Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
I was born in Washington County, Mississippi, south of Greenville. The place where I was born is now all gone down in the Mississippi river. My Master's name was Mr. June Ward and his wife was Miss Matilda. The slave traders brought us from the north, some place by the name of Kentucky, and sold us to Old Master. There was four of my family brought down together. My grandpa, Peter Lee, and his wife, Granny. That's the only name I is ever heared for my grandma. My father, Ike, and my mother, Mandy, my brother, West, my sister, Minter, and me was all born after they came to Mississippi.
All the houses in the quarters where we lived was made of brick. Some says the brick was made right there on the place. I can't say as to the truth of that, cause I show aint never seed no bricks made.
Master was real old when we came, and he didn't live so long. Mr. George, the oldest son, took charge of the place, and I always thinks of him as my Master. There was two boys in the family, Mr. George and Mr. June. They didn't have no sister so Mr. George was the boss.
The great big hall where everybody ate was called the Cook Kitchen. It was made of wood, and white washed to look clean and nice. The old folks did the cooking and they could sure make things taste good. They took time with it and cooked them greens down as they should be. There wasn't all that hurrying like there is now. They knowed soon as they finished with one meal it would be 'bout time to start with another so they didn't let that bother their minds.
When the grown-ups finished eating the children was fed. Old Granny looked after that. She had big trays made of wood hollowed out to put the food in. She made me and the older children help her care for the little one, and we better not let none of them get hurt, I tell you that.
The biggest fun what the men had on the place was going hunting. Game wasn't scarce like it is now, and they could keep the kitchen supplied with everything such as coons, possums, squirrels, and rabbits. Once I went hunting and killed a rabbit just as he was comming out of a hole in the grave yard. Everybody what ate a piece of that rabbit got sick. When ever I wanted to make two bets, all I had to do was catch me a nice big terrapin. The white folks loved terrapin soup, and they would always buy them from me. All of us was allowed to keep any money we made.
Master George was mighty good 'bout giving us money when ever we asked him for it. We didn't have much need for money, so we very seldom asked for it. All our clothes was made and given to us. They even made the cloth they used with one of them spinning wheels. Our socks was knitted out of wool, and they sure did keep us good and warm. Our shoes was bought. I felt like I was the finest thing in the land when I got a pair of them boots with brass tips on the toes. There couldn't have been more than fifty or seventy-five head of slaves.
The place was not very large so Master George looked after it hisself. The big bell was in the yard. He rang it before day every morning for everybody to get up and out. I is knowed them to work as late as ten o'clock at night, when it was the light of the moon, and they was behind with the cotton picking. There warn't no overseers or drivers. Them niggers was just natural good workers, and they didn't need none. Master sure didn't 'low no poor white trash around there. It's them kind of folks what's got things so tore up now. This here young generation is the ones that let them in. The biggest thing the slaves got punished 'bout was fighting amongst their slaves. Boss tried to stop that and sometimes he would have to whip them 'bout it. He didn't always know when they fought so there was mightly little punishment. There was so much to do on that place as we didn't have time to get in much devilment.
Besides making the crop, we had big herds of sheep and goats to be cared for, cows to be milked, and mules fed. When night came, we was ready to git in our beds and go to sleep. In cold weather we had hog killing. Master's big smoke house was so full of meat you couldn't see the top of it. The only Christmas what we had was the hanging of the stockings by the children. They was filled with candy, cake, and apples. Saturday and Sunday was our rest days.
The old folks called theirself teaching us religion. They 'lowed how we shouldn't have no rowdy bad doings and they learned the children not to be sassy. The white folks would tell them to teach 'bout it being grave sin to steal their chickens. There wasn't no church on the place, neither for colored or white.
I is heared people all my life tell 'bout seeing hants and spirits, but I don't believe one word of it. They just thinks they sees them. I know I aint ever seed even one, and I has lived much longer than them what tells those tales. I has seed many people depart this life what has been mistreated terrible, and if they don't come back to do something 'bout it, taint nobody going to come.
It must have been neigh on to four years after the war was over before we heared about it. Master might have told us we was free, but I don't recollect it, cause that didn't mean nothing to us. We didn't want to go nowhere. What us want to go fer? We was treated good, had everything we wanted to eat and wear and nice houses to live in, so we went right on making the crops same as ever. We didn't see nor hear nothing 'bout the war, and we didn't bother our minds with it.
I never is been a hand to keep up with time. I can't tell how long I stayed there, but it was many a long year. I married a woman named Sophia. We didn't hit it off so good, so I left her and married Liza. We lived together a right smart time. I has been married to my present wife, Mary, over twenty years. I aint never had no children that I knows of.
When I left Washington County, I came to Coahoma County and farmed on the Shacklefoot place and the Dorr place. Then I went to work for the high Sheriff. That was a fine job. I looked after the Court House, kept the yard, and fed the prisoners. My wife cooked the food and I carried it to them. Besides that, I rented all them rooming houses in Foxes Alley and run them too. I sure did make plenty money if it hadn't been for my ignorance I would have saved some of it for my old age. Maybe the Lord thinks it right that I make it here and leave it here. I would have been working there yet if it hadn't been for this paralysis stroke what is soon going to carry me away from here.
I is a member of the Sanctified Church and I don't let none of these Hoodoo doctors worry me. If you followers the church's teaching, you will be right in your heart. The government gives me old age assistance check every month. My wife takes in washing to help care for me. She is a good woman. Heaps of young women like she is, would have left me long ago. I speck the Lord arranged it that way, for all the goodness I is done in my life.
I don't know what year I was born, and I don't know how old I was when peace was declared, but I do know I was big enough to plough, so I must have been in the neighborhood of twelve or thirteen.
The old folks on the place made long shirts for us to wear in the summer time. We didn't wear nothing under them, but when winter came they made heavy wool underwear for us to put on under the shirts. They kept us good and warm. Don't know as I ever heared them say how many acres there was in the place. It wasn't so powerful big, I knows that.
There warn't no such things as jails for colored folks. There was jails all right enough, but only white folks was put in them.
I is often seen slave dealers traveling around with groups of slaves for sale. Once in awhile two of them would be chained together. When they were sold, they would be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
There wasn't no teaching of any kind going on, on our place. None of us could read or write. There was people in the country what did such as that on their place, but we didn't have it.
There wasn't no church or meeting house. We sometimes held little meetings in us houses and some old fellow preached much as he knowed, which was mighty little. We never had a baptizing, and I can't remember any funerals.
The only person that ever ran off was my mother. She said, she was going to try to make it to the free country. She didn't have no cause for leaving, sept she wanted to be free. She didn't get very far before them patrollers catched her and brought her back. That was the patrollers business to catch the folks what ran off and bring them back.
The only way we had of getting news was by word or mouth. The slaves would go from place to place and tell what they heared. You never could put no 'pendence in what they told. Everytime the news changed hands, it was told a little different. By the time it got to the end of the line, you woulnd't know it was the same story.
Ain't never heared of no trouble between the colored and the whites. Wasn't no reason for trouble. I tell you the truth when I gets to heaven if I is treated as good as I was treated on that place every thing will be all right. When we was sick the old women, they made tea out of some kind of herbs that would cure any little ailment. For chills and fever Old Master would issue medicine. He would give it to the old women, and they would give it to the sick person according to the way Old Master said. We didn't know nothing bout wearing charms to keep off diseases. All such as that came up after the war.
We didn't make no move after the war. We stayed right there where we was. Made the crops same as ever. The only difference we knowed was, we got money for our work. The Ku Klux Klan and night riders never was on the place. I never even heared there was such things till long after they had ceasted to operate.
I didn't know nothing tall bout Abraham Lincoln. I can recollect I is heared his name and that's all. The only thing I ever hearded bout Jeff Davis was a song the folks sang. The words was "Going to hang Jeff Davis to a sour apple tree." There was another song they sang too about "Greely and Grant went up north. Greely stopped Grant, wearing broadcloth." I is heared Booker T. Washington's name, but I can't tell you nothing about him. I has knowed heaps of mighty fine men like the high sheriff and such as that, but I ain't acquainted with none of them gentlemen you is asked about.
There might have been some promise made to slaves on the other places bout getting something when freedom come, but I is never heared of them getting nothing. We wasn't promised nothing. There wasn't no conversation bout it one way or the other. When we heared we was freed. we knowed we could leave, but we didn't have no place to go that we knowed of, where we would be as well treated so we all stayed and thankful to have a place to stay. Before we ever left there, the reconstruction days was all over. That's why I couldn't tell nothing about it.
Don't know whether slaves voted or not. None of us ever did. Don't know whether colored folks votes now or not.
(Could not get any more from the old man between the years 1864-1937 about his life than I have already sent in.)
The younger generation don't live in accordance to the times. By that I means they is got everything to help them along, and they won't take no heed of it. They is worse than they was in the days of ignorance. Stead of getting what knowledge they can, they is filling their heads with nothing but foolishness.
Never heard of a slave uprising. The whites and colored was always peaceful together.
Never knowed anybody from Virginia or heard anything about the Nat Turner rebellion.
Only song I remember was the ones I told you.
Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi