County: Wilkinson and Adams
Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
James Lucas age 104
Foreword: James Lucas, an ex-slave was born in Wilkinson County, Mississippi West of Woodville, Oct. 11, 1833. He was sold four times. His first master was Bill Stamps, who would get drunk and who finally lost all of his property. It was turned over to the bank in New Orleans, Brown and Bros. His second master was Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. He was sold again to D. D. Weathers. James was sold for the fourth and last time to L. G. Chambers. He fought in the Civil War 71 years ago, and says at one time during the war 8,000 men were lying dead all around him and more still falling. He was wounded in the left hip. The dent where the bullet penetrated the flesh can be plainly seen. He says he would have given $100 at that time if he could have had the ball extracted to wear as a souvenir on his watch chain. When he left home to go to war he had a wife and two children. Four years later when the war ended and he returned his children were dead but his wife was still living. Three years later she died and he took up with another woman. He has five living children, the eldest a daughter who lives in Natchez and over one hundred grand children and great great grand children. James is still quite active. Has a wonderful memory and can see fairly well. He says he has never worn a pair of glasses in his life. He is the oldest ex-slave now living in Natchez.
During the high water in 1882 James moved off of the river and came to Natchez and bought a home on North Commerce St. where he now resides. He was pilot on the Verne Swain boat for a number of years. He says he belongs to the Church of Right: that is, God's Church. He never went to school a day in his life but can scribble his name. The slaves were not allowed to have a book or a piece of paper with print on it. His master bought eight slaves from Baltimore and some from Virginia. Those that came from Baltimore were sent back as they could read and write and were too smart. His master hung the best slave he had for trying to teach the others how to spell. Greeting his visitors with politeness, James Lucas, an ex-slave living in Natchez, gave his age as 104. With a twinkle in his eyes he added:
"Miss you kin count hit up fer yourself. I was born October 11, 1833. My young marster give me my age when he heired de property of his uncle, Mr. Withers. He was goin' through de papers an' a-burnin' some when he found de one 'bout me. Den he said: 'Jim, dissen 'bout you, hit gives yore birthday'.
"Yes, ma'm," he continued "I knows a heap an' now I'se all by myse'f. All my old friends has lef' me. Mens, lak Mr. Fleming, what was little boys when I was a grown man has growed up an' passed on. My chilluns looks old as me an' my baby chil' died jus' last month. But I'se got a granchil' what I loves as good as my own chilluns." Hesitating slightly he went on:
"I was born in a cotton field, an' de wimmens fixed my maw up so she didn' lose no time. Yes, ma'm, she sho'e was healthy".
When asked about his early masters, he seemed a little hazy. "I b'longed to a marster what owned a heap o' lands. Less see, dey was called Artonish, an' Lockdale, an' Lochleaven. Dey is all 'long together. Lemme see, I bleives my firs' marster was W.B. Withers. He was frum de nawth an' he didn' have no wife. Marsters wid out wives was de debble. I knows a plenty what I oughtn' tell to ladies, but hit wasn' de marsters what was so mean hit was dey trashy po-white over-seers an' agents; dey was mean as bull-dogs." "Yes ma'm, wives made a big diffe'ence. Dey was kind an' went 'bout amongst de niggers lookin after 'em. Dey give out food, an' close an' shoes an' doctored de little babies".
"When things went wrong de nigger wimmens was all de time puttin' me up to tellin dey missus. I was a house servant an' de ober-seer dasn't hit me a lick. Marster done lay de law down he wazn' eber to punish me. D.D. Withers was my young marster an' he was a little man but ebery body stept when he cum 'round. My next marster was L.G. Chambers. Sometimes he would come to de plantation wid a big wagon filled wid clothes, an' a thousand pair ob shoes, at one time. He had a nice wife an' one day while I was waitin on de table I see old Marse lay his knife down like he tired. Den he lean back in his cheer kinda still-like, an I say, 'What's de matter wid Marse L.G.?' "Den dey all jumps up an' screams, cause he was plumb dead"
Once launched, Uncle Jim is a voluble talker. It only takes a few leading questions to draw him out but his ears are bad and one must shout in the better one. This infirmity causes some wandering in his replies but its due to a lack of hearing and not to a faulty memory.
"My next marster was Jefferson Davis, hisself. He was good but she was better. I mean de lady he married in Natchez. Yes, ma'm, dats hit, she was Miss Varina Howell. I'se de only livin person whose eyes eber seed 'em bofe. I talked wid her an', when dey cum in de big steamboat, I met 'em wid de carriage an' fore us got to de big house, I tole he of de goin's on 'bout de plantation. She was a fine lady. I didn' 'blong to dem long. De wah broke out an' Marse Davis had to sell de place. I was a grown man den wid a wife an' two chillens. We was sol' to Mr. Bill Stamps whose wife was Miss Lucindy. Dey had to mortgage us to Brown and Brothers, around St. Joseph."
"You see, I stayed on de place wid de folks till long cum de Yankees. Dey tuck me off an' put me in de Wah. Firs' dey shipped me on a ship, den tuk me to land an' I was in Baltimore and Virginia. Fact is, I was dar when Gin'l Lee handed his sword to Gin'l Grant. You see, Miss, dey had him all hemmed in an' he jus' natchelly had to. Law! hit was suah turrible times. Dese ole eyes o' mine seed more people crippled an' dead, an' even seed 'em saw off laigs wid hack saws. I tell you it ain't right what I seed. Hit ain't right atall. Den I was put to burying sojers an' when no body was lookin' I stript de dead of dey money. Sometimes dey had hit in a belt 'round dey bodies. Soon I got a big roll o' greenbacks den I cum trampin back home. My folks didn' have no money but dat wuthless kind. Hit was all dey knowed 'bout an' when I grabbed some of hit an' throwed hit in de fire; hit worried dem till I tol' 'em dat ain't money. Hits no 'count. Den I give my daddy a greenback an' tol' him whut hit was".
"Yessum I'se had plenty chillun but I kain't 'member dem all."
In appearance Uncle Jim is small, wrinkled and slightly stooped. His wooly hair is very white and his eyes bright and twinkly. He wears a small grizzled moustache and is always neat and clean. In reply to a question, he explained that he couldn't read but his eyes were very good except for near objects so he only had glasses for "seein close".
Uncle Jim's memory is remarkably clear, considering his extreme age, but he regrets that he "remembahs" things of the past far better than happenings of the present.
Five feet and five inches tall, he weighs only 108 pounds and if he lives till 1938 his Federal pension will be increased to $125.00 a month.
"I paid $800 dollars for my house but if I'd'a thought I'd'a got one wid more land. I wanted to put a iron fence around hit an' gild hit wid silver paint. Den when I'se gone hit would a bin dar".
"My first wife lived till 'bout 17 years ago, an' I done what de Good Book says. Hit tells you
when you goes to de graveyard to bury one wife look ober de crowd an' pick out your nex' one. Dat jist what I done, ain't hit?" he said, addressing his wife. She nodded, her ear rings swinging as she did so. Her name was Janie McCoy, and she smokes a pipe! Being old looking herself and rather plump, she wears a gay turban which does not hide the fact that her hair is whitening. She dresses neatly and each hand is laden with rings while a string of beads decorates her fat neck. When one of the visitors suggested interviewing her, the husband spoke quickly, "she don't know nothin. She can't tell you a thing".
The conversation then turned to Uncle Jim's habits and the explanation of his longevity.
"Yes, ma'm, I takes a little dram when ever I wants to, an' I smokes a pipe and a seegar but I'se had to stop chewin' tabacco since my teeth is gone. I dont eat much, but I kin sure walk an' I ain' bin sick in bed but once in 70 years".
"I use to weigh 158 pounds but dis ole carcass done loss 50 pounds o' meat. Now I has a heap o' misery in my knee so I kan't ride no more. You see, I'se got a musket ball in my hip an' now dat my meat's all gone hit jolts around an' hurts me wuss."
In spite of his war wound, Uncle Jim is surprisingly agile. He can jump the little drainage ditch in front of his gate. Yessum 'mos' ev'y day I walks a block and a ha'f to de little sto' where I sets and passes de time o' day wid de neighbors.
His age is pretty well authenticated. Reared in Wilkinson county, descendants of his former owners have vouched for this. The late Mr. James Fleming, former owner of Artonish plantation knew "old Jim" when he was a little boy. He was one to whom Uncle Jim referred when he said:
"Men what was little boys when I was a grown man has all growed up en passed on". Mr. Marks and other prominent men of Natchez concur in the belief that Jim's age is over the century mark. He was old when their fathers grew up and its true that he's the last living slave who belonged to the President of the Confederacy. He is also "the last leaf on the tree" and as he said, with a touch of pathos, all his friends have left him. But for his pension he might exemplify the words of that old song:
"My har am white on de top o' my head
My boddy am thin cause I ain't half fed,
Marster and Missus bofe am dead,
Oh, whose gonna take keer o' me?"
James Lucas Additional Interview:
"Come in Miss, aint you de one what come to see me jist a little while back? See, I membahs people better den dey think.
-Want to know some mo 'bout me? Well, I reckon dare plenty I kin tell ye. My mine runs back nearly a hundred years en I'se all by myself. Folks what was babies when I was a grown man has all growed up en passed on. Dare aint nobody left what I knowed when I was young. I shore bin left a long ways behind.
-How old is I? Why, dis comin October I'll be 104 years old. I was bawn de 11 day ob October 1833. If you don't bleeve me jist count it up for yoreself. I jist missed seein de stars fall. My young marster gib me my age when he heired de property. He was goin through de fambly papers en burnin dem when he found one 'bout me. Den he said: 'Jim dissen bout you. Hit gibs yore birthday'.
Ize a little hazy 'bout my fust white folks but I knows dey owned a heap ob land en five hundred slaves. L see, dare was Artonish, Lochdale en Lochlevan, all three dem big plantations was along de Mississippi ribber in Wilkinson County.
-Trufe is I was bawn in a cotton field during cotton pickin time. De wimmin fixed my mammy up so she didn't lose no time. She show was strong en healthy. Her name was
Silvey and her mammy come to dis country in a big ship. Somebody give her de name ob 'Betty' but hit wuzn't her rightful name. Folks couldn't understand a word she said It was some sort ob gibberish dat sounded funny. My pappy was Bill Lucas.
-Us colored folks didn't pay no tention to who owned us, least ways de young ones didn't). Lemme see, I is shore my fust marster was Mr. Jim Stamps 'en his wife was 'Miss Lucindy'. She was pleasant en soft goin en us was glad when she stayed on de plantation. Somehow us changed hands en next thing I knowed us all belonged to Mr. W. B. Withers. He was from de nawth en marsters wid out wives was de debble. Hit really wuzn't de marsters so much ez hit was dey po-white obberseers. Law Miss, obberseers was wuss den bull-dogs. Sometimes dey put people in stocks en whipped dem but what de marster didn't know didn't hurt him.
-Wives allus made a heap ob difference. Dey was kind en went amongst de slaves lookin aftah dem. Dey gib out de food en good clothes en doctored on de little picaninnies. Us allus loved our mistus en was willin to serve her.
-I dont rightly know how hit come about 'cause things wuzn't nevah explained to slaves but ez well ez I kin membah my third marster was Jefferson Davis hisself. He wuzn't no president when I knowed him. He was jist a quiet gentleman wid a pretty young wife what he married in Natchez. Less see, her name was 'Miss Variny' en he shore let her hab her way. Us slaves used to laugh en say she was our "Marster en Missus too'. (I was a big boy 'bout thirteen years old en dey tuck me up de country toward Vicksburg to a place called Brierfield. Hit must a bin named fur her ole home in Natchez what was called 'The Briers'.
Ize de only livin person whose eyes seed 'em bofe. I talked wid her when dey come on a big steam boat en I used to meet dem wid de carriage. Fore us reached de big house I allus tole her 'bout de goings on at de plantation. She suah was a fine lady.
When Marse Davis got nominated fur something, he either had to sell or mortgage us. Anyhow us went back down de country. I didn't 'blong to him no great while but I aint nevah forgot de look ob him. He was tall en kalm-like en savin on his words. His wife was jist de other way, she talked more den a plenty.
I bleeves a bank sold us next to Marse L. G. Chambers. I membahs him well. I was a house servant en de obberseer dassen't hit me a lick. Marster done lay de law down he wuzn't ebber to punish me. When things went wrong de nigger wimmin was all de time puttin me up to tellin de missus. Most planters only lived on dare plantations a part of each year. Dey would go off to Saratogy en places up de nawth coast.
Sometimes Marse 'L.G.' would come down to de place wid a big wagon filled wid a thousand pairs of shoes at one time. He had a nice wife en one day whilst I was waitin on de table, I see ole Marse lay his knife down like he tired. Den he lean back in his big cheer kinda still. Den I say:
"Whats de mattah wid Marse 'L.G.'? Den dey all jump up en screamed, cause he was plumb daid.
I was a grown up man wid a wife en two chillen when de wah broke out. You see, I stayed wid de folks till 'long come de Yankees. Dey tuck me off en put me in de wah. Fust dey shipped me on a gunboat en next dey made me help dig a canal at Vicksburg. I was on de gunboat when it shelled de town. Hit was turrible seein folks tryin to blow each udder up. While we was bull-doggin Vicksburg in front a Yankee army slipped in behind de Rebels en penned dem up.
I fit at Fort Pillow en Harrisonburg en Pleasant Hill en 'fore I was half through wid hit I was in Baltimore en Virginia. I was dar when Gineral Lee handed his sword to Gineral Grant an seen him stick hit up in de ground. You see Miss, us had Lee all hemmed in en he naturally had to surrender. Law hit suah was turrible times. Dese ole eyes ob mine seed more people crippled en dead. I even seed em sawin off laigs wid hack saws. I tell ye hit aint right what I seen. Hit aint right a tall.
Den I was put to burying Yankee soldiers. When nobody was lookin I stript de daid ob dey money. Sometimes hit was in a belt around dey bodies. Soon I got a big roll ob greenbacks den I come trampin back home. My folks didn't have no money but dat worthless kind. Hit was all dey knowed about so when I grabbed some ob hit en throwed hit in de blazin fire dey thought I was crazy. Den I said:
Folks, dat aint money hits wurthless. Den I gib my daddy a greenback en tole him what hit was.
Yes, I draws a Federal pension en if I libes till next year hit will be raised to one hundred en twenty five dollars a mont. Hit shore comes in handy. I paid eight hundred dollars fur my house en ef I'd a thought I'd a got one wid mo land.
No, I don't want to grow nothin but I would a put a iron fence around hit en a gilded hit wid silver paint. Den when Ize gone hit would a bin dar.
Yes ma'am, Ise raised a big fambly. Some ob my chillen is dead en some ob dem looks ez ole ez I do. I dont rightly membah this minute how many I is had but I aint had but two wives. De fust one died 'bout seventeen years ago en I done what the Good Book says. Hit tells you: 'When you goes to de grave yard wid one wife look ober de crowd en pick out yore next one. Dats jist what I done. I picked Janie McCoy cause she hadn't nevah bin married before. She is a good cook, even if she does smoke a pipe, but you needn't ask her no questions cause she can't tell you a thing.
8 I don't know nothin 'bout no longevity en I shore don't lib by no rules. I jist takes a little dram when evah I wants to en I smokes a pipe en a cigar. For years I chewed tobacco but had to quit 'cause my teeth is gone.
No, I aint nevah bin no big eater but I kin sure walk good en I aint bin sick in bed but once in seventy years. I used to weigh one hundred and fifty eight pounds but dis ole carcus done loss fifty pounds ob meat. Now-adays I has a heap ob misery in my knee so I kaint ride around no mo. During de wah I got a musket ball in my hip en now dat my meats all gone hit jolts around en hurts me wuss.
In spite ob hit Ise still right sprightly en most ebbery day I walks to de little grocery store on Nawth Union Street. Dare I sits long enough to pass de time o' day wid my neighbors.
De longer I libes de plainer I see dat hit aint right to want mo dan you kin use. De Lord put a plenty here for eberybody but we dont heed his teachin.
Sometimes I gits lonesome fur de friends I used to know 'cause aint nobody left but me. Nobody membahs far back ez me. I suah bin left a long ways behind."
1 Slaves didnt know what to 'spect from freedom but a lot ob em hoped to be fed en kep in idleness by de government. Dey all had different ways ob thinkin' 'bout hit, but most ob 'em was like me, dey didnt know what freedom meant. Hit was jest a word dats all. Folks dat aint ebber bin free don't rightly know de feel ob bein free or de meanin ob hit."
2 "De slaves aftah de wah was worser off den when dey had marsters. Some ob em was put in stockades at Angola (La) en de turrible corral at Natchez. Dey wuzn't used to de stuff de Yankees fed 'em en dey caught diseases en died by de hundreds. Dey died like flies. Dey had bin fooled into thinkin hit would be good times but hit was de worstess times dey ebber seen. Dare wuznt no where fur em to go, no bed to sleep on en no roof obber dare haids. Dem what could get back home sot out wid dare mines made up to stay on de land. Most of dey mistuses took 'em back so dey tilled de land agin. I means dem what libed to get back to dey folks was glad to work. Dey done had a sad lesson. Some ob 'em was worser slaves aftah de wah dan befo' hit.
3 De Ku Klux was de debbil. De niggers sho was skeered ob 'em but dey was more aftah white folks den niggers. I libbed right amongst some ob de Ku Klux 'en knowed 'em but I wouldn't tell. Not me. I dasn't talk. Sometimes dey went right into de fields en took folks out 'en killed 'em. Aint none ob 'em left now. Dey is all daid en gone but day shore was rabid for a while. I nevah got in no trouble wid 'em 'cause I tended my business en kep' away frum 'em. I'd a bin kilt if I'd a run around 'en done any big talkin.
4 De songs has all left me. When you is gone I'll think ob dem but only one I kin rickolict is, "Drinkin ob De Wine". Ought to have bin to heavin three thousand years.
A drinkin ob dat wine, a drinkin ob dat wine.
5 I weared coarse "lowell cloth" shirts when I was little. Dey was long en had big collars en when de seams ripped our hide was 'sposed. I nevah went to church, but on Sundays a white man would preach 'en pray wid us. Den we'd go on 'bout our business. When I got big enough to wait 'bout de 'big house' an go to town I wore rough clean clothes. My pants was white 'lindsey woolsey' en my shirts was rough white cotton what was wove at de plantation.
At Christmus our marster gib de folks a heap ob fresh meat en whiskey fur treats, but you bettah not git drunk. Den on Christmus Eve we'd hab a big dance en de white folks would look on en see who danced the best. Marster en Missus laughed fit to kill at de capers we cut.
Sometimes dey had big weddin's an' de young white ladies drest de brides up lak dey was white an' sont to New' awleans for a big cake. De preacher married dem wid de very same testimony (ceremony) dey use now. Den ev'y body have a little drink, an' cake, an' dance till late in de night. De old time fiddlers played fas' music an' us all clapped our hands an' tromped in time. Us sho' made de raftahs ring.
In winter de sewin wimmins made us heavy clothes an' knit wool socks for us. De colored wimmins wore lin'sey woolsey dresses an' leggins wrop 'round dey laigs lak sojers wear. Dis was a long wool cloth an' it woun' 'round an' 'round dey laigs an' fastened at de top wid a string.
6 (7) I nebber knowed Mr. Lincoln personally but I heared he was a powerful good man. I membahs clearly whe he got kilt en how all de flags hung at half mast. Folks nearly went wild wid grief en blamed ebberybody else. Us all got skaired (scared) 'fear us hab to be slaves agin. De whole country shore was sorry en tried to blame Mr. Davis. I always thought my marster, Jefferson Davis was de best man of de two. I fit wid de Yankees but I thought a heap o' Mr. Davis. He was such a gintleman.
7 (8) B I guess slavery was wrong but look in back I membahs we had pretty good times. Some marsters was mean en hard but I was always treated well. One thing I knows is dat a heap o' slaves was worser off aftah de wah. Dey suffered 'cause dey was too triflin to work wid out a boss. Now dey is got to work or die. In dem days you worked en you rested en knowed you'd be fed. When hit got hot in de field ebber body was told to lay off en set in de shade a hour or two. Folks stretched out under big trees en drank cold spring water en et a cold lunch. Aftah dat most ebberbody tuck a nap. Some laid on de grass but most ob em went to de cabins en waited fur de horn to blow callin dem back to work. Dey didn't have nothin turrible to worry about if dey acted right. Dey was mean slaves de same es mean marsters.
Now adays folks don't live right. In slavery days when you got sick a white doctah was paid to git you well. In dis day folks lays a bed ailin en poorly en all dey gits is some no count patent medicine. Dey is 'fraid to go to de horspital cause de doctahs might cut on dey stummicks. 8-a My ideas on slavery is purty short. I don't keer whether hit lasted or not cause I aint here fur long. All I knows is hit didn't turn out good fur a lot ob folks. I was shore glad to git out ob de wah cause hit am de debbils business. Folks what hankers fur wah don't know what dey askin fur. Dey aint seen no blood shed. In wah times a man was no more den a varmint.
(9) When de Yankees was comin, my white folks tole us we might go en be free but I waited. When de soldiers come ebberbody was turned loose like animals wid nothin. Dey had no business to set 'em free en gib 'em nothin. Dey tuck me wid em en when de wah was ober de Yankees gib all of us soldiers one hundred en sixty acres ob land. But hit wuzn't no 'count. Mine was low en swampy. Hit was clost to Mt. Bayou Arkansas and hit warn't yours fur keeps lessen you lived on hit. You had to clear hit, dreen hit en put up a house. How I gwine to dreen en clear land en build a house wid nothin to do hit wid? I reckon somebody livin on my land now.
(10) Aftah de wah was ober en de Yankees cleared out all us, what could, went to de white folks we knowed. Dey didn't hab no money to pay us so we share cropped. It wuzn't much different from slavery. We lived in quarters, used de white folks hosses en ploughs en helped raise our own food. We jist changed a marster for a boss.
Sometimes I b'leeves I worked harder en if us got sick . . . . well, de boss shore could hire somebody else. De only doctahing we had den was from a ole granny woman. Dey gib de turriblest medicine in de world. All kinds ob nasty teas what I wont 'scribe to a lady en yarbs (herbs) en poultices made outen such bad smellin stuff hit turned yore stummick.
One ob de rights ob bein free was dat we could move around en change bosses. I nevah keered 'bout votin. What I want to vote fur? I don't know none of dem whats runnin fer office en one president is ez good to me ez a nother.
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
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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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