett recalls snatches of one of these songs to
which she danced when she was 20 years of age. It is as follows:
Don't you see the lightning flashing in the cane brakes,
Looks like we gonna have a storm
Although you're mistaken its the Yankee soldiers
Going to fight for Uncle Sam.
Old master was a colonel in the Rebel army
Just before he had to run away--
Look out the battle is a-falling
The darkies gonna occupy the land.
Harriett believes the two officers who tendered congratulations shortly
after her marriage to have been Generals Gates and Beecher. This was an
added thrill to her.
As she lived a rather secluded life, Harriett Gresham can tell very
little about the superstitions of her people during slavery, but knew
them to be very reverent of various signs and omens. In one she places
much credence herself. Prior to the Civil War, there were hordes of ants
and everyone said this was an omen of war, and there was a war.
She was married when schools were set up for Negroes, but had no time
for school. Her master was adamant on one point and that was the danger
of teaching a slave to read and write, so Harriett received little "book
Harriett Gresham is the mother of several children, grandchildren and
great grandchildren. Many of them are dead. She lives at 1305 west 31st
Street, Jacksonville, Florida with a grand daughter. Her second husband
is also dead. She sits on the porch of her shabby cottage and sews the
stitches that were taught her by her mistress, who is also dead. She
embroiders, crochets, knits and quilts without the aid of glasses. She
likes to show her handiwork to passersby who will find themselves
listening to some of her reminiscences if they linger long enough to
engage her in conversation--for she loves to talk of the past.
She still corresponds with one of the children of her mistress, now an
old woman living on what is left of a once vast estate at Barnwell,
South Carolina. The two old women are very much attached to each other
and each in her letters helps to keep alive the memories of the life
they shared together as mistress and slave.
1. Personal interview with Harriett Gresham, 1305 West 31st, Street,
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Alfred Farrell, Field Worker
John A. Simms, Editor
Dive Oak, Florida
August 30, 1936
Bolden Hall was born in Walkino, Florida, a little town in Jefferson
County, on February 13, 1853, the son of Alfred and Tina Hall. The Halls
who were the slaves of Thomas Lenton, owner of seventy-five or a hundred
slaves, were the parents of twenty-one children. The Halls, who were
born before slavery worked on the large plantation of Lenton which was
devoted primarily to the growing of cotton and corn and secondarily to
the growing of tobacco and pumpkins. Lenton was very good to his slaves
and never whipped them unless it was absolutely necessary--which was
seldom! He provided them with plenty of food and clothing, and always
saw to it that their cabins were liveable. He was careful, however, to
see that they received no educational training, but did not interfere
with their religious quest. The slaves were permitted to attend church
with their masters to hear the white preacher, and occasionally the
master--supposedly un-beknown to the slaves--would have an itinerant
colored minister preach to the slaves, instructing them to obey their
master and mistress at all times. Although freedom came to the slaves in
January, Master Lenton kept them until May in order to help him with his
crops. When actual freedom was granted to the slaves, only a few of the
young ones left the Lenton plantation. In 1882 Bolden Hall came to Live
Oak where he has resided ever since. He married but his wife is now
dead, and to that union one child was born.
Charlotte Mitchell Martin, one of twenty children born to Shepherd and
Lucinda Mitchell, eighty-two years ago, was a slave of Judge Wilkerson
on a large plantation in Sixteen, Florida, a little town near Madison.
Shepherd Mitchell was a wagoner who hauled whiskey from Newport News,
Virginia for his owner. Wilkerson was very cruel and held them in
constant fear of him. He would not permit them to hold religious
meetings or any other kinds of meetings, but they frequently met in
secret to conduct religious services. When they were caught, the
"instigators"--known or suspected--were severely flogged. Charlotte
recalls how her oldest brother was whipped to death for taking part in
one of the religious ceremonies. This cruel act halted the secret
Wilkerson found it very profitable to raise and sell slaves. He
selected the strongest and best male and female slaves and mated them
exclusively for breeding. The huskiest babies were given the best of
attention in order that they might grow into sturdy youths, for it was
those who brought the highest prices at the slave markets. Sometimes the
master himself had sexual relations with his female slaves, for the
products of miscegenation were very remunerative. These offsprings were
in demand as house servants.
After slavery the Mitchells began to separate. A few of the children
remained with their parents and eked out their living from the soil.
During this period Charlotte began to attract attention with her herb
cures. Doctors sought her out when they were stumped by difficult cases.
She came to Live Oak to care for an old colored woman and upon whose
death she was given the woman's house and property. For many years she
has resided in the old shack, farming, making quilts, and practicing her
herb doctoring. She has outlived her husband for whom she bore two