Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
Notice: This file may be downloaded for Personal Use Only, and may not otherwise be printed or copied without prior written consent of the submitter.
MSGenWeb Index Page
USGenWeb African-American Griot Project
From the WPA Slave Narratives:
I has heared my grandma and grandpa say that my family came from Arkansas. They was brought to Tennessee by slave traders and sold to Mr. Calvin and his wife, Miss Mildred Jones, who had three children, all boys, Elic, Tom, and Monroe. The Joneses lived in Sumerville, Tennessee and their big plantation where the slaves all stayed was about a mile and a half in the country. My father, Nat Jones, and mother, Cessler Jones, had five children, Calvin and me was the boys, Lithia, Beckie and Catherine was the girls. All of us lived in the quarters in log cabins. My grandma Jancy looked after all the children while the grown folks was working in the fields. There was one big room where everybody ate dinner and supper. The breakfast was sent to the field by the children that was big enough to carry it. I never did see my mother or father except on Sunday. I stayed in the house they did, but they left in the morning for the fields before I was awake, and when they got back I was asleep. They sure did work their slaves from before day till after dark. We didn't know nothing tall bout money cause we never seed none. The eating what they give us sure warn't nothing to brag on. Most of the time we didn't have nothing excusing meat and bread and the biggest part of the meat was possums, coons, and rabbits. Course in the summer time they would give us greens and cabbage out of the big garden what they planted just to feed us. Once my father stold some hog meat. He made us children get under the bed to eat it so nobody could see us if they came by the house. He always fed us under the bed when he got hold of something he didn't want nobody to know nothing bout. There was an old woman on the place named Charlet. She did the weaving of the cloth to make our clothes. The cloth the pants was made out of was dyed a dark color. Everything else we wore was just the natural color. Children didn't have nothing to wear no how but shirts, and the women folks wore things that looked like shirts only longer. There wasn't no difference in the cloth they used in the winter and in the summer. There was a shoemaker on the place. He made every body shoes but they warn't no count like shoes is now. Sometimes we didn't have no shoes to wear.
I recollect going hunting once with my young master, and I had to cover my feet with old carpets. The overseer's name was Bryant. He was the boss, as my master didn't live on the place. He had two or three colored men for leaders, which is the same as drivers. There was about two thousand acres in the place and so many slaves in it that they hired them out to the neighbors. Bryant was the one what did the whipping. I had an uncle named Abe Jone he whipped him till his shirt all stuck to his back and my mother had to put grease on him to get the shirt off. What he was getting punished for was telling the slaves they was going to be set free. They took Abe after that to town and locked him up in jail. We aint never heared of such a thing before as a slave being put in a white man's jail. That man Bryant gave my mother a beating once when she was sick. Some says that beating caused her death. I can't say that it did and I can't say that it didn't, but I do know, she never got up out of that bed no more till she died and they carried her out. After she died my father got an ax and went to Mr. Bryant's house to kill him. Somebody at the house seed him and he ran off to the woods and hid. They shot at him as he ran, and the shot hit him in the heel but that didn't stop him and they had to get the hounds out 'fore they could find him. Mr. Whitehead was called the negger taker. He was the one what got the hounds and caught my father. Old Master didn't let no whipping go on about that till he was right there to see to it that it wasn't given too hard. That was the only trouble I ever member betwixed the colored and whites. What happened the niggers didn't get hold of, and if they did, they better not talk bout it. We wasn't 'lowed to leave the place 'less we had a pass. If we slipped off, the patrollers would sure catch you. We never worked after dinner on Saturday and sometimes they would give us the whole day.
We didn't have no celebration on Christmas. The children would hang up their stockings in the cabins and get candy and cake put in them. The grown folks were given a day or two to go hunting or fishing. There wasn't no form of amusement not even a corn shucking.
When folks got married they didn't have no wedding cause they didn't have nothing to dress up in. The young master just married them and that's all there was to that.
The biggest thing the niggers done was working congeralions. The funny thing bout that was they could hoo-doo each other but they sure couldn't hoo-doo the white folks. One young nigger cussed the old conger man on the place. The old man reached up and cut off some of his hair, put it in a sack and throwed the sack in the water. That boy acted mighty bigity till that hair started floating down stream. Then he got scared most to death. He ran all day trying to get that hair back. He most went crazy 'fore he got that spell lifted. Them hoo-doo men could do them things, no doubt bout that. I is heared of them putting lizards and scorpions in folks closets, and somebody in the house would die.
I was conjured once, and only once, in my life by a man who gave me some whisky in a black bottle. Two minutes after I swallowed that whisky, pains went through me like a knife. I begun running fast as I could cause I knowed right them I had been hoo-dooed. I would have died if a man hadn't told my wife three things to mix together and give me. Fore I took it he said if you ain't conjured this will kill you, but it will cure you if you is. I knowed I was, so I took it and it proved I was cause right then I started getting better and shortly I was well. If you gets conjured the only way for you to get cured or have the spell lifted is to go to some one who knows more bout it than the one who conjured you. Some folks wore different things in their shoes to keep the spells off. I don't believe nothing like that could help none. Spirits don't show their self now like they used to. There was a time you couldn't stay in certain houses they bothered you so. My grandmother sent me to the crib one night for to get some corn. When I got nearly there I could hear fiddling and dancing going on. The crib was the place dances had been held. Mr. Canons' place was next to ours. He had so many slaves and nothing much to feed them on. They all went hungry. Every evening if you passed his graveyard you could hear babies crying, you sure could hear it, and I aint the only one what could prove it. You know that boy Julious that drives the dray around town? I raised that boy and he sure has turned out to be a good man. His mother died when he was little and I took him to care for. One day I gave him a sound whipping 'bout something he done wrong. That same night when I went out in the yard, I seed his mother just hovering over his little wagon. I seed her just as plain as if she had never died.
We didn't have no colored churches on the place. We went to the white folks Baptist Church. All that preachers teaching to us was, when you serve your master, you is serving God. They didn't allow us to hold no services of our own. We did hold them anyway. We would turn all the pots over so we wouldn't be heared. When pots is turned over in a house they catch all the echo and not a sound can be heard outside. Old Miss taught us Bible every Sunday. I never tended a real service where they had singing and praying and moaners' bench all such as that till I was grown. We didn't have no teachers to learn us to read and write but I sure did learn to read the Bible, how I don't know, but I could read it today or some parts of it, if it wasn't my eyes is too bad for me to see with. I never seed the like of the poor white folks that lived around us. They was sure bad off. When they moved, they put their belongings in little wagons and had dogs to pull them. That sure was a sight seeing dogs pulling wagons, but they didn't have no other way to get from place to place. When the war came on, I must have been about fourteen years old. All the men on the place run off and joined the northern army. I was not old enough to join, so they left me behind with the work to do. We couldn't get much news 'bout what was going on. I didn't know what the white folks heared cause they didn't let no information out. The war had been going on for two years before I seed any real action. I was ploughing in the field when I got the word to take all the mules and hide them in the swamp that the Yankees were coming. After I got them all securely hid out, I walks down to the big road to see the soldiers pass. When they came along, they stopped and made me go to the swamps and bring them every last one of them mules. That was in the year 1863, at that time the southern folks had the Yankees whipped, and they would have won that war if it hadn't been for a great man by the name of Abraham Lincoln. That man held a council right then. He 'greed to take all the colored people. Said if they fought on his side he would set them all free. When them niggers heard that free part, they all joined the army. I fought with them for two years and five months. I wasn't turned loose till 1866 we was mustared out in Baton Rouge, La. and discharged in Memphis, Tenn. We was offered land, but I didn't accept none. Mr. Lincoln was sure a wonderful man. He did what God put him here to do, took boundage off the colored people and set them free. Mr. Lee sure didn't leave no such record behind him. They tells me before he died he had a mule and a nigger brought before him and he told the folks to protect the mule and to keep the nigger down. They says there is always some one can take another's place, but they aint none showed up yet, to take the place of Booker T. Washington. He was a teacher and educator. There aint no such man as that now. The ones that have come along since are just out for the money in it. The people now aint Christians as they should be cause if they were you wouldn't hear about all these here wars whats going on right now. Soon after the war I joined the church I got religion while I was in one of those war hospitals. A voice came to me then saying, "you is dying." The Lord spoke and said to me "does you believe". I answered "I does". The first meeting I 'tended after that was in a bush arbor. When the call came for moaners, I went to the bench and when I said "amen", I couldn't rise from that seat. To this good day I has kept up with that good Baptist religion. After I left the army in Memphis I came on down to Mississippi and got work on a farm near Dublin. Later I moved to Coahoma County. It wasn't no trouble finding work to do, and I was treated as nice as if I hadn't fought in the yankee army. The K.K.K. was going round for awhile scaring the folks, but after Gov. Alcorn got in office, he put a stop to all such as that. The niggers was all allowed to vote. There was colored sheriffs, clerks, and magistrates. In 1868 I married Minnie Horward. We was living then out here on the Sledge place. We had two girls, Lizzie and Mannie. They is both living and farming here near me. My second wife was named Charlet and I had two girls by her, Maggie and Ella. They is both dead. My third wife was named Emma, my fourth Catherine, my fifth Carrie, and this one you see here is Lula. The best one of all them women was Charlet. She was a better one than the one I got now, though this one does very well. Three of them is dead that I knows of; and I 'speck they is all dead by now 'cept this one. I has only one grandchild. He is living with his ma. I don't take much stock in this young generation. They don't have right bringing up. My wife reads me out of the paper 'bout them going against their parents and sometimes killing them. Such as that is enough to make you quit reading the paper. I owns my little home here and I gets a war pension from the government of seventy-five dollars a month. I aint got nothing to complain of 'cept the sinners, what you can't get to the house of God. I has peace in my heart cause I know when the Lord calls again, I will be ready to answer Him same as I did years ago "I do believe."
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.
Copyright © 2005-2008 by MSGenWeb Project. All rights reserved.