Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Westley Little - age 90
Foreword: Westley Little, ex-slave, lives near Trenton Mississippi in Smith County. He was born about the year 1846, was owned during slavery time by Sandy Little in Smith County. He has lived all his ninty years with in two and one half miles of his birth place. He weighs one hundred and thirty five pounds and is about five feet and five inches in height. His general coloring is a light rich brown and has a heavy suit of browsy grey hair. He is some what feeble yet active for his age. His health is poor. This is the story of his life.
"My life has been so smooth an' quiet lak, I feels lak deir ain't much dat I can tell out ob de general run of happenings. Yo' see, I'se a living in a stones throw of de place whar I was born. I can set here an' see de places whar I run 'bout an' whar I wuked when I was a slave wid ole Marse back in de good ole days.
"I can recollect ever seeing my pa as he run away when I was a little chap. I knows he was born in Jasper County Mississippi an' belonged to a German by de name o' Fopper who wasn't use to dis country nor de lan' nor nuthing, he jes' naturally never could make a go o' farming. I'se seed more 'en one strangers in my time come down here an' try to farm an' fail. It takes us ole southerns to know how to make dis good lan' yeild. Dis Fopper German shifted about trying to find a place he could git rich lak a heap o' de southerners was a doing but alwas' managed to fail. I dont know how many places he had tried fo' he come to Mississippi an' fo' pa knowed any thing bout him. He left Jasper County an' went close to Jackson an' tried de fertile river lands, den he left deir an' tried one er two other places an' finally landed at Magee whar de land was good an' failed lak he always did. He decided to give it up, he sole pa an' all his slaves. Dats how come me to belong to Marse Little an' whar I gits my name. Dats all de names us ever knowed was our masters an' we changed names if we changed masters. In all dem changes pa some how managed to run away an' we never did see him no mo. We heard when de war broke out dat he jined de army an' fought wid de Yankees. I never did know if he come through it er not.
"Marse Little wasn't no big plantation owner, he jis' had 'bout thirty five or fourty acres in cultivation. He had acres o' pasture an' timber land. He jis' owned a few slaves to keep the farming an' things a gwine on. Our cabin was in Marse's back yard. Dis may not sound lak slaves days but I had a good master what sho' 'nuf looked after us in de right way. I was fed jes' lak marse was, de same kind o' food dat him an' his folks et, an' we was sat down to a table o' plenty. Our cabins was small but big 'nuf fer us 'cause all our cookin' an' eatin' went on at Marse's. Us had big fire places wid plenty o' fat pine an' logs to burn, an' when hit was even a bit chilly us had a roarin' fire. Us had good beds to sleep on an' plenty o' kiver. Marse worked us reasonably too, an' since he didn't hab slaves 'nuf to keep a over seer an' done de over seein' his self deir was very little whippin' gwine on. I was a slave 'till I was 'bout ninteen years ole an' I can truthfully say I never got but two whippin's from my Marse de whole time an' dey was when I was a little chap, an' I'll thank him 'till my dying day fer dem thrashin's fer I deserved both ob 'em an' dey helped to shape de straight, honest life I'se lived. One whippin' was bout de middle o' de day. I was helpin' Marse in de lot, he wanted to tie a ox to a post an' he sont me to de house fer some rope dat was in de pantry. I didn't hab on no pants jes' a long shirt. Aunt Hetty, de cook had jes' turnt out some o' de bes' lookin' egg bread. I went to de table an' slipped a big piece under my shirt. I don't know why I done dat 'cause nobody cared. I went on to de lot an' handed Marse de rope an' den he spied dat I had some 'em hid under my shirt. He ask me whut it was an' I tole him I didnt hab nothing hid under my shirt. He didn't even look to see whut I had hid. He got a keen switch an' give me a good thrashin'. When I quieted off he called me to him an' give me a good talk. He say he didn't whip me 'cause ob de bread but fer tellin' a lie an' de talk he give me dat mornin' 'bout bein' honest an' truthful has stuck wid me all dese years. Den de nex' whippin' I got was 'bout bein' careless an' lettin' some Cattle git out, an' by gittin' dey done a heap o' damage. Marse told me dat time dat it warn't de loss I caused him dat he whipped me fer, it was fer not bein' trustworthy. He made me set down in de shade ob a big tree by de ole pasture gate an' give me another talk an' from dat good day I ain't never willfully betrayed another trust. After den Marse trusted me an' here is proof. We had to walk fo' miles to Church a heap o' de times as de roads was bad an' Marse's ole buggy was in de shop half de time. Back in dem days dey didn't think nothin' o' sendin' chillun three or fo' miles to Church or school. An' time after time Marse has sont me wid his little girls on dis fo' mile walk to Church. He knowed dey was safe wid me, he knowed I'd a fought like a tiger to have protected one ob 'em. I played wid Marse Chillun lak I did my own brothers an' sisters. A heap o' nights after we had played hard all day an' until late I has crawled in de bed wid Marse's boys an' slept all night. One day we was all playin' in de side yard under de tree whar de well was. One o' Marse's little girls was hackin' on a block wid a hatchet. I run up deir an' put my finger on de block an' said, "Sue,
cut my finger off." An' what do you think? Dat little thing come down wid dat hatchet an' cut de end o' my finger off. (Here he shows the finger and chuckles). It plumb nigh scares us all out ob our wits. De blood was simply gushin'. Marse even got excited an' got mighty busy a gittin' hit fixed up.
"We was taught some schoolin' deir at Marse's an' we was trained to be religious too. I can remember yet how's Miss Sally taught me de Lords Prayer. I was powerful little an' has prayed dat prayer a many a time since den. We went to Church at de white folks meetin' house. One Sunday when I was jes' a strip ob a boy de preacher preached on how man was made from de dust o' de earth an' would return to dust. I was converted at dat sermon. He opened de do's ob de Church, but nobody went up, den he ask if any ob de darkies in de back part ob de Church wanted to jine. I wanted to so bad but didn't go. I worried all de way home. I was all tore up an' went an' tole Miss Sally. She talked to me an' told me to pray an' jine de nex' time which I did.
"I wuked 'bout Marse's place in de yard, garden an' lots an' when I was ole 'nuf I wuked in de fiel's. I plowed wid de slaves, hoed, an picked cotton. We laked cotton pickin' times. A bunch ob us in a big white fiel' ob cotton whar we could pick an' sing an' joke one another. We knowed plenty to eat was waitin' fer us an' a good nights sleep. Give a darkie dat an' he can be as happy as a coon.
"When de war come on we was tole lan' an' stuff would be give us. We didn't know much what to believe. Hard an' turrible times followed. Food an' clo'es got mighty scarse. We could hear cannons a roarin' from de battle fiel's, soldiers an' calverymen was a gwine through. De country was tore up an' de good stock an' cattle kilt out an' de purty house burnt down. I took wagon loads ob water mellons an' peaches to de Northern camps to sell. I got ten dollars a piece fer dem water mellons cause dey was so scarse, an I got ten dollar a bushel fer my peaches. When de war did end de slaves was turnt loose wid no way to take care o' dem selves. An' to cap hit all de Ku Klux sprung up a whippin' an' a meddlin' up wid everything. But you couldn't blame de white folks from clannin' up cause de freed niggers got might smart an' hard headed. Dey thought dey owned everything jes' 'cause dey was free. Me an' my folks finally settled on a little farm an' I got married. 'Bout five other boys was a courtin my gal but I got in de lead.
"I was called to preach but needed mo' learnin' so I went to school wid my chillun an' made a preacher. I went 'bout preachin' fer twenty years.
"My wife died years ago. I married again. I'se raised two sets o' chillun an' schooled 'em. Not a one of my two sets o' chillun ever heard me speak a unbecomin' word.
"I'se a livin' well an' my chillun is too. Dey is lak me, dey is good Christians.
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.
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