Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Andrew Jackson Gill age 82
The old negro man was certainly flustered at our approach and was doing his best to appear the perfect host. Not comprehending the reason for our visit he was treating us like old friends who had just recently parted, and was striving to be very diplomatic about it all, but I caught the questioning glances he stole at us ever so often. I noted his grey, crinkly hair and apparent age with high hopes, for surely he was old enough, if not to have been a slave during the war times, at least to remember about it. My friends were as interested as I to find out if we had discovered an ex-slave, and so one of them, a lawyer, with his natural unsuspecting method, lounged on the front steps and soon had the old man engaged in high merriment and completely disarmed of all self-consciousness.
"Yas Suh!" Andrew, (his name was Andrew Jackson Gill) had been a slave and remembered those days well. He is tall and slim and a typical "old times" negro. He has instilled in him that humbleness and respect which the majority of the negro race is fast losing. He is somewhat above the average old negro in intelligence, and as he sat there on the front porch of his neat, clean little cabin, chair tilted slightly back, arms at rest on his knees, with a bright twinkle in his eyes, and a generous "chaw" of "tobac'ee" in his mouth, he spoke with very little dialect and a well developed vocabulary.
As he talked he seemed to forget his audience and grew in eloquence as he told his story with much rolling of eyes and hearty laughter. That first interview was highly entertaining. The following, as well as I am able to reproduce it in Andrews own vernacular, is the compiled information secured after several such interviews.
"I was born right cheah 'cross de road a piece, 82 years ago. My name is Andrew Jackson Gill. Gill was de name of de man who owned my daddy. My mammy belonged to dis gen'man by de name of Marster Gill. He has a large plantation 'bout a mile down de road frum Missus Rosa.
Mammy an' daddy wa'nt never lawful' wedded. Dey don't do dat in dem days. My daddy, he done see Mammy one time he come a visitin' wid Marster Gill, an' when he got home he say: 'Marster Gill, I sho does like dat li'l gal over heah at Missus Rosa's. She sho' am purty. Yas Suh!' An' by George he wa'nt messin' roun' loosin' no time fo' he done got Marster Gill's an' Missus Rosa's sanction to take my mammy fer his wife. My daddy, he was a fine man an' treated us chullun jus' dandy. He stay wid Marster Gill, an' mammy stay wid Missus Rosa, but evr' Wednesday an' Saturday night was visitin' time fer de colored folks, an' he come see mammy den. Dere was in de course of time-----he! he! he! he!, Lord 'a Mercy!------- eight of us chullun. I was de second chile an' Missus Rosa, she sho' done take a shine to me. She kep' me up at de Big House an' I done all de special things she wanted done 'cause she knows I do 'em up right. I used to ride right wid her on de back of her hoss when she go out to 'speck de fields an' sech. It was my special duty to climb down off de hoss an' open an' shut de gates fer her. Yas Suh! She sho' was a mighty fine lady. Her husband was dead an' all her chullun' was away. I don't rightly recollec' how many chullun' she had. Missus Rosa was a doctor woman, an' she run dat plantation all by herself. Us colored folks would step right lively when she speak up an' say, 'Do dis an' do dat. She was kin' an' good, but she sho' don't stan' no foolishness.
"Mammy an' de res' of de colored folks, dey live out in de Quarters in separate cabins of dey own. Dey job was to he'p Missus Rosa in de fields, an' takin' keer of de cattle an' sech.
"On Wednesday an' Saturday all de niggers what wanted to visited 'roun'. Some would ask fer a permission slip whereby it say-----'dis cheah nigger so an' so is permitted to visit over at so an so, 'an' de good Lord he'p a nigger what took it in his haid to go messin' 'roun' lessen he have his permission slip. I 'member one time a young buck in our Quarters was mighty desperate in love wid a gal over at Marster Gills. Missus Rosa done tol' him, she say,------ 'Ned, dat gal' ain't no good, an' you'd bes' pick you out a nice, sweet gal right in your own Quarters.' But Ned, he headstrong an' mighty powerful' in love, so one Saturday night he slip off frum de Quarters widout no permission slip. Well, suh, all dem niggers down in de Quarters done tol' him not to go but he wont listen. An dat nigger wa'nt gone half an hour fo' he come back, wid Marster Gill a leadin' him. All dem niggers in de Quarters come out an' stan' 'roun' wid dey mouth wide open an' dey eyes a rollin'. A doodle bug comin' outten his hole couldn' have made less soun'. Missus Rosa, she come out an' say 'Ned, I'se sorry, but you deserve jes' what you're gonna' git!' An' he got it, hard an' heavy, wid de whip. Yas Suh! Missus Rosa listen to reason but she hard when she wanta be.
On Wednesday an' Saturday nights dey was a ban' of eight white men called de Patterollers who would ride 'roun' de country side an' iffen dey foun' a nigger runnin' loose widout no permission slip, dey catch him up an' see dat he gets a good whupping.
I 'member one time Missus Rosa give one of de niggers a nice fat hog fer doin' somethin' special fer her. Dat nigger was sho' proud of dat hog. Yas Suh! Come Saturday Mornin' an' he asked Missus Rosa could he have a celebration on dat hog. Missus Rosa say she guess so. Lord 'a mercy were dem niggers full of 'citement all day. Dey sang out in de fiel's all day long an' I heah dem way up at de Big House.
We's gonna kill a pig we's gonna kill a pig
Glory be Halleauh!
We's gonna kill a pig
Dat night de Quarters was jes' bustin' wid merriment, an' wid de Gill niggers helpin', dat pig sho' didn' las' long. Yas Suh! We had good times in dem days.
We didn' understan' much 'bout de war cep'in' dat dem Yankees was boun' to sot us niggers free. I tol' Missus Rosa, I say, 'Don't you let 'em sot me free, Missus Rosa. I wants to stay wid you. Yas Suh!'
'Long towards Jes' fo' surrender, word got 'roun' one day dat dem Yankees are comin'. An' sho' 'nough a whole troop done come a marchin' up de road. Dey was plenty of stirrin' at our place I mean to tell you. Missus Rosa mighty calm 'bout it all. She say, 'Guess dere ain't much use hidin' nothin'. Dey only fin' it anyways,' an' she went on 'bout her business.
But de Yankees don't come to our place. Dey stop at Marster Gills. I 'member afterwards 'bout him tellin' dat he his all his money under de boards leadin' up to de front steps an' 'bout dem Yankees walkin' all over de top of his money an' never knowin' de difference. He! he! he! he! --- Lord 'a' Mercy! Dey foun' his fine hosses where he hid 'em out in de woods, an' dey took 'em off an' lef' dey own behin'. Well suh, Marster Gill say after he fed dem Yankees hosses an' took keer of 'em fer' a spell dey spruced up an' look an' act mos' as good as southern hosses. Yas Suh!
Missus Rosa had a church on her place an' every Sunday night us niggers had to bathe an' smell good an' put on our white clo'es an' go to church. Dere was a side room 'tached to de church an' we had to file in an' sot down an' act respec'ful like. Dere wa'nt no talkin' or laughin' allowed a'tall. We had to bow our haids an' pray to de good Lord to free us frum sin an' make us all good niggers. De preacher say, 'Obey your missus an' marster. When you obey dem you obey God.' Yas Suh! An' he was right too. Dey was responsible fer us an' if dey tol' us to do somethin' it was on dey conscious if it was wrong, not our fault.
I 'member one time when one of de Missus' sons Come home, an' he went out huntin' in de woods wid his gun. Lo an' behol' he come across a run away nigger out dere in de bushes! It was one of de Whitworth niggers. Marster Whitworth was 'bout de mos' powerful plantation man in dese parts den. You all knows Whitworth college? Well suh, dat dere is his college what he founded. So dere dey done stood, an' missus' son he stared at dis Whitworth nigger an' dat' nigger stared at him. Den all of a sudden de nigger turned 'roun' an' started runnin'. De boy he shout, 'Stop you fool nigger or I'll shoot dat' black head of yours off!' Dat' nigger must'a been plumb deaf, dumb an' blind. He never stopped to even catch his breaf'. So my missus' son shot at him a meamin' only to scare him up, but dat' nigger fell down like a dead bird. An' sho' nough he was dead! Lord a'mercy! Dere was big doin's den. My missus had to go to court an' finally had to pay Marster Whitworth $1,100 fer dat' dead nigger. Yas Suh!
One day, Missus Rosa called all us niggers together an' said, 'You all has served me like good an' honest niggers an' I love you every one. But I can't take keer of you all no more. De war is over an' de Yankees won, so you all is free to go make your livin' an' take keer of yourself.' She stood dere tall an' straight, an' tried to smile but I seed a tear a tricklin' off her nose, an' purty soon we was all a cryin' together. Missus Rosa was a good mistress, yas suh.
Marster Gill give my daddy dis land I'se livin' on now, an' built him a cabin, an' mammy an' all us chullun' he'ped him in de fiel'. He worked de farm on shares fer Marster Gill. I went to school an' larned to read an' write.
Sometimes I gits to settin' here a thinkin' back on dem days an' I gits to ponderin', an' I thinks dem slavery days was jes' like human nature. When you has to listen an' work an' do things your missus an' marster say do, you think, 'Oh Lord a'mercy, wish I could git off to myself an' do as I please,' An' den when you is free to go out in de world an' do as you please, you gits to thinkin', 'Oh Lord a'mercy, wish I had someone to tell me what to do. I is lost in a fog fer sho'. Yas Suh!"
Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi