Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
age 112; height 5 ft. 8 ins., weight 110 lbs., color - black; she lives in a cabin in Freedmantown; is bed-ridden; toothless; a daughter lives with her.
Mattie Dillworth is very old - eight years old she says when she saw "the stars fall in ole Kentucky"; she has been confined to her bed for many months; her daughter, 70 years old, lives with her and repeats to her some of the questions asked her, as she is slightly deaf; like all old people her memory is best concerning events that occurred in her earlier days; she retains some of the hardness of her none too happy slave experience, and cherishes very little love for her former owners, altho she says she wasn't treated bad, and didn't have to work very hard.
"My name is Mattie Dillworth; but my marster called me Martha Ann; I was born a slave in Boyle county, Kentucky; my mother's name was Clara Knox; she died when I was a chile, an' was buried in Kentucky on de plantation with a peach tree for a head board; I b'longed to de McLains; my master's name was Reuben an' hiz wife was named Betsy; I b'longed to Miss Betsy, fur dey owned they property separate - she owned her'n and he owned his'n; dey was very rich an' lived on a big plantation in a big two story, or three story house; dey had lots of slaves, an' dey lived by dey own say-so."
"I stay'd in de house to wait on Miss Betsy an' de gals; I had to stan' behin' Miss Betsy's chair; I had good clothes, but I didn't war no shoes, an' my feets iz got corns on dem today, fum standin'."
"De house had a parlor an' a do' bell - an' here's what I cum in; when de bell wud ring I had to go to de do' an' receive de cumpny; and sho dem to de parlor an' den go upstairs an' 'nouce who dey wanted to see; dey cum in dey horse an' carriages."
"Sum time my ole mistus wu'd whup me; she kep a cow hide whup in de closet an she wu'd make me git hit; but I wu'd take so long to fin' hit she wou'd git mad; I jus' didn't want to fin' hit. The overseer didn't never whup me, and no body else, but ole Mistus. I stay'd in de house an' didn't have no hard wuk to do' if enny body had sed ennything to me 'bout workin' in de fields I'd uv slapped 'em in de face." I sho wu'd."
"One nite when I was up stairs I heared de back do' what go out on de back po'ch crack, an' went out to shot it, an' I slipt out on de po'ch an' de stars was jest fallin'; de windo's an' de blines was shet; there was a young tree twixt two cabins an' I look't up an' here cum a star; it cum, an' kep' cummin' an' all uv a suddint it look't lak hit stopp't, an' den hit went "Cr-e-e-e-k- plunpfh" an' out hit went."
"We was well fed; marster would kill hogs and beef for us, an' one uv the slave mens wu'd go huntin' an' kill us rabbits, 'possums, an' coons to eat; the paterollers was 'sposed to keep control uv the slaves."
"Bimeby Miss Betsy died an' az I sed, she had her own property an' Master Reuben had to sell her property to settle wid de chilluns; dey tuk us an' put us in what dey called "de trader's yard" what de visitors an' de speculators c'ud see us, an' den dey set a day fer to sell us; I was on de back po'ch when dey tol' me to cum to de block; de man puts me up on de block an' ses: "Here's a little girl 12 years old' she's got de scofula' (scrofula) but she's young an' will out gro' hit. Dey put my sister on de block the same day dey did me, an' day sol' her in anudder direction, up de country, an' I aint never seen her to dis day. Didn't no body buy me; I 'spose dey was skeered uv de scofula; dem dat dey c'dn't sell in Kentucky, the trader decided to tak' to Mississippi to see ef he c'ud sell; dey put us in a big 6 horse stage coach, an' bro't us to Grenada, an' put us in a hotel 'til dey cu'd set a day to trade us off; I was (for how much?) sol' at Coffeeville to Mr. Murry Fly; he borrowed the money fur to buy me an' los' hiz home tryin' to pay for me; I helped in de kitchen 'till Marster had to go to de war; I made a crop for him on hiz fahm; hit was twixt Coffeeville an' Oakland.
"I have bin married three times; the firs' time to Sam Jones, then to Nick Jones; I has had 6 chilluns."
"Marster was taken prisoner in Kentucky an' he wrote I can wash my han's in de Mississippi river, but I kain't cross it. I didn't see enny yankees what I was; after de surrender marster cum home an' tol' me: "Martha Ann, you iz free. I'm goin' to giv' you yo' ruthers; yo' kin stay wid me an' make a crop, or yo' kin go wid yo' own color; I went wid de cullud folks. I jined de Zion Hill, African Methodist Episcopal church 'bout 7 miles frum Oakland; de 'zorters wu'd stan' on de flo' an do dey skufflin', 'n sketchin', 'n rarin'; befor' de surrender I had to sit on a back seat, but dere cum a time sho Lord when I cu'd sit rite spang on de fron' seat." (when?) (Describe life after surrender)
Mattie how did you get the name Dillworth; her daughter replied: "That was jus' a strange man she tuk up wid." Mattie chuckled and bowed to her daughter and said: "You - gal; thank you gal; thank you ma'am."
Mattie lies all day in a poor bed of old quilts and pillows, but when she tries to tell about the stars falling, which she does over and over; she sits up in bed and illustrates with her long, bony, black hands how the "star cum, an' kep' on cummin'" and as she tries to reproduce her remembrance of the sound which to her sounded like "cr-e-e-e-k, plumpfh" her withered lips curl and stretch over her toothless gums" in the effort.
I don't think it will be possible to get much out of her about details of her early life, except that she was a house servant in the home of her Kentucky master; she says that during the war she was farming north of Oakland, Miss. on the plantation of Mr. Fly; I suppose the yankees did not pass through that portion of the country; she said that after the war she chose to leave her old master, altho he gave her the choice to stay and work for wages; she says that she farmed on shares. I may get another opportunity to visit her, but as I am now no longer on the pay roll, I am going to have to use all effort to try to wrangle a few dollars out of some body; I am planning to leave for the Delta in a short while.
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 Allen Geoghegan
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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