Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Laura Montgomery Age 87
Foreword: Laura Montgomery, is about five feet, 10 inches tall and weighs about 120 pounds. She is very black, and has white hair. She wears a handkerchief wrapped around her head. Her lower jaw protrudes and some of her lower teeth are missing. She is blind and has been for 10 years. She has no home, but lives about with her relatives. She is now with her grand-daughter, Maggie Garner, 423 Warren Street, Berglundtown, a negro settlement in the northeastern part of McComb. Laura tells her story:
I was jus' turnin' fifteen years when de surrender, an' white folks tells me I'se 'bout 87 years old now, but I is bin in dis here worl' a long time. I was born in Amite County, on de Tickfaw River, 11 miles west of Osyka, on Mr. Bill Gordon's place.
Marse Bill married Miss Jane Cotton an' settled down to make a home, an' deir chilluns was name young Marse Charlie, an' Young Marse DeWitt, and Young Marse Bill an' Miss Cenith. Dey was all fine folks 'ceptin old Marse Bill when he got mad he wus mighty bad an' old Mistis, she jest fussed all de time, you just culdn' please dat woman.
Marse Bill had a big place but all de slaves he had was old man Sam an' my mammy and her chaps. My mammy was name Mary Ann Gordon an' her chaps was brudder Eli, Joe, Cindy, Drain, Celia, Ophelia, Frank, an' me. Us allus had to wuk mighty hard.
Marse would blow dat hour every mornin' an' we had to git out right now an' start dat wuk. My mamuy had to cook, milk, wash, iron, spin, weave, and do de wuk in de fiel' lak de others.
I' is seed Marse Bill whup my mammy an' old man Sam, seems lak to me every day. He allus tied old man Sam to de pos an' whup him, but he make my mammy lay down 'cross de plank walk dat goes frum de house to de kitchen an' whup her dere, an' she would cry and say: 'Pray Marster, pray. Pray Marster, pray.'
Marse Bill had no overseer, he done dat hisself. Allus chaps had to go to de fiel' 'ceptin my brudder Frank, an' he was de baby, an' on rainy days, we had to wuk in de loom room, an' card cotton, spin thread, an' put de thread in de loom for Mistis. She done de weavin'. An' den at nite we had to go back to de loom room an' wuk. De boys an' old Sam had to shuck de corn to take to de mill, an' Marse Bill would grin' dat corn in his own mill, back of de lot on de creek 'cause de mill was run by water.
Dey allways fed us well an' we et in de kitchen all de time. De chaps et on de steps, but we had plenty. Marse would kill cows an' sometimes would pickle dat meat an' sometimes he would dry it out on a scaffold. His smokehouse was full of meat; an' sometimes he would kill a sheep an' we had plenty milk an' bread.
I had to he'p my mammy scrub dat house. We had shuck mops, an' we put san on de floor an' pore water on it and pull dat mop over it 'til dat floor was white an' clean an' iffen it didn' 'pear clean old Mistis would make us do it a-gin. Den we hed to scrub de water buckets an' mek dem clean. De buckets den was made of cedar an' had brass rings 'round 'em an' dey had long han'le gourds to drink out of an' de bucket sot on de shelf on de front of de house.
Dat house was a big house made of logs kivered wid plank. It had brick chimbleys at bofe en's of de house, an' de mantle shelf was mighty high frum de floor. De clock sot on top of de mantle an' Marse Bill had to stan' up in a cheer to win' dat clock.
Dere was no playin' 'round dat house. Everybody had to wuk. Old Mistis made us all wuk an' iffen we didn' we got whupped. Sunday was de only time we had to res' an' den we sot round de cabin an' wrapped hair an' mended clo'es. Sometimes old Mistis would take some of us to Jerusalem Church wid her, an' den she made some body stay to home to fix dat dinner, so iffen she brung comp'ny home wid her she had to have a fine dinner. She sho' was fussy an' iffen things didn' go jus' right we was whupped.
When we was just chaps wid her chilluns, we was play Drap de Han'kerchef an' some time de boys would shoot china berries out'n a pop gun' but jus' as quick as we got big 'nuff we had to tote water in a jug frum de spring to de fiel' fur de han's an' iffen didn't git dar quick enuff we got slapped. We uster hide behin' de chicken house frum old Marster to keep him frum whuppin' us. Old mistis had flowers in de yard an' iffen we pulled any of dem flowers we sho' got a whuppin'.
Dar was no lamps, de white folks had can'les, but de slaves had to keep a fire burnin' in de fireplace all de time, an' some times build a fire out' de front of de house to keep de 'nats frum eatin' us up. Smoke sho' will driv' way 'nats an' bugs.
Dar was no pianny in dat house an' I never 'member a dance bein' dere an' old Mistis didn' sing, she culdn' stop fussin' long 'nuff, but sometimes when we was in my mammy's cabin we youngsters would sing, an' mammy would he'p us. Dis is one song I can think of
Howdy my brethern, How d' yer do,
Since I'se bin in de lan',
I do mighty po', but I thank de Lord sho'
Since I'se bin in de lan'.
O, yes! O, yes! Since I'se bin in de lan'.
An' a nudder one my mammy uster sing was dis:
Go tell aunt Sally, her old gray goos' is dead.
De one she's bin savin' to make a feather bed.
We uster sing some 'lig'us song when de black African would come over frum a neighbor's place to preach, but I's kaint 'member any of 'em right now. I is so fergitful since I is got old.
My pappy, was Jeff Vaughn. He didn' b'long to Marse Bill. He b'longed to Mister Joe Vaughn, an' he lived on a-nudder plantation. When he cum over to see my mammy he had to bring a piece of paper wid him, iffen he didn', de paterroller would sho' git him. One time dey kotched him and made his back sore by beatin' him right in de middle of de road. Some time he would brung er bucket of 'lasses, an' some time a water melon an' one time he brung some apples. He said his marster was kin' to 'im.
Iffen we got sick, Mistis Jane would pore de tea down us an' some times would give us white powders, an' iffen any of us got mighty bad off she sont fur de Doctor. His name was Dr. Taylor an' he lived in de settlement.
Dey talked a long time as to how Gen'l Davis was gon'er whip dem Yankees an' dey called de Yankees all kin' of names. Old Marster said he was too old to go to de war. Young Marse Charlie went, but mistis didn' want him to go. She begged him not to go, but Marse Charlie was sot on goin'. But Young Marse Bill, he hid out in de swamp to keep frum goin' an' some time he would slip back to de house to git somethin' to eat an' some time me an' my brudder had to tote him somethin' to eat. One day de big man ridin' a fine hoss come to de house whilst it was rainin' an' kotched Marse Bill dere, an' Marse Bill had to go, an' old Mistis, she cried, but she said her boys was goin' ter shoot de Yankees.
Well one day dey brung Marse Charlie home an' he had his leg shot offen him in de battle. He wus sick fur a long time, but got well. He never did marry, an' some time atter de war he died. Young Marse Bill, he never got hurt, but come home wid de res' of de sojers.
Old Marster never tol' any of us when we was freed. Slaves frum 'joinin' plantation jus' tol' us, an' old Marse Bill jus' kep' us dere wurkin' fur him. One night my mammy an' we chilluns slipped off way in de night an' run away. We walked up on Tangipahoa River to de place where my Mammy had a brudder livin', an' we hid out'n de wood in de day time, an' come to de house atter dark.
Marse Bill followed my mammy but never kotched her. Atter while he let us 'lone. We stayed dere wid my uncle a couple of years an' den went to live wid Mr. Sam Lee, at Chatawa, an' stayed dere till he died. Den his fambly broke up.
I must tell you 'bout de Yankees when dey cum. Dat was one time old Marster 'peered lak he was scared. Me an' my mammy was standin' by de china-berry tree when dey come ridin' up on fine hosses. Dey was all dressed in blue coats an' all had guns. I thought dey was comin' to sot us free.
Dey jus' ask Old Marster iffen he had anything to eat, an' old Marster said 'nuffin cooked'. Well dey tol' me an' mammy an' Cindy to go to cookin' bread, an' dey went down to de fiel' an kilt our fattes' cow, an' dug a hol' out'n front of de stump an' puts green hick'ry logs over dat hole an' put a fire in dat hole and baked dat meat right dere, an' we cooked de bread. Den dey tuk old Dan, Marse Bill's fines' hoss, an' did Mistiss cry? But dey didn' bother nuffin else much, an' when dey lef' Old Marse Bill was mighty mad an' said, 'iffen de rebels had bin dar dey sho' would have kilt dem Yankees.'
Whilst I was livin' at Chatawa I mar'ied Silas Montgomery an' we stayed togedder 27 years, den he died. I had nine chilluns by him. We moved to Magnolia an he wuk in de fiel' an' at public wuk an' we managed to git us a little home. After he died, I tried to keep my chaps home, but dey lef' me an' went way off an' now I think most of 'em is dead. I los' my home an' moved in town an' wuk for somethin' to eat in kitchens.
After while I mar'ied Charlie Watts an' he tuk keer of me for two years an' 'den he laid down an' died.
Now I is blin' an' can't work an' hafter be led frum de bed to de chair an' all I can do is set here an' smoke my pipe, an den sum times I sot myself a-fire. When dey bring my dinner to me I can't see de grub on de plate. I is in a mighty bad fix, an right now I is stayin' wid my granddarter, Maggie Brumfield. I has great-great-chulluns, but none of 'em keer much for me.
How come me learn to smoke? Well, my mammy uster smoke, an' I would allus light her pipe for her an' dat is de way I larnt to smoke. One time I drapped fire out'n my pipe and sot myself a-fire an' you can see dat scar on my leg now. It was a bad fire.
I is a Baptis'. I jined de church when I was young and I b'lieve in ev'ybody doin' right. I sho wants to go to Heaven when I die. I is tryin' to make my las' days my bes' days. I can't stay here much longer. I is seen some good days an' some bad ones. Praise de Lord, I is one of his chulluns.
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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