Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
George Washington Miller
Foreword: As one may readily see, this interview was made with an educated ex-slave. One who has served his Country as a teacher, since he was grown until three years ago. An unusual Negro. He owns a comfortable home on the corner of a lot which was formerly owned by his "Ma" Emoline Robertson, whose career as a slave and a free negro was not as enviable as that of her son, George. As I've heard of her she was a black "Scarlet." Uncle George seemed pleased to talk especially when told that I would give him a copy in type.
I was born in Spartanburg, S.C. March 15, 1856. My Ma's name was Emaline Hobby of Spartanburg S.C. and my Pa's name was Washington Young of same place. I had one brother Walter Silas Miller, and two sisters, Callie and Florence Miller, all of Spartanburg S.C. My Ma was sold to the Youngs by the Hobbys, and a daughter married Marster Pickney Wyatt Miller, a Dr.
One peculiar thing about the family was that all the Miller men had a W in their name, each adopting the Wyatt. W. J. Miller ex State Treasurer of Mississippi is a son of Mars Pickiney Wyatt Miller. My Mas' ole Marster.
All I know about our life happened after the Millers moved and brought us to Batesville, Panola County, Mississippi before the war. My Ma didn't come because she never could get along with Mars Miller, and he had sold her to a man named Ducket, Laurens County. How she ever got to Mississippi I just don't know. But she got to Batesville the first year after the war, and found my Pa married again.
When the Northern Army got as near as Memphis, Dr. P. W. Miller got so uneasy about the Yankees that he sent us children, the Miller and Youngs, back to S. C. in wagons trying to keep the Yankees from stealing us. There were no Railroads as all were torn up. The Dr. took us to his Mother's plantation, where we had kin. I was just old enough to help do little jobs such as drive the sheep and cows. "Miss Sally" was good to me, and cared for us well. Not many slaves there in S. C. knew there was a war going on, and we could tell them about the raids on plantations back in Mississippi.
At Miller's place I remember they took an old horse that was so no account they turned him loose and he was back by night. To see great armies of men in uniforms was fun to us children. We craved to see it. I was always loyal to the Millers because I loved em, and I didn't want to leave, even when my Ma came for me I wouldn't have ever wanted to come to West Point except to see a train (M & O).
Like I told you at first, the Dr's brother came to S. C. for his own white children after the war. He had a wagon and three mules that he had carried back to save. One of us had died, but three of us were brought back to Panola in this wagon, along with the white folks. Among the white folks was a lawyer Mason Anderson of Spartanburg, the first lawyer I ever knew about. I understand his family is prominent in the State of Mississippi.
S. C. is an old State, you know. It's one of the colonies. I remembers when Lawyer Anderson married and came into the District. We understood he had married a well reared rich woman and we children wanted to see her. So we flocked to the big house on Anderson Plantation. To show how "rural" we little niggers were, when Miss Anderson asked about a broom, my Sister Callie didn't know what she meant. We only knew about Sedge brushes.
I had no mother, you see, but another old woman, Aunt Sara, took good care of us. We was expert with a pop-gun shooting wild cherries, and the game of marbles was popular.
We were well fed. S. C. being an old state Possums and game was scarce. There was plenty of squirrels and rabbits. Some of the slaves had gardens, but always plantation gardens. The Spring water was cool as ice water.
There's something I remember about the "big house", though I couldn't read much. On the brick chimney there was this number - 1844. I learned after, that this was the year the house was built. This house was two story, colonial type.
We wore good clothes which were spun and woven on plantation and our shoes were made by plantation shoe-makers. I always attributed my rheumatism to the fact that one winter I couldn't get shoes until very late. I never did wear any short pants. Ours were long like the men. Our Mistress was mighty particular about us. In S. C. they didn't know what two-bits was. I must a had good pockets, because when I started back to Mississippi, T. W. Miller gave me a five dollar bill, which I still had when we got to Panola. We were on the road about six weeks and I had carelessly thrown my pants about at night and while in swimming (Honesty must have prevailed). Some places we traveled by was so strong with stinck from battles fought and dead bodies left, we had to hold our noses.
We came right through "Warm Springs Ga.' The Youngs had overseers and drivers while the Millers' did not.
I paid some attention to the different kinds of folks because I liked to be informed. A Mr. Bill Stone who lived on Talahatchie river at Batesville, made a practice of having "Nigger hounds" to catch run away niggers.
The Miller plantation in Mississippi was about a half section. He only had three grown negro men and three or four women, but the Youngs who was the father-in-law and lived right in Panola (extinct) or present Batesville owned 80 slaves.
A plantation bell called everybody about day light and the field hands were at work from "Sun to Sun".
I never saw a slave whipped, but I've heard that 500 lashes were given for stealing or being lazy.
In S. C. I've heard of negroes who wanted money so bad, they would even shear the sheep in the winter and sell the wool. They would be whipped most of the time by Justice of Peace. They would steal corn and wheat from Neighbor plantations. You know corn and wheat in S. C. was scarce.
The talk is this in S. C. when a negro was sold - He was put on a block. Usually those sold were unruly. The children in S. C. were scared when a stranger came around, for they thought they were "speculators" and wanted to buy them. They would scatter and hide like young partridges. I saw one slave chained after I was brought back to Mississippi, because he was a run-away. He just wouldn't be whipped and he wouldn't work. Hounds couldn't track him. His old Marster Johsling "belled" him - a curiosity. The blacksmith so made the bells and attachment that it couldn't be taken off. As he walked or rode the bells would ring. The old blacksmith was name Crowder and had a shop at Batesville.
Well, yes Mam, My white folks had a "refugee" who came out of Memphis to teach any of us who wanted to learn. I just got sick when she left us, because I did want to learn.
There was no plantation Church, but about two miles off was a Presbyterian Church called "Nazareth" that all the communities went to. I think it is still standing, and there is a cemetery which I know has been there since the Revolution.
There were pews for the white and for the black, and often the leading negro deacon "Uncle Dik" sat in the pulpit. Everybody liked him. I remember preacher Reed, whom I thought almost was God hisself. I feel like I was almost born in a Baptist Church "Cedar Shoals" 16 miles east of Anderson plantation for my mother carried me there from time I could toddle.
I saw baptizing after we came back to Mississippi at Panola, at "Sinners Camp Ground." The negroes and whites all went to the same church here too, and white preachers did the baptizing. His name was Middleton, a big slave owner. I remembers seeing him baptize several white and black, and my father was one of the negroes. This after being a Methodist and Presbyterian.
Most of the churches being white the Spirituals were not sung. My favorites are common hymns. Short and long meter. "Hark from the Tomb" etc. I only remember going to two funerals and that in S. C. Old "Uncle Dick" sang "Hark from the Tomb." I've known of negroes who ran away to get to Ohio where they would be free. Our group always hoped and talked of being "free". I always listened, because I wanted to learn. "They would tell stories almost in a whisper about being "free".
The patarollers were a group of men to keep the negroes from mingling too much and agitating freedom. When caught out without a pass from place to place, they would be punished with whipping of 39 lashes according to law. Cose the slaves had to gossip "some. S. C. slaves were whole lot more sensible than Mississippi slaves, about some things.
I've heard that there was trouble sometimes between the races. A white woman in Batesville put out a report that a crowd of negroes were leaving, but on investigation it was found not true and she was run out of town.
You know colored people were mighty to run about at night and knew how to dodge the patarollers, specially in S.C.
They didn't work on Saturday afternoon. Every one had to wash up. Sundays was allright. Stay at home and play and sing, while others visited around. There was just preaching on such and such a Sunday, and one would go. On Christmas eve had big things fire crackers etc. Lived mighty well every day during Christmas from Dec. 25th to Jan. 1st. July 4th was always observed.
Yes, Mam, sure I've been to corn shucking in Carolina. A person would haul corn and pile it up as high as your head and invited negroes would be there, and sing and eat. If there was 10,000 bushels of corn it would be shucked that night. All red ears would be kept. There were two groups with a Capt., who would lead all songs. If there was any whiskey it was kept from us children.
There were dances with a fiddler and I'd follow the music. I saw one wedding in S. C. on the Young plantation. The woman came from a neighbor plantation, and Mars Young bought the woman and they were never separated. The big road was full of negroes to give her a welcome. It just seems like a dream to me. There was three or four hundred negroes in the procession.
"Houlda", the bride was made a house girl and "Ike", the groom a blacksmith. Blacksmith never went to the field except at harvest time when every available man was put into the field to save the wheat. I'm in S. C. now remember. Young had on his place two free men with grown children, all blacksmiths. I do not know whether they got wages. One man named Norton had a white wife.
We didn't believe in hants and laughed at others who were superstitious. The Miller negroes were real smart. I've read "Harry and Guide Posts", and I know there's nothing to it. It is fallacious. We had anecdotes, but I've lost sight of most of them.
When the slaves got sick, they were taken care of by the Dr. who came promptly. You know our Marster himself was a fine Dr. Castor oil and blue mass was given more than anything else. Some superstitious negroes wore charms, but we didn't countenance anything like that.
I was in the Carolinas when news of freedom came at the death of Lincoln. We was looking for it because the Confederates had so many backsats. I remembers about Sherman's march through Ga. Ole Marster Miller was in Mississippi in Southern Army.
When we come back to Mississippi, we saw garrisons of soldiers on the way. Nobody knew their Status. Everything was unsettled. A yankee advisor told our group of grown negroes to go back to their marsters and they would give them employment.
I came to West Point with my mother Emaline the first year after the war, and worked about home in her patches and helped keep boarding house. Sometimes she hired us out to chop cotton. I started at once to school in West Point in a school room on the Cochran plantation 4 miles from town and we walked. The teacher was named John Williams.
I can tell you this about the Ku Klux. There was a notice put on my Mother's gate. There was a white man from Indiana, Glen Valley, 12 miles from Indianapolis, boarding with my Mother and teaching the negroes. On the notice was a red heart and sword run through it, showing that he must quit teaching or his life was in danger. He left and went back to Indiana. He wrote me a letter a few years ago.
One night the K. K.'s raided the town in all their regalia. We colored folks were at the church near the cemetery on that Saturday night. We boys ran out and followed them laughing. They come by the church - Capt. Shattuck, a good Yankee, advised the negroes to behave and settle down, and believe in their own White folks.
I married Ellen Baptist, a house girl of Mrs. Baptist of West Point. We married in the home of Mrs. Tittle, a sister of Mr. Jack Baptist. Where my wife was there serving. Isaac Mosely, a colored preacher, married us right in the Tittle parlor, and Miss Hettie Morrow furnished the music. Only four colored people were there. We two, are the only ones now living who were present white or black. The year was 1871. We have had fine children, three girls and two boys, only one dead.
Two of the girls are teachers, one son, William Tell, is dead, leaving no family. Carris, married and lives in St. Louis, was a trained nurse. George M. Jr. is a World War Veteran and lives in Toledo, Ohio. There are grand children.
(At this point I gave Uncle George five questions which you find answered just as he wrote them)
Give me a story Uncle George.
The smallest thing become respectable when regarded as the commencement of what has advanced or advancing into magnificence the first rude settlement of our own West Point would have been an insignificent circumstance might justly have sunk into oblivian.
Mrs. Joiner, I think Mr. Lincoln was among the world's greatest Productions. While I was no enthusiastic admirer of Dr. Booker T. Washington he was among the great men of our Nation. To be frank Mr. Jefferson Davis was a good man but lacked wisdom in so great an undertaking.
What do I think about Slavery? Well, I think slavery was one of the sins of the middle ages. Why, I join the church because I believe it be greatest of social institutions for the World. Of course all people should be religious. I think it was Roger Sherman who said, "It takes a great deal to be religious and still more to not be so." Therefore that is the reason I am foundly religious as is possible to be in some respects.
(Miller, George Washington), An original Negro Script, F. C., Mrs. Ed Joiner (On being asked for some negro expressions, the following was given by George Miller, who is 81 years old))
"The Foregoing Plantation Manner of Communication" Big house where old Moster and Old Missus lived, reared young Moster and Young Missus. Now and then an apt man or boy was sent on an eran perhaps to the blacksmith shop to have some repair of farm utencil and there being many separate pieces described as follows, dis piece and dat piece, dem piece to be fixed, so and so old Moster ses. Sometimes they believe in high sounding words. A colored man had the old Moster to write letter for him to some relative in another state, which he did nicely and read what he had written and negro listened attentively, and he, the colored man said, just write notwithstanding. A young colored fellow just from college just back home to be with his people went out to church at night, the officers met to re elect officers for the ensuring year and the young graduate to address the meeting and he replied by congratulating them on the manner of transacting business by saying they not elected a cuspadore, which some one the graduate which was carried. The meeting adjourned with all these. The colored man had some business accuman in him back in the days when General Jackson lived, Nashville was a great market for the nearby Southwest. A planter in these regions sent his trusted driver to Nashville for a bill of some $50.00 worth of groceries, the merchant at Nashville notwithstanding the colored man was 275 miles from home. The colored man replied, Send it, I will look after it being paid, the goods went right now.
Interviewer: Mrs. Ed Joiner
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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