Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Jim Archer age about 78-80
"You all are seeking up worldly things. I used to. Now I have changed. I am pure in heart. I holds up the scripture.
"There was a song I use to sing when I got big enough to sing. I learned it by hearing others. '_____I'm gittin' old and feeble.' That's the only song that followed me through the years.
"I never did sing when we were laying tracts for street cars."
He was too young during the War between the States until the center of conflict moved to Vicksburg. He was large enough then to go to the plantation nearby where his white folks had retreated for safety. It must have been in summer (probably 1863) for dewberries were in bloom. He recalls most vividly eating those dewberries.
After the war he went to school for two sessions. He said his teacher was a white person from the North.
He was then a boy and found employment with a doctor in Vicksburg. In his teens he worked for six months in a saloon that stood across the street from the courthouse.
About 1872 he was laying tracks for the Vicksburg street carline. After this, and for a long period he was a night watchman on the river. The roustabouts, he said, carried the loads from the boats. The mate would load their backs, send them down the stage plank. The captain of the watch, a Negro, stood on the bank to direct the roustabouts in depositing their load. Then the captain would send them back to the ship. While working, roustabouts did not sing.
This song Uncle Jim learned while working with the roustabouts. He heard it sung by the captain who stood on the boiler deck and the mate who was in charge of the laborers. Learned probably in the 1880's.
According to Halpert this song may have originated as a sea shanty. The story, as much as Archer sings, indicates that it is the story of the seamen who wooed the captain's daughter and promised to marry her over the water.
Captain, Captain, give me your daughter
Rango, rango I'll marry her on the water
Massa's Gone Away (fragment)
All words were not taken down. He said that he had heard that the Yankees taught the song to the Negroes.
Old massa's gone away
The darkies stayed at home
Before Archer began working on the river he was employed for over a year with the A. & V. Railroad then being built from Vicksburg to Jackson. This employment lasted until 1881 or 1882 when he went to the river.
Since quitting the river he worked for seventeen years at the freight office of the I.C. Railroad. He says his last pay check was January 1921.
He has nine children, six of them living in Chicago. He has not been to up-town Vicksburg since 1931.
Interviewer: Gene Holcomb
Transcribed by: Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi
"If you teach them where they come from, they won't need as much help finding where they are going!"
Cordelia Carothers " Aunt Dee" Geoghegan (1894-1987)
Project Manager: Ann
Assistant State Coordinators and
Transcriptionists: Ann Allen Geoghegan, Debbie Leftwich, and
Rose Diamond and Linda Durr Rudd
Banner designed by: Melissa McCoy-Bell
Unknown worker photograph provided by L. Stephen Bell Photography, and family photo albums of Karen Schweikle, Lucy Gray and Jens Burkhart.
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