Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Florida Hewitt age 107
Ex Slave of Jefferson Davis
"Yassuh, I was born at Hurricane, I belonged to Joe Davis. He was Jeff Davis' brother. Joe Davis' house had no tellin' how many rooms. I know 'cause I helped to clean 'em up. Did I know Jefferson Davis? Why, cose I did.
"James Pemberton, the overseer, was my uncle. First time I ever saw Jefferson Davis I was a little gal, an' he come ridin' down de road, and we chillens all run to open de gate. I got dere first and opened de gate, an' he gimme a bright silver dime. Do I remember de hoss he rode? Cose I does. It wus a little black hoss named Oliver.
"Do I 'member his wife? Sho. He had two of 'em. I 'member 'em both. Do I 'member his first wife? You talkin' 'bout Miss Sara? Yes, I 'member her. She wus a little slim woman and died right soon after he brung her home."
"No, he didn't marry his second wife right off. Several years after de first one. But I knowed dis second wife de best. I wus in de big house when her first son wus born. My ma wus wid her den."
"Dat big house at Brierfield wus built after he marry dat last wife. I cooked for de carpenters while dey wus bildin dat house. Jeff Davis and his wife dey live in a little house off to one side while dey wus buildin dat house."
"Dis boy here," reffering to her 65-year-old son-in-law," helped tote Massa Davis to de steamboat just befo he died."
"Did dey treat me well? Sho dey did. Beter dan I has bin treated since. We had good grub and good clothes an nobody worked hard. Dem Davis's never would let nobody touch one of their niggers. Ever nigger could choose his own name and dey had to call him dat. If a nigger done wrong dey tried him wid a jury of odder niggers and dey fixed de punishment."
These and many other things of interest she told me while she showed me her two most prized possessions. One a framed photograph of Jefferson Davis' grand-son and his family sent her years ago and the other, an old yellowed letter from Isaiah Montgomery, another ex-slave who belonged to Joseph Davis. Montgomery, after the Civil War, became rich, founded the town of Mound Bayou, served as a member of the Mississippi Constitutional Convention in 1890, and died respected and admired by all the folks of Mississippi.
Such is the story of "Brierfield." What will be its end? The fierce fires of hatred and sectionalism which once ravaged this nation have burned out. Bare-headed, in a huge Soldier's Memorial Auditorium in a fine Ohio city, not long since, I heard assembled thousands cheer the strains of "Dixie."
Together with hundreds of other sons of Mississippi, I stood a few days ago at the base of the beautiful monument erected by the commonwealth of Wisconsin in Vicksburg National Park, with hands on our hearts, and led by a daughter of Wisconsin, repeated the oath of allegiance to our flag.
If "Brierfield" stood on a paved road and accessible, it would be a mecca to thousands of Americans who would revel in its romance, tradition and history.
Isolated, inaccessible, cut off from the mainland, reached only by boat, without a road, and at the mercy of the great river, I fear that within a few years it will be only a memory."
"Arriving at Vicksburg, I was not entirely satisfied with the results of my visit. Was there not some person yet alive who remembered the old days on the plantation? Of all the slaves who loved and served the Davis masters on "Hurricane" and "Brierfield," was there not one still remaining? These and other questions I asked my friend Bob, game warden for Warren County. There was one. She lived on his farm four miles east of Vicksburg. A visit to her would prove interesting. This and further information concerning how to find her he gave me.
And so on a bright and balmy sunshiny Sunday morning, accompanied by my wife and daughters, I drove over and found her. Picture an old and wizened negro woman, cripped by "rheumatiz," rocking back and forth in an arm chair before a pine knot fire in an humble cabin. Aunt Florida Hewitt says she is 107 years old. I believe it. But she sees well through her glasses and her hearing is good. Several of her original teeth are still with her. Her memory is as bright as polished silver."
Interviewer: Dennis Murphree - Ex. Governor of Mississippi
Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi