Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
George Coleman Age 108
"I was borned on the Washington plantation in Richmond Virginia August 16, 1830. The reason I am sho bout my birth dat, is 'cause Mr. Wiley, the man I now live with, writ back to the co't house in Richmond where dey has all de records of the slaves dat used to be on de Washington plantation, so I could get dis old age pension.
Yas'm de Washington plantation was a large one. Slaves were raised on a large scale, it was a slave market you know. I guess there were two or three thousand slaves on de place. When dey had a sale de slaves were placed on a 'slave block' and auctioned off. The ones for sale would run down the road, dance, or stretch to see if their wind was all right.
They were not usually sold until they were twelve years old, however the age of selling depended on their sex, size, ability etc., sometimes a special order would come in for one or two younger ones, like when a family wanted the colored chillun' to play with theirs, you know. The slave girls were trained to do different things such as: weave, cook, sew, and maid service. The ones who were really good, of course brought a higher price at market time. The smaller chillun wus used to run errands about the place.
I was trained to be a "House servant" and kind of trusty about the 'big house'. I was sold to Mr. Dave Coleman, of West Point Mississippi, his place is twenty-two miles from West Point, for $1490.00 when I was sixteen years old, I was way over six foot tall and weighed near two hundred pounds and could lift any thing, then.
Mr. Dave and Old Miss, her name was Miss Cynthia but I always called her Old Miss, were always good to me and I was very happy after I went with them. Mr. Dave had a son, young mister Willie Coleman, and he has all the records and every thing about my age now.
Old Miss had three sisters, Miss Evvie, Miss Mandy and Miss Ellin Williams. They were the daughters of Mr. Jack Williams. Miss Ellin married Mr. Tip Hollins and they lived at Walthall. Miss Mandy lived at Mantee. Miss Mandy has two chillun' Mr. Walter, and Miss Bess. I used to go with Miss Evvie, who was the youngest, after the mail. They didn't have post offices in those days, but Mr. Andrew Bailey kept the mail at his house.
I milked the cows, 'tended the sheep and ran the loom in the weaving room. Lots of times I would weave at night. I could weave two and one half yards of cloth a day. We dyed the cloth with maple bark, Red Oak bark and copprice. The bark was boiled to make the dye. Red oak would make the cloth deep blue, so would maple bark, the copprice would make it yellow. Then I carried special messages to Mr. Dave when he'd be out on the plantation. The thread we used to weave the cloth was "soused" (meaning sized) and wound on a "skittle" (meaning shuttle) and hit with a "slay" (meaning sledge). The "skittle" was about sixteen inches long.
One year dey used dried okra for coffee (I never did use it) and I remember hearing dem say it was pretty good. Once when salt was scarce we took old salt from under de smoke house where meat was cured for all the place, and we dug lots of it out of the ground where meat had dripped, and put it in big tubs of water, washed it and used it time and again. It wasn't white but it was salty.
After de war was over, every body seemed so happy. They shouted rung bells and shot guns. I asked Old Miss why dey 'peared so happy 'cause we was whipped, looked lak they'd be sad. It was several months after the slaves were freed befo I knowed it. I heered it talked about dat the slaves were freed, but I was kinda skeered to ask abot it. I did one day tho and when I asked Old Miss, "Miss dey tells me de niggers is free, is dey?" She say, "No! and you'd better come on and go to work 'fore you gits tored up". Dey did free us tho about three or fo monts after dis, but I stayed on with Mr. Dave 'cause he was so good to me and I liked all of dem.
I members hearing Uncle Reuben Coleman and his wife named, Aunt Mary Ann, tell about the time de stars fell. How scared dey all was. Some of de niggers on dat place jumped in a creek. Jus plain scared to death, you know dey thot de worl had done cum to a end.
Mr. John and Mr. Leon Kelly, who used to live at Kosciusko, I wonder where day are now, dey allus said they'd give me a home and take care of me when I was old and I'd sho love to see them, teeched me how to write. They'd write me a example every day or so and come back to see if I had done it and I allus would. I'll write you some more stories, myself, and bring them to you next time."
Lives with Mr. Sam Holly, Holly Grove Mississippi
Interview date: September 13, 1938
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
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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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