Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Lewis Jefferson, who lives in the Southern part of Tylertown, near the Fernwood and Gulf Railway, tells me the story of his life.
"My mammy said I wus twelve years old at de time uf de surrender, and my son tells me I is now eighty-fo' years old.
"I wus born in Pike County on the creek dat is called Leatherwood, and my Marse was Mr. Calvin Newsome, and he wus a real good man; I neber seed him whip a slave, but he had a overseer who jes' whupped dem all de time. I seed him call de slaves up an' make dem stand wid deir backs bare while he whupped dem wid dat big bull whip dat he toted round wid him all de time.
"I seed him strip my mammy to de waist an' make her take a whuppin' many times an' I sed to myself 'iffen I eber got free I wus gwine to whup dat overseer.' His name wus Silas Jacobs. But he died not long afte' de war an' I neber got to whup him.
"My marse had 'bout twenty slaves, I reck'n, and had a nice house; it wus not on the public road but de road quit right at his front gate. He had big Cedar trees planted out on front uf de house. Den he had Sticky bushes planted out dar, whut he said wus Spanish daggers - dey had white flowers on dem but if yo' tried to pull one uf dem flowers yo' got stuck wid de pints uf de leaves. Some uf dem is still growin' round whar de old house once stood. De house wus burnt up long years er go an' some uf de Cedars been cut down an' nuffin dar but destruction. De house wus not a painted house, but big an' roomy an' had big fireplace at bofe ends uf de house. Dar wus two big room wid two small shed room in de back wid a back gallery twix dem an' a long front gallery an' de front steps wus right at de end uf de gallery. De house did not front de road but come up to de side uf de house. Dar wus a brick walk an' two rows uf cape jasmine on bofe side uf de walk.
"De kitchen wus a log house sot back uf de big house. De cook wus named Lindy an' I had to help her keep dat fire gwinin' all de time. Lindy wus kind to me, she wud slip me lots uf good things to taste. When she cooked dat possum wid taters round it, I allus got me a tater fore time to put it on de table.
"Marse wud measure out meal and meat an' whut we called
"long sweetenin'" (Molasses) ebery Sat'day an' dat wus done at de dinner time. Slaves had plenty to eat cause Marse kept dem fat.
"Some times when de fiel' wurk wus pushin' he had dem eat in de kitchen an' some times he low'd dem to cook an' eat in deir cabins. My mammy wus named Binky an' my pappy wus named Seab. Dey bofe wurk in de fiel' but my pappy had to wurk at de gin an' den some times he had to drive de wagon to town.
"When dey went to town fur some supplies, dey went in droves. All de neighborhood wud git togedder an' send as many as eight an' ten wagons at a time. Dey wud camp on de road an' Lindy wud make tater pone bread fur dem to take wid dem. She wud allus give me some uf dat bread an' I thought dat wus de best bread in de wurld.
"Some times dey went to Covington, Louisiana, an' den some times dey wud go to Summit, but dey allus brung back de wagon full uf good things.
"One time dey brung back a big keg of mackerel an' dat wus de fu'st mackerel I eber tasted. I et whut de cook gibe me an' den I stole some more, an' dat stuff made me so sick I neber wanted any more mackerel to dis day. I wus too sick to whup.
"My Mistress wus named Miss Beatress an' she made me wurk in de house, an' wud whup me ebery day. She sed I wus bad but she neber low'd de overseer to whup me.
"My Mistress made me build fires, an' tote in de wood an' take up de ashes, an' sweep de floors wid brooms made uf broom sage. I larnt how to shine Marse's boots an' wanted to grow up big nuff to wear his boots. He looked fine to me walkin' bout de place wid his high top boots an' long spurs, an' dem rattlin' while he walked.
"He wus allus gwinin' some whar on dat big road he rode.
"When Sat'day evenin' wud come de slaves cleaned up round de cabins, an' de women folks wud patch and sew fur demselves. some times dey wud go visitin' but dey had to tote a lil'le piece uf paper to keep de patroller frum ketchin' dem. De patroller wus mi'ty hard on de run a way slaves. Dey wud run my pappy wid dem dogs like dey run rabbits an' some time dey wud ketch my pappy; some times pappy wud out run dem but he dasent go home, cause dey wud come dar to hunt him. Pappy had scars on his back when he died put dar by de Patroller. He die way back in 1883 an' is buried in Amite County.
"When Christmas wud come Marse wud give de slaves a big drink on Christmas mornin' an' let dem have chicken fur dinner, an' I allus got a big apple an' some nuts, an' I remember gittin' some gum drop candy one time. When I chewed dat candy I could chew most uf de day, fur it stayed wid yo'.
"I neber seed folks dance till I wus a big boy and den I larnt to shuffle my feet but dey sed I wus a pore dancer. Dar neber wus a dance on Marse Newsome's place.
"I had to wait on de table when dey had company an' I heard dem sayin' de big War wus comin' but I didn't kno' whut dat meant. I kno'd de slaves wud git togedder an' pray fur to be sot free but I didn't kno' whut dey wus talkin' bout. De slaves wanted to be free so dey could come an' go places like de white folks an' de Patroller wud not git dem. Den dey wanted some money to buy deir own clothes.
"Yo' kno' all de clothes dey got wus jes' handed out to dem. I neber had a pair uf pant till I wus bout eighteen years old. I wore long tail shirts an' went bare footed. Yes, I wus happy jes' so long as my Mistress tuck keer uf me, but afte' de war I had er mi'ty hard time.
"Well when old marse rid off to de War an' my Mistress cried, he tole my pappy to look afte' de Mistress, an' pappy did. De overseer wus hard. He did not go to de war, sed he wus too old. Ebery one uf de slaves loved my Mistress an' dey wud fight fur her.
"Dat wus de last time I eber seed my Marse. Dey sed he died in Camp, but my Mistress neber got ober it.
"She made me stay in de house an' I slept right on de floor in de corner uf her room an' she had a big bull dog dat stayed in dar wid us an' no body better not come bout us to hurt us.
"One day we cud hear de big cannons roar an' 'boom' an' almos' shake de earth; dey sed it wus de cannons at Vicksburg an' some big fightin' gwinin' on. Mistress wud civer up her face an' he'd ebery time she heard dat noise an' pray fur de soldiers.
"One day Mistress had de overseer to ring de plantashun bell an' call de slaves frum de fiel' --- an' he re'd a paper to dem an' tole dem dey wus free. Dey all sed dey wus gwine to stay wid Mistress but dat overseer wud still whup dem an' drive dem 'round like dey wus slaves an' most uf dem left.
"Times got mi'ty hard wid my Mistress, an' deir wus mity lil'l cotton made an' no coffee an' no money. We had to dig up the salty dirt in de smoke house an' put it in a hopper an' pore water on it den bile dat water to make salt. We neber got no more biskits an' de cows quit givin' so much milk an' Mistress had to rent out her farm de next few years an' go libe wid her children.
"All de slaves had hard times. My mammy went down in Louisiana to work on share for a Mr. Blade an' when de crop wud made we got nuffin fur our wurk. All de white folks wus pore an dey cud not pay de black folks fur wurk, an' de black folks had no credit an' some uf dem went to stealin' an' den de Bull Dozers wud git dem fur dat.
"Some uf de folks had to eat parched corn an' taters to keep frum starvin' --- My pappy left my mammy an' tuck up wid a nudder woman, an' I wus de oldest uf five chilluns, an' we had a hard time.
"My Mistress sont fur me to come live wid dem afte' she left de old place, but her son in law wus not good to de black people dat wurk fur him so I didn't stay dar long.
"Yo' kno' when de Yankees come down here an' sot de black folks free, dey sed dey wus gwine to give dem forty acres uf land an' a mule. Well, dey sot dem free an' gibe dem nuffin. Dey tuck all whut de white folks had an' left dem pore an' put it in deir pockets an' gibe de black folks nuffin.
"No, I dont want to be in slavery any more, but I dont want to believe any thing de Yankees tells me.
"How did I make my fu'st money? Well my Mistress taught me how to card, an' spin, an' make cloth, an' den I watched old Joe fix de reels when dey wus out uf order. I wus called upon to go to Mr. Peter Quin's house an' fix a reel fur his wife an' she had me to help make some fancy cloth fur her an' paid me one dollar fur dat. Dat wus big money fur me an' I bought myself a hat wid dat money.
"I spun de cloth whut my fu'st pants wus made uf an' my mammy made de pants, an' I wus mar'ied in dem pants. I mar'ied a gal by de name uf Blanch Watson an' libed wid her nigh bout twenty years when she died an' left me six chilluns to keer fur. Den I mar'ed a young gal named Mirindy, an' she died bout fo' years er go.
"I libe wid my grand son an' his fambly. I is old an' hard uf hearin' an' not able to do much wurk, but I hoes de garden and pick peas an' shell de peas an' string de beans.
"I is been in jail more dan one time. One time a black man stole a cow an' sed I done it an' dey put me in jail fur dat. I wus sont to de County farm fur dat but I did not steal dat cow.
"One time I got in a fight wid a feller an' cut him right bad. Dey put me in jail an' sed I wus tryin' to kill him. I thought I wus gwine to de Pen dat time, but I give a bale uf cotton to dat lawyer Stockdale an' he got me out uf dat trouble. I wus drunk when I cut dat nigger.
"A nudder time me an' a nudder feller got in a fight at de church house an' dey put us in jail fur disturbin' de peace of de church. Dat cost me twenty five dollars. I wus drunk den. I wus bad bout gittin' drunk in dem days. But I is quit dat now.
"I is a member uf de Methodist Church an' I am tryin' to live so I can make peace wid my Marster when He calls me home. Yes, I am a shoutin' Methodist. Ebery time I feel de Spirit move me I jes' gibe him de reigns an' I tells de wurld I is happy. When I is happy in de Lord dar is no shuttin' my mouf. I tells de whole wurld. I is gwine to Heaben when I die.
"I neber sing nuffin but religious songs. I believes dat is is a sin to sing dese new fangled songs. De Lord wants yo' to sings bout Him. Dont de good Book say fur yo' to shout an' sing bout de Lord. I is gwine to do my duty.
"No I neber seed de Yankees. Dey sed dat de Yankees come throu' de County, but we didn't libe on de big road an' it might been hard to find our house. Fore Marse went to de War he buried his money some whar an' my pappy he'ped him bury it, but afte' de war, pappy dug up ebery place whar it wus buried an' none uf it wus dar.
"My Mistress sho' needed dat money, she got to be awful pore fore she died.
"Pappy wurk at de gin when dey gathered de cotton. Dat gin wus not like de gins dey have now. It wus pulled by hosses, an' I wud go an' watch dem make de hosses go round. Sometimes pappy wud let me ride one uf de hosses if Marse wus not dar.
"One day dey wus strippin' de cane to cut fur to grind, an' I wus he'pin' dem an cut my hand wid de leaves uf de cane. I had to go to de house an' Mistress wrapped it up an' put some kind uf linemint on it - dat linemint sho' di sot me on fire. I think it wus Turpentine.
"I is lived here bout twelve years. I likes to farm but too old to plow. I git no pension, but I wus on de Relief but now dey done tuck dat frum me.
Lewis is about five feet five inches tall. Weighs about 135 pounds. His face is long. Is yellow complexion with grey moustaches an' seems to want to talk, but his mind wanders more in the past than the present. He is deaf an' hard to talk with. Says he is ruptured an' for that reason not able to do much work. Seems to be very poor as his clothes were almost rags.
Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi