Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Foreword: Isaac Potter, ex-slave, born about 1851 and was owned by Gilbert Potter. He is now living three miles west of D'Lo on D'Lo and Georgetown road.
A wagon trail cut through dense woods of small oak trees and undergrowth and leading from the main road, winds its way to the rear of the dilapidated cottage of an old ex-slave known as Isaac Potter. He is usually found in the winter seated before an open fire in his crude cabin. When the days grow warmer he sits in a rickety chair out side under the trees with bare feet. He is not very tall and heavy set. His large head is covered with snowy white kinks, a high broad forehead, has typical African features with an extremely thick under lip. His broad pleasant face is badly scarred from an accident received when a small boy. While talking makes elaborate gestures and as his vocabulary is very limited he fails to find words to express himself, in his enthusiasm rises feebly from his rickety chair and makes quite a picturesque figure as he acts the different parts, especially when he demonstrates how the soldiers marched, drew their guns and while imitates various signals and shouts.
"My fust master, when I was a slave was Jim Crowder, who bought my father an' mudder from Yankee slave traders, who had captured 'em an' brung 'em over here from Africa, an' sole' 'em to de Southern farmers. De Crowder plantation was big. I don't know how many acres but deir was 'round seventy or seventy five slaves. Dis was in Rankin County near Pelahatchee. His home was one of dem big two story anti-bellum homes wid a big kitchen an' dinnin' room built 'way from de main part whar dey kept cooks busy a feedin' an' cookin' fer de slaves. De slave cottages was built of logs in long rows back ob Mar's house. Us lived in dem but ate in de big kitchen. The slave workers was fed fust an' later de chillun was called in and fed. Our mudder would all be out wukin' an' sometime us chillun would git inter mischief. As fo myself I allus did crave a little fun an' mix play 'long wid my wuk. Sometimes I would ketch it. One ob my fust duties was ter feed de chickens which was raised by de hundreds. Dey would send me wid big buckets ob feed to de chickens yard an' I did enji taking long sticks or big rocks an' kill 'em. Dis was real fun to me. At fust I was afraid to kill many ob 'em, den I got braver and braver and killed more and more. Late on ebenin' I was de big giant an' dey was de little men. I'd feed em an' kill one man, den I feel big an' kill annuder an' so on lack dat. I forgot eber thing 'till I hear Mar's gal, Miss Mary Ann's, voice ahind me say "Now I'se cotch yo." My hair hit stood straight up, I looked at my kill, hit looked lack a thousand. I didn't know deir could be dat many dead chickens in de world. She count 'em. I had kilt twenty five. She whipped me. I won't ust to bein' whipped much and I slipped off in de woods 'fraid old Missus would whip me too. Dey hunted through de woods all nite fer me wid big torches. Some ob de slaves found me an' tole me Missus said she won't gwine ter whip me an' I went home 'bout de crack ob day.
My master died and 'bout a year later Missus she married a Master Gilbert. Us liked Mars Gilbert 'cause he was good to us, he didn't live long afore he died too. Missus married again. Dis man was named Potter. Dis put me serving under three masters.
My next wuk was at de stables, caring fo de horses, dis kept me busy, watering dem, feeding 'em an' keepin' em curred. Mars wanted 'em slick an' shinnin'. I had ter keep de harnesses straight an' in place an' de lot cleaned up. I laked ter wuk wid 'em. I knowed how to talk to 'em.
I allus did lack ter do what I seed other folks do. From a small chile I hab injied carring out things. I wish I had been one ob dem actor niggers. One day when I was 'bout eight years old me and my brudder had run out ob nothin' to amuse us. It was a long cole winter day. Us was setting 'round a big fire in de cabin. De fire burned low to a deep red bed of coals. This give me an idea. I tole my brudder fer us ter play lake us was Milly, de cook, with de big apron an' cap and eber thing. Us stirred de coals an' was ready all but de big aprons. Us didn't know what ter do 'bout dat, when us thought ob two gunny sacks out in de woods shed. Us got 'em an' by tying 'em 'round us necks dey reached our toes; de very thing us needed. I had more than my brudder, fer I tied his in a bow, while he tied mine in a hard knot. Us went ter wuk, just like Aunt Milly. We put bread in a skillet on de coals and covered sweet potatoes in de hot ashes, den raked up some coals an' fryed us some ham. When de meal was finished us was gwine ter take de aprons off. Brudder he reached up and gib his a pull an' de bow come ontied but mine was tied so hit just wouldn't come loose. Us tried 'till we saw us couldn't make it. Us decided to stick fire ter hit and burn hit off. Brudder set fire to hit at my feet an' de fire blazed all over dat fuzy sack lack lightening. I run and screamed to ole Missus. Dat is why my face, hands, and body is all scarred up today.
In slave days if us wanted to go no where off the plantation us had to git a pass from our Master, den us had to git in by a certain time. If us failed ter be back the patrol riders would find hit out an' bring us in. Sometimes us would visit each other and set 'round a while an' talk, again us went huntin'. That is what I wanted ter do mos' ob all. In dem days deir was lots ob game in de swamps. Us had dances too. Dat's when us had a grand time, wid de fiddles and guitars a playin'. At times de niggers would tie up and fight. If dey hurt a slave he was scared to go home fer the owner would get riled up if one ob his slaves got hurt or crippled up. At dese frolics we would be havin' such a merry time us would ferget when to go home. Dey always had a big fire burning ter see by an' when de patrole rode up ter take us in, we would fight 'em off wit hot coals. Dozens of niggers would be slingin' fire as hard and fas' as dey could throw hit. De patrol riders would jest natu'ally have to run.
When I was a slave an' fer years ater-wards, I had de superstition of my race but I'se done learned better dan to believe a heap o' dat stuff. But just before de war to free us, we had de coldest weader dat I believe has eber been on de face ob de earth. De deepest snows would come, wroppin's up eber thing an' stay on de ground fer days. De ponds and lakes would freeze over wid thick coats ob ice. Hit got so cold 'till de pigeons begin to fly north in such big droves dat dey looked lak big clouds. One day us slaves saw a cloud of 'em flyin' over us. We took long flint guns and begin ter shoot 'em. I helped pick up a cotton basket full. When de war come on us believed all dat to be a warning. Afore I learned better I saw more ghos' dan any nigger alive. I'se run many a mile from haints. When I had ter pass a grave yard at nite I'd pull my hat ober my face an' hold hit as tight as I could an' run 'till I'd be plumb out ob breath. One nite I saw a sure enough ghos' hit was a headless woman dressed in black, a walkin' 'round. I lack to run plumb out ob de country. Another haint kept me in a ole field all nite one time. I had been to see my gal and was gwine to cut through a ole field home. De moon was a shinnin' bright. I looked up an' saw a tall white ghos' a head o' me. My hair stood straight out and sizzled. I was scared ter move, den I bowed ober an' dat ghos' bowed too, each time I moved hit did too. I just lay down and be's right still so dat ghos' would be still. I stayed deir fer hours fer eber time I would stir dat ghos' stir too. I decided I would talk to hit. I say "Now if you will let me alone, I will let you alone." I stood trembling and told dat ghos' eber thing I could think ob. When I happened ter notice dat all de time hit was my shadder against a tall stump, I an't believed in no ghos' since.
When de war come on I recon I jined hit. I wuked in de camp fer a long time. I was already trained ter look after horses an' be handy at eber ting in general. I injied watching de soldiers drill an' de sham battles. I was a takin' hit all in; soon I knowed how to march and draw de gun - hit was like dis (in his semi-blindness marched back and forth going through the motions.) I neber could understand why de soldiers could be so cheerful knowing dey might git kilt any time. Dey would sing an' dance an' joke all de time, right up to de time dey was called to battle. I've saw 'em come in after a hard battle, when de northern soldiers would be campin' near, dey would go to each other's camps an' swap coffee an' tobacco. Dey would laugh and wrestle an' hab de biggest time. When dey would part for de nite dey would say to each other, "We'll give you hell tomorrow." Long toward de end ob de war de southern soldiers got so hungry, de Calverymen had come through and destroyed eberthing ter eat. I have saw big army wagons wid dem big wheels run over big frogs, mashing dem flat as a rag, an' de soldiers come 'long an' shake de dust off an' eat 'em. Dey would eat horse flesh. I have eaten it and liked it a number of times.
After de war ended and us was freed us had a hard time. After a few years ob hirein' out I settled on a small farm an' got married. I am now livin' wid my second wife. My fust wife an' all my chillun is dead but one an' a gal.
I'se old and nearly blind, de government is takin' care ob me an' I wants to stay here as long as I can.
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
Banner designed by: Melissa McCoy-Bell
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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