Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
William H. McCarty -Age 100
A visit was made to the home of Wm H. McCarty July 22, 1936 to discuss the Civil War and other interesting happenings of the early eighties. In the Northern part of Beat Four in Panola County there lives in his one hundredth year of mortal existence a very fine, intelligent, old colored preacher, Uncle William who is very energetic and spry for his age, was happy to tell of his life, and to have someone interested in his past history.
He is small in statute, five feet in height and weighing one hundred and twenty pounds. Although his head is as white as snow, and toothless, he didn't look a day over seventy-five years; his eyesight is so good that he seldom ever uses glasses. Besides a few rheumatic pains, his health is exceptionally good. A trip in a car to Batesville or Sardis or to Church never bothers him.
Uncle William was born December 12, 1835 in Hancock County, Mississippi near Gainsville. His mother Clara McCarty was of the Cancousal race; his father was Elondus Serellas a Portugeese. Uncle William retained the name McCarty from his mother.
He spent the first ten years of his life with his mother. Then his mother let D.C. Stanley, the Sheriff of Hancock County have him. Several years was spent running errands and doing the chores in the Stanley home. From here he went to T. R. Portivants, and worked several months and then he spent the rest of his young life with W. J. Portivant, his Guardian. During this time he was body servant for the Portivant family.
Uncle William was schooled around the Portivant fireside with the Portivant children, Mrs. Ellen Wesson and Dr. Wright's wifes mother of Sardis, Also received their earlier education at the same time Mrs. Buckingham lived in the home and taught them. The books consisted of a Elementary Webester Speller, and a Wilson's First Reader. Uncle William was very studious and learned rapidly. Later he went to Strait University, the Theological School in New Orleans. At that time Professor Hoyt, of New England was the President of the University.
Uncle William has been married seventy-seven years, and is now living with his fifth wife, who is thirty nine years old. He has had four children of whom all are dead; his six grand-children are living. His present wife is a Panola Countian; she is a very kind, gentle and devoted wife. Her son lives with them. A brother and two Aunts is his only living relatives, they reside in Pearl River County, Mississippi. All three are very old, one Aunt is far past the Century mark.
"One of my most vivid memories is that of my Steamboat life. Mr. W. J. Portivant, his guardian, was a very wealthy man. He was engaged in farming and mercantile business, and owned five large stores. There were seventy five slaves who worked his plantation. He also owned three large steamboats. When not busy around the home Uncle Wm. spent much of his time with Mr. Portivant on his steamboats. In 1848 he went to sea, staying there thirteen long years. With a smile and a twinkle of his eye he readilly recalled some of the boats that he worked on. They were: Virginia Pearl, Ruby, Madison, J.J. Warren, Belle Lee, Rover, Womac, Natchez and others.
"Nothing was more picturesque on the old time Steamboats in the golden years of steamboating than the negro workmen." Seldom did they make a trip without composing a song for the Steamer. If they liked or disliked a boat their song expressed their feelings. As the steamboats with black smoke curling up from her tall stacks, her boilers sizzing, cast of lines and swing out into the Mississippi, her gang gathered on the forward deck and sang these old songs.
"De Dandy Womac am a backin' boat:
An every boat we meets en route
Mus' take de bank else bees pass'
Ez sho' ez y' 're bo'n."
Dis am de boat dat none can pass:
We allus in de lead:
What evah am ahead we allus pass,
Ez we goes by with our speed".
"De Pearl; she am de fines' boat.
Treats niggahs bes' when she am float,
An she hef a white man's crew
Who knows niggahs an' sees dem frew.
De Cap'n am a white man,
De mate he treat us right
De Cook he feeds a plenty,
Dat why we works day and night"
Hopping Mad'son backs out on time
An leaves big Injun here behin'
Good bye niggahs, good bye all,
See yo' at de nex' big ball
Robert E. Lee got Railroad time-
Her crew am all de super-fine-
Who'a Gals, Whoa:
Ah Cuss dat Steamboat Roves,
Ah Cuss him all de way:
Ah Cuss and Cuss de Thompson Dean,
Beckase she tuck my Lula 'way.
While Steamboating he was Cabin boy, pastry cook and steward. With a visionary expression in his twinkling eye he said, "It would take many days for me to tell even a part of the interesting things that I remember on sea and land." Many interesting happenings were summed up as Icebergs, Storms on Sea, Sea gulls and Sharks.
During the thirteen years on the sea, he sailed on the Mississippi, Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Borgue, Pearl River, Alabama, Red River, Tombigbee, the Gulf and many others. He was very happy to tell about the trips from New Orleans up the Mississippi to Saint Paul, Minn.
These trips were made in eighteen to twenty three days, only sixteen days was required on the return trip. The boats were heavily loaded with fruits, grain, cotton and other merchandise. He laughed and said, "Steamboating was Happy Days".
His mind wanders back to the City of New Orleans. "This city is the one I love." He distinctly remembers when New Orleans was seven and one fourth miles long and three and three fourths miles wide.
Uncle William volunteered and entered the Civil War at an early age. He spent eight years, one month and twenty-one days in the Bloody War. Even in the war he was faithful, obedient, and trustworthy. He served as 1st sergent for four years, Adjutant General two years, and as flag bearer two years.
He served under the following Generals: General Dwight, Whitsell, Morrow, Ben Butler Banks, McLellan, Forest Grant and Lee. Many times he saw General Lee, shook hands and talked with him in New Orleans. It was there that he read General Lee's pass. All the Generals were very kind and good to the soldiers, except General Banks, he was very mean and overbearing.
During the eight years that he spent in service he fought in thirty six battles, and was wounded seven times. To-day you can see a bullet scar over his right eye, where a bullet went through his head. He was carried to the First Aid Tent many times, but was never carried to a hospital from bad wounds.
He fought in battles near Baton Rogue, Port Hudson, Vicksburg, Wolf River, Fort Williams, Pocahontoa, Memphis, Corinth, Spanish Fort Alabama, and at Mobile.
After the war was over he went back to his home near Gainsville, Miss. and did public work and preached. Since a small boy, he has been a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. After his ordanation he spent a great deal of his life along the Gulf and around New Orleans preaching.
He was received into the Masonic Lodge in 1876, as a member of the old lodge Chapeter near his home town. In 1896, when he moved to Panola County, he transferred his membership to the Sardis Lodge, and has served therein as an officer for a lengthly number of years. Having completed his thirty two degrees, he is now a Shriner, and also a Honorary Member.
In 1889 the Methodist Conference sent him from Marshall County to Panola to take charge of several churches in this district. After preaching for 66 years he retired in 1903. Since coming to Panola County he has preached at St. Peter, Spring Hill, Mt Gideon, Walton Chapel, St. Paul, Sardis and many other colored churches. He laid the corner stone for St. Peter and Walton Chapel Churches in this County. He also taught school two years here.
Since retiring, he has spent his life about six miles south east of Sardis, near the Cold Springs community, on his own farm. His foster son farms the land.
About two years ago their home was burned while they were attending Church, many antiques, souveniers, a Bible which was about 200 years old, his army overcoat, over $500.00 worth of Ministerial Books, his Masonic regalia, and other valuable property was burned. Since then he has had a nice five room bungalow erected on the same site. He is now receiving $100.00 pension from the Government a month. Uncle Wm. is nicely fixed and doesn't own anyone.
Wm. McCarty is the oldest and best negro in this section. He is highly respected by white people for the work he has done for the betterment of his race. He has worked continually for the past 40 years in this country for the progress of the negroes and has been instrumental in having negroes to stress a live at home program. Not only does he want them to be better farmers, but he is continually urging them to be Christians and to live for the betterment of the kingdom. He is highly respected and liked by the white people as well as the colored race.
Despite his physical strenght, signs of weariness were shown after he had talked so long, so the interview was terminated to be resumed at a later date for sea stories and Ghost tales.
Interviewed by: Josephine Horton and Janie Mae Andrews
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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