Title: Mississippi Slave Narratives from the WPA Records
Submitter: MSGenWeb Slave Narrative Project
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From the WPA Slave Narratives:
Interesting events in the life of EMMELINE TROTT, a former Pontotoc Negro, will be found in the following article copied from the Jackson Daily News, 1937:
Aunt Emmeline Trott, ninety-eight year old negress, who typifies a vanishing American class, has a word or two for Hitler, Mussolini, the Japanese and the Spanish.
Aunt Emmeline doesn't believe that war settles problems. She heard of the Mexican War but was too young to be affected by it. She first knew war in 1861. A slender slave of 22, she stood on the steps of the Trott boarding house in Pontotoc, making her apron serve as double handkerchief; one to wave, one to wipe tears away. Trim, gray-clad backs were riding away from Pontotc on the finest horse-flesh Mississippi afforded which meant, in those days, the finest in the world. One young soldier noticed her streaming eyes, laughed gaily, 'Don't cry Emmeline, I'll bring you a Yankee-skin.' But Emmeline kept crying, 'because they was the finest men in Pontotoc and our best paying boarders.' She cried again later, for her 'Yankee-skin' hunting white friend died of a battle wound.
After that conflict Emmeline saw the states enter two others, the Spanish-American War and the World War.
She sums it up: 'It don't do any good. They say go to war and save your country, but how are you going to save our country when you're dead? And the big men don't fight. Presidents and Congressmen and Kings, they say Fight, but they don't.'
The Civil War she believes, was unnecessary fratricide, because 'Folks in Pontotoc was always saying slavery was going to be done away with anyway. If the Yankees had just taken a little time, they wouldn't have got all those folks killed for nothing.'
Emmeline had reason to resent slavery. She was brought from North Carolina with the Thompson family when she was a few years old. When she was six her mistress died, willing her to a son, Turner Thompson. Her mother was sold and disappeared, it seemed to the little pickaninny, overnight. Emmeline cried incessantly. She was loaned to Mrs. Josie Pinson Wilcox as her young bachelor-master had no household in which the little girl could be useful. Her sobs disturbed the Wilson meals and required frequent frantic calls for Turner Thompson, who must leave his own store to talk to the little girl. Memory of mother faded. Emmeline was big enough to nurse a baby but 'you know how women were then - they didn't trust their babies to a little girl like they do now.' She was allowed to rock the baby, but never to carry it.
Then Emmeline Thompson (she went by her master's name) grew into a typical house servant. She made the servants work jeans and learned to cook. She worked for captain and Mrs. Sara Trott. She married 'Alfred Trott' and was sold to the Trotts. She was in the midst of having her third baby when warning came that Pontotoc was to be invaded by the Yankees. 'I'd never seen any Yankees, did not want to see any, but I couldn't leave,' says Emmeline. Mrs. Trott came to her cabin to superintend the stringing of curtains about the bed. Holes had been bored in the four posters for this usual custom of child bearing.
Mrs. Trott wanted to take Emmeline's second boy, Frank, with her on the family flight into Alabama, but Emmeline begged for the child to remain. The Trott family piled into carriages, instructing Emmeline to return to her work of making biscuit and cracker dough, baking hams, and sewing for the soldiers. They met an unbelievable delay. Emmeline's husband, the carriage driver, had disappeared. They soon discovered that another slave had disappeared with him, with two of their finest horses, a matched carriage pair, and that all four possessions had gone to the Yankees.
Soon after the Yankees invaded Pontotoc they stormed into Emmeline's cabin, commanded her to get up so they could search the bed. Emmeline saw the General looking in a window. She mutely held up her new-born baby, and the General ordered his men out of the house. 'I sure was glad too,' she chuckles today. 'I was lying on rolls and rolls of silver, gold, guns, and other things Miz Adeline Bell had hid under me.'
Tobe Bell and his wife, 'Miss Adeline,' brother and sister-in-law to Mrs. Trott, were Emmeline's master and mistress until she could go to Alabama. Meanwhile, the Yankees came again.
They raided stores, tied sacks of flour, salt, and sugar to their saddles after cutting slits in either side, then rode down the town's dirt streets. White streams of precious food marked their trail. They slung bolts of cloth and ribbons across their saddles and let the finery trail behind to be trampled and strained.
'I guess we felt a little biggety then,' Emmeline admits. 'The colored people ran out and grabbed things. I got me a little bit of lace and ribbon, and when the white folks came around getting their stuff back, they didn't come to me.'
Pontotoc residents scrapped the dirt, filtered the salt. Food grew scarce but Emmeline had orders from Mr. Bell not to refuse Yankee soldiers when they demanded food, although 'Miss Adeline' got mad at her for this. While Miss Adeline 'run and hid' Emmeline cut great slabs of bread and set forth bowls of clabber. The Yankees liked the fare.
Then she was sent for to go by wagon to Alabama, where the Trotts had provided plenty for their slaves. Mrs. Trott had two big sacks of coffee in the loft and when she went to Alabama she took them with her and they didn't lack for something to eat.
Emmeline's widowhood was a short one. She married Jeff Trott, another of the Trott slaves, in Alabama, and by him had eight children, making her the mother of twelve. The first child of the second set, Fannie Trott Frantz, has been with her mother ever since, and they live now in a neat cottage on the old Airport Road (Jackson).
As the second set of children began, the war ended. The Trotts returned to Alabama with their unpossessed slaves. Some folks said leave us down there, but Mr. Trott said he brought us down and he would take us back to Pontotoc. He was a good man. He gave me a five-dollar gold piece when we got back. The Yankees talked about forty acres and a mule for everybody, but I never heard of anyone getting even a string from them.
Some of the Trott slaves went to work for their former masters on shares, an invention of necessity. Emmeline and Jeff soon bought their own land. They ignored Alfred Trott when he wrote from some place up North asking that his oldest son be sent to him.
Emmeline's life settled into ways of peaceful thrift. She taught her children the lessons of economy she'd learned in the white homes. She worked for Dr. and Mrs. Charles Coffin and their family from the time she returned to Pontotoc until a few years ago, when Miss Carroll Coffin, the daughter and last member of the family, died in Jackson.
Dr. Coffin, of Boston, and Miss Sara Allen, of Salem, Massachusetts, came to Mississippi by tortuous horse and ox team roads, just after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit, Emmeline relates. The treaty made cheaply available much fertile Indian land in Mississippi, and the Massachusetts colony set out with young Dr. Coffin as the necessary physician for the long, hazardous journey. Before they reached Mississippi Dr. Coffin had wooed and married Sara Allen, which doesn't mean that the courtship was a whirlwind affair.
The Coffins, never slave owners, were good masters, for freedom the Trott negroes found. Fannie was brought up almost in the Coffin home, and when Dr. and Mrs. Coffin died, and the daughter, Miss Carroll, moved to Jackson, Fannie came with her. Jeff Trott died a little while ago, says Emmeline, 'About thirty-one years ago.' There were no ties to hold Emmeline she thought, so she came to Jackson soon after Fannie.
But Emmeline had never paid rent before. She'd sit in Jackson and think she saw her Pontotoc home. 'She cried all the time,' Fannie affirms, 'until I bought a house. Then Miss Carrol wanted us to come and live with her and built us a room and bath. We rented our house until she died and then we built this one.'
Fannie, her husband, Rob Frantz, and Emmeline live the same industrious lives they've always known. Fannie enjoys a prosperous seamstress trade; they own two houses and plenty of land around the present home; have electricity, gas, modern plumbing, and in the fall and spring, more flowers than they can use, so they sell them. Their home is nicely furnished, freshly papered, sweetly clean. They never give thrift a vacation. Among their laundry customers is the Associate Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, tall courtly Judge W. D. Anderson, who was advisor for the Coffin family and thus inevitably knew Emmeline and Fannie.
Aunt Emmeline still drinks coffee daily, morning and night. She eats little, but what she wants. Her bright eyes are as quick as her memory. Her white friends are legion. Her little feet tickle when her radio brings a 'break down' tune, and she'd like to dance, but 'my legs won't let me.' Her white people wouldn't let her join the slave-quarter dances in her youth and she feels a lot of surpressed dancing in her.
But her cup runneth over and she knows it. Only four of her six sons and six daughters remain, but there are thirty-three grandchildren, nineteen great-grandchildren. (They're written down so she won't forget one).
There's been one deep sorrow in Emmeline's life. It springs fresh when she talks of it.... Henry, a son of her second marriage.
Henry killed a man in anger and was sent to Parchman. Friends in Pontotoc intervened when they saw Emmeline's tears. Henry was made a trusty, then transferred to Jackson as a chauffer and house-boy to Governor Earl Brewer. Henry became the especial friend of the Governor's youngest daughter, Claudia, former society editor of the Daily News, now Mrs. Samuel C. Strite, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
One day Claudia, a very young miss, stuck a note under her father's plate, 'Please set Henry free.' Governor Brewer when he left office gave Henry a pardon, and the freed negro was hired as strawboss on a delta plantation, 'but I guess he was too biggety by then,' his whitehaired mother says, 'because it wasn't long until he got into another scrape and got killed.' Henry's grave in the delta is marked by a tombstone that Claudia placed there.
Pontotoc Progress, Jan. 27, 1938. (Reprinted from the Jackson Daily News, 1937.)
Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan
The Federal Writer’s Project of
The Works Progress Administration
For the State of Mississippi
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