Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Henry Lewis McGaffey
Henry Lewis McGaffey, who lives three miles southeast of Summit, on the Summit and Holmesville road, tells the following:
"I was eighty fo' years old this past June. I wus born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, right on the banks uf de lake, and dat wus June 23rd, 1853.
"My ole Marse wus named Mr. Otis McGaffey, an' he wus an Irishman right frum Ireland. He had a brudder named John, an' mammy sed he wus my pappy.
"I wus a twin but my twin sister died the day she wus born. On the same day I wus born, my ole Mistis had a baby gurl, named Amelia; Sumthin' wus de matter wid my Mistiss an' she culdnt nurse her baby, so dey brung my mammy in de house an my mammy gave one breast ter de white baby an' de udder breast she give ter me.
"I wus raised right in de house wid de white folks, an' my mammy wus de cook an' all de good things dat went on Marse's table I got a lil'l uf it. I had fo'r brudders an' one sister, but dey staid in de quarters. Mammy stayed in de big house at night while Miss Amelia wus a baby so she cud nurse during de night, but when she wus weaned, mammy went back ter de quarters wid de udder chaps. I stayed right on in de big house an' slept on a trundle bed, one dat wus shoved under my Mistiss bed in de daytime an' pulled out at night fur me ter sleep on. Afte' I got big dey sont me ter de quarters.
"Afte' I got back to de quarters, my brudders and sister wanted ter push me out an' sed "I 'longed up at de big house" an' mammy had ter make 'em let me 'lone.
"Old Marse had er big two story house an' in de yard wus two big mulberry trees; he had a store right on de bank uf de lake, an' de gallery uf de store cum right up to de edge uf de water, while de big house set kinder back frum de store, but yo' cud set on de house gallery an' see de boats cum up de lake.
"Iffen I remember right, old Marse had thirty slaves, an' he made dem wurk in de fiel' -- His brudder John, wus de overseer. Dey made corn, an' cotton, an' 'taters, an' 'lasses, an' he bought cotton frum udder people an' put it on boats an' sont it 'way.
"Dem boats wud cum up de Lake loaded wid all kind uf good things an' fine stuff to make clo'se out uf an' always left sum uf it wid my Marse. We chaps uster ter watch dem boats cum an' go an' see de water make big waves as de boats skipped off.
"Old Marse wus hard on his Slaves; he made 'em wurk hard an' I seed him many times tie his slaves and strip dem ter de waist an' beat 'em till de skin wud break. Once I saw him whup my mammy an' de blood run down her bare back, an' den he put salt on it. I cried and he sed "iffen I didnt shut up he wud beat me", den I went behind de kitchen ter cry.
"Dey wus good ter me. Marse never whupped me wid de big whup, but he slapped an' knocked me 'round all de time.
"My mammy wus de cook an' she help in de house; she scrubbed de floors wid a big heavy mop dat had holes bored in it, an' shucks put in dat, an' she pulled dat crossed de rooms wid sand an' homemade soap, an' got de floors white. Den she poured clean water on de floors an' took a broom made uf broom sage straw an' swept dat off, an' den tuk a big sack an' laid it on to de floor an' put her feet on it an' kept walkin cross dat floor till she had wiped up all de water. Dat floor was pritty an' white.
"When I wus big 'nuff I cud help her do dat. I brung in de wood fur de fires an' picked up de eggs, an' toted slop to de pig pin an' wus learnin to milk fore de surrender.
"I heard 'em talkin' bout de war cumin an' Marse wud cuss dem Yankees an' say dey had beter 'tend ter deir own business. He never went ter de war but sum men cum dar an' tuk two uf his boys off to de war, so I heard dem say, an' old Marse jes' cussed an' sed "Dam de Yankee an' de war".
"One day I heard dem say "De Yankees wus comin'" an' old Marse had all his money buried under one uf de mulberry trees an' civered dat wid leaves.
"De Yankees cum in a big boat; dey wus all dressed jes' alike in blue clo'se an' dey had guns. I got behind my mammy fur I tho't dey wus going to kill us all. Old Marse cussed 'em an' said fur dem to go way; well dey found whar de money wus buried an' dug it up an' tuk dat, den dey sot fire to de store an' de big house, an' burnt up ebery thing old Marse had. Den day got in de boat an' went 'way.
"Den Marse put us all in boats an' moved us up to Sabine Pass Texas an' settled on a farm an' got sum cattle an' all uf went to wurk.
"My mammy run 'way, an' Marse tried ter find her but cudnt. He niver know'd whar she went. I stayed right dar wid Marse an' dey treated me right.
"I wus taught ter read and 'rite right dar in de house wid de white chaps, but afte' while dey sont de white chaps to school an' I cudnt go. I wus taught how ter saddle an' ride a hoss and' drive de cows up at night.
"One day, it wus May fourth, 1865, Old Marse called all his slaves to de house an' told dem dey wus free an' dey started ter sing an' praise God an' dat made Marse mad an' he driv dem out uf his sight. De next day he hired dem to wurk fur him. He paid 'em fur de wurk but dey got mighty lil'l, so most of dem left.
"De slaves wus glad to be free so dey cud cum an' go jes' like white folks, an' not have de patroller gittin' dem. Den dey wus tired of being beat up an' if dey run 'way, de Sheriff wus afte' dem, an' he wud beat dem. Dey wanted to make cotton fur demselvs.
"Bout a year afte' de surrender my mammy cum an' got me, an' sed when she run 'way she got on boat an' cooked an' stayed dar; but she tuk me ter Beaumont Texas whar she wus cookin' fur a boardin' house. I didnt like it over dar an' run 'way to go back to my Marse an' got lost. Afte' while I got back wid my mammy.
"After while I went out on de range an' driv cattle; I had to help herd 'em an' ride dem Texas ponies, an' one day de pony I wus ridin' fell an' I wus hurt; when he fell on me he broke my right hip an' leg, an' I been cripple ebry since.
"No I niver cud sing but I learnt to play de fiddle an' fore I wus cripple I cud "knock de Back Step" an' dance de "Pigeon wing" -- but afte' I got hurt dar wus no more dancin' in me. I uster play de fiddle fur dances fur white folks. I cud take a fiddle an' make it talk. I played "Arkansas Traveler" an' "Sally Goodin" an' "De Cacklin' Hen" an' jes' meny more dat I dun fur git.
"I seed Marse marry his slaves an' all I seed wus he wud hold a straw broom out an' make dem jump over it frontward an' den backward, an' sed dey wus married. But when I went ter git mar'ied dey tole me I had to go to de Court House an' git a piece uf paper.
"First time I mar'ied wus in Texas, to Mary Hammond. She wus bad an' I had ter whup her ebery time de moon changed. We had ten chulluns an' she turned out so bad, I left her forty nine years ago an' cum ter Summit an' ben dar ebery since. I heard dar wus lots uf wurk on de railroad over here, dat is why I cum.
"De last time I mar'ied wus to Rosaline Taylor, who is a young woman. We have two chulluns. I am not able ter wurk an' my wife takes keer uf me. When I was able to git ter town I beg frum de white folks an' always give me a little money.
"Mr Lincoln wus a good man to sot de slaves free, but de white man wurk de slaves an' give 'em nuffin when he sot free. De Black man have seed hard times all deir life. Dey had to wurk hard fur dier Marse an' den afte' de surrender dey had to wurk hard to git sumthin' ter live on.
"I niver voted; I niver wanted to vote; I always tried to stay in my place. De Klu Klux niver cum to see me; I seed dem in long white robes ridin' on Hosses, but dey didnt say er wurd to me. Dey got afte' sum folks, but I dont think dey hurt 'em.
"I always tried to live right an' pay my debts, an' now I am cripple an' too old to wurk an' if I conduct my self right I know de white folks will help take keer uf me.
Interviewer's Note: Henry is five feet high; he is cripple; both legs out uf shape and walks with two sticks. He says he weighs 120 pounds. He is bright yellow an' has a long face, sharp chin and grey hair. He says he has had rheumatism for fifteen years and can find no cure. He seems unable to work and begs at times for a little money.
Interviewer: Mrs. William F. Holmes
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
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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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