Part 4 out of 5
would reward the winner with a jack-knife or a bag of marbles.
Just to be first was an honor in itself, for the fastest runner
represented his master in the Fourth of July races when runners from all
over the country competed for top honors, and the winner earned a bag of
silver for his master. If Parish didn't win the prize, he was hard to
get along with for several days, but gradually he would accept his
defeat with resolution. Prizes in less important races ranged from a
pair of fighting cocks to a slave, depending upon the seriousness of the
Douglas' first job was picking cotton seed from the cotton. When he was
about 12 years of age, he became the stable boy, and soon learned about
the care and grooming of horses from an old slave who had charge of the
Parish stables. He was also required to keep the buggies, surreys, and
spring-wagons clean. The buggies were light four-wheeled carriages drawn
by one horse. The surreys were covered four-wheeled carriages, open at
the sides, but having curtains that may be rolled down. He liked this
job very much because it gave him an opportunity to ride on the horses,
the desire of all the boys on the plantation. They had to be content
with chopping wood, running errands, cleaning up the plantation, and
similar tasks. Because of his knowledge of horses, Douglas was permitted
to travel to the coast with his boss and other slaves for the purpose of
securing salt from the sea water. It was cheaper to secure salt by this
method than it was to purchase it otherwise.
Life in slavery was not all bad, according to Douglas. Parish fed his
slaves well, gave them comfortable quarters in which to live, looked
after them when they were sick, and worked them very moderately. The
food was cooked in the fireplace in large iron pots, pans and ovens. The
slaves had greens, potatoes, corn, rice, meat, peas, and corn bread to
eat. Occasionally the corn bread was replaced by flour bread. The slaves
drank an imitation coffee made from parched corn or meal. Since there
was no ice to preserve the left-over food, only enough for each meal was
Parish seldom punished his slaves, and never did he permit his overseer
to do so. If the slaves failed to do their work, they were reported to
him. He would warn them and show his black whip which was usually
sufficient. He had seen overseers beat slaves to death, and he did not
want to risk losing the money he had invested in his. After his death,
his son managed the plantation in much the same manner as his father.
But the war was destined to make the Parishes lose all their slaves by
giving them their freedom. Even though they were free to go, many of the
slaves elected to remain with their mistress who had always been kind to
them. The war swept away much of the money which her husband had left
her; and although she would liked to have kept all of her slaves, she
found it impossible to do so. She allowed the real old slaves to remain
on the premises and kept a few of the younger ones to work about the
plantation. Douglas and his parents were among those who remained on the
plantation. His father was a skilled bricklayer and carpenter, and he
was employed to make repairs to the property. His mother cooked for the
Many of the Negroes migrated North, and they wrote back stories of the
"new country" where "de white folks let you do jes as you please." These
stories influenced a great number of other Negroes to go North and begin
life anew as servants, waiters, laborers and cooks. The Negroes who
remained in the South were forced to make their own living. At the end
of the war, foods and commodities had gone up to prices that were
impossible for the Negro to pay. Ham, for example, cost 40c and 50c a
pound; lard was 25c; cotton was two dollars a bushel.
Douglas' father taught him all that he knew about carpentry and
bricklaying, and the two were in demand to repair, remodel, or build
houses for the white people. Although he never attended school, Charles
Parish could calculate very rapidly the number of bricks that it would
take to build a house. After the establishing of schools by the
Freedmen's Bureau, Douglas' father made him go, but he did not like the
confinement of school and soon dropped out. The teachers for the most
part, were white, who were concerned only with teaching the ex-slaves
reading, writing, and arithmetic. The few colored teachers went into
the community in an effort to elevate the standards of living. They went
into the churches where they were certain to reach the greatest number
of people and spoke to them of their mission. The Negro teachers were
cordially received by the ex-slaves who were glad to welcome some
"Yankee niggers" into their midst.
Whereas the white teachers did not bother with the Negroes except in the
classroom, other white men came who showed a decided interest in them.
They were called "carpetbaggers" because of the type of traveling bag
which they usually carried, and this term later became synonymous with
"political adventurer." These men sought to advance their political
schemes by getting the Negroes to vote for certain men who would be
favorable to them. They bought the Negro votes or put a Negro in some
unimportant office to obtain the goodwill of the ex-slaves. They used
the ignorant colored minister to further their plans, and he was their
willing tool. The Negro's unwise use of his ballot plunged the South
further and further into debt and as a result the South was compelled to
restrict his privileges.
1. Personal interview with Douglas Parish, Monticello, Florida
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Viola B. Muse, Field Worker
November 9, 1936
George Pretty of Vero Beach and Gifford, Florida, was born a free man,
at Altoona, Pennsylvania, January 30, 1852. His father Isaac Pretty was
also free born. His maternal grand-father Alec McCoy and his paternal
grand-father George Pretty were born slaves who lived in the southern
part of Pennsylvania.
He does not know how his father came to be born free but knows that he
was told that from early childhood.
In Altoona, according to George, there were no slaves during his life
there but in southern Pennsylvania slavery existed for a time. His
grand-parents moved from southern Pennsylvania during slavery but
whether they bought their freedom or ran away from their masters was
never known to George.
As in most of the southland, the customs of the Negro in Altoona
abounded in superstition and ignorance. They had about the same beliefs
and looked upon life with about the same degree of intelligence as
Negroes in the south.
The north being much colder than the south naturally had long ago used
coal for fuel. Open grates were used for cooking just as open fireplaces
were used in the south. Iron skillets or spiders as they called them,
were used for cooking many foods, meats, vegetables, pies puddings and
even cakes were baked over the fire.
The old familiar, often referred to as southern ash cake, was cooked on
the hearth under the grate, right in Altoona, Pennsylvania. The north
because of its rapid advance in the use of modern ways of cooking and
doing many other things has been thought by many people to have escaped
the crude methods of cooking, but not so. George told how a piece of
thick paper was placed on the hearth under the grate and corn dough put
upon it to bake. Hot ashes were raked over it and it was left to cook
and brown. When it had remained a long enough time, the ashes were
shaken off, the cake brushed clean with a cloth and no grit was
encountered when it was eaten.
Isaac Pretty, George's father owned a large harness shop at Altoona and
made and sold hundreds of dollars worth of saddles and harness to both
northern and southern plantation owners. (1)
There was a constant going and coming of northern and southern owners;
southern ones seeking places to buy implements for farming and other
inventions as well as trying to locate runaway slaves.
Abolitionists were active in the north and there were those who
assisted slaves across the boundary lines between free and slave states.
Negroes in the north who were free and had intelligence enough saw the
gravity in assisting their slave brothers in the south. Some risked
their lives in spreading propaganda which they thought would aid the
enslaved Negroes in becoming free.
In and around Altoona, Negroes were very progressive and appreciated
their freedom, and had a great deal of sympathy for their fellows and
did all they could to demonstrate their attitude toward the slave
traffic. Money was solicited and freely given to help abolitionists
spread propaganda about freedom.
It is striking to note the similarity of living conditions in
Pennsylvania and Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas. Ex-slaves who live
in Florida now but who came here since the Emancipation of the Negro
tell of living conditions of their respective states; they are very
similar to the modes of living in Altoona, during slavery. (2)
Soap was made from grease and lye just as it was made in the south.
Shin-plaster (paper money similar to green back, which represented
amounts less than a dollar) were very plentiful and after the Civil War
confederate money of all kinds was as so much trash.
Food stuffs which were raised on the farm at Altoona were: corn,
peanuts, white potatoes and peas. Enough peas were raised to feed the
stock and take care of the family for 18 months. Potatoes were raised in
large quantities and after they were dug they were banked for the
winter. By banked, it is meant, large holes were dug in the cellar of
the house or under the house or inside of an outhouse; pine straw was
put into this pit and the potatoes piled in; more straw was laid on and
more potatoes piled in until all were in the pit. Dirt was shoveled over
the lot and it was left until for using them. Northern people used and
still use a large amount of white, or Irish potatoes.
In curing hides of cows for making leather the same method was employed
as that used in the south. Hides were first salted and water was poured
over them. They were covered with dirt and left to soak a few days. A
solution of red oak bark was made by soaking the bark in water and this
solution was poured over the hides. After it soaked a few days the hair
was scraped off with a stiff brush and when it dried leather was ready
for making shoes and harness.
George's father dealt extensively in leather and when he could not get
enough cured himself, he bought of others who could supply him.
Now George's mother was very handy at the spinning wheel and loom. He
remembers how the bunch of cotton was combed in preparation for
spinning. Cards with teeth were arranged on the spinning wheel and the
mass of cotton was combed through it to separate it into fibers. The
fibers were rolled between the fingers and then put upon the spinning
wheel to be spun into thread. As it was spun, it was wound upon spools.
After the spools were filled they were taken off and put on the loom.
Threads were strung across the loom some above others and the shuttle
running back and forth through the threads would make cloth. All that
was done by hand power. A person working at the loom regularly soon
became proficient and George's mother was one who bore the name of being
a very good weaver of cloth. Most of the clothes the family wore were
Underwear and sleeping garments were made of the natural colored
homespun cloth. When colored cloth was wanted a dye was made to dip them
in so as to get the desired color. Dyes were made by soaking red oak
bark in water. Another was made of elder berries and when a real blood
red was desired polk berries were used. Polk berries made a blood red
dye and was considered very beautiful. Walnut hulls were used to make
brown dye and it was lasting in its effects.
In making dye hold its color, the cloth and dye were boiled together.
After it had "taken" well, the cloth was removed from the dye and rinsed
well, the rinse water was salted so as to set the color.
Tubs for washing clothes and bathing purposes were made of wood. Some
were made from barrels out in tew parts. In cutting a stay was left
longer on each side and holes were cut length wise in it so there would
be sufficient room for all of the fingers to fit. That was for lifting
the tub about.
A very interesting side of George's life was depicted in his statement
of the longevity of his innocence. We may call it ignorance but it seems
to be more innocence when compared to the incident of Adam and Eve as
told in the Holy Bible in the book of Genesis. He was 33 years of age
before he knew he was a grown man, or how life was given humans. In
plain words he did not know where babies came from, nor how they were
Whenever George's mother was expecting to be confined with a baby's
birth, his father would say to all the children together, large and
small alike, "your mother has gone to New York, Baltimore, Buffalo" or
any place he would think of at the time. There was an upstairs room in
their home and she would stay there six weeks. She would go up as soon
as signs of the coming child would present themselves. A midwife came,
cooked three meals a day, fed the children and helped keep the place in
In older times people taught their children to respect older persons.
They obeyed everyone older than themselves. The large children were just
as obedient as the small ones so that it was not hard to maintain peace
and order within any home.
The midwife in this case simply told all of the children that she did
not want any of them to go upstairs, as she had important papers spread
out all over the floor and did not want them disturbed. No questions
were asked, she was obeyed.
George does not remember having heard a single cry the whole time they
were being born in that upper room, and he said many a baby was born
there. Decorum reigned throughout the household for six weeks or until
their mother was ready to come down. When the time was up for mother to
come down, his father would casually say, "children your ma is coming
home today and what do you recon, someone has given her another baby."
The children would say, almost in concert, "what you say pa, is it a boy
or girl?" He would tell them which it was and nothing more was said nor
any further inquiry made into the happening.
The term "broke her leg" was used to convey the meaning of pregnancy.
George relates how his mother told him and his sister not to have any
thing more to do with Mary Jones, "cause she done broke her leg." George
said "Ma taint nothin matter wid Mary; I see her every day when the bell
rings for 12; she works across the street from Pa's shop and she and me
sets on the steps and talks till time fur her to go back to work." His
mother said, "dont spute me George, I know she is broke her leg and I
want yall to stay way frum her." George said, "Ma I aint sputing you,
jes somebody done misinform you dats all. She aint got no broke leg,
she walks as good as me." His mother said "then I'm a lie." George
quickly replied, "no ma, you aint no lie, but somebody done told you
Nothing was said further on the question of Mary Jones until that same
evening when Isaac Pretty came home from the shop. The mother took him
aside and told him of how she had been disputed and called a lie by
George and added that she wanted George whipped for it.
"Come here George," came a commanding voice shortly after the mother and
father had been in conference. George obeyed and his father took him
apart from the family and locked himself and George in a room. He said
"George I know I haven't done right by not telling you, you are grown.
You are 33 years old now and I want to tell you some things you should
know." George was all eyes and ears, for he had been told when
previously asked how old he was, "I'll tell you when you get grown."
That was all he had heard from his parents for years and he was just
waiting for him to tell him. His father told him how babies were born
and about his mother confining herself in the upper room all the
different times when she expected babies. He told him that his mother
had never been out of town to Boston or Baltimore on any of the past
occasions. In fact he told George all he knew to tell him.
Now the startling thing about it all is that when he had finished
giving the information about babies he said, "Now George your mother
told me that you called her a lie today." George at once said, "Pa I
didn't call her a lie, I jes told someone had misinform her 'bout Mary,
that she aint got her leg broke cause I see her every day." His father
said "I know 'taint right to whip you fur that George but your Ma said
she wanted me to whip you and I'll have to do it." That settled it.
George received his first lesson in sex and received the last flogging
his father ever gave him. He was now grown and could take his place as a
Afterwards the mother took all her daughters aside and told them the
same as Isaac had told George. (That is she told the grown girls about
George and his older sister talked the whole plan over after they got a
chance and decided that since they were now grown, they did not have to
give their earnings to their parents any longer. They decided to move
into one of their father's houses on the place and furnish it up. They
were making right good money considering the times related George, and
with both of them pulling together they soon would have sufficient money
saved up to buy a piece of land and start out on a plot of ground of
George told his father their plans. His father asked how much money he
had. He told him 200 dollars or more. His father said "you've saved 200
dollars out of what I've allowed you?" George answered in the
affirmative. His father said, "do you know how far that will go?" George
said he did not, his father answered "Not far my boy."
A few days after the conversation, Isaac Pretty furnished one of his
houses with the necessary equipment and let George and his sister live
there. They had their own bed-rooms and each bought some food. The girl
and George both cooked the meals and did the main thing they had set out
to do, letting nothing stand in the way of their progress.
When a few months had passed both children had accumulated a nice sum of
money. George was prepared to marry and take care of a wife. His sister
Eliza, who lived with him had saved almost as much money and when she
married she was an asset to the man of her choice rather than a
George had close contact with nature in his early life. The close
contact with his mother for 33 years had done something for George which
was lasting as well as beneficial. She was a close adherent to nature.
She believed in and knew the roots and herbs which cured bodily
ailments. This was handed down to her children and George Pretty claims
to know every root and herb in the woods. He can identify each as they
are presented to him, says he.
Doctors were never used by the ordinary family when George was growing
up and during his stay at Altoona. He was called in to sew up a cut
place which was too much for home treatment. He was also called in to
probe for a bullet but for fever or colds or even child-birth he was
considered an unnecessary expense.
Herbs and roots were widely utilized in olden days and during slavery
and early reconstruction. The old slave has brought his practices to
this era and he is often found gathering and using them upon his friends
George Pretty knows that black snake root is good for blood trouble for
he has used it on many a person with safety and surety. Sasafras tea is
good for colds; golden rod tea for fever; fig leaves for thrash; red oak
bark for douche; slippery elm for fever and female complaint (when bark
is inserted in the vagina); catnip tea is good for new born babies; sage
tea is good for painful menstruation or slackened flow; fig leaves
bruised and applied to the forehead for fever are very affective; they
are also good to draw boils to a head; okra blossoms when dried are good
for sores (the dried blossoms are soaked in water and applied to the
sore and bound with clean old linen cloth); red shank is good for a
number of diseases; missing link root is for colds and asthma. George
said this is a sure cure for asthma. Fever grass is a purgative when
taken in the form of a tea. The blades are steeped in hot water and a
tea made. Fever grass is a wide blade grass growing straighter than most
grass. It has a blue flower and is found growing wild around many places
in Florida. It is plentiful in certain parts of Palatka, Florida.
Riding vehicles in early days were called buggies. The first one George
remembers was the go cart. It had two wheels and was without a top. Only
two people could ride in a go cart. The equilibrium was kept by buckling
the harness over and under the horse's belly. The strap which ran under
the belly was called the belly girt. There was a side strap which ran
along the horse's side and the belly girt was fastened to this. Loops
were put to vantage points on the side strap and through these the
shafts of the cart were run. The strap going under and over the horse
kept the cart from going too far forward or backward.
During George's early life plows looked very much like they do today.
They had wooden handles but the part which turned the ground was made of
point iron, (he could not describe point iron.) Plows were not made of
cast iron or steel as they are today.
Two kinds of plows were used so far as George remembers. One was called
the skooter plow and the other the turn plow. The skooter plow he
describes as one which broke the ground up which had been previously
planted. When the earth needed loosening up to make more fit for
planting, this plow was used over the earth, leaving it rather smooth
and light. The turn plow was used to turn the ground completely over.
Where grass and weeds had grown, the earth needed turning over so as to
thoroughly uproot the weeds and grass. The ground was usually left a
while so that the weeds could die and rot and then men with hoes would
go over the ground and make it ready for planting.
When freedom came to Negroes in the slave territory, George remembers
that Sherman's army drilled a long time after the Civil War had ended.
He saw them right in Pennsylvania. He was much impressed with their blue
suits and brass buttons and which fitted them so well. Some of the men
wore suits with braid on them and they supposedly were the officers of
the outfit. Negro and white men were in the same companies he saw and
all were manly and walking proudly.
As George was fifteen years of age when freedom came much of which he
related happened after Emancipation. He being out of the slave territory
did not have as much contact with the slaves, but he lived around his
grand parents who had been slaves in the southern part of the state.
After slavery they moved up to Altoona, with George's parents and
brought much in the way of customs to George.
Grandfather McCoy and also grandfather Pretty told of many experiences
that they went through during their enslavement. The Negro and white
over-seer was much in evidence down there and buying and selling of
children from their parents seemed to have left a sad memory with
Isaac Pretty's family was large. He had seven girls and seven boys,
George being the eldest. George remembers how his heart would ache when
his grandfather told of the children who were torn from their mother's
skirts and sold, never to see their parents again. He went into deep
thought over how he would have hated to have been separated from his
mother and father to say nothing of leaving his brothers and sisters.
They were brought up to love each other and the thought of breaking the
family ties seemed to him very cruel.
When George was told that he was grown as formerly related, he saved his
money and when the great earth quake in Charleston occured he went down
there to see what it had done to the place. Before that time in 1882 he
remembered having seen the first block of ice. When he got there, the
Charleston people had been making ice for a few years. It was about that
time that George saw the first pair of bed springs.
George remained in Pennsylvania and other states farther north for a
long time after freedom. His first trip to Florida was made in 1893. He
came direct from Altoona, Pennsylvania, with a white man whose name he
has forgotten as he did not remain in the man's employ very long after
reaching the state.
Since that time he has farmed in and around different parts of Florida,
but now he resides at Tero Beach and Gifford, Florida. He makes regular
trips to Palatka, being as much at home there as in the cities on the
George says that he has never had a doctor attend him in his life,
neither while he was in Altoona, nor since he has been in Florida. He
claims to be able to identify any root or herb that grows in the woods
in the State of Florida having studied them constantly since his arrival
here. Before coming to this state he knew all the roots and herbs around
Altoona and it still acquainted with them as he makes regular visits
there, since he moved away 43 years ago. (1)
George Pretty is a dark complexioned man; about five feet three inches
in heighth; weighs about 135 pounds and looks to be much younger than he
is. When asked how he had maintained his youth, he said that living
close to nature had done it together with his manner of living. He does
not dissipate, neither does he drink strong drink. He is a ready
informant. Having heard that only information of slavery was wanted, he
volunteered information without any formality or urging on the part of
the writer. (1) (2)
1. George Pretty, Vero Beach and Gifford, Florida
2. Observation of Field Worker
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers Unit)
Viola B. Muse, Field Worker
January 11, 1937
AN EX-SLAVE WHO WENT TO AFRICA
Anna Scott, an ex-slave who now lives in Jacksonville near the
intersection of Moncrief and Edgewood Avenues, was a member of one of
the first colonization groups that went to the West coast of Africa
following the emancipation of the slaves in this country.
The former slave was born at Dove City, South Carolina, on Jan. 28,
1846, of a half-breed Cherokee-and-Negro mother and Anglo-Saxon father.
Her father owned the plantation adjoining that of her master.
When she reached the adolescent age Anna was placed under the direct
care of her mistress, by whom she was given direct charge of the
dining-room and entrusted with the keys to the provisions and supplies
of the household.
A kindred love grew between the slave girl and her mistress; she recalls
that everywhere her mistress went she was taken also. She was kept in
'the big house'. She was not given any education, though, as some of the
slaves on nearby plantations were.
Religion was not denied to the former slave and her fellows. Mrs.
Abigail Dever[TR:?], her owner, permitted the slaves to attend revival
and other services. The slaves were allowed to occupy the balcony of
the church in Dove City, while the whites occupied the main floor. The
slaves were forbidden to sing, talk, or make any other sound, however,
under penalty of severe beatings.
Those of the slaves who 'felt the sperrit' during a service must keep
silence until after the service, when they could 'tell it to the
deacon', a colored man who would listen to the confessions or
professions of religion of the slaves until late into the night. The
Negro deacon would relay his converts to the white minister of the
church, who would meet them in the vestry room at some specified time.
Some of the questions that would be asked at these meetings in the
vestry room would be:
"What did you come up here for?"
"Because I got religion".
"How do you know you got religion?"
"Because I know my sins are forgive".
"How do you know your sins are forgiven?"
"Because I love Jesus and I love everybody".
"Do you want to be baptized?"
"Why do you want to be baptized?"
"Cause it will make me like Jesus wants me to be".
When several persons were 'ready', there would be a baptism in a nearby
creek or river. After this, slaves would be permitted to hold occasional
servives of their own in the log house that was sometimes used as a
Mrs. Scott remembers vividly the joy that she felt and other slaves
expressed when first news of their emancipation was brought to them.
Both she and her mistress were fearful, she says; her mistress because
she did not know what she would do without her slaves, and Anna because
she thought the Union soldiers would harm Mrs. Dove. When the chief
officer of the soldiers came to the home of her mistress, she says, he
demanded entrance in a gruff voice. Then he saw a ring upon Mrs. Dove's
finger and asked: "Where did you get this?" When told that the ring
belonged to her husband, who was dead, the officer turned to his
soldiers and told them that they should "get back; she's alright!"
Provisions intended for the Confederate armies were broken open by the
Union soldiers and their followers, and Anna's mother, to protect her
master, organized groups of slaves to 'tote the meat from the box cars
and hide it in dugouts under the mistress' house'. This meat was later
divided between Negroes and whites.
A Provost Judge followed the advance of the army, and he obtained a list
of all of the slaves held by each master. Mrs. Dove gave her list to the
official, who called each slave by name and asked what that slave had
done on the plantation. He asked, also, whether any payment had been
made to them since the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed, and
when answered in the negative told them that 'You are free now and must
be paid for all of the work you have done since the Proclamation was
signed and that you will do in the future. Don't you work for anybody
The Provost Judge also told the slaves that they might leave if they
liked, and Anna was among those who left. She went to visit the husband
of her mother in Charleston. With her mother and five other children,
Anna crossed rivers on log rafts and rode on trains to Charleston.
Elias Mumford was Anna's step-father in Charleston, and after spending a
year there with him the entire family joined a colonizing expedition to
West Africa. There were 650 in the expedition, and it left in 1867.
Transportation was free.
The trip took several weeks, but finally the small ship landed at Grand
Bassa. Mumford did not like the place, however, and continued on to
Monrovia, Liberia. He did not like Monrovia, either, and tried several
other ports before being told that he would have to get off, anyway.
This was at Harper Cape, W. Africa.
Here he almost immediately began an industry that was to prove
lucrative. Oysters were 'large as saucers', according to Anna, and while
the family gathered these he would burn them and extract lime from them.
This he mixed with the native clay and made brick. In addition to his
brick-making Mumford cut trees for lumber, and with his own brick and
lumber would construct houses and structures. One such structure brought
Another manner in which Mumford added to his growing wealth was through
the cashing of checks for the Missionaries of the section. Ordinarily
they would have to send these back to the United States to be cashed,
and when he offered to cash them--at a discount--they eagerly utilized
the opportunity to save time; this was a convenience for them and more
wealth for Mumford.
Anna found other things besides happiness in her eight years in Africa.
There were death, sickness, and pestilences. She mentions among the
latter the African ants, some of which reached huge proportions. Most
dreaded were the Mission ants, which infested every house, building and
structure. Sometimes buildings had to be burned to get rid of them. The
bite of these ants was so serious that after sixty years Anna still
exhibits places on her feet where the ants left their indelible traces.
Another of the ant pests was the Driver ant, so large, powerful and
stubborn that even bodies of water did not stop them. They would join
themselves together above the surface of the water and serve as bridges
for the passage of the other ants. The Driver ants moved in swarms and
their approach could be seen at great distances. When they were seen to
be coming toward a settlement the natives would close their doors and
windows and build fires around their homes to avoid them. These fires
had to be kept burning for weeks.
Eight and more persons died a day from the African fever during the
early colonization attempts; three of these in Anna's family alone were
victims of it. It was generally believed that if a victim of the fever
became wet by dew he was sure to die.
After eight years Mumford and the remainder of his family returned to
America, where the accrued checks he possessed for cashing made him
reasonably wealthy. Anna married Robert Scott and moved to Jacksonville,
where she has lived since.
At ninety-one she still occupies the little farm on the outskirts of
Jacksonville that was purchased with the money left to her out of her
mother's inheritance (from the African transactions of Mumford) and
Robert's post-slavery savings, and in front of her picturesque little
cottage spins yarns for the neighbors of her early experiences.
Interview with subject, Mrs. Anna Scott, Edgewood and Moncrief Avenues
(Route 2, Box 911) Jacksonville, Fla.
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
J.M. Johnson, Field Worker
John A. Simms, Editor
August 28, 1936
In Chaseville, Florida, about twelve miles from Jacksonville on the
south side of the Saint Johns River lives William Sherman (locally
pronounced _Schumann_,) a former slave of Jack Davis, nephew of
President Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy. (1)
William Sherman was born on the plantation of Jack Davis, about five
miles from Robertsville, South Carolina, at a place called "Black
Swamp," June 12, 1842, twenty-three years prior to Emancipation. His
father who was also named William Sherman, was a free man, having bought
his freedom for eighteen hundred dollars from his master, John Jones,
who also lived in the vicinity of the Davis' plantation. William
Sherman, senior, bargained with his master to obtain his freedom,
however, for he did not have the money to readily pay him. He hired
himself out to some of the wealthy plantation owners and applied what he
earned toward the payment for his freedom. He was a skilled blacksmith
and cabinet maker and his services were always in demand. After
procuring his freedom he bought a tract of land from his former master
and built a home and blacksmith shop on it. As was the custom during
slavery, a person who bought his freedom had to have a guardian;
Sherman's former master, John Jones, acted as his guardian. Under this
new order of things Sherman was in reality his own master. He was not
"bossed," had his own hours, earned and kept his money, and was at
liberty to leave the territory if he desired. However, he remained and
married Anna Georgia, the mother of William Sherman, junior. She was
also a slave of Jack Davis. After William Sherman, senior, finished his
day's work he would go to the Davis plantation to visit his wife and
sometimes remain for the night. It was his intention to purchase the
freedom of his wife Anna Georgia, and their son William, but he died
before he had sufficient money to do so, and also before the Civil War,
which he predicted would ensue between the North and South. His son
William says that he remembers well the events that led up to his
father's burial; he states that the white people dug his grave which was
six feet deep. It took them three days in which to dig it on account of
the hardness of the clay; when it was finished he was put sorrowfully
away by the white folk who thought so much of him. William was a boy of
nine at that time, and he remembers that his mother was so grieved that
he tried to console her by telling her not to worry "papa's goin' to
com' back and bring us some more quails" (he had been accustomed to
bringing them quails during his life) but William sorrowingly said "he
never did come back."
Anna Georgia was a cook and general house woman in the Davis' home. She
was a half breed, her mother being a Cherokee Indian. Her husband,
William, was a descendant of the Cheehaw Indians, some of his a forbears
being full-blooded Cheehaws. Their Indian blood was fully evident,
states William junior. The Davis family tree as he knew it was as
follows: three brothers, Sam, Thomas and Jefferson Davis (President of
the Confederacy.) Sam was the eldest of the three and had four children,
viz: Jack, Robert, Richard and Washington. Thomas had four, viz: James,
Richard, Rusha and Minna. Jefferson Davis' family was not known to
William as he lived in Virginia, whereas, the other brothers and their
families lived near each other at "Black Swamp."
Jack Davis, the master of William Sherman, was the son of Sam Davis,
brother of Jefferson Davis. Thomas and Sam Davis were comparatively
large men, while Jefferson was thin and of medium height, resembling to
a great extent the late Henry Flagler of Florida East Coast fame, states
William. Many times he would come to visit his brothers at "Black
Swamp." He would drive up in a two-wheeled buggy, drawn by a horse.
Oft'times he visited his nephew, Jack and they would get together in a
lengthy conversation. Sometimes he would remain with the Davis family
for a few days and then return to Virginia. On these visits William
states that he saw him personally. These visits or sojourns occurred
prior to the Civil War. Jack Davis being a comparatively poor man had
only eight slaves on his plantation; they were housed in log cabins made
of cypress timber notched together in such a way as to give it the
appearance of having been built regular lumber. It was much larger and
of different architecture than the slave cabins, however.
The few slaves that he had arose at 4:00 o'clock in the morning and
prepared themselves for the field. They stopped at noon for a light
lunch which they always took with them and at sun-down they quit work
and went to their respective cabins. Cotton, corn, potatoes and other
commodities were raised. There was no regular "overseer" employed.
Davis, the master acted in that capacity. He was very kind to them and
seldom used the whip. After the outbreak of the Civil War, white men
called "patarollers" were posted around the various plantations to guard
against runaways, and if slaves were caught off their respective
plantations without permits from their masters they were severely
whipped. This was not the routine for Jack Davis' slaves for he gave
the "patarollers" specific orders that if any of them were caught off
the plantation without a permit not to molest them but to let them
proceed where they were bound. Will said that one of the slaves ran away
and when he was caught his master gave him a light whipping and told him
to "go on now and run away if you want to." He said the slave walked
away but never attempted to run away again. Will states that he was
somewhat of a "pet" around the plantation and did almost as he wanted
to. He would go hunting, fishing and swimming with his master's sons who
were about his age. Sometimes he would get into a fight with one of the
boys and many times he would be the victor, his fallen foe would
sometimes exclaim that "that licking that you gave me sure hurt," and
that ended the affair; there was no further ill feeling between them.
Education: The slaves were not allowed to study. The white children
studied a large "Blue Back" Webster Speller and when one had thoroughly
learned its contents he was considered to be educated.
Religion: The slaves had their own church but sometimes went to the
churches of their white masters where they were relegated to the extreme
rear. John Kelley, a white man, often preached to them and would
admonish them as follows; "you must obey your master and missus, you
must be good niggers." After the beginning of the war they held
"meetings" among themselves in their cabins.
Baptism: Those slaves who believed and accepted the Christian Doctrine
were admitted into the church after being baptized in one of the
Cruelties: There was a very wealthy plantation owner who lived near the
Davis plantation; he had eleven plantations, the smallest one was
cultivated by three hundred slaves. Oftimes they would work nearly all
night. Will states that it was not an unusual thing to hear in the early
mornings the echoes of rawhide whips cracking like the report of a gun
against the bare backs of the slaves who were being whipped. They would
moan and groan in agony, but the whipping went on until the master's
wrath was appeased. John Stokes, a white plantation owner who lived near
the Davis' plantation encouraged slaves to steal from their masters and
bring the stolen goods to him; he would purchase the goods for much less
than their value. One time one of the slaves "put it out" that "Massa"
Stokes was buying stolen goods. Stokes heard of this and his wrath was
aroused; he had to find the "nigger" who was circulating this rumor. He
went after him in great fury and finally succeeded in locating him,
whereupon, he gave him a good "lacing" and warned him "if he ever heard
anything like that again from him he was going to kill him." The
accusations were true, however, but the slave desisted in further
discussion of the affair for "old Massa Stokes was a treacherous man."
On another occasion one of the Stokes' slaves ran away and he sent
Steven Kittles, known as the "dog man," to catch the escape. (The dogs
that went in pursuit of the runaway slaves were called "Nigger dogs";
they were used specifically for catching runaway slaves.) This
particular slave had quite a "head start" on the dogs that were trailing
him and he hid among some floating logs in a large pond; the dogs
trailed him to the pond and began howling, indicating that they were
approaching their prey. They entered the pond to get their victim who
was securely hidden from sight; they dissapeared and the next seen of
them was their dead bodies floating upon the water of the pond; they had
been killed by the escape. They were full-blooded hounds, such as were
used in hunting escaped slaves and were about fifty in number. The slave
made his escape and was never seen again. Will relates that it was very
cold and that he does'nt understand how the slave could stand the icy
waters of the pond, but evidently he did survive it.
Civil War: It was rumored that Abraham Lincoln said to Jefferson Davis,
"work the slaves until they are about twenty-five or thirty years of
age, then liberate them." Davis replied: "I'll never do it, before I
will, I'll wade knee deep in blood." The result was that in 1861, the
Civil War, that struggle which was to mark the final emancipation of the
slaves began. Jefferson Davis' brothers, Sam and Tom, joined the
Confederate forces, together with their sons who were old enough to go,
except James, Tom's son, who could not go on account of ill health and
was left behind as overseer on Jack Davis' plantation. Jack Davis joined
the artillery regiment of Captain Razors Company. The war progressed,
Sherman was on his famous march. The "Yankees" had made such sweeping
advances until they were in Robertsville, South Carolina, about five
miles from Black Swamp. The report of gun fire and cannon could be heard
from the plantation. "Truly the Yanks are here" everybody thought. The
only happy folk were, the slaves, the whites were in distress. Jack
Davis returned from the field of battle to his plantation. He was on a
short furlough. His wife, "Missus" Davis asked him excitedly, if he
thought the "Yankees" were going to win. He replied: "No if I did I'd
kill every _damned nigger_ on the place." Will who was then a lad of
nineteen was standing nearby and on hearing his master's remarks, said:
"The Yankees aint gonna kill me cause um goin to Laurel Bay" (a swamp
located on the plantation.) Will says that what he really meant was that
his master was not going to kill him because he intended to run off and
go to the "Yankees." That afternoon Jack Davis returned to the "front"
and that night Will told his mother, Anna Georgia, that he was going to
Robertsville and join the "Yankees." He and his cousin who lived on the
Davis' plantation slipped off and wended their way to all of the
surrounding plantations spreading the news that the "Yankees" were in
Robertsville and exhorting them to follow and join them. Soon the two
had a following of about five hundred slaves who abandoned their
masters' plantations "to meet the Yankees." En masse they marched
breaking down fences that obstructed their passage, carefully avoiding
"Confederate pickets" who were stationed throughout the countryside.
After marching about five miles they reached a bridge that spanned the
Savannah River, a point that the "Yankees" held. There was a Union
soldier standing guard and before he realized it, this group of five
hundred slaves were upon him. Becoming cognizant that someone was upon
him, he wheeled around in the darkness, with gun leveled at the
approaching slaves and cried "Halt!" Will's cousin then spoke up, "Doan
shoot boss we's jes friends." After recognizing who they were, they were
admitted into the camp that was established around the bridge. There
were about seven thousand of General Sherman's soldiers camped there,
having crossed the Savannah River on a pontoon bridge that they had
constructed while enroute from Green Springs Georgia, which they had
taken. The guard who had let these people approach so near to him
without realizing their approach was court martialed that night for
being dilatory in his duties. The Federal officers told the slaves that
they could go along with them or go to Savannah, a place that they had
already captured. Will decided that it was best for him to go to
Savannah. He left, but the majority of the slaves remained with the
troops. They were enroute to Barnswell, South Carolina, to seize Blis
Creek Fort that was held by the Confederates. As the Federal troops
marched ahead, they were followed by the volunteer slaves. Most of these
unfortunate slaves were slain by "bush whackers" (Confederate snipers
who fired upon them from ambush.) After being killed they were
decapitated and their heads placed upon posts that lined the fields so
that they could be seen by other slaves to warn them of what would
befall them if they attempted to escape. The battle at Blis Creek Fort
was one in which both armies displayed great heroism; most of the
Federal troops that made the first attack, were killed as the
Confederates seemed to be irresistible. After rushing up reinforcements,
the Federals were successful in capturing it and a large number of
General Sherman's custom was to march ahead of his army and cut rights
of way for them to pass. At this point of the war, many of the slaves
were escaping from their plantations and joining the "Yankees." All of
those slaves at Black Swamp who did not voluntarily run away and go to
the "Yankees" were now free by right of conquest of the Federals.
Will now found himself in Savannah, Georgia, after refusing to go to
Barnswell, South Carolina, with the Federals. This refusal saved him
from the fate of his unfortunate brothers who went. Savannah was filled
with smoke, the aftermath of a great battle. Lying in the "Broad River"
between Beaufort, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia were two Union
gun boats, the _Wabash_ and _Man O War_, which had taken part in the
battle that resulted in the capture of Savannah. Everything was now
peaceful again; Savannah was now a Union city. Many of the slaves were
joining the Union army. Those slaves who joined were trained about two
days and then sent to the front; due to lack of training they were soon
killed. The weather was cold, it was February, 1862, frost was on the
ground. Will soon left Savannah for Beaufort, South Carolina which had
fallen before the "Yankee" attack. Soldiers and slaves filled the
streets. The slaves were given all of the food and clothes that they
could carry--confiscated goods from the "Rebels." After a bloody
struggle in which both sides lost heavily and which lasted for about
five years, the war finally ended May 15, 1865. Will was then a young
man twenty-three years of age and was still in Beaufort. He says that
day was a gala day. Everybody celebrated (except the Southerners). The
slaves were _free_.
Thousands of Federal soldiers were in evidence. The Union army was
victorious and "Sherman's March" was a success. Sherman states that when
Jefferson Davis was captured he was disguised in women's clothes.
Sherman states that Florida had the reputation of having very cruel
masters. He says that when slaves got very unruly, they were told that
they were going to be sent to Florida so they could be handled. During
the war thousands of slaves fled from Virginia into Connecticut and New
Hampshire. In 1867 William Sherman left Beaufort and went to Mayport,
Florida to live. He remained there until 1890, then moved to Arona,
Florida, living there for awhile; he finally settled in Chaseville,
Florida, where he now lives. During his many years of life he has been
married twice and has been the father of sixteen children, all of whom
are dead. He never received any formal education, but learned to read
and studied taxidermy which he practiced for many years.
He was at one time Inspector of Elections at Mayport during
Reconstruction Days. He recalled an incident that occurred during the
performance of his duties there, which was as follows: Mr. John Doggett
who was running for office on the Democratic ticket brought a number of
colored people to Mayport by boat from Chaseville to vote. Mr. Doggett
demanded that they should vote, but Will Sherman was equally insistent
that they should not vote because they had not registered and were not
qualified. After much arguing Mr. Doggett saw that Sherman could not be
made "to see the light" and left with his prospective voters. William
Sherman once served upon a United States Federal jury during his
In appearance he could easily be regarded as a phenomenon. He is
ninety-four years of age, though he appears to be only about fifty-five.
His hair is black and not grey as would be expected; his face is round
and unlined; he has dark piercing but kindly eyes. He is of medium
stature. He has an exceptionally alert mind and recalls past events with
the ease of a youth. The Indian blood that flows in his veins is plainly
visible in his features, the color of his skin and the texture of his
He gives as his reason for his lengthy life the Indian blood that is in
him and says that he expects to live for nintey-four more years. Today
he lives alone. He raises a few vegetables and is content in the
memories of his past life which has been full. (2)
1. Most of his friends call him SHERMAN, hence he adopted that name.
2. A personal interview with William Sherman, former slave, at home in
Colored quarters, Chaseville, Florida
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Martin D. Richardson, Field Worker
January 27, 1937
A VOLUNTARY SLAVE FOR SEVEN YEARS
The story of a free Negro of Connecticut, who came south to observe
conditions of slavery, found them very distasteful, then voluntarily
entered that slavery for seven years is the interesting tale that Samuel
Smalls, 84 year old ex-slave of 1704 Johnson Street, Jacksonville, tells
of his father Cato Smith.
Smith had been born in Connecticut, son of domestic slaves who were
freed while he was still a child. He grew to young manhood in the
northern state, making a living for himself as a carpenter and builder.
At these trades he is said to have been very efficient.
Still unmarried at the age of about 30, he found in himself a desire to
travel and see how other Negroes in the country lived. This he did,
going from one town to another, working for periods of varying length in
the cities in which he lived, eventually drifting to Florida.
His travels eventually brought him to Suwannee County, where he worked
for a time as overseer on a plantation. On a nearby plantation where he
sometimes visited, he met a young woman for whom he grew to have a great
affection. This plantation is said to have belonged to a family of
Cones, and according to Smalls, still exists as a large farm.
Smith wanted to marry the young woman, but a difficulty developed; he
was free and she was still a slave. He sought her owner. Smith was told
that he might have the woman, but he would have to "work out" her cost.
He was informed that this would amount to seven years of work on the
plantation, naturally without pay.
Within a few days he was back with his belongings, to begin "working
out" the cost of his wife. But his work found favor in his voluntary
master's eyes; within four years he was being paid a small sum for the
work he did, and by the time the seven years was finished, Smith had
enough money to immediately purchase a small farm of his own.
Adversity set in, however, and eventually his children found themselves
back in slavery, and Smith himself practically again enslaved. It was
during this period that Smalls was born.
All of the Florida slaves were soon emancipated, however and the
voluntary slave again became a free man. He lived in the Suwannee County
vicinity for a number of years afterward, raising a large family.
Personal interview with Samuel Smalls, ex-slave, 1704 Johnson Street,
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
The American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Cora N. Taylor
Frances H. Miner, Editor
May 14, 1937
Salena Taswell, 364 NW 8th St., Miami, Fla.
1. Where, and about when, were you born?
In Perry, Ga. in 1844.
2. If you were born on a plantation or farm, what sort of farming
section was it in?
Ole Dr. Jameson's plantation near Perry, Ga. north of Macon.
3. How did you pass the time as a child? What sort of chores did you do
and what did you play?
I worked around the table in my Massy's dining room. I didn't play. I
sometimes pulled threads for mother. She was a fine seamstress for the
4. Was your master kind to you?
Yes; I was the pet.
5. How many slaves were there on the same plantation or farm?
He must have had about 400 slaves.
6. Do you remember what kind of cooking utensils your mother used?
We had copper kettles, crocks, and iron kettles. "I waited on de table
when Lincum came dare. That day we had chicken hash and batter cakes and
7. What were your main foods and how were they cooked?
We had everything that was good (I ate in my Massy's kitchen) Sweet
potatoes biscuits, corn bread, pies and everything we eat now.
8. Do you remember making imitation or substitute coffee by grinding up
corn or peanuts?
No, we always had the best of Java coffee. I used to grind it in the
coffee mill for my Massy.
9. Do you remember ever having, when you were young, any other kind of
bread besides corn bread?
Yes. Batter cakes, biscuits and white bread.
10. Do you remember evaporating sea water to get salt?
No. We did not live so far from Macon and the Ole Doctor he was rich and
bought such things. That is how he come to be so rich. He didn't charge
the poor folks when he doctored them, but they would be so glad that he
made them well that they kep' a givin' him things, bed quilts, chickens,
just ever' thing. Then he had such a big plantation about 200 or 300
acres, but I didn't live on the plantation. I worked in his home.
11. When you were a child, what sort of stove do you remember your
mother having. Did they have a hanging pot in the fire place, and did
they make their candles of their own tallow?
My mother did not cook,--she was a special seamstress servant. They had
fireplaces on the plantation and they always used tallow candles at the
doctor's place until after the 'mancipation, then the doctor was one of
the first ones to buy coal oil lamps.
12. Did you use an open well or pump to get the water?
No, we went to the spring to get the water. We toted it in cedar
buckets. The spring was boxed into a well shaped hole, deep enough to
dip the water out of it. It was the best water. They had a town pump at
13. Do you remember when you first saw ice in regular form?
Yes. They had icicles in Georgia.
14. Did your family work in the rice fields or in the cotton fields on
the farm, or what sort of work did they do?
My father was a blacksmith. He did all kinds of blacksmithing. He even
15. If they worked in the house or about the place, what sort of work
did they do?
My mother was one of the best seamstresses; she sewed all day long with
her fingers. She made the finest silk dresses and even made tailored
16. Do you remember ever helping tan and cure hides and pig hides?
They did those things on the plantation. They cured goat skins and sheep
skins, too. The sheep skins would dry so slowly that they would let the
slaves lie on them at night to keep them warm and hasten the drying.
17. As a young person what sort of work did you do? If you helped your
mother around the house or cut firewood or swept the yard, say so.
I cleaned and dusted and waited on the table, made beds and put
everything in order, washed dishes, polished silverware and did the most
18. When you were a child do you remember how people wove cloth, or spun
thread, or picked out cotton seed, or weighed cotton, or what sort of
bag was used on the cotton bales?
I did not need to spin but I used to play with the spinning wheels. They
ginned the cotton on the plantation. They used a horse to pull the gin.
They weighed the cotton with a beam and weight. A good slave picked 200
lbs of cotton in a day. Nancy could pick 300 or 400 lbs in a day. She'd
go out early in the day and run in ahead of the sun and no one would
know she had been out. That's how she would get ahead of the rest.
19. Do you remember what sort of soap they used? How did they get the
lye for making the soap?
They made soft soap boiled in a big kettle. They made the lye out of
ashes packed in an old barrel that had a hole in the bottom. They would
make a hollow in the top of the barrel and pour rain water in it. This
would gradually soak through the ashes and seep out of the bottom of the
barrel which they tipped up so that it would drain the lye out into a
vessel. Then they would take the lye and boil it in the kettle with old
grease and meat rinds. The lye was very strong. They had to be careful
not to get any of it on their hands or it would take the skin off. As
they would stir the grease and lye it would foam and cook like a jelly
and when it cooled we had soft soap. It would sure chase the dirt, but
it was hard on the hands.
20. What did they use for dyeing thread and cloth, and how did they dye
They would dig indigo roots and cook the roots and branches for blue
dye. For purple they mixed red and blue. They would pick the berries off
the gallberry bushes for red. The robin's yellow and mixed yellow and
red for orange; and yellow and blue for green.
21. Did your mother use big, wooden washtubs with cut-out holes on each
side for the fingers?
Yes. We made cedar tubs on the plantation. And we had some men who made
large wooden bowls out of juggles cut from logs of the tupla tree. They
would run them through a machine and they would come out round and then
they would smooth them down. They mixed bread in those big bowls.
22. Do you remember the way they made shoes by hand in the country?
Yes, all our shoes were made on the plantation.
23. Do you remember saving the chicken feathers and goose feathers
always for your featherbeds?
24. Do you remember when women wore hoops in their skirts, and when they
stopped wearing them and wore narrow skirts?
Yes. The doctor's folks were so stylish that they would not let the
servants wear hoops, but we could get the old ones that they threw away
and have a big time playing with them and we would go around with them
on when they were gone and couldn't see us.
25. Do you remember when you first saw your first windmill?
Never did see one.
26. Do you remember when you first saw bed springs instead of bed ropes?
Yes. When I was a slave, I slept in a gunny sack bunk with the sacks
nailed against the wall on two sides, in a corner of the room and then
there was a post at the corner of the bed and two poles nailed from the
post to the walls and the gunny sacks were nailed to those poles. My bed
was a two-story bed. There was another gunnysack bed above me with poles
fastened to the same post. We tore old rags and made rag rugs for quilts
to cover us with. I worked in the doctor's house in the daytime but I
had to sleep in the shed at night. Then after I wasn't a slave no more,
I never slept on anything else but a rope bed. When springs come I
wondered what anyone wanted wid 'em. Rope beds was good enough.
27. When did you see the first buggy and what did it look like?
The doctor, he had the best of such things. He had a regular buggy and
sometimes he driv two horses in hit. Uncle Albert, he wuz his driver.
When the doctor wanted to put on great style, and go to the station to
meet some rich company he had one of the fancy cabs with the driver
sittin' up high in front, but when he went to see his patients, he'd
take his feet to go around. He had two saddle packs with a strap that he
would throw over his shoulder. He would have one pack hanging in front
and the other hanging behind.
28. Do you remember your grandparents?
No, my mother's mother was taken from her and sold when she was a baby.
So I never seed my grandmother and I don't know any more about my
grandfather than a _goose about a band box_.
29. Do you remember the money called "shin-plasters?"
I've seen plenty. I guess my master had barrels of them.
30. What interesting historical events happened during your youth,--such
as Sherman's Army passing through your section? Did you witness the
happenings and what was the reaction of the other Negroes to them?
Sherman's army went through Perry but they did not do any damage there.
They expected them to come and buried lots of food and valuable things,
and when they came they took them to the smoke houses and told them to
help themselves. They did not burn any houses there.
31. Did you know any Negros who enlisted or joined the northern army?
Yes, plenty went with their boss, but ran off to Sherman's army when he
came along. One woman's husband I knowed, Mr. Bethel, he stayed with his
master and didn't run off with the Northern army. When he was given his
freedom, his master give him nice house.
32. Did you know any Negroes who enlisted in the Southern Army?
About all I knew.
33. Did your master join the Confederacy? What do you remember of his
return from the war? Or was he wounded or killed?
His two sons joined the army. James was killed, but Bud, he would never
get through telling war stories when he came back.
34. Did you live in Savannah when Sherman and the Northern forces marked
through the state, and do you remember the excitement in your town or
around the plantation where you lived?
35. Did your master's house get robbed or burned during the time of
36. What kind of uniforms did they wear during the civil war?
Blue and gray.
37. What sort of medicine was used in the days just after the war?
Describe a Negro doctor of that period.
We never got sick. Sometimes they would give us oil with a drop or two
of turpentine in a big spoonful. They put turpentine on cuts and sores.
38. What do you remember about Northern people or outside people moving
into a community after the war?
Yes, Jake Enos, he was a colored teacher. He was sent down to teach the
colored school. He taught around from Atlanta to Florida. He took yellow
fever and died My brother, he teached school, but I never went to
school. I larned my ABC's from my massy's children. I aint _never_
forgot 'em. I could say 'em now.
39. How did your family's life compare after Emancipation with it
I had it the same. I had it good with my massy, but the rest wuz paid
some little wages. Our plantation was called a free place. Some of the
slaves worked so well and made money for the massy and gained their
freedom even befo' 'mancipashun. I heard one come to him and say I howe
dat man $10 an' he retched down in his pocket an' paid hit.
40. Do you know anything about political meetings and clubs formed after
I heered about de Kuklux but I never did see none.
41. Do you know anything regarding the letters and stories from Negroes
who migrated north after the war?
I hear talk 'bout some massys goin' arter dem an' bringin' back mor'n
dey had in de fust place.
42. Were there any Negroes of your acquaintance who were skilled in any
particular line of work, if so give details?
The Turners made furniture wid knobs an' bumps on just like that stand
and bed. They made fancy chairs an' put cowhide seats stretch-across
43. What sort of school system was there for the instruction of the
Negro? Were there any Negro teachers in your community?
Yes. My son, he went to Negro school three months a year. The son said
that he studied Webster's Speller, Harvey's Reader, learned his ABC's
and studied some in history, geography and arithmetic.
44. How old were you at the close of the civil war?
45. Describe the type of early religious meeting, the preachers, etc.
I went to town to my massy's church. I sat 'long side on 'em and held
the baby. My father, he held meetings on the plantation and prayer
meetings just like they have now.
46. Do your friends believe in charms and conjure bags, and what has
been their experience with magic and spells?
I guess some claim dey believe in sech things, but I don't know whether
they do or not.
47. Did you ever use an ox to plow with? What sort of plow?
Yes, I see 'em plow wid hoxen. Dey used the kind of plows they made on
the plantation. I didn't plow, but I used to have fun a goin' roun' in
the old ox two-wheel wagon cart. I'd go down de hill in it; we'd get in
the dump cart and holler an' have a big time.
48. How much did various foods and drinks and commodities cost just at
the end of the war and afterwards?
I don't know what things cost.
[HW: Negro-Tampa-Slave Interviews]
July 9, 1937
STORIES OF FLORIDA
Prepared for Use in Public Schools
Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration
A MARINE IN EBONY
By Jules A. Frost
From a Virginia plantation to Florida, through perils of Indian
war-fare; shanghaied on a Government vessel and carried 'round the
world; shipwrecked and dropped into the lap of romance--these are only a
few of the colorful pages from the unwritten diary of old Uncle Dave,
ex-slave and soldier of fortune.
The reporter found the old man sitting on the porch of his Iber City
shack, thoughtfully chewing tobacco and fingering his home-made cane. At
first he answered in grumpy monosyllables, but by the magic of a good
cigar, he gradually let himself go, disclosing minute details of a most
remarkable series of adventures.
His language is a queer mixture of geechy, sea terms and broad "a's"
acquired by long association with Nassau "conchs." Married to one of
these ample-waisted Bahama women, the erst-while rambler and adventurer
proved that rolling stones sometimes become suitable foundations for
homes--he lived faithfully with the same wife for fifty-one years.
"Shippin' 'fore de mahst ain't no job to make a preacher f'm a
youngster; hit's plenty tough; but I ain't nevah been sorry I went to
sea; effen a boy gwine take to likker an' wimmen, he kin git plenty
o'both at home, same as in for'n ports."
The old man bit off a conservative chew from his small plug, carefully
wrapped the remainder in his handkerchief and chewed thoughtfully for
some time before he continued.
"I wasn't bawn in Florida, but I be'n here so long I reckon hit 'bout de
same thing. I kin jes remember leavin' Norfolk. My daddy an' mammy an'
de odder chillun b'long to a Frenchman named Pinckney. Musta be'n 'bout
1860 or 1861, w'en Mahstah 'gins to worry 'bout what gwine happen effen
war come an' de Vahginny slave-owners git beat."
He proceeded slowly, and in language almost unintelligible at times, as
he talked, smoked and chewed, all at the same time; but here, the
reporter realized, were all the elements of a true story that needed
only notebook and typewriter to transform it into readable form.
Antagonism aroused by the Dred Scott decision, and the further
irritation caused by the Fugitive Slave law were kicking up plenty of
trouble during Buchanan's administration. South Carolina had already
seceded. Major Anderson was keeping the Union flag flying at Fort
Sumter, but latest reports said that there was no immediate danger of
hostilities when Pierre Pinckney, thrifty Virginia planter of French
extraction, went into conference with his neighbors and decided to move
while the getting-out was still good.
With as little publicity as possible, they arranged the disposal of
their real estate. No need to sell their slaves and livestock; they
would need both in the new location. If they could manage to get to
Charleston, they reasoned, surely they could arrange for a boat to St.
Augustine. The Indians might be troublesome there, but by settling near
the fort they should be reasonably safe.
Before the caravan of oxcarts and heavy wagons came within sight of the
old seaport town, it became evident that they had better keep to the
woods. Union soldiers, although still inactive, might at any time decide
to confiscate their belongings, so they pushed on to the southward.
Long weeks dragged by before they finally reached St. Augustine. War
talk, and the possibility of attack by sea again caused them to change
their plans. Pooling their money, they chartered a boat and embarked for
Key West. Surely they would be safe that far south. One of their
Virginia neighbors, Fielding A. Browne, had settled there thirty years
before. Taking advantage of the periodic sales of salvaged goods from
wrecks on the treacherous keys, he had become wealthy and was said to
hold a responsible position with the city.
Everyone was in a cheerful mood as the blue outline of Key West peeped
over the horizon, and all come on deck to catch a glimpse of their new
home. Suddenly dismay clutched at every heart as a Federal man-of-war
swung out of the harbor and steamed out to meet them. The long-feared
crisis had come. They ware prisoners of war.
Pinckney and his neighbors were marched into Fort Taylor. Their wives,
children and slaves were allowed to settle in the city and care for
themselves as best they could.
Pinckney's slaves consisted of one family, David Taylor and wife, with
their family of ten pickaninnies. Colonel Montgomery, Federal recruiting
officer, took advantage of the helplessness of the slave owners to sow
discord among the blacks, and before many days big Dave, father of the
subject of this sketch, had "jined de Yankees" as color sergeant and had
been sent north, where he was killed in the attack on Fort Sumter.
His determined and energetic 260-pound wife served Mrs. Pinckney
faithfully through the war and long afterward. Young Dave, or "Buddy,"
son of big Dave, although only in his early teens, was her chief aid.
When the war was over and Mr. Pinckney walked out of Fort Taylor a free
man, the portly Hannah "pooh-poohed" the announcement that she was a
free citizen. "Y'all done brung me heah," she blustered with emphasis,
"an' heah I'se gwine t' stay."
Some years after the war Pierre Pinckney died. When his good wife became
ill, frantic dismay pervaded the servants' quarters. As her last moments
drew near, Mrs. Pinckney called the weeping Hannah to her bedside and
laid a bag of money in her hand.
"To get you and the children back to old Virginia," she whispered with
her last breath.
When the beloved "Missus" was laid to rest by the side of her husband in
the Catholic cemetery, the bewildered Hannah took the money to a white
man, an old friend of the family, and asked him to buy the tickets back
to Virginia. He advised against it; said that the old home would not be
there to comfort them. Houses had been burned, trees cut down and old
landmarks destroyed. He suggested that they take the hundred dollars in
gold and buy a little home in Key West, which they did.
Reconstruction days were as trying to Key Westers as to others all over
the devastated land of Dixie. Slave owners, stripped of their
possessions, taxed with an immense war debt and with no money or
equipment to begin the slow climb back to normalcy were pathetic figures
as they blistered their hands at toil that they had never known before.
Many of the slaves were more than willing to stay with their former
masters, but with no income, the problem of feeding themselves was the
main issue with the whites, so it was out of the question to try to fill
other mouths, and ex-slaves often had to shift for themselves, a
hopeless task for a race that had never been called upon to exert
Hannah Taylor and her numerous offspring were a fair example of these
irresponsible people. Like a ship adrift without skipper or rudder, they
were at the mercy of every adverse wind of misfortune. Each morning they
went out with frantic energy to earn or in some way procure sustenance
for one more day. Young Dave hounded the sponge fishermen until they
gave him an extra job. He made the rounds of the fishing docks,
continually on the lookout to be of help, anxious to do anything at any
time in exchange for a few articles of food that he could carry proudly
home to his mother.
"Dem was mighty tryin' times," mused the old man, "an' I don't blame my
mammy fer warmin' my pants when she had so much to worry 'bout. She had
a way o' grabbin' me by de years an' shovin' my haid twixt her knees
whilst she wuk on me sumpin' awful. No wonder I was scairt o' dese
frammin's. I reckon dat was de cause o' me goin' t' sea. Ah mas' tell
you 'bout dat.
"One day my mammy gimme fifteen cents an' say 'Go down to de market and
fetch me some fish. Ah' lissen--don't you let no grass grew unda yo'
feet. Go on de run an' come back on de jump. Does you fall down, jes'
keep on a-goin' some-how.'
"Wid dat she turn an' spit on de step. 'You see dat spit,' she say. 'Ef
hit be dry w'en you git back, I gonna beat de meat offen yo' bones. Git
"Well, I stahted, an I she' wasn't losin' no time. 'Bout hahf way to de
mahket, I meets a couple o' stewards f'm a U.S. navy cutter anchored off
de navy yard.
"Hol' on, dar, boy,' 'dey sing out, 'wha you gwine so fas'? Grab dis
here basket an' tote hit down to de dock.'
"I knowed I couldn't git back home 'fore dat spit dried, an' I be'n
figgerin' how I could peacify my mammy so's to miss dat beatin'. I
figger of I mek a quarter or hahf a dollar an' gin it to 'er, she mebbe
forgit de paddlin'. So I take de bahsket an' foller 'em down to de water
front. W'en we git dere dey was a sailor waitin' fer 'em wid a boat f'm
de cutter. I set de bahsket in de boat an' stood waitin' fo' my money.
"You ain't finished yo' job yit,' dey say. 'Git yo'se'f in dat boat an'
put dat stuff on be'd.'
"W'en I gits on deck a cullud boy 'bout my size say 'Wanna look about a
bit?' So I foller him below an' fo' I knowed it, I feel de boat kinda
shakin.' I run to a porthole an' look out. Dere was Key West too far
away to swim back to.
"I ran up on deck, an' dare was de steward w'at gin me de bahsket to
tote. 'W'at th'ell you doin' on bo'd dis ship,' he ahsk me.
"I tells 'im I ain't wantin' t' stay no mo'n he wants me, an' he takes
me to de cap'm. 'I reckon he b'long to do navy now,' says de cap'm, 'so
dey fix some papers an' I makes my mark on 'em.
"Ahftah a bit I find we bound fo' N'Orleans. 'Fore we got dere, a ship
hove 'longside an' gin us a message to put about. I ahsk a li'l
Irishman, named Jack, wha we gwine, an' he say, 'Outa de worl'.'
"Jesus wep't I say, 'my mammy think I be daid.' I couldn't read nor
write, an' didn't know how to tell noboddy how to back a letter to my
mammy, so I jes' let hit go, an' we staht back de way we come.
"I thought hit be'n stormin' all de time, but w'en we pahs thoo de
Florida straits I see w'at a real storm's like. I didn't know, ontell
we was hahf way down de South American coast, headin fer Cape Horn, dat
we done pahs Key West, but I couldn't got off if I'd wanted to, 'cause
I'd done jined de navy.
"Hit seem lak months 'fore we roun' de Cape an' head back north on de
Pacific, an' hit seem lak a year 'fore we drop anchor in Hong Kong. Dey
tell me de admiral was stationed dere an' de cap'n had to report to him.
W'ile he was doin' dis, we gits shore leave.
"Wen Jack an' me gits on land, we couldn't onnerstan' a word, but we mek
signs, an' a tough-lookin' Chink motion fer us to foller him. We go down
a dark street an' turn thoo an alley, then into a big room lighted with
colored paper lanterns. On de flo' we see some folks sleepin' wit some
li'l footstools 'longside 'em, an some of 'em was smokin' long-stemmed
pipes. I figger mebbe dey goin' put us to sleep an' knock us in de haid.
I look back an' see de do' swingin' shut, slow like, so I run back an'
stick my foot in hit and shove hit back open.
"Jack an me run back de same way we come. Pretty soon we find anotha
sailor an' go wit him to a yaller man dat could speak English. He pin a
li'l yaller flag on our shirts an' say hit de badge o' de Chinese
gov'ment, an' we be safe, cause we b'long to de U.S. navy.
"We go out to see de sights, but nevah hear one mo' word o' English; so
ahftah a time we go back to de ship an' stay ontell we put to sea again.
"Nex' we sails fo' Panama. W'en we ties up dere, Jack an' me goes
ashore. Ah nevah befo' see such pretty high-yaller gals in all my life.
Looks lak dey made o' marble, dey so puffick.
"Me an' Jack gits likkered up de fust thing, an' I done lose 'im. Dat
worry me some, 'cause we need each otha. Wit' his haid an' my arms we
mek one pretty good man. Dat lil Irishman was a fightin' fool. Weighed
only 90 pounds, but strong an' wiry. Co'se he git licked mos' do time,
but he allus ready fer anotha fight.
"Didn't lak for folks to call him Irish. 'He fodder was Irish and he
mudder American,' he say; 'I be'n born aboard a Dutch brig in French
waters. Now you tell me what flag I b'longs undah.'
"Wen we gits back to de ship, de boys tells me some English sailors beat
Jack up in de sportin' house. Sumbuddy sing out 'Beat it--de marines
comin'!, an' dey all run for de ship an leff Jack dere.
"I don't ahsk no mo' questions; jes' start back on a run to find my
buddy. At dat time I weigh 180, an' was pretty husky fer my age. Bein'
likkered plenty, I nevah thought 'bout gittin' beat up mahse'f.
"W'en I gits back, dere was a big Limey stahndin' wid his arms crost de
do'. 'All dem in, stay in, an' all de outs stay out,' he say.
"Now I be'n trained to respec' white folks--what is white folks--ever
sence I bawn; but w'en I think 'bout Jack in dere, hahf dead, mebbe, dat
Limey don't look none too white to me. I take a runnin' staht an' but
'im in de belly wid my haid.
"De nex' do' was locked, an' I bus' hit down. Dere was Jack, 'bout hahf
done f'. Blood all over de fla'. Ev'thing in de room busted up an'
tipped over. I hauls 'im to a back do', but hit locked. I kick out a
winder, heaves 'im onto my shoulder, an' runs back to de ship.
"Wen we comes up, dere was de cap'm standin' at de rail. His blue eyes
look lak he love to kill us.
"'Fall in!' he says, an' we does. 'Go for'd,' he says, an' we goes.
"'Now' he says, wat's all dis about?'
"'Well,' says Jack, 'I didn't staht no fight. I jes' goes into a
saloon, peaceful like, an' a damn Limey says, pointin' to a British
flag on dere own ship, 'You see dat flag?'
"'Aye,' says Jack, 'an' still I don't see nuthin'.'
"'I be'n over de seven seas,' says de Limey, 'an' I see dat ol' flag
mistress of all of 'em.'
"'You be'n around some,' says Jack, 'but I done a li'l sailin' mahse'f.
Fust place I went was to France. Grass look lak hit need rain,' (So he
tells dat Limey what he done fo' hit).
"'Nex' I goes to Germany,' he says; 'ground no good; need fer'lizer.'
(So he tells 'im what he done on German soil).
"Atter dat I ships fo' England,' Jack tells de Limey, lookin' 'im
straight in de eye. 'Fust thing I see w'en we land is dat British flag
w'at you be'n braggin' so loud about.' (So he tells dat Limey w'at 'e
used de flag fer).
"'Fore God, Cap'm,' says Jack, 'dat Limey lan' on me wid bofe feet 'fore
I say anotha word. Nevah got in one lick. Fack is, Cap'm I ain't be'n
doin' _no fightin'_ sence I done lef' dis here ship."
"'Go below,' says de cap'm 'an' clean yo'se'f up. Dis de lahst time you
two gwine git shore leave on dis trip.' He try to look mad, but I see he
wantin' to lahf.
"De nex' day," Uncle Dave finished, with a whimsical smile, "I see de
bos'n readin' in de paper 'bout de war 'twixt America an' England. Hit
was 'bout our li'l war--what _dey_ stahted an' _we_ finished."
The dusky old veteran of many battles unwrapped the small piece of black
tobacco in the soiled handkerchief, decided on conservation, and slowly
wrapped it up again.
"Nex' comes orders from de admiral in Hong Kong to sail fer Rio
Janeiro. W'en we drop anchor, dere was some o' da meanes' lookin' wharf
rats I evah see. Killers, dey was, willin' to knock anybody off, any
time, fer a few cents. We lines up fer shore leave, but dey mek Jack an'
me stay on de ship. Our rucus in Panama done got us in bad wid de cap'm.
But Ah reckon hit was fer de bes'. One of our men come back wid a year
cut off an' a busted nose. 'Nother one neveh come back at all.
"One mornin' I see 'em runnin' up a long pennant an' all de sailors lahf
an dahnce about lak dey crazy. Hit was de signal 'omeward boun'. We
weigh anchor and head fer N'York.
"'Well, Taylor,' da officer say, when he pay me off 'you gwine ship wid
"'I gotta go home,' I tells 'im; 'got a job t' finish up in Key West.'
"So dey gin me my discharge an' a Gov'ment pahs on de Mallory liner
_Clyde_. W'en I gits to Key West, fust place I goes was to dat fish
mahket w'ere my mammy done sent me three year an' six months befo'. I
buy fifteen cents wuth o' fish an' go on home.
"W'en I git dere, dey was jes' settin' down to dinner. 'Wait,' Ah say,
'put on one mo' plate.'
"My mammy look at me lak she done see a ghost. Den she run an' 'gin
beatin' on me.
"'Hol' on,' Ah tells 'er, 'you ain't forgot dat beatin' yit? I done got
yo' fish,' an' I gin 'er de pahcel.
"'Mah boy, mah boy,' she say, 'Ah beatin' on yuh kase Ah so proud t' see
yuh. Heah Ah done wear black fer yuh, an' gin yuh up fer daid; an' bress
de Lawd, heah you is, lak come beck f'm de grave.'
"Ah retch down, in m' pocket an' pull a pahcel an' lay hit in her han';
three hunnert sebenty-eight dollahs, all de money I done made wid de
Gov'ment sence Ah left, an' I gin hit all to 'er. She lak t' had a fit;
an Ah she' was de head man o' dat fembly whilst Ah stayed.
"But de salt water stick to me--Ah couldn't stay ashore. So ahftah Ah
visit wid 'em a spell, Ah goes down to de docks an' sign t' ship on a
fo'-mahster tramp. Dat ol' tub tek me all ovah de worl'."
Pressed for details of some of his physical encounters on this second
voyage, Uncle Dave seemed in deep thought, and finally said:
"Well, Ah tell you 'bout de time I fout de bully of de ship. We was
still in Key West, waitin' fer wind. Dis ol' tramp ship, she got a crew
picked up f'm all ovah de worl'. Dere ain't no sich thing as a color
line dere. At mess time, white an' black all git in de same line. As dey
pahs by de table, each one take a knife an' cut off a piece o' meat.
"Dere was a big, high-yeller Haiti higgah, what thought he done own de
ship. 'Trouble wiz 'Merican niggahs,' he say, 'dey ain't got no sperrit.
I be offisaire een my own countree--I don't bow ze knee to nobody, white
"So when dey line up, dis here Haitian come crowdin' in ahead o' de fust
man in de line, an' he cut off de bes' lean meat 'fore we gits ours.
"What's dis,' Ah say to de man ahead o' me, 'huccome dat white man don't
bus' dat damn yeller swab wide open?'
"'Dat's Rousseau,' 'e says; 'Ain't nobuddy on dis ship big enough to put
'im on de tail end o' de line.'
"I size 'im up good w'ile we eats. He weigh 196, dey tells me, an'
nobuddy be'n lucky 'nuff to lay 'im out. 'Cordin' t' ship rules, dey
couldn't gang up on 'im. Cap'm mek ev'ybuddy fight single. Wan't no sich
thing ez quarrelin'. Effen two sailors gits in a rucus, day pipe 'em up
on de main deck."
"Do what?" the reporter asked.
"Pipe 'em up--de bos'n blow a whistle an' call 'em in t' fight it out,
w'ile de othas watch de fun. Den day gotta shake han's, an' hit done
"Well, Ah see dis here Haiti niggah be a li'l bigger'n me, but Ah figger
I gwine gin 'im a chajnce to staht sump'n de nex' time. So atter I takes
a couple o' drinks, I goes down early an' gits fust in de line. Sho'
'nuff, Rousseau comes up an' crowds in ahead o' me. Ah pushes him to one
side, an' gits ahead o' him. He raises his eyebrows, sorta
suprised-like, an' gits ahead o' me. I be fixin' to knock 'im clean ovah
de rail, but by dat time, de Cap'm had 'is eye on us.
"'Pee-e-e-e-p,' go de whistle; 'Tay-lor-r-r-r' de bos'n sing out.
"'Taylor," I ahnswer.
"'Come to de mahst.'
"I tells 'em how it was, how I fixin' to knock dat niggah so far into de
Gulf we be thoo eatin' 'fore he kin swim back.
"'Pipe 'im up, bos'n,' says de cap'm.
"Rousseau comes in, and de whole crew wid 'im, t' see de fight. 'Pull
off yer shirts,' says de cap'm, an' we done it. 'Wait,' says de bos'n;
'de deck jes' be'n swabbed down--why bloody hit up, Cap'm? How 'bout
lettin' 'em fight on shore?'
"Day was a flatform 'side a buildin' nex' to de water. Dey all line de
rail an' let us go ashore t' scrap hit out. Boy, dat _was_ some fight;
We fout ontell we was lak two game roosters--both tired out, but still
wantin' t' keep goin'. We jes' stan' dere, han's on each otha's
shoulders, lookin' into each otha's eyes, blood runnin' down to our
toes. Pretty soon he back off an' try to rush me. I side steps, an' gits
in a lucky lick below de heart. He draps to his knees, an' rolls ovah
on his back, wallin' his eyes lak he dyin'.
"Dey lay 'im on de deck an' souse 'im wid a bucket o' water, but he
sleeps right on. De res' go back to de mess line, all but me--I wan't
hongry. De nex' day I gits in line early, but dey wan't no Haiti niggah
t' muscle in ahead o' me. He kep' to his bunk mighty nigh a week."
Judging from the appearance of this feeble old man, one would hardly
think that he was once a rollicking scrapper, with ready fists like
rawhide mallets. Old Dave dutifully gives full credit to the law of
"M' daddy was six feet six, an' weighed 248 pounds," he said proudly.
"Nevah done a hahd day's wuk in 'is life."
When pressed for an explanation of this seeming phenomenon, the old man
"Does stock breeders wit a $10,000-stallion put 'im on de plow?... Dey
called my daddy de $10,000 niggah."
Uncle Dave sat, stroking his cane for a few minutes, then smiled
faintly. "My mammy was mighty nigh as big, an' nevah seen a sick day in
her life. Wit a staht lak dat, hit ain't no wonder I growed up all
backbone an' muscle."
While there have been many instances of atrocious cruelty to slaves,
Uncle Dave believes that other cases have been unduly magnified. He says
that he was never whipped by his master, but remembers numerous
chastisements at the hands of Miss Jessie, his young owner, daughter of
"De young missus used to beat me a right smaht," he recalled with an
amused smile. "I b'longed to her, y'see. She was a couple o' years
younger'n me. I mind I used to be hangin' 'round de kitchen, watchin 'em
cook cakes an' otha good things. W'en dey be done, I'd beg for one, an'
dey take 'em off in de otha room, so's I couldn't steal any.
"Soon as de young missus be gone, I go an' kick ovah her playhouse an'
upset her toys. When she come back, she be hoppin' mad, an staht beatin'
"'Jessie,' her ma'd say, 'you'll kill Buddy, beatin' him dat way.'
"'I don't care,' she say, 'I'll beat him to death, an' git me a bettah
"I'd roll on de flo' an' holler loud, an' preten' she hurt me pow'ful
bad. By'm by, when she git ovah her mad spell, she go off in da otha
room an' come back sid some o' dem good things fo' me." The old man's
eyes twinkled. "Dat be w'at I'se atter all de time," he explained.
The perils of a life at sea are not as great as fiction writers
sometimes indicate, according to this old sea dog. He says that in all
his voyages, he has been in only one serious wreck. That was on a reef
of coral keys off the Bahamas.
"Day say dey ain't no wind so bad but what it blows some good to
somebuddy," observed the old man. "Dat same wind what land us on de
rocks done blow me to de bes' woman in de worl'. Ah reckon."
He chewed slowly, as he gazed out over the dingy housetops toward the
mass of feathery clouds, which must have been floating over the rocky
shoals off Nassau.
"She was de daughter o' de wreckin' mahater, a Nassau niggah by de name
o' Aleck Gator. W'en de crew done got us off de shoal and was towin' de
wreck in, dere she was, stahndin' on de dock, waitin' fer her daddy.
Big, overgrown gal, black an' devilish-lookin', noways handsome; but
somehow I jes' couldn't keep my eyes offen her. I notice she keep eyein'
"W'en we gits ashore, I didn't lose no time gittin in a good word f'
mahse'r. 'Fore I knowed it, we was talkin' 'bout wha' we gwine live ...
Fifty-one years is a mighty long time to stick to one woman, 'specially
w'en you be'n lookin' over so many 'fore makin' up yo' mind ... Dis is
Uncle Dave extended a tinted photograph. His gnarled fingers trembled as
he handed it over, and there was a suspicious softness in the lines of
his wrinkled old face, as he looked fondly at the likeness of the
stolid, dark features.
"Hit be'n mighty lonesome since she done lef' dis worl' fo' year ago,"
he said with feeling, as he carefully wrapped up the picture and put it
Uncle Dave has definite ideas of his own regarding domestic economy.
"Trouble wid young folks nowadays is dey don't have no good
unnerstahndin' 'fore dey gits married. 'Fore we ever faces de preacher,
I tells her she ain't gittin' no model man fer a husban'. I lake my
likker, an' I gwine have it w'en I wants it.
"'Now lissen,' I tells 'er, 'effen I comes home drunk, don't you go t'
bressin' ee[TR:?] out. Don't you even _tetch_ me; jes' gimme a li'l
piller an' lemme go lay down on de flo' somewheres. Atter I drop off t'
sleep, you kin tear de house down, and hit don't botha me none. Wen I
wakes up, I be all right.'
"Well, de fust time I come home full o' likker she done ferget w'at I
tell her, an' staht shovin' me. I done bus' 'er on de jaw so pow'ful
hahd hit lif' her feet offen de flo' an' she lan' in de corner on her
haid. W'en I wakes up an' sees w'at I done, I wish I could hit mahse'f
de same way. F'm dat day on, we nevah had no mo' trouble 'bout de
The weight of years has at last cooled the hot blood, but a hint of
departed swashbuckling days still glistens in the old eyes as he sits
on his narrow porch and recalls scenes of the old days.
To one interested in the psychology of the Southern negro, this
shriveled old man, with his half-bantering, half-pathetic attitude
offers an interesting study. Borrowed from a page of history, he seems a
curiosity, like a fossil magically restored to life, endowed with the
power of speech, telling of events so deeply buried in the past that
they seem almost unreal.
FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Pearl Randolph, Field Worker
November 35, 1936
Mr. Thomas was at home today. There are many days when one might pass
and repass the shabby lean-to that is his home without seeing any signs
of life. That is because he spends much of his time foraging about the
streets of Jacksonville for whatever he can get in the way of food or
old clothes, and perhaps a little money.
He is a heavily bearded, bent old man and a familiar figure in the
residential sections of the city, where he earns or begs a very meager
livelihood. Many know his story and marvel at his ability to relate
incidents that must have occured when he was quite small.
Born in Jefferson County, Florida on July 26, 1857, he was one of the
150 slaves belonging to the Folsom brothers, Tom and Bryant. His
parents, Thomas and Mary, and their parents as far as they could
remember, were all a part of the Folsom estate. The Folsoms never sold a
slave except he merited this dire punishment in some way.
Acie heard vague rumors of the cruelties of some slave owners, but it
was unknown among the Folsoms. He thinks this was due to the fact that
certain "po white trash" in the vicinity of their plantation owned
slaves. It was the habit of the Folsoms to buy out these people whenever
they could do so by fair means or foul, according to his statements. And
by and by there were no poor whites living near them. It was, he further
stated like "damning a nigger's soul, if Marse Tom or Marse Bryant
threatened to sell him to some po' white trash. And it allus brung good
results--better than tearing the hide off'n him woulda done."
As a child Acie spent much of his time roaming over the broad acres of
the Folsom plantation with other slave children. They waded in the
streams, fished, chased rabbits and always knew where the choicest wild
berries and nuts grew. He knew all the wood lore common to children of
his time. This he learned mostly from "cousin Ed" who was several years
older than he and quite willing to enlighten a small boy in these
He was taught that hooting owls were very jealous of their night hours
and whenever they hooted near a field of workers they were saying: "Task
done or no done--night's my time--go home!" Whippoorwills flitted about
the woods in cotton picking time chattering about Jack marrying a widow.
He could not remember the story that goes with this. Oppossums were a
"sham faced" tribe who "sometimes wandered onto the wrong side of the
day and got caught." They never overcame this shame as long as they were
All bull rushes and tree stumps were to be carefully searched. One
might find his baby brother there at any time.
When Acie "got up some size" he was required to do small tasks, but the
master was not very exacting. There were the important tasks of
ferreting out the nests of stray hens, turkeys, guineas and geese. These
nests were robbed to prevent the fowls from hatching too far from the
hen house. Quite a number of these eggs got roasted in remote corners of
the plantation by the finders, who built fires and wrapped the eggs in
wet rags and covered them with ashes. When they were done a loud pop
announced that fact to the roaster. Potatoes were cooked in the same
manner and often without the rags. Consequently these two tasks were
never neglected by the slave children. Cotton picking was not a bad job
either--at least to the young.
Then there was the ride to the cotton house at the end of the day atop
the baskets and coarse burlap sheets filled with the day's pickings.
Acie's fondest ambition was to learn to manipulate the scales that told
him who had done a good day's work and who had not. His cousin Ed did
this envied task whenever the overseer could not find the time.
Many other things were grown here. Corn for the cattle and "roasting
ears," peanuts, tobacco and sugar cane. The cane was ground on the
plantation and converted into barrels of syrup and brown sugar. The cane
grinding season was always a gala one. There was always plenty of juice,
with the skimmings and fresh syrup for all. Other industries were the
blacksmith shop where horses and slaves were shod. The smoke houses
where scores of hogs and cows were prepared and hung for future use. The
sewing was presided over by the mistress. Clothing were made during the
summer and stored away for the cool winters. Young slave girls were kept
busy at knitting cotton and woolen stockings. Candles were made in the
"big house" kitchen and only for consumption by the household of the
master. Slaves used fat lightwood knots or their open fireplaces for
There was always plenty of everything to eat for the slaves. They had
white bread that had been made on the place. Corn meal, rice, potatoes,
syrup vegetables and home-cured meat. Food was cooked in iron pots hung
over the fireplace by rings made of the same metal. Bread and pastries
were made in the "skillet" and "spider."
Much work was needed to supply the demands of so large a plantation but
the slaves were often given time off for frolics (dances),
(quilting-weddings). These gatherings were attended by old and young
from neighboring plantations. There was always plenty of food, masters
vying with another for the honor of giving his slaves the finest
There was dancing and music. On the Folsom plantation Bryant, the
youngest of the masters furnished the music. He played the fiddle and
liked to see the slaves dance "cutting the pigeon wing."
Many matches were made at these affairs. The women came "all rigged out
in their best" which was not bad at all, as the mistresses often gave
them their cast off clothes. Some of these were very fine indeed with
their frills and hoops and many petticoats. Those who had no finery
contented themselves with scenting their hair and bodies with sweet
herbs, which they also chewed. Quite often they were rewarded by the