Part 3 out of 5
children. Her daughter is feebleminded--her herb remedies can't cure
Born in Benton County, Mississippi nearly eighty years ago, Sarah is the
daughter of Harriet Elmore and William Donaldson, her white owner.
Donaldson was a very cruel man and frequently beat Sarah's mother
because she would not have sexual relations with the overseer, a colored
man by the name of Randall. Sarah relates that the slaves did not marry,
but were forced--in many cases against their will--to live together as
man and wife. It was not until after slavery that they learned about the
holy bonds of matrimony, and many of them actually married.
Cotton, corn, and rice were the chief products grown on the Donaldson
plantation. Okra also was grown, and from this product coffee was made.
The slaves arose with the sun to begin their tasks in the fields and
worked until dusk. They were beaten by the overseer if they dared to
rest themselves. No kind of punishment was too cruel or severe to be
inflicted upon these souls in bondage. Frequently the thighs of the male
slaves were gashed with a saw and salt put in the wound as a means of
punishment for some misdemeanor. The female slaves often had their hair
cut off, especially those who had long beautiful hair. If a female slave
was pregnant and had to be punished, she was whipped about the
shoulders, not so much in pity as for the protection of the unborn
child. Donaldson's wife committed suicide because of the cruelty not
only to the slaves but to her as well.
The slaves were not permitted to hold any sort of meeting, not even to
worship God. Their work consumed so much of their time that they had
little opportunity to congregate. They had to wash their clothes on
Sunday, the only day which they could call their own. On Sunday
afternoon some of the slaves were sent for to entertain the family and
Sarah remembers the coming of the Yankees and the destruction wrought by
their appearance. The soldiers stripped the plantation owners of their
meats, vegetables, poultry and the like. Many plantation owners took
their own lives in desperation. Donaldson kept his slaves several months
after liberation and defied them to mention freedom to him. When he did
give them freedom, they lost no time in leaving his plantation which
held for them only unpleasant memories. Sarah came to Florida
thirty-five years ago. She has been married twice, and is the mother of
ten children, eight of whom are living.
1. Personal interview with Bolden Hall, living near the Masonic Hall, in
the Eastern section of Live Oak, Florida
2. Personal interview with Charlotte Martin, living near Greater Bethel
African Methodist Episcopal Church, in the Eastern section of Live Oak,
3. Sarah Ross, living near Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal
church, Live Oak, Florida
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Pearl Randolph, Field Worker
Lake City, Florida
January 14, 1937
Rebecca Hooks, age 90 years, is one of the few among the fast-thinning
ranks of ex-slaves who can give a clear picture of life "befo' de wah."
She was born in Jones County, Georgia of Martha and Pleasant Lowe, who
were slaves of William Lowe. The mother was the mulatto offspring of
William Lowe and a slave woman who was half Cherokee. The father was
also a mulatto, purchased from a nearby plantation.
Because of this blood mixture Rebecca's parents were known as "house
niggers," and lived on quarters located in the rear of the "big house."
A "house nigger" was a servant whose duties consisted of chores around
the big house, such as butler, maid, cook, stableman, gardner and
personal attendant to the man who owned him.
These slaves were often held in high esteem by their masters and of
course fared much better than the other slaves on the plantation. Quite
often they were mulattoes as in the case of Rebecca's parents. There
seemed to be a general belief among slave owners that mulattoes could
not stand as much laborious work as pure blooded Negro slaves. This
accounts probably for the fact that the majority of ex-slaves now alive
The Lowes were originally of Virginia and did not own as much property
in Georgia as they had in Virginia. Rebecca estimates the number of
slaves on this plantation as numbering no more than 25.
They were treated kindly and cruelly by turns, according to the whims of
a master and mistress who were none too stable in their dispositions.
There was no "driver" or overseer on this plantation, as "Old Tom was
devil enough himself when he wanted to be," observes Rebecca. While she
never felt the full force of his cruelties, she often felt sorry for the
other slaves who were given a task too heavy to be completed in the
given time; this deliberately, so that the master might have some excuse
to vent his pentup feelings. Punishment was always in the form of a
severe whipping or revocation of a slave's privilege, such as visiting
other plantations etc.
The Lowes were not wealthy and it was necessary for them to raise and
manufacture as many things on the plantation as possible. Slaves toiled
from early morning until night in the corn, cotton sugar cane and
tobacco fields. Others tended the large herds of cattle from which milk,
butter, meat and leather was produced. The leather was tanned and made
into crude shoes for the slaves for the short winter months. No one wore
shoes except during cold weather and on Sundays. Fruit orchards and
vegetables were also grown, but not given as much attention as the
cotton and corn, as these were the main money crops.
As a child Rebecca learned to ape the ways of her mistress. At first
this was considered very amusing. Whenever she had not knitted her
required number of socks during the week, she simply informed them that
she had not done it because she had not wanted to--besides she was not a
"nigger." This stubbornness accompanied by hysterical tantrums continued
to cause Rebecca to receive many stiff punishments that might have been
avoided. Her master had given orders that no one was ever to whip her,
so devious methods were employed to punish her, such as marching her
down the road with hands tied behind her back, or locking her in a dark
room for several hours with only bread and water.
Rebecca resembled very much a daughter of William Lowe. The girl was
really her aunt, and very conscious of the resemblance. Both had brown
eyes and long dark hair. They were about the same height and the clothes
of the young mistress fitted Rebecca "like a glove." To offset this
likeness, Rebecca's hair was always cut very short. Finally Rebecca
rebelled at having her hair all cut off and blankly refused to submit to
the treatment any longer. After this happening, the girls formed a
dislike for each other, and Rebecca was guilty of doing every mean act
of which she was capable to torment the white girl. Rebecca's mother
aided and abetted her in this, often telling her things to do. Rebecca
did not fear the form of punishment administered her and she had the
cunning to keep "on the good side of the master" who had a fondness for
her "because she was so much like the Lowes." The mistress' demand that
she be sold or beaten was always turned aside with "Dear, you know the
child can't help it; its that cursed Cherokee blood in her."
There seemed to be no very strong opposition to a slave's learning to
read and write on the plantation, so Rebecca learned along with the
white children. Her father purchased books for her with money he was
allowed to earn from the sale of corn whiskey which he made, or from
work done on some other plantation during his time off. He was not
permitted to buy his freedom, however.
On Sundays Rebecca attended church along with the other slaves. Services
were held in the white churches after their services were over. They
were taught to obey their masters and work hard, and that they should be
very thankful for the institution of slavery which brought them from
On the plantation, the doctor was not nearly as popular as the "granny"
or midwife, who brewed medicines for every ailment. Each plantation had
its own "granny" who also served the mistress during confinement. Some
of her remedies follows:
For colds: Horehound tea, pinetop tea, lightwood drippings on sugar.
For fever: A tea made of pomegranate seeds and crushed mint. For
whooping cough: A tea made of sheep shandy (manure); catnip tea. For
spasms: garlic; burning a garment next to the skin of the patient having
Shortly before the war, Rebecca was married to Solomon, her husband.
This ceremony consisted of simply jumping over a broom and having some
one read a few words from a book, which may or may not have been the
Bible. After the war, many couples were remarried because of this
Rebecca had learned of the war long before it ended and knew its import.
She had confided this information to other slaves who could read and
write. She read the small newspaper that her master received at
irregular intervals. The two sons of William Lowe had gone to fight with
the Confederate soldiers (One never returned) and everywhere was felt
the tension caused by wild speculation as to the outcome of the war.
Certain commodities were very scarce Rebecca remembers drinking coffee
made of okra seed, that had been dried and parched. There was no silk,
except that secured by "running the blockade," and this was very
expensive. The smokehouse floors were carefully scraped for any morsel
of salt that might be gotten. Salt had to be evaporated from sea water
and this was a slow process.
There were no disorders in that section as far as Rebecca remembers,
but she thinks that the slaves were kept on the Lowe plantation a long
time after they had been freed. It was only when rumors came that Union
soldiers were patrolling the countryside for such offenders, that they
were hastily told of their freedom. Their former master predicted that
they would fare much worse as freemen, and so many of them were afraid
to venture into the world for themselves, remaining in virtual slavery
for many years afterward.
Rebecca and her husband were among those who left the plantation. They
share-cropped on various plantations until they came to Florida, which
is more than fifty years ago. Rebecca's husband died several years ago
and she now lives with two daughters, who are very proud of her.
Personal interview with Rebecca Hooks, 1604 North Marion Street, Lake
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
September 11, 1937
REV. SQUIRES JACKSON
Lying comfortably in a bed encased with white sheets, Rev. Squires
Jackson, former slave and minister of the gospel living at 706 Third
Street cheerfully related the story of his life.
Born in a weather-beaten shanty in Madison, Fla. September 14, 1841 of a
large family, he moved to Jacksonville at the age of three with the
"Master" and his mother.
Very devoted to his mother, he would follow her into the cotton field as
she picked or hoed cotton, urged by the thrashing of the overseer's
lash. His master, a prominent political figure of that time was very
kind to his slaves, but would not permit them to read and write.
Relating an incident after having learned to read and write, one day as
he was reading a newspaper, the master walked upon him unexpectingly and
demanded to know what he was doing with a newspaper. He immediately
turned the paper upside down and declared "Confederates done won the
war." The master laughed and walked away without punishing him. It la
interesting to know that slaves on this plantation were not allowed to
sing when they were at work, but with all the vigilance of the
overseers, nothing could stop those silent songs of labor and prayers
On Sundays the boys on the plantation would play home ball and shoot
marbles until church time. After church a hearty meal consisting of
rice and salt picked pork was the usual Sunday fare cooked in large iron
pots hung over indoor hearths. Sometimes coffee, made out of parched
corn meal, was added as an extra treat.
He remembers the start of the Civil war with the laying of the Atlantic
Cable by the "Great Eastern" being nineteen years of age at the time.
Hearing threats of the War which was about to begin, he ran away with
his brother to Lake City, many times hiding in trees and groves from the
posse that was looking for him. At night he would cover up his face and
body with spanish moss to sleep. One night he hid in a tree near a
creek, over-slept himself, in the morning a group of white women fishing
near the creek saw him and ran to tell the men, fortunately however he
After four days of wearied travelling being guided by the north star and
the Indian instinct inherited from his Indian grandmother, he finally
reached Lake City. Later reporting to General Scott, he was informed
that he was to act as orderly until further ordered. On Saturday
morning, February 20, 1861, General Scott called him to his tent and
said "Squire; I have just had you appraised for $1000 and you are to
report to Col. Guist in Alachua County for service immediately." That
very night he ran away to Wellborn where the Federals were camping.
There in a horse stable were wounded colored soldiers stretched out on
the filthy ground. The sight of these wounded men and the feeble medical
attention given them by the Federals was so repulsive to him, that he
decided that he didn't want to join the Federal Army. In the silent
hours of the evening he stole away to Tallahassee, throughly convinced
that War wasn't the place for him. While in the horse shed make-shift
hospital, a white soldier asked one of the wounded colored soldiers to
what regiment he belonged, the negro replied "54th Regiment,
At that time, the only railroad was between Lake City and Tallahassee
which he had worked on for awhile. At the close of the war he returned
to Jacksonville to begin work as a bricklayer. During this period, Negro
skilled help was very much in demand.
The first time he saw ice was in 1857 when a ship brought some into this
port. Mr. Moody, a white man, opened an icehouse at the foot of Julia
Street. This was the only icehouse in the city at that time.
On Sundays he would attend church. One day he thought he heard the call
of God beseeching him to preach. He began to preach in 1868, and was
ordained an elder in 1874.
Some of the interesting facts obtained from this slave of the fourth
generation were: (1) Salt was obtained by evaporating sea water, (2)
there were no regular stoves, (3) cooking was done by hanging iron pots
on rails in the fireplaces, (4) an open well was used to obtain water,
(5) flour was sold at $12.00 a barrell, (6) "shin-plasters" was used for
money, (7) the first buggy was called "rockaways" due to the elasticity
of the leather-springs, (8) Rev. Jackson saw his first buggy as
described, in 1851.
During the Civil War, cloth as well as all other commodities were very
high. Slaves were required to weave the cloth. The women would delight
in dancing as they marched to and fro in weaving the cloth by hand. This
was one kind of work the slaves enjoyed doing. Even Cotton seeds was
picked by hand, hulling the seeds out with the fingers, there was no way
of ginning it by machine at that time. Rev. Jackson vividly recalls the
croker-sacks being used around bales of the finer cotton, known as short
cotton. During this same period he made all of the shoes he wore by hand
from cow hides. The women slaves at that time wore grass shirts woven
very closely with hoops around on the inside to keep from contacting the
Gleefully he told of the Saturday night baths in big wooden washtubs
with cut out holes for the fingers during his boyhood, of the castor
oil, old fashion paragoric, calomel, and burmo chops used for medicine
at that time. The herb doctors went from home to home during times of
illness. Until many years after the Civil War there were no practicing
Negro physicians. Soap was made by mixing bones and lard together,
heating and then straining into a bucket containing alum, turpentine,
and rosin. Lye soap was made by placing burnt ashes into straw with corn
shucks placed into harper, water is poured over this mixture and a
trough is used to sieze the liquid that drips into the tub and let stand
for a day. Very little moss was used for mattresses, chicken feathers
and goose feathers were the principal constituents during his boyhood.
Soot mixed with water was the best medicine one could use for the
stomach ache at that time.
Rev. Jackson married in 1882 and has seven sons and seven daughters.
Owns his own home and plenty of other property around the neighborhood.
Ninety-six years of age and still feels as spry as a man of fifty, keen
of wit, with a memory as good can be expected. This handsome bronze
piece of humanity with snow-white beard over his beaming face ended the
interview saying, "I am waiting now to hear the call of God to the
promise land." He once was considered as a candidate for senator after
the Civil war but declined to run. He says that the treatment during the
time of slavery was very tough at times, but gathering himself up he
said, "no storm lasts forever" and I had the faith and courage of Jesus
to carry me on, continuing, "even the best masters in slavery couldn't
be as good as the worst person in freedom, Oh, God, it is good to be
free, and I am thankful."
Personal interview with subject, Rev. Squires Jackson, 706 Third Street,
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
L. Rebecca Baker, Field Worker
Daytona Beach, Florida
January 11, 1937
"PROPHET" JOHN HENRY KEMP
A long grey beard, a pair of piercing owl-like eyes and large bare feet,
mark "Prophet" Kemp among the citizenry of Daytona Beach, Florida. The
"Prophet", christened John Henry--as nearly as he can remember--is an 80
year old ex-slave whose remininiscences of the past, delight all those
who can prevail upon him to talk of his early life on the plantation of
"Prophet" Kemp does not talk only of the past, however, his conversation
turns to the future; he believes himself to be equally competent to talk
of the future, and talks more of the latter if permitted.
Oketibbeha County, Mississippi was the birthplace of the "Prophet". The
first master he can remember was John Gay, owner of a plantation of some
2,700 acres and over 100 slaves and a heavy drinker. The "Prophet" calls
Gay "father", and becomes very vague when asked if this title is a blood
tie or a name of which he is generally known.
According to Kemp--Gay was one of the meanest plantation owners in the
entire section, and frequently voiced his pride in being able to employ
the cruelest overseers that could be found in all Mississippi. Among
these were such men as G.T. Turner, Nels T. Thompson, Billy Hole, Andrew
Winston and other men with statewide reputations for brutality. When all
of the cruelties of one overseer had been felt by the slaves on the Gay
plantation and another meaner man's reputation was heard of on the Gay
plantation, the master would delight in telling his slaves that if they
did not behave, he would send for this man. "Behaving"--the "Prophet"
says, meant living on less food than one should have; mating only at his
command and for purposes purely of breeding more and stronger slaves on
his plantation for sale. In some cases with women--subjecting to his
every demand if they would escape hanging by the wrists for half a day
or being beaten with a cowhide whip.
About these whippings, the "Prophet" tells many a blood-curdling tale.
"One day when an old woman was plowing in the field, an overseer came by
and reprimanded her for being so slow--she gave him some back talk, he
took out a long closely woven whip and lashed her severely. The woman
became sore and took her hoe and chopped him right across his head, and
child you should have seen how she chopped this man to a bloody death."
"Prophet" Kemp will tell you that he hates to tell these things to any
investigator, because he hates for people to know just how mean his
"fahter" really was.
So great was the fear in which Gay was held that when Kemp's mother,
Arnette Young, complained to Mrs. Gay, that her husband was constantly
seeking her for a mistress and threatening her with death if she did not
submit, even Mrs. Gay had to advise the slaves to do as Gay demanded,
saying--"My husband is a dirty man and will find some reason to kill you
if you don't." "I can't do a thing with him." Since Arnette worked at
the "big house" there was no alternative, and it was believed that out
of the union with her master, Henry was born. A young slave by the name
of Broxton Kemp was given to the woman as husband at the time John Kemp
was born, it is from this man that "Prophet" took his name.
Life on the plantation held nothing but misery for the slaves of John
Gay. A week's allowance of groceries for the average small family
consisted of a package of about ten pounds containing crudely ground
meal, a slab of bacon--called side-meat and from a pint to a quart of
syrup made from sorghum, depending upon the season.
All slaves reported for work a 5 o'clock in the morning, except those
who cared for the overseer, who began their work an hour earlier to
enable the overseer to be present at the morning checkup. This checkup
determined which slaves were late or who had committed some offense late
on the day before or during the night. These were singled out and before
the rest of the slaves began their work they were treated to the sight
of these delinquents being stripped and beaten until blood flowed; women
were no exception to the rule.
The possible loss of his slaves upon the declaration of freedom on
January 1, 1866 caused Gay considerable concern. His liquor-ridden mind
was not long in finding a solution, however, he barred all visitors from
his plantation and insisted that his overseers see to the carrying out
of this detail. They did, with such efficiency that it was not until May
8, when the government finally learned of the condition and sent a
marshall to the plantation, that freedom came to Gay's slaves. May 8, is
still celebrated in this section of Mississippi, as the official
Relief for the hundreds of slaves of Gay came at last with the
declaration of freedom for them. The government officials divided the
grown and growing crops; and some land was parcelled out to the former
Kemp may have gained the name "Prophet" from his constant reference to
the future and to his religion. He says he believes on one faith, one
Lord and one religion, and preaches this belief constantly. He claims to
have turned his back on all religions that "do not do as the Lord says."
In keeping this belief he says he represents the "True Primitive Baptist
Church", but does not have any connection with that church, because he
believes it has not lived exactly up to what the Lord expects of him.
Kemp claims the ability to read the future with ease; even to help
determine what it will bring in some cases. He reads it in the palms of
those who will believe in him; he determines the good and bad luck;
freedom from sickness; success in love and other benefits it will bring
from the use of charms, roots, herbs and magical incantations and
formulae. He has recently celebrated what he believes to be his 80th
birthday, and says he expects to live at least another quarter of a
1. Personal interview with John Henry Kemp, Daytona Beach, Florida
CINDY KINSEY, FORMER SLAVE
About 86 Years of Age
"Yes maam, chile, I aint suah ezackly, but I think I bout 85 mebby 86
yeah old. Yes maam, I wus suah bahn in de slavery times, an I bahn right
neah de Little Rock in Arkansas, an dere I stay twell I comed right from
dere to heah in Floridy bout foah yeah gone.
"Yes maam, my people de liv on a big plantation neah de Little Rock an
we all hoe cotton. My Ma? Lawzy me, chile, she name Zola Young an my
pappy he name Nelson Young. I had broddehs Danel, Freeman, George, Will,
and Henry. Yes maam, Freeman he de younges an bahn after we done got
free. An I had sistehs by de name ob Isabella, Mary, Nora,--dat aint all
yet, you want I should name em all? Well then they was too Celie, Sally,
and me Cindy but I aint my own sisteh is I, hee, hee, hee.
"My Ole Massa, he name Marse Louis Stuart, an my Ole Missy, dat de real
ole one you know, she name,--now--let-me-see, does--I--ricollek, lawzy
me, chile, I suah fin it hard to member some things. O! yes,--her name
hit war Missy Nancy, an her chilluns dey name Little Marse Sammie an
Little Missy Fanny. I don know huccum my pappy he go by de name Young
when Ole Massa he name Marse Stuart lessen my pappy he be raised by
nother Massa fore Marse Louis got him, but I disrememba does I eber
heerd him say.
"Yes maam, chile I suah like dem days. We had lot ob fun an nothin to
worrify about, suah wish dem days wus now, chile, us niggahs heaps
better off den as now. Us always had plenty eat and plenty wearin close
too, which us aint nevah got no more. We had plenty cahn pone, baked in
de ashes too, hee, hee, hee, it shore wus good, an we had side meat, an
we had other eatin too, what ever de Ole Marse had, but I like de side
meat bes. I had a good dress for Sunday too but aint got none dese days,
jes looky, chile, dese ole rags de bes I got. My Sunday dress? Lawzy me,
chile, hit were alway a bright red cotton. I suah member dat color, us
dye de cotton right on de plantation mostly. Other close I dont ezackly
ricollek, but de mostly dark, no colahs.
"My ma, she boss all de funerls ob de niggahs on de plantation an she
got a long white veil for wearin, lawzy me, chile, she suah look
bootiful, jes lak a bride she did when she boss dem funerls in dat veil.
She not much skeered nether fo dat veil hit suah keep de hants away.
Wisht I had me dat veil right now, mout hep cure dis remutizics in ma
knee what ailin me so bad. I disrememba, but I sposen she got buried in
dat veil, chile. She hoe de cotton so Ole Marse Louis he always let her
off fo de buryings cause she know how to manage de other niggahs and
keep dem quiet at de funerls.
"No maam, chile, we didn't hab no Preacher-mans much, hit too fah away
to git one when de niggah die. We sung songs and my ma she say a Bible
vurs what Ole Missy don lernt her. Be vurs, lawsy me, chile, suah wish I
could member hit for you. Dem songs? I don jes recollek, but hit seem
lak de called 'Gimme Dem Golden Slippahs', an a nother one hit wah 'Ise
Goin To Heben In De Charot Ob Fiah', suah do wish I could recollek de
words an sing em foh you, chile, but I caint no more, my min, hit aint
no good lak what it uster be.
"Yes maam, chile, I suah heerd ob Mr. Lincoln but not so much. What
dat mans wanter free us niggahs when we so happy an not nothin to
worrify us. No, maam, I didn't see none dem Yankee sojers but I heerd
od[TR: of?] dem an we alwy skeerd dey come. Us all cotch us rabbits an
weah de lef hine foots roun our nek wif a bag ob akkerfedity, yessum I
guess dat what I mean, an hit shore smell bad an hit keep off de fevah
too, an if a Yankee cotch you wif dat rabbit foots an dat akkerfedity
bag roun youh nek, he suah turn you loose right now.
"Yes maam, chile, Ise a Baptis and sho proud ob it. Praise de Lord and
go to Church, dat de onliest way to keep de debbil offen youh trail and
den sometime he almos kotch up wif you. Lawsy me, chile, when de
Preacher-mans baptiz me he had duck me under de wateh twell I mos dron,
de debbil he got such a holt on me an jes wont let go, but de
Preacher-mans he kep a duckin me an he finaly shuck de debbil loose an
he aint bother me much sence, dat is not very much, an dat am a long
"Yes maam, chile, some ob de niggahs dey run off from Ole Marse Louis,
but de alway come back bout stahved, hee, hee, hee, an do dey eat, an
Ole Marse, he alway take em back an give em plenty eatins. Yes maam, he
alway good to us and he suah give us niggahs plenty eatins all de time.
When Crismus come, you know chile, hit be so cole, and Old Marse, he let
us make a big fiah, a big big fiah in de yahd roun which us live, an us
all dance rounde fiah, and Ole Missy she brang us Crismus Giff. What war
de giff? Lawzy me, chile, de mostly red woolen stockings and some times
a pair of shoeses, an my wus we proud. An Ole Marse Louis, he giv de
real old niggahs, both de mens an de owmans, a hot toddy, hee, hee, hee.
Lawzy me, chile, dem wus de good days, who give an ole niggah like me a
hot toddy dese days? an talkin you bout dem days, chile, sho mek me wish
dey was now."
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Viola B. Muse, Field Worker
Randall Lee of 500 Branson Street, Palatka, Florida, was born at Camden,
South Carolina about seventy-seven years ago, maybe longer.
He was the son of Robert and Delhia Lee, who during slavery were Robert
and Delhia Miller, taking the name of their master, as was the custom.
His master was Doctor Miller and his mistress was Mrs. Camilla Miller.
He does not know his master's given name as no other name was ever heard
around the plantation except Doctor Miller.
Randall was a small boy when the war between the states broke out, but
judging from what he remembers he must have been a boy around six or
seven years of age.
During the few years he spent in slavery, Randall had many experiences
which made such deep impressions upon his brain that the memory of them
still remains clear.
The one thing that causes one to believe that he must have been around
seven years of age is the statement that he was not old enough to have
tasks of any importance placed upon him, yet he was trusted along with
another boy about his own age, to carry butter from the plantation dairy
two miles to the 'big house.' No one would trust a child younger than
six years of age to handle butter for fear of it being dropped into the
dirt. He must have at least reached the age when he was sent two miles
with a package and was expected to deliver the package intact. He must
have understood the necessity of not playing on the way. He stated that
he knew not to stop on the two-mile journey and not to let the butter
Randall had the pleasure of catching the pig for his father for Doctor
Miller gave each of his best Negro men a pig to raise for himself and
family. He was allowed to build a pen for it and raise and fatten it for
killing. When killing time came he was given time to butcher it and
grind all the sausage he could make to feed his family. By that method
it helped to solve the feeding problem and also satisfied the slaves.
It was more like so many families living around a big house with a boss
looking over them, for they were allowed a privilege that very few
masters gave their slaves.
On the Miller plantation there was a cotton gin. Doctor Miller owned the
gin and it was operated by his slaves. He grew the cotton, picked it,
ginned it and wove it right there. He also had a baler and made the
bagging to bale it with. He only had to buy the iron bands that held the
Doctor Miller was a rich man and had a far reaching sight into how to
work slaves to the best advantage. He was kind to them and knew that the
best way to get the best out of men was to keep them well and happy. His
arrangement was very much the general way in that he allowed the young
men and women to work in the fields and the old women and a few old men
to work around the house, in the gin and at the loom. The old women
mostly did the spinning of thread and weaving of cloth although in some
instances Doctor Miller found a man who was better adapted to weaving
than any of his women slaves.
Everyone kept his plantation under fence and men who were old but strong
and who had some knowledge of carpentry were sent out to keep the fence
in repair and often to build new ones. The fences were not like those of
today. They were built of horizontal rails about six or seven feet long,
running zig-zag fashion. Instead of having straight line fences and
posts at regular points they did not use posts at all. The bottom rails
rested upon the ground and the zig-zag fashion in which they were laid
gave strength to the fence. No nails were used to hold the rails in
place. If stock was to be let in or out of the places the planks were
unlocked so to speak, and the stock allowed to enter after which they
were laid back as before.
Boys and girls under ten years of age were never sent into the field to
work on the Miller plantation but were required to mind the smaller
children of the family and do chores around the "big house" for the
mistress and her children. Such work as mending was taught the
domestic-minded children and tending food on the pots was alloted others
with inborn ability to cook. They were treated well and taught 'manners'
and later was used as dining room girls and nurses.
Randall's father and mother were considered lucky. His father was
overseer and his mother was a waitress.
Doctor Miller was a kind and considerate owner; never believed in
punishing slaves unless in extreme cases. No overseer, white or colored
could whip his slaves without first bringing the slave before him and
having a full understanding as to what the offense was. If it warranted
whipping them it had to be given in his presence so he could see that it
was not given unmercifully. He indeed was a doctor and practised his
profession in the keeping of his slaves from bodily harm as well as
keeping them well. He gave them medicine when they did not feel well and
saw to it that they took needed rest if they were sick and tired.
Now, Robert Lee, Randall's father, was brought from Virginia and sold to
Doctor Miller when he was a young man. The one who sold him told Doctor
Miller, "Here's a nigger who wont take a whipping. He knows his work and
will do it and all you will need to do is tell him what you want and its
as good as done." Robert Lee never varied from the recommendation his
former master gave when he sold him.
The old tale of corn bread baked on the hearth covered with ashes and
sweet potatoes cooked in like manner are vivid memories upon the mind of
Randall. Syrup water and plenty of sweet and butter milk, rice and
crackling bread are other foods which were plentiful around the cabin of
Cows were numerous and the family of Doctor Miller did not need much for
their consumption. While they sold milk to neighboring plantations, the
Negroes were not denied the amount necessary to keep all strong and
healthy. None of the children on the plantation were thin and scrawny
nor did they ever complain of being hungry.
The tanning yard was not far from the house Doctor Miller. His own
butcher shop was nearby. He had his cows butchered at intervals and when
one died of unnatural causes it was skinned and the hide tanned on the
Randall as a child delighted in stopping around the tanning yard and
watching the men salt the hide. They, after salting it dug holes and
buried it for a number of days. After the salting process was finished
it was treated with a solution of water and oak bark. When the oak bark
solution had done its work it was ready for use. Shoes made of leather
were not dyed at that time but the natural color of the finished hide
was thought very beautiful and those who were lucky enough to possess a
pair were glad to get them in their natural color. To dye shoes various
colors is a new thing when the number of years leather has been dyed is
compared with the hundreds of years people knew nothing about it,
especially American people.
Randall's paternal grandparents were also owned by Doctor Miller and
were not sold after he bought them. Levi Lee was his grandfather's name.
He was a fine worker in the field but was taken out of it to be taught
the shoe-makers trade. The master placed him under a white shoemaker who
taught him all the fine points. If there were any, he knew about the
trade. Dr. Miller had an eye for business who could make shoes was a
great saving to him. Levi made all the shoes and boots the master,
mistress and the Miller family wore. Besides, he made shoes for the
slaves who wore them. Not all slaves owned a pair of shoes. Boys and
girls under eighteen went bare-footed except in winter. Doctor Miller
had compassion for them and did not allow them to suffer from the cold
by going bare-footed in winter.
Another good thing to be remembered was the large number of chickens,
ducks and geese which the slaves raised for the doctor. Every slave
family could rest his tired body upon a feather bed for it was allowed
him after the members of the master's family were supplied. Moss
mattresses also were used under the feather beds and slaves did not need
to have as thick a feather bed on that account. They were comfortable
though and Randall remembers how he and the other children used to fall
down in the middle of the bed and become hidden from view, so soft was
the feather mattress. It was especially good to get in bed in winter but
not so pleasant to get up unless 'pappy' had made the fire early enough
for the large one-room cabin to get warm. The children called their own
parents 'pappy' and 'mammy' in slavery time.
Randall remembers how after a foot-washing in the old wooden tub,
(which, by the way, was simply a barrel cut in half and holes cut in the
two sides for fingers to catch a hold) he would sit a few minutes with
his feet held to the fire so they could dry. He also said his 'mammy'
would rub grease under the soles of his feet to keep him from taking
It seemed to the child that he had just gone to bed when the old tallow
candle was lighted and his 'pappy' arose and fell upon his knees and
prayed aloud for God's blessings and thanked him for another day. The
field hands were to be in the field by five o'clock and it meant to rise
before day, summer and winter. Not so bad in summer for it was soon day
but in winter the weather was cold and darkness was longer passing away.
When daylight came field hands had been working an hour or more. Robert
Lee, Randall's father was an overseer and it meant for him to be up and
out with the rest of the men so he could see if things were going
The Randall children were not forced up early because they did not eat
breakfast with their 'pappy'. Their mother was dining-room girl in her
mistress' house, so fed the children right from the Miller table. There
was no objection offered to this.
Doctor Miller was kind but he did not want his slaves enlightened too
much. Therefore, he did not allow much preaching in the church. They
could have prayer meeting all they wanted to, but instructions from the
Bible were thought dangerous for the slaves. He did not wish them to
become too wise and get it into their heads to ran away and get free.
There was talk about freedom and Doctor Miller knew it would be only a
matter of time when he would loose all his slaves. He said to Randall's
mother one day, "Delhia you'll soon be as free as I am." She said. "Sho'
nuf massy?" and he answered. "You sure will." Nothing more was said to
any of the slaves until Sherman's army came through notifying the
slaves they were free.
The presence of the soldiers caused such a comotion around the
plantation that Randall's mind was indelibly impressed with their
The northern soldiers took all the food they could get their hands on
and took possession of the cattle and horses and mules. Levi, the
brother of Randall, and who was named after his paternal grandfather,
was put on a mule and the mule loaded with provisions and sent two miles
to the soldier's camp. Levi liked that, for beside being well treated he
received several pieces of money. The federal soldiers played with him
and gave him all the food he wanted, although the Miller slaves and
their children were fed and there was no reason for the child to be
Levi Lee, the grandfather of young Levi and Randall, had a dream while
the soldiers were encamped round about the place. He dreamed that a pot
of money was buried in a certain place; the person who showed it to him
told him to go dig for it on the first rainy night. He kept the dream a
secret and on the first rainy night he went, dug, and found the pot of
money right where his dream had told him it would be. He took the pot of
money to his cabin and told no one anything about it. He hid it as
securely as possible, but when the soldiers were searching for gold and
silver money they did not leave the Negro's cabin out of the search.
When they found the money they thought Levi's master had given him the
money to hide as they took it from him. Levi mourned a long time about
the loss of his money and often told his grandchildren that he would
have been well fixed when freedom came if he had not been robbed of his
"Paddyroles" as the men were called who were sent by the Rebels to watch
the slaves to prevent their escaping during war times, were very active
after freedom. They intimidated the Negroes and threatened them with
loss of life if they did not stay and work for their former masters.
Doctor Miller did not want any of his slaves treated in such manner. He
told them they were free and could take whatever name they desired.
Robert Lee, during slavery was Robert Miller, as were all of the
doctor's slaves. After slavery was ended he chose the name Lee. His
brother Aaron took the name Alexander not thinking how it looked for two
brothers of the same parents to have different surnames. There are sons
of each brother living in Palatka now, one set Lees and the others,
Randall, as was formerly stated, spent a very little time in slavery.
Most of his knowledge concerning customs which long ago have been
abandoned and replaced by more modern ones, is of early reconstruction
days. Just after the Civil War, when his father began farming on his own
plantation, his mother remained home and cared for her house and
children. She was of fair complexion, having been the daughter of a
half-breed Indian and Negro mother. Her father was white. Her native
state was Virginia and she bore some of the aristocratic traits so
common among those born in that state of such parentage. She often
boasted of her "blue blood Virginia stock."
Robert Lee, Randall's father was very prosperous in early reconstruction
days. He owned horses, mules and a plow. The plow was made of point iron
with a wooden handle, not like plows of today for they are of cast iron
Chickens, ducks and geese were raised in abundance and money began
accumulating rapidly for Robert and Delhia Lee. They began improving
their property and trying to give their children some education. It was
very hard for those living in small towns and out in the country to go
to school even though they had money to pay for their education. The
north sent teachers down but not every hamlet was favored with such. (1)
Randall was taught to farm and he learned well. He saved his money as he
worked and grew to manhood. Years after freedom he left South Carolina
and went to Palatka, Florida, where he is today. He bought some land
and although most of it is hammock land and not much good he has at
intervals been offered good prices for it. Some white people during the
"boom" of 1925-26 offered him a few dollars an acre for it but he
refused to sell thinking a better price would be offered if he held on.
Today finds Randall Lee, an old man with fairly good health; he stated
that he had not had a doctor for years and his thinking faculties are in
good order. His eyesight is failing but he does not allow that to
handicap him in getting about. He talks fluently about what he remembers
concerning slavery and that which his parents told him. He is between a
mulatto and brown skin with good, mixed gray and black hair. His
features are regular, not showing much Negro blood. He is tall and looks
to weigh about one hundred and sixty-five pounds. His wife lives with
him in their two-story frame house which shows that they have had better
days financially. The man and wife both show interest in the progress of
the Negro race and possess some books about the history of the Negro.
One book of particular interest, and of which the wife of Randall Lee
thinks a great deal, was written, according to her story, by John Brown.
It is called "The History of the Colored Race in America." She could not
find but a few pages of it when interviewed but declared she had owned
the entire book for years. The pages she had and showed with such pride
were 415 to 449 inclusive. The book was written in the year 1836 and the
few pages produced by her gave information concerning the Negro, Lovejoy
of St. Louis, Missouri. It is the same man for whom the city of Lovejoy,
Illinois is named. The other book she holds with pride and guards
jealously is "The College of Life" by Henry Davenport Northrop D.D.,
Honorable Joseph R. Gay and Professor I. Garland Penn. It was entered,
according to the Act of Congress in the year 1900 by Horace C. Fry, in
the office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington, D.C. (3)
1. Randall Lee, 600 Brunson Street, Palatka, Florida
2. Mrs. Bessie Bates, 412 South Eleventh Street, Palatka, Florida
3. Observation of Field Worker
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Pearl Randolph, Field Worker
December 5, 1936
"Pap tell us 'nother story 'bout do war--and 'bout de fust time you saw
It has been almost 60 years since a group of children gathered about
their father's knee, clamoring for another story. They listened
round-eyed to stories they already knew because "pap" had told them so
many times before. These narratives along with the great changes he has
seen, were carefully recorded in the mind of Edward, the only one of
this group now alive.
"Pap" was always ready to oblige with the story they never tired of. He
could always be depended upon to begin at the beginning, for he loved to
"It all begun with our ship being took off the coast of Newport News,
Virginia. We wuz runnin' the blockade--sellin' guns and what-not to them
Northerners. We aint had nothin' to do wid de war, unnerstand, we
English folks was at'ter de money. Whose War? The North and South's, of
course. I hear my captain say many a time as how they was playin' ball
wid the poor niggers. One side says 'You can't keep your niggers lessen
you pay em and treat em like other folks.' Mind you dat wasn't de rale
reason, they was mad at de South but it was one of de ways dey could be
hurted--to free de niggers."
"De South says 'Dese is our niggers and we'll do dum as we please,' and
so de rumpus got wuss dan it was afore. The North had all do money, and
called itself de Gov'ment. The South aint had nothin', but a termination
not to be out-did, so we dealt wid de North. De South was called de
"So when dey see a ship off they coast, they hailed it and when we kep
goin', they fired at us. 'Twan't long afore we was being unloaded and
marched off to the lousiest jail I ever been in. My captain kep tellin'
em we was English subjects and could not be helt. Me, I was a scairt
man, cause I was always free, and over here dey took it for granted dat
all black men should be slaves."
"The jailer felt of my muscles one day, when he had marched me out at
the point of his musket to fill de watering troughs for de horses. He
wanted to know who I blong ter, and offered to buy me. When nobody
claimed me, they was forced to let me go long wid de other Britishers
and as our ship had been destroyed, we had to git back home best we
could. Dey didn't dare hold us no longer."
"As de war was still being fit, we was forced to separate, cause a lot
of us would cause spicion, traipsing 'bout do country. Me--I took off
southward and way from de war belt, traveling as far as Saint Augustine.
It was a dangerous journey, as anybody was liable to pick me off for a
runaway slave. I was forced to hide in de day time if I was near a
settlement and travel at night. I met many runaway slaves. Some was
trying to get North and fight for de freeing of they people; others was
jes runnin' way cause dey could. Many of dem didn't had no idea where
dey was goin' and told of havin' good marsters. But one and all dey had
a good strong notion ter see what it was like to own your own body."
"I felt worlds better when I reached Saint Augustine. Many ships landed
there and I knowed I could get my way back at least to de West Indies,
where I come frum. I showed my papers to everybody dat mounted ter
anything and dey knowed I was a free nigger. I had plenty of money on me
and I made a big ter do mong de other free men I met. One day I went to
the slave market and watched em barter off po niggers lake dey was hogs.
Whole families sold together and some was split--mother gone to one
marster and father and children gone to others."
"They'd bring a slave out on the flatform and open his mouth, pound his
chest, make him harden his muscles so the buyer could see what he was
gittin'. Young men was called 'bucks' and young women 'wenches'. The
person that offered the best price was de buyer. And dey shore did git
rid uf some pretty gals. Dey always looked so shame and pitiful up on
dat stand wid all dem men standin' dere lookin' at em wid what dey had
on dey minds shinin' in they eyes One little gal walked up and left her
mammy mourning so pitiful cause she had to be sold. Seems like dey all
belong in a family where nobody ever was sold. My she was a pretty gal."
"And dats why your mamma's named Julia stead of Mary Jane or Hannah or
somethin' else--She cost me $950.00 and den my own freedom. But she was
worth it--every bit of it!"
"After that I put off my trip back home and made her home my home for
three years. Den with our two young children we left Floridy and went to
the West Indies to live. We traveled bout a bit gettin as far as
England. We got letters from your ma's folks and dey jes had to see her
or else somebody would'er died, so we sailed back into de war."
"Freedom was declared soon after we got back to dis country and de whole
country was turned upside down. De po niggers went mad. Some refused to
work and dey didn't stay in one place long 'nough to do a thing. De
crops suffered and soon we had starvation times for 'bout two years.
After dat everybody lernt to think of a rainy day and things got
Edward recalls of hearing his father tell of eating wild hog salad and
cabbage palms. It was a common occurence to see whole families
subsisting on any wild plant not known to be poisonous if it contained
the least food value. The freedmen helped those who were newly liberated
to gain a footing. Prior to Emancipation they had not been allowed to
associate with slaves for fear they might engender in them the desire to
be free. The freedmen bore the brunt of the white man's suspicion
whenever there was a slave uprising. They were always accusing them of
being instigators. Edward often heard his mother tell of the
"patter-rollers", a group of white men who caught and administered
severe whippings to these unfortunate slaves. They also corraled slaves
back to their masters if they were caught out after nine o'clock at
night without a pass from their masters.
George Lycurgas was born at Liverpool, England and became a seaman at an
early age. Edward thinks he might have had a fair education if he had
had the chance. The mother, Julia Gray, Lycurgas, was the daughter of
Barbara and David Gray, slaves of the Flemings of Clay County, Florida.
These slaves were inherited from generation to generation and no one
ever thought to sell one except for punishment or in dire necessity.
They were treated kindly and like most slaves of the wealthy, had no
knowledge of the real cruelties of slavery, but upon the death of their
owner it became necessary to parcel the slaves out to different heirs,
some of whom did not believe in holding these unfortunates. These
would-be abolitionists were not averse to placing at auction their share
of the slaves, however.
It was on this occasion that George Lycurgas saw and bought the girl who
was to become his wife. Both are now dead, also all of the several
children except Edward who tells their story here.
Edward Lycurgas was born on October 28, 1872, at Saint Augustine,
Florida shortly after the return of the family from the West Indies. He
lived on his father's farm sharing at an early age the hard work that
seemed always in abundance, and listening in awe to the stories of the
recent war. He heard his elders give thanks for their freedom when they
attended church and wondered what it was all about.
No one failed to attend church on Sundays and all work ceased in a
vicinity where a camp meeting was held. Farmers flocked to the meeting
from all parts of Saint Johns County. They brought food in their large
baskets. Some owned buggies but most of them hauled their families in
wagons or walked. The camp meetings would sometimes last for several
days according to the spiritual fervor exhibited by those attending.
Lycurgas recalls the stirring sermons and spirituals that rang through
the woods and could be heard for several miles on a clear day. And the
river baptisms! These climaxed the meetings and were attended by large
crowds of whites in the neighborhood. All candidates were dressed in
white gowns, stockings and towels would about their heads bandana
fashion. Tow by two they marched to the river from the spot where they
had dressed. There was always some stiring song to accompany their slow
march to the river. "Take me to the water to be baptized" was the
favorite spiritual for this occasion.
As in all things, some attended camp meetings for the opportunity it
afforded them to indulge in illicit love making. Others went to show
their finery and there was plenty of it according to Lycurgas'
statement. There seemed to be beautiful clothing, fine teams and buggies
everywhere--a sort of reaction from the restraint upon them in slavery.
Many wore clothing they could not afford.
There seemed to be a deeper interest in politics during these times.
Mass meetings, engineered by "carpet baggers" were often held and
largely attended, although the father of Edward did not hold with these
activities very much. He often heard the preacher point out Negroes who
attended the meetings and attained prominence in politics as an example
for members of his flock to follow. He believes he recalls hearing the
name of Joseph Gibbs.
Next to the preacher, the Negro school teacher was held in greatest
respect. Until the year of the "shake" (earthquake of 1886) there were
no Negro school teachers on Saint John's County and no school buildings.
They attended classes at the fort and were taught by a white woman who
had come from "up nawth" for this purpose. Edward was able to learn very
little from his blue back Webster because his help was needed on the
He was a lover of home, very shy and did not care much for courting. He
remained with his parents until their deaths and did not leave the
vicinity for many years. He is still unmarried and resides at the Clara
White Mission, Jacksonville, Florida, where he receives a email salary
for the piddling jobs about the place that he is able to do.
1. Personal interview with Edward Lycurgas, 611 West Ashley Street,
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Pearl Randolph, Field Worker
November 13, 1936
Mrs. McCray was sitting on her porch crooning softly to herself and
rocking so gently that one might easily have thought the wind was
swaying her chair. Her eyes were closed, her hands incredibly old and
workworn were slowly folding and unfolding on her lap.
She listened quietly to the interviewer's request for some of the "high
lights" of her life and finally exclaimed: "Chile, why'ny you look among
the living fer the high lights?"
There was nothing resentful in this expression; only the patient
weariness of one who has been dragged through the boundaries of a
yesterday from which he was inseparable and catapulted into a present
with which he has nothing in common. After being assured that her life
story was of real interest to some one she warmed up and talked quite
freely of the life and times as they existed in her day.
How old was she? She confessed quite frankly that she never "knowed" her
age. She was a grownup during the Civil War when she was commandered by
Union soldiers invading the country and employed as a cook. Her owner,
one Redding Pamell, possessed a hundred or more slaves and was,
according to her statement very kind to them. It was on his plantation
that she was born. Amanda McCray is one of several children born to
Jacob and Mary Williams, the latter being blind since Amanda could
Children on the Pamell plantation led a carefree existence until they
were about 12 years of age, when they were put to light chores like
carrying water and food, picking seed from cotton lint (there were no
cotton gins), and minding the smaller children. They were duly schooled
in all the current superstitions and listened to the tales of ghosts and
animals that talked and reasoned, tales common to the Negro today.
Little Mandy believes to this day that hogs can see the wind and that
all animals talk like men on Christmas morning at a certain time.
Children wore moles feet and pearl buttons around their necks to insure
easy teething and had their legs bathed in a concoction of wasp nest and
vinegar if they were slow about learning to walk. This was supposed to
strengthen the weak limbs. It was a common occurence to see a child of
two or three years still nursing at the mother's breast. Their masters
encouraged the slaves to do this, thinking it made strong bones and
At Christmas time the slave children all trouped to "de big house" and
stood outside crying "Christmas gift" to their master and mistress. They
were never disappointed. Gifts consisted mostly of candies, nuts and
fruits but there was always some useful article of clothing included,
something they were not accustomed to having. Once little Mandy received
a beautiful silk dress from her young mistress, who knew how much she
liked beautiful clothes. She was a very happy child and loved the dress
so much that she never wore it except on some special occasion.
Amanda was trained to be a house servant, learning to cook and knit from
the blind mother who refused to let this handicap affect her usefulness.
She liked best to sew the fine muslins and silks of her mistress, making
beautiful hooped dresses that required eight and ten yards of cloth and
sometimes as many as seven petticoats to enhance their fullness.
Hoops for these dresses were made of grape-vines that were shaped while
green and cured in the sun before using. Beautiful imported laces were
used to trim the petticoats and pantaloons of the wealthy.
The Pamell slaves had a Negro minister who could hold services any time
he chose, so long as he did not interfere with the work of the other
slaves. He was not obliged to do hard menial labors and went about the
plantation "all dressed up" in a frock coat and store-bought shoes. He
was more than a little conscious of this and was held in awe by the
others. He often visited neighboring plantations to hold his services.
It was from this minister that they first heard of the Civil War. He
held whispered prayers for the success of the Union soldiers, not
because freedom was so desirable to them, but for other slaves who were
treated so cruelly. There was a praying ground where "the grass never
had a chancet ter grow fer the troubled knees that kept it crushed
Amanda was an exceptionally good cook and so widespread was this
knowledge that the Union soldiers employed her as a cook in their camp
for a short while. She does not remember any of their officers and
thinks they were no better nor worse than the others. These soldiers
committed no depredations in her section except to confiscate whatever
they wanted in the way of food and clothing. Some married southern
Mr. Pamell made land grants to all slaves who wanted to remain with him;
few left, so kind had he been to them all.
Life went on in much the same manner for Amanda's family except that the
children attended school where a white teacher instructed them from a
"blue back Webster." Amanda was a young woman but she managed to learn
to read a little. Later they had colored teachers who followed much the
same routine as the whites had. They were held in awe by the other
Negroes and every little girl yearned to be a teacher, as this was about
the only professional field open to Negro women at that time.
"After de war Negroes blossomed out with fine phaetons (buggies) and
ceiled houses, and clothes--oh my!"
Mrs. McCray did not keep up with the politics of her time but remembers
hearing about Joe Gibbs, member of the Florida Legislature. There was
much talk then of Booker T. Washington, and many thought him a fool for
trying to start a school in Alabama for Negroes. She recalls the Negro
post master who served two or three terms at Madison. She could not give
There have been three widespread "panics" (depressions) during her
lifetime but Mrs. McCray thinks this is the worst one. During the Civil
War, coffee was so dear that meal was parched and used as a substitute
but now, she remarked, "you can't hardly git the meal for the bread."
Her husband and children are all dead and she lives with a niece who is
no longer young herself. Circumstances are poor here. The niece earns
her living as laundress and domestic worker, receiving a very poor wage.
Mrs. McCray is now quite infirm and almost blind. She seems happiest
talking of the past that was a bit kinder to her.
At present she lives on the northeast corner of First and Macon Streets.
The postoffice address is #11, Madison, Florida.
1. Personal interview with Amanda McCray, First and Macon Streets,
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Alfred Farrell, Field Worker
John A. Simms, Editor
September 25, 1936
"Up from Slavery" might well be called this short biographical sketch of
Henry Maxwell, who first saw the light of day on October 17, 1859 in
Lownes County, Georgia. His mother Ann, was born in Virginia, and his
father, Robert, was born in South Carolina. Captain Peters, Ann's owner,
bought Robert Maxwell from Charles Howell as a husband for Ann. To this
union were born seven children, two girls--Elizabeth and Rosetta--and
five boys--Richard, Henry, Simms, Solomon and Sonnie. After the death of
Captain Peters in 1863, Elizabeth and Richard were sold to the Gaines
family. Rosetta and Robert (the father) were purchased from the Peters'
estate by Isham Peters, Captain Peters' son, and Henry and Simms were
bought by James Bamburg, husband of Izzy Peters, daughter of Captain
Peters. (Solomon and Sonnie were born after slavery.)
Just a tot when the Civil War gave him and his people freedom, Maxwell's
memories of bondage-days are vivid through the experiences related by
older Negroes. He relates the story of the plantation owner who trained
his dogs to hunt escaped slaves. He had a Negro youth hide in a tree
some distance away, and then he turned the pack loose to follow him. One
day he released the bloodhounds too soon, and they soon overtook the boy
and tore him to pieces. When the youth's mother heard of the atrocity,
she burst into tears which were only silenced by the threats of her
owner to set the dogs on her. Maxwell also relates tales of the terrible
beatings that the slaves received for being caught with a book or for
trying to run away.
After the Civil War the Maxwell family was united for a short while, and
later they drifted apart to go their various ways. Henry and his parents
resided for a while longer in Lownes County, and in 1880 they came to
Titusville, with the two younger children, Solomon and Sonnie. Here
Henry secured work with a farmer for whom he worked for $12 a month. In
1894 he purchased a small orange grove and began to cultivate oranges.
Today he owns over 30 acres of orange groves and controls nearly 200
more acres. He is said to be worth around $250,000 and is Titusville's
most influential and respected colored citizen. He is married but has no
[TR: Interview of Titus Bynes, including sections about Della Bess
Hilyard ("Aunt Bess") and Taylor Gilbert repeated here. References to
them deleted below.]
1. Personal interview of field worker with subject
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Martin Richardson, Field Worker
Saint Augustine, Florida
November 10, 1936
An interesting description of the slave days just prior to the War
Between the States is given by Christine Mitchell, of Saint Augustine.
Christine was born in slavery at Saint Augustine, remaining on the
plantation until she was about 10 years old.
During her slave days she knew many of the slaves on plantations in the
Saint Augustine vicinity. Several of these plantations, she says, were
very large, and some of them had as many as 100 slaves.
The ex-slave, who is now 84 years old, recalls that at least three of
the plantations in the vicinity were owned or operated by Minorcans. She
says that the Minorcans were popularly referred to in the section as
"Turnbull's Darkies," a name they apparently resented. This caused many
of them, she claims, to drop or change their names to Spanish or
Christine moved to Fernandina a few years after her freedom, and there
lived near the southern tip of Amelia Island, where Negro ex-slaves
lived in a small settlement all their own. This settlement still exists,
although many of its former residents are either dead or have moved
Christine describes the little Amelia Island community as practically
self-sustaining, its residents raising their own food, meats, and other
commodities. Fishing was a favorite vocation with them, and some of then
established themselves as small merchants of sea foods.
Several of the families of Amelia Island, according to the ex-slave,
were large ones, and her own relatives, the Drummonds, were among the
largest of these.
Christine Mitchell regards herself as one of the oldest remaining
ex-slaves in the Saint Augustine section, and is very well known in the
neighborhood of her home at St. Francis and Oneida Streets.
1. Interview with subject, Christine Drummond Mitchell, Oneida street
corner Saint Francis, Saint Augustine, Florida
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Unit)
Martin Richardson, Field Worker
January 13, 1937
AN EX-SLAVE WHO WAS RESOURCEFUL
In a little blacksmith shop at 1114 Madison Street, Palatka, is a busy
little horse-shoer who was born in slavery eighty-seven years ago.
_Lindsey Moore_, blacksmith, leather-tanner ex-marble shooting champion
and a number of other things, represents one of the most resourceful
former slaves yet found in the state.
Moore was born in 1850 on the plantation of John B. Overtree, in
Forsythe County, Georgia. He was one of the six children of Eliza Moore;
all of them remained the property of Overtree until freed.
On the Overtree plantation the slave children were allowed considerable
time for play until their tenth or twelfth years; Lindsey took full
advantage of this opportunity and became very skillful at
marble-shooting. It was here that he first learned to utilize his
talents profitably. 'Massa Overtree' discovered the ability of Lindsey
and another urchin to shoot marbles, and began taking them into town to
compete with the little slaves of other owners. There would be betting
on the winners.
Mr. Overtree won some money in this manner, Lindsey and his companion
being consistent winners. But Lindsey saw possibilities other than the
glory of his victories in this new game; with pennies that some of the
spectators tossed him he began making small wagers of his own with his
competitors, and soon had amassed quite a small pile of silver for those
Although shoes were unheard-of in Lindsey's youth, he used to watch
carefully whenever a cow was skinned and its hide tanned to make shoes
for the women and the 'folks in the big house'. Through his attention to
the tanning operations he learned everything about tanning except one
solution that he could not discover. It was not until years later that
he learned that the jealously-guarded ingredient was plain salt and
water. By the time he had learned it, however, he had so mastered the
tanning operations that he at once added it to his sources of
Lindsey escaped much of the farm work on the Overtree place by learning
to skillfully assist the women who made cloth out of the cotton from the
fields. He grew very fast at cleaning 'rods', clearing the looms and
other operations; when, at thirteen, it became time for him to pick
cotton he had become so fast at helping with spinning and weighing the
cotton that others had picked that he almost entirely escaped the
Soap-making was another of the plantation arts that Lindsey mastered
early. His ability to save every possible ounce of grease from the meats
he cooked added many choice bits of pork to his otherwise meatless fare;
he was able to spend many hours in the shade pouring water over oak
ashes that other young slaves were passing picking cotton or hoeing
potatoes in the burning sun.
Lindsey's first knowledge of the approach of freedom came when he heard
a loud brass band coming down the road toward the plantation playing a
strange, lively tune while a number of soldiers in blue uniforms marched
behind. He ran to the front gate and was ordered to take charge of the
horse of one of the officers in such an abrupt tone until he 'begin to
shaking in my bare feet! There followed much talk between the officers
and Lindsey's mistress, with the soldiers finally going into encampment
a short distance away from the plantation.
The soldiers took command of the spring that was used for a water supply
for the plantation, giving Lindsey another opportunity to make money. He
would be sent from the plantation to the spring for water, and on the
way back would pass through the camp of the soldiers. These would be
happy to pay a few pennies for a cup of water rather than take the long
hike to the Spring themselves; Lindsey would empty bucket after bucket
before finally returning to the plantation. Out of his profits he bought
his first pair of shoes--though nearly a grown man.
The soldiers finally departed, with all but five of the Overtree slaves
joyously trooping behind them. Before leaving, however, they tore up the
railroad and its station, burning the ties and heating the rails until
red then twisting them around tree-trunks. Wheat fields were trampled by
their horses, and devastation left on all sides.
Lindsey and his mother were among those who stayed at the plantation.
When freedom became general his father began farming on a tract that was
later turned over to Lindsey. Lindsey operated the farm for a while, but
later desired to learn horseshoeing, and apprenticed himself to a
blacksmith. At the end of three years he had become so proficient that
his former master rewarded him with a five-dollar bonus for shoeing one
Possessing now the trades of blacksmithing, tanning and
weaving-and-spinning, Lindsey was tempted to follow some of his former
associates to the North, but was discouraged from doing so by a few who
returned, complaining bitterly about the unaccustomed cold and the
difficulty of making a living. He moved South instead and settled in the
area around Palatka.
He is still in the section, being recognized as an excellent blacksmith
despite his more than four-score years.
Interview with subject, Lindsey Moore, 1114 Madison Street, Palatka,
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
J.M. Johnson, Field Worker
John A. Simms, Editor
September 18, 1936
Mack Mullen, a former slave who now lives at 521 W. First Street,
Jacksonville, Florida, was born in Americus, Georgia in 1857, eight
years before Emancipation, on a plantation which covered an area of
approximately five miles. Upon this expansive plantation about 200
slaves lived and labored. At its main entrance stood a large white
In this abode lived Dick Snellings, the master, and his family. The
Snellings plantation produced cotton, corn, oats, wheat, peanuts,
potatoes, cane and other commodities. The live stock consisted primarily
of hogs and cattle. There was on the plantation what was known as a
"crib," where oats, corn and wheat were stored, and a "smoke house" for
pork and beef. The slaves received their rations weekly, it was
apportioned according to the number in the family.
Mack Mullen's mother was named Ellen and his father Sam. Ellen was
"house woman" and Sam did the blacksmithing, Ellen personally attended
Mrs. Snellings, the master's wife. Mack being quite young did not have
any particular duties assigned to him, but stayed around the Snellings
mansion and played. Sometimes "marster" Snellings would take him on his
knee and talk to him. Mack remembers that he often told him that some
day he was going to be a noble man. He said that he was going to make
him the head overseer. He would often give him candy and money and take
him in his buggy for a ride.
Plantation Life: The slaves lived in cabins called quarters, which were
constructed of lumber and logs. A white man was their overseer, he
assigned the slaves their respective tasks. There was also a slave known
as a "caller." He came around to the slave cabins every morning at four
o'clock and blew a "cow-horn" which was the signal for the slaves to get
up and prepare themselves for work in the fields.
All of them on hearing this horn would arise and prepare their meal; by
six o'clock they were on their way to the fields. They would work all
day, stopping only for a brief period at midday to eat. Mack Mullen
says that some of the most beautiful spirituals were sung while they
The women wore towels wrapped around their heads for protection from the
sun, and most of them smoked pipes. The overseer often took Mack with
him astride his horse as he made his "rounds" to inspect the work being
done. About sundown, the "cow-horn" of the caller was blown and all
hands stopped work, and made their way back to their cabins. One behind
the other they marched singing "I'm gonna wait 'til Jesus Comes." After
arriving at their cabins they would prepare their meals; after eating
they would sometimes gather in front of a cabin and dance to the tunes
played on the fiddle and the drum. The popular dance at that time was
known as the "figure dance." At nine p.m. the overseer would come
around; everything was supposed to be quiet at that hour. Some of the
slaves would "turn in" for the night while others would remain up as
long as they wished or as long as they were quiet.
The slaves were sometimes given special holidays and on those days they
would give "quilting" parties (quilt making) and dances. These parties
were sometimes held on their own plantation and sometimes on a
neighboring one. Slaves who ordinarily wanted to visit another
plantation had to get a permit from the master. If they were caught
going off the plantation without a permit, they were severely whipped by
the "patrolmen" (white men especially assigned to patrol duty around the
plantation to prevent promiscuous wandering from plantations and
Whipping: There was a white man assigned only to whip the slaves when
they were insubordinate; however, they were not allowed to whip them
too severely as "Marster" Snellings would not permit it. He would say "a
slave is of no use to me beaten to death."
Marriage: When one slave fell in love with another and wanted to marry
they were given a license and the matrimony was "sealed." There was no
marriage ceremony performed. A license was all that was necessary to be
considered married. In the event that the lovers lived on separate
plantations the master of one of them would buy the other lover or
wedded one so that they would be together. When this could not be
arranged they would have to visit one another, but live on their
Religion: The slaves had a regular church house, which was a small size
building constructed of boards. Preaching was conducted by a colored
minister especially assigned to this duty. On Tuesday evenings prayer
meeting was held; on Thursday evenings, preaching; and on Sundays both
morning and evening preaching. At these services the slaves would "get
happy" and shout excitedly. Those desiring to accept Christ were
admitted for baptism.
Baptism: On baptismal day, the candidates attired in white robes which
they had made, marched down to the river where they were immersed by the
minister. Slaves from neighboring plantations would come to witness
this sacred ceremony. Mack Mullen recalls that many times his "marster"
on going to view a baptism took him along in his buggy. It was a happy
scene, he relates. The slaves would be there in great numbers scattered
about over the banks of the river. Much shouting and singing went on.
Some of the "sisters" and "brothers" would get so "happy" that they
would lose control of themselves and "fall out." It was then said that
the Holy Ghost had "struck 'em." The other slaves would view this
phenomena with awe and reverence, and wait for them to "come out of it."
"Those were happy days and that was real religion," Mack Mullen said.
Education: The slaves were not given any formal education, however,
Mullen's master was not as rigid as some of the slave-holders in
prohibiting the slaves from learning to read and write. Mrs. Snellings,
the mistress, taught Mack's mother to read and write a little, and Mr.
Snellings also taught Mack's father how to read, write and figure.
Having learned a little they would in turn impart their knowledge to
their fellow slaves.
Freedom: Mullen vividly recalls the day that they heard of their
emancipation; loud reports from guns were heard echoing through the
woods and plantations; after awhile "Yankee" soldiers came and informed
them that they were free. Mr. Snellings showed no resistance and he was
not harmed. The slaves on hearing this good news of freedom burst out in
song and praises to God: it was a gala day. No work was done for a week;
the time was spent in celebrating. The master told his slaves that they
were free and could go wherever they wanted to, or they could remain
with him if they wished. Most of his 200 slaves refused to leave him
because he was considered a good master.
They were thereafter given individual farms, mules and farm implements
with which to cultivate the land; their former master got a share out of
what was raised. There was no more whipping, no more forced labor and
hours were less drastic.
Mack Mullen's parents were among those slaves who remained; they lived
there until Mr. Snellings died, and then moved to Isonvillen, near
Americus, Georgia, where his father opened a black-smith shop, and made
enough money to buy some property. Another child was added to the
family, a girl named Mariah. By this time Mack had become a young man
with a strong desire to travel, so he bade his parents farewell and
headed for Tampa, Florida. After living there awhile he came to
Jacksonville, Florida. At the time of his arrival in Jacksonville, Bay
Street was paved with blocks and there were no hard surfaced streets in
He was one of the construction, foremen of the Windsor Hotel. Mack
Mullen is tall, grey haired, sharp featured and of Caucasian strain (his
mother was a mulatto) with a keen mind and an appearance that belies his
75 years. He laments that he was freed because his master was good to
his slaves; he says "we had everything we wanted; never did I think I'd
come to this--got to get relief." (1)
1. From an interview with Mack Mullen, a former slave at his residence,
521 West First Street, Jacksonville, Florida
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
J.M. Johnson, Field Worker
November 17, 1936
About three miles from South Jacksonville proper down the old Saint
Augustine Road lives one Louis Napoleon an ex-slave, born in
Tallahassee, Florida about 1857, eight years prior to Emancipation.
His parents were Scipio and Edith Napoleon, being originally owned by
Colonel John S. Sammis of Arlington, Florida and the Floyd family of
Saint Marys, Georgia, respectively.
Scipio and Edith were sold to Arthur Randolph, a physician and large
plantation owner of Fort Louis, about five miles from the capital at
Tallahassee. On this large plantation that covered and area of about
eight miles and composed approximately of 90 slaves is where Louis
Napoleon first saw the light of day.
Louis' father was known as the wagoner. His duties were to haul the
commodities raised on the plantation and other things that required a
wagon. His mother Edith, was known as a "breeder" and was kept in the
palatial Randolph mansion to loom cloth for the Randolph family and
slaves. The cloth was made from the cotton raised on the plantation's
fertile fields. As Louis was so young, he had no particular duties, only
to look for hen nests, gather eggs and play with the master's three
young boys. There were seven children in the Randolph family, three
young boys, two "missy" girls and two grown sons. Louis would go fishing
and hunting with the three younger boys and otherwise engage with them
in their childish pranks.
He says that his master and mistress were very kind to the slaves and
would never whip them, nor would he allow the "driver" who was a white
man named Barton to do so. Barton lived in a home especially built for
him on the plantation. If the "driver" whipped any of them, all that was
necessary for the slave who had been whipped was to report it to the
master and the "driver" was dismissed, as he was a salaried man.
Plantation Life. The slaves lived in log cabins especially built for
them. They were ceiled and arranged in such a manner as to retain the
heat in winter from the large fireplaces constructed therein.
Just before the dawn of day, the slaves were aroused from their slumber
by a loud blast from a cow-horn that was blown by the "driver" as a
signal to prepare themselves for the fields. The plantation being so
expansive, those who had to go a long distance to the area where they
worked, were taken in wagons, those working nearby walked. They took
their meals along with them and had their breakfast and dinner on the
fields. An hour was allowed for this purpose. The slaves worked while
they sang spirituals to break the monotony of long hours of work. At the
setting of the sun, with their day's work all done, they returned to
their cabins and prepared their evening's meal. Having finished this,
the religious among them would gather at one of the cabin doors and give
thanks to God in the form of long supplications and old fashioned songs.
Many of them being highly emotional would respond in shouts of
hallelujahs sometimes causing the entire group to become "happy"
concluding in shouting and praise to God. The wicked slaves expended
their pent up emotions in song and dance. Gathering at one of the cabin
doors they would sing and dance to the tunes of a fife, banjo or fiddle
that was played by one of their number. Finished with this diversion
they would retire to await the dawn of a new day which indicated more
work. The various plantations had white men employed as "patrols" whose
duties were to see that the slaves remained on their own plantations,
and if they were caught going off without a permit from the master, they
were whipped with a "raw hide" by the "driver." There was an exception
to this rule, however, on Sundays the religious slaves were allowed to
visit other plantations where religious services were being held without
having to go through the matter of having a permit.
Religion. There was a free colored man who was called "Father James
Page," owned by a family of Parkers of Tallahassee. He was freed by them
to go and preach to his own people. He could read and write and would
visit all the plantations in Tallahassee, preaching the gospel. Each
plantation would get a visit from him one Sunday of each month. The
slaves on the Randolph plantation would congregate in one of the cabins
to receive him where he would read the Bible and preach and sing. Many
times the services were punctuated by much shouting from the "happy
ones." At these services the sacrament was served to those who had
accepted Christ, those who had not, and were willing to accept Him were
received and prepared for baptism on the next visit of "Father Page."
On the day of baptism, the candidates were attired in long white flowing
robes, which had been made by one of the slaves. Amidst singing and
praises they marched, being flanked on each side by other believers, to
a pond or lake on the plantation and after the usual ceremony they were
"ducked" into the water. This was a day of much shouting and praying.
Education. The two "missy" girls of the Randolph family were dutiful
each Sunday morning to teach the slaves their catechism or Sunday School
lesson. Aside from this there was no other training.
The War and Freedom. Mr. Napoleon relates that the doctor's two oldest
sons went to the war with the Confederate army, also the white "driver,"
Barton. His place was filled by one of the slaves, named Peter Parker.
At the closing of the war, word was sent around among the slaves that if
they heard the report of a gun, it was the Yankees and that they were
It was in May, in the middle of the day, cotton and corn being planted,
plowing going on, and slaves busily engaged in their usual activities,
when suddenly the loud report of a gun resounded, then could be heard
the slaves crying almost en-masse, "dems de Yankees." Straightway they
dropped the plows, hoes and other farm implements and hurried to their
cabins. They put on their best clothes "to go see the Yankees." Through
the countryside to the town of Tallahassee they went. The roads were
quickly filled with these happy souls. The streets of Tallahassee were
clustered with these jubilant people going here and there to get a
glimpse of the Yankees, their liberators. Napoleon says it was a joyous
and un-forgetable occasion.
When the Randolph slaves returned to their plantation, Dr. Randolph told
them that they were free, and if they wanted to go away, they could, and
if not, they could remain with him and he would give them half of what
was raised on the farms. Some of them left, however, some remained,
having no place to go, they decided it was best to remain until the
crops came off, thus earning enough to help them in their new venture in
home seeking. Those slaves who were too old and not physically able to
work, remained on the plantation and were cared for by Dr. Randolph
until their death.
Napoleon's father, Scipio, got a transfer from the government to his
former master, Colonel Sammis of Arlington, and there he lived for
awhile. He soon got employment with a Mr. Hatee of the town and after
earning enough money, bought a tract of land from him there and farmed.
There his family lived and increased. Louis being the oldest of the
children obtained odd jobs with the various settlers, among them being
Governor Reid of Florida who lived in South Jacksonville. Governor Reid
raised cattle for market and Napoleon's job was to bring them across the
Saint Johns River on a litter to Jacksonville, where they were
Louis Napoleon is now aged and infirm, his father and mother having died
many years ago. He now lives with one of his younger brothers who has a
fair sized orange grove on the south side of Jacksonville. He retains
the property that his father first bought after freedom and on which
they lived in Arlington. His hair white and he is bent with age and ill
health but his mental faculties are exceptionally keen for one of his
age. He proudly tells you that his master was good to his "niggers" and
cannot recall but one time that he saw him whip one of them and that
when one tried to run away to the Yankees. Only memories of a kind
master in his days of servitude remain with him as he recalls the dark
days of slavery.
Personal interview with Louis Napoleon, South Jacksonville, Florida
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Rachel A. Austin, Field Worker
December 5, 1936
In her own vernacular, Margrett Nickerson was "born to William A. Carr,
on his plantation near Jackson, Leon County, many years ago."
When questioned concerning her life on this plantation, she continues:
"Now honey, its been so long ago, I don' 'member ev'ything, but I will
tell you whut I kin as near right as possible; I kin 'member five uf
Marse Carr's chillun; Florida, Susan, 'Lijah, Willie and Tom; cose Carr
never 'lowed us to have a piece uf paper in our hands."
"Mr. Kilgo was de fust overseer I 'member; I was big enough to tote meat
an' stuff frum de smokehouse to de kitchen and to tote water in and git
wood for granny to cook de dinner and fur de sucklers who nu'sed de
babies, an' I carried dinners back to de hands."
"On dis plantation dere was 'bout a hunnerd head; cookin' was done in de
fireplace in iron pots and de meals was plenty of peas, greens,
cornbread burnt co'n for coffee--often de marster bought some coffee fur
us; we got water frum de open well. Jes 'fore de big gun fiahed dey
fotched my pa frum de bay whar he was makin' salt; he had heerd dam say
'de Yankees is coming and wuz so glad."
"Dere wuz rice, cotton, co'n, tater fields to be tended to and cowhides
to be tanned, thread to be spinned, and thread wuz made into ropes for
"Ole Marse Carr fed us, but he did not care what an' whar, jes so you
made dat money and when yo' made five and six bales o' cotton, said:
'Yo' ain don' nuthin'."
"When de big gun fiahed on a Sattidy me and Cabe and Minnie Howard wuz
settin' up co'n fur de plowers to come 'long and put dirt to 'em; Carr
read de free papers to us on Sunday and de co'n and cotton had to be
tended to--he tole us he wuz goin' to gi' us de net proceeds (here she
chuckles), what turned out to be de co'n and cotton stalks. Den he asked
dem whut would stay wid him to step off on de right and dem dat wuz
leavin' to step off on da left."
"My pa made soap frum ashes when cleaning new ground--he took a hopper
to put de ashes in, made a little stool side de house put de ashes in
and po'red water on it to drip; at night after gittin' off frum work
he'd put in de grease and make de soap--I made it sometime and I make it
"My step-pa useter make shoes frum cowhides fur de farm han's on de
plantation and fur eve'body on de plantation 'cept ole Marse and his
fambly; dey's wuz diffunt, fine."
"My grandma wus Pheobie Austin--my mother wuz name Rachel Jackson and my
pa wus name Edmund Jackson; my mother and uncle Robert and Joe wus stol'
frum Virginia and fetched here. I don' know no niggers dat 'listed in de
war; I don' 'member much 'bout de war only when de started talking 'bout
drillin' men fur de war, Joe Sanders was a lieutenant. Marse Carr's
sons, Tom and Willie went to de war."
"We didn' had no doctors, only de grannies; we mos'ly used hippecat
(ipecac) fur medicine."
"As I said, Kilgo was de fust overseer I ricollec', then Sanders wuz
nex' and Joe Sanders after him; John C. Haywood came in after Sanders
and when de big gun fiahed old man Brockington wus dere. I never saw a
nigger sold, but dey carried dem frum our house and I never seen 'em no
"We had church wid de white preachers and dey tole us to mind our
masters and missus and we would be saved; if not, dey said we wouldn'.
Dey never tole us nothin' 'bout Jesus. On Sunday after workin' hard all
de week dey would lay down to sleep and be so tired; soon ez yo' git
sleep, de overseer would come an' wake you up an' make you go to
"When de big gun fiahed old man Carr had six sacks uf confederate money
whut he wuz carrying wid him to Athens Georgia an' all de time if any uf
us gals whar he wuz an' ax him 'Marse please gi us some money' (here she
raises her voice to a high, pitiful tone) he says' I aint got a cent'
and right den he would have a chis so full it would take a whol' passle
uv slaves to move it. He had plenty corn, taters, pum'kins, hogs, cows
ev'ything, but he didn' gi us nuthin but strong plain close and plenty
to eat; we slept in ole common beds and my pa made up little cribs and
put hay in dem fur de chillun."
"Now ef you wanted to keep in wid Marster Carr don' drap you shoes in de
field an' leave 'em--he'd beat you; you mus' tote you' shoes frum one
field to de tother, didn' a dog ud be bettern you. He'd say 'You
gun-haided devil, drappin' you' shoes and eve'thin' over de field'."
"Now jes lis'en, I wanna tell you all I kin, but I wants to tell it
right; wait now, I don' wanna make no mistakes and I don' wanna lie on
nobody--I ain' mad now and I know taint no use to lie, I takin' my time.
I done prayed an' got all de malice out o' my heart and I ain' gonna
tell no lie fer um and I ain' gonna tell no lie on um. I ain' never seed
no slaves sold by Marster Carr, he wuz allus tellin' me he wuz gonna
sell me but he never did--he sold my pa's fust wife though."
"Dere wuz Uncle George Bull, he could read and write and, chile, de
white folks didn't lak no nigger whut could read and write. Carr's wife
Miss Jane useter teach us Sunday School but she did not 'low us to tech
a book wid us hands. So dey useter jes take uncle George Bull and beat
him fur nothin; dey would beat him and take him to de lake and put him
on a log and shev him in de lake, but he always swimmed out. When dey
didn' do dat dey would beat him tel de blood run outen him and den trow
him in de ditch in de field and kivver him up wid dirt, head and years
and den stick a stick up at his haid. I wuz a water toter and had stood
and seen um do him dat way more'n once and I stood and looked at um tel
dey went 'way to de other rows and den I grabbed de dirt ofen him and
he'd bresh de dirt off and say 'tank yo', git his hoe and go on back to
work. Dey beat him lak dat and he didn' do a thin' to git dat sort uf
"I had a sister name Lytie Holly who didn' stand back on non' uv em;
when dey'd git behin' her, she'd git behin' dem; she wuz dat stubbo'n
and when dey would beat her she wouldn' holler and jes take it and go
on. I got some whuppin's wid strops but I wanter tell you why I am
"I had to tote tater vines on my haid, me and Fred' rick and de han's
would be a callin fur em all over de field but you know honey, de two uv
us could' git to all uvum at once, so Joe Sanders would hurry us up by
beatin' us with strops and sticks and run us all over de tater ridge; he
cripple us both up and den we couldn' git to all uv em. At night my pa
would try to fix me up cose I had to go back to work nex' day. I never
walked straight frum dat day to dis and I have to set here in dis chair
now, but I don' feel mad none now. I feels good and wants to go to
he'ven--I ain' gonna tel no lie on white nor black cose taint no use."
"Some uv de slaves run away, lots uv um. Some would be cot and when dey
ketched em dey put bells on em; fust dey would put a iron ban' 'round
dey neck and anuder one 'round de waist and rivet um tegether down de
back; de bell would hang on de ban' round de neck so dat it would ring
when de slave walked and den dey wouldn' git 'way. Some uv dem wore dese
bells three and four mont'n and when dey time wuz up dey would take em
off 'em. Jake Overstreet, George Bull, John Green, Ruben Golder, Jim
Bradley and a hos' uv others wore dem bells. Dis is whut I know, not
whut somebody else say. I seen dis myself. En missus, when de big gun
fiahed, de runerway slaves comed out de woods frum all directions. We
wuz in de field when it fiahed, but I 'members dey wuz all very glad."
"After de war, we worked but we got pay fur it."
"Ole man Pierce and others would call some kin' of a perlitical
(political) meetin' but I could never understan' whut dey wuz talkin'
'bout. We didn' had no kin' uv schools and all I knows but dem is dat I
sent my chillums in Leon and Gadsden Counties."
"I had lots uv sisters and brothers but I can't 'member de names of none
by Lytie, Mary, Patsy and Ella; my brothers, is Edmond and Cornelius
Jackson. Cornelius is livin' now somewhere I think but I don' never see
"When de big gun fiahed I was a young missy totin' cotton to de scales
at de ginhouse; ef de ginhouse wuz close by, you had to tote de cotton
to it, but ef it wuz fur 'way wagins ud come to de fields and weigh it
up and take it to de ginhouse. I was still livin' near Lake Jackson and
we went to Abram Bailey's place near Tallahassee. Carr turned us out
without nuthin and Bailey gi'd us his hammoc' and we went dere fur a
home. Fust we cut down saplin's fur we didn' had no house, and took de
tops uv pines and put on de top; den we put dirt on top uv dese saplin's
and slep' under dem. When de rain would come, it would wash all de dirt
right down in our face and we'd hafter buil' us a house all over ag'in.
We didn' had no body to buil' a house fur us, cose pa was gone and ma
jes had us gals and we cut de saplin's fer de man who would buil' de
house fer us. We live on Bailey's place a long time and fin'lly buil' us
a log cabin and den we went frum dis cabin to Gadsden County to a place
name Concord and dere I stay tel I come here 'fore de fiah."
"I had twelve chillun but right now missus, I can only 'member dese
names: Robert, 'Lijah, Edward, Cornelius, Littie, Rachel and Sophie."
"I was converted in Leon County and after freedom I joined de Methodist
church and my membership is now in Mount Zion A.M.E. Church in
"My fust husban was Nelson Walker and de las' one was name Dave
Nickerson. I don' think I was 20 years old when de big gun fiahed, but I
was more' 17--I reckon I wuz a little older den Flossie May (a niece who
is 17 years of age) is now." (1)
Mrs. Nickerson, according to her information must be about 89 or 90
years of age, sees without glasses having never used them; she does not
read or write but speaks in a convincing manner. She has most of her
teeth and a splendid appetite. She spends her time sitting in a
wheel-chair sewing on quilts. She has several quilts that she has
pieced, some from very small scraps which she has cut without the use of
any particular pattern. She has a full head of beautiful snowy white
hair and has the use of her limbs, except her legs, and is able to do
most things for herself. (2)
She lives with her daughter at 1600 Myrtle Avenue, Jacksonville,
1. Personal interview with Margrett Nickerson, 1600 Myrtle Avenue,
2. Sophia Nickerson Starke, 1600 Myrtle Avenue, daughter of Margrett
Nickerson, Jacksonville, Florida
[TR: References moved from beginning of interview.]
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Rachel A. Austin, Field Worker
November 10, 1936
Douglas Parish was born in Monticello, Florida, May 7, 1850, to Charles
and Fannie Parish, slaves of Jim Parish. Fannie had been bought from a
family by the name of Palmer to be a "breeder", that is a bearer of
strong children who could bring high prices at the slave markets. A
"breeder" always fared better than the majority of female slaves, and
Fannie Parish was no exception. All she had to do was raise children.
Charles Parish labored in the cotton fields, the chief product of the
As a small boy Douglas used to spend his time shooting marbles, playing
ball, racing and wrestling with the other boys. The marbles were made
from lumps of clay hardened in the fireplace. He was a very good runner,
and as it was a custom in those days for one plantation owner to match
his "nigger" against that of his neighbor, he was a favorite with Parish
because he seldom failed to win the race. Parish trained his runners by
having them race to the boundary of his plantation and back again. He