Monthly Archives: September 2013

Sally Parham, aka “Black Mammy” Slave Narrative

The following article appeared about 1935 in the short-lived, progressive newspaper “State’s Progress”, which was published in Durham, North Carolina in the 1930’s. The subject of the interview was Sally Parham, who was born before the Civil War on Asa Parham’s plantation , near Tabbs Creek, just east of Oxford, North Carolina. Asa Parham was my cousin, the relation coming through the Crews line down to my own. The existence of this slave narrative first came to my attention through “North Carolina: The Subtle Politics of Slavery Before and After the Civil War” at BC Brooks: A Writer’s Hiding Place.

‘Black Mammy’ Tells Graphic Story of Slavery

By Charlotte Story Perkinson

"Black Mammy" Tells Graphic Story of Salvery, Asa Parham, Granville County, NC

Article that appeared in “State’s Progress” newspaper about 1933 – Image courtesy of bcbrooks.blogspot.com

Dr. John Spencer Bassett has said; “The lives of the American slaves were without annals, and to a large extent without conscious purpose. To get the story of their existence there is no other way than to follow the tracks they have made in history of another people.”

But an effort to obtain a true picture of the period by talking directly to the actors in the drama themselves, as I have done at every opportunity, is fraught with difficulties, one of which is that the memory at 90 and over is apt to be much impaired, and another that even 75 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, there is still a great tendency among these old darkies to say only those things pleasant to the ear of the descendants of former slave owners. This hesitancy in revealing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, probably comes from incentives of fear of fear and loyalty combined. Usually these old slave brag about the wealth and social prestige of their masters, and try to keep alive something of the glamorous, but not altogether true picture of old plantation life. Only two out of many I have interviewed have revealed anything of the ugly or the evil in the setting.

Even so, it was not without advantage to the negro to have come to America as a slave, according to Booker T. Washington, who says; “It was the negro’s task to learn from experience by his contact with most advanced types of experience in the history of man.” That he has performed and is still performing that task well cannot be denied.

Is 102 Years Old
“Black Mammy”, so called for generations by all who know her, is by far the most interesting survivor of the old order I have yet talked with.

She is 102 years old, and says that she knows this to be her age, because she was born the same year as so and so of her master’s children, whose births are recorded in the family Bible. All of the children referred to are dead years ago.

Her name is Sally Parham, and she belonged to Asa Parham, who owned a large plantation five miles from Oxford on the Oxford-Henderson road in Granville county. She has served five generations of the family, and now, totally blind, is being cared for by a great grand-daughter of her master, Mrs. Elizabeth Dorsey Walters, whose mother was Cynthia Parham, daughter of Gaston and granddaughter of Asa Parham.

Aunt Sally not only related not only the more or less familiar story of having a good master, how and when she got religion, her memories of the Civil War and the part she played during that period, but she gave a most revealing description of the slave speculator, of how crime was punished, of the “pattyrollers”, and of many other subjects not often touched upon. Truly she seems like a character taken from the pages of history unwritten, because almost everybody she knew and who form a part of her story are long since dead, she would often rather pathetically exclaim, “O Lord, I live in de grave yard now.”

Always Same Plantation
This old woman lived her entire life on the same plantation until 1928, when the land was again divided, with the exception of a short time following her master’s death.

Then she became the property of Nan Parham, who married a Bobbitt, and went to the Bobbitt home to live. Here, she says, she was so homesick that she ran back home, and to satisfy her, it was finally agreed among the heirs to let her remain at the old place and cook for the five bachelor sons, they agreeing to pay her wages to the “Legatees” as she expressed it.

“Black Mammy’s” earliest memories take her back to the time when she first went to the big house to be trained as a house servant. When her mother came after her, she says she refused to return to the slave quarters, and was dragged down the front steps, “My head counted those steps, and I’ll never forget them,” she said.

Sometimes, when she was still a child, she told me, her white mistress sent her to school with the white children. She was given a note to the teacher with instructions to let her have some books. One was a “Blue Back Speller” from the pages of which she spelled several words for me from memory, syllable by syllable. She also repeated the alphabet and said she was proud of her education and wished she had not dropped it so soon.

“Black Mammy” was only married once. But of course marriage in slavery days was hardly more than an agreement to live together, and the institution of slavery was conducive to polygamy, inasmuch as the more children a slave woman had the more value she was to her master. Aunt Sally’s ideals in this regard were quite high, however, and patterned after those of the white folks. Her husband was Harry, a slave belonging to Albert Parham, and living on the adjoining plantation. If she had any children, they as well as her husband are all gone, while she lives on way past her age and generation, reenacting in her imagination the scenes of a by-gone day.

Meeting Houses For Slaves
Aunt Sally says that while the assembling together of the slaves was carefully guarded against, fearing an uprising, the Parham brothers, whose plantations joined and who owned a large number of negroes, built a meeting house where their slaves could hold prayer meetings and other religious services. This house was across the creek from her master’s place, and when slaves went to it, a colored overseer was usually sent along with them.

One night Black Mammy wanted to go to a prayer meeting and her father raised objections. There was a scene and chastisement. It was then and there she says she got religion, right at the foot of a walnut tree in her Mammy’s back yard. “No one dar’ but me and Gawd!” She joined the white folks church, called “Tab’s Creek” and was baptized in Cheatham’s Pond, along with about 20 others, which included members of both races, she told me.

One means employed for keeping the slaves from congregating together and possibly plotting mischief was the institution of the patrol, the “pattyrollers”, the slaves called them. The patrol consisted of five white men or thereabouts, appointed by the local unit of government, whose business it was to see that slaves were on their own mater’s plantations after sun-down.

Had To Have Pass
If a slave went courting or to a candy stew or to a prayer meeting or on an errand for his master or mistress, it was necessary for him to have with him a note or pass saying who he was and where he was going. Slaves caught away from home without permission were given a whipping and sent home. They feared and hated the “pattyrollers” intensely and they used to sing a song about them which went like this;

“Run, nigger, run de pattyroll catch you,
Run, nigger, run fo, it’s almost day!
Massa was kind an’ Missus was true,
But if you don’t min’ de pattyroll catch you!”

It appears that the patrol was not much respected by the slave owners either.

The old slave laughed as she related how some slave and white boys used to play pranks on the “pattyrollers”. She said one night they stretched ropes across the lane leading to the negro quarters and then hid and waited for the gallop of the night patrol. Soon they heard each horse fall with a heavy thud, one after another as the rope tripped them. Needless to add there were no boys of either color visible when once the riders and horses set out again upon their spying errand.

Without doubt the most despicable feature of the institution of slavery, and the thing which aroused the abolitionist the most, was the slave trader, or slave driver, or “speculator”, an abominable species of humanity who trafficked in black flesh, who sold and bought men, and women and children for profit.

The slaves hated to see the speculator wagon drive up. The wagon was covered with canvas and drawn by several mules. Into it were herded much as sheep or dogs might be, often as many as 17 unwashed and half-clad negroes.

One particularly pathetic scene has fixed itself upon the memory of “Black Mammy’s” memory. It was of seeing her husband’s brother standing by a tree and begging his master to sell him. His wife and children had already been loaded into the trader’s wagon.

“Massa, please sell me too. I’ll never do you no mo’ good, please sell me,” the miserable darky begged.

“I don’t want to sell you, Tom.” The master replied, kindly. “I like you. You’re a good servant.”

But the speculator kept offering more and more money for him, until finally the master relented and let the poor wretch join his wife and children in the slave wagon, only to be separated again, no doubt, perhaps at the next plantation.

“Why was the wife sold?” I wanted to know.

“Cause she had Injun blood in her,” was the reply. One can imagine that genuine negro blood would better serve the purposes of slavery than mixed blood, negroes being more docile and more trustworthy than Indians. The blackest skin brought the highest price, “Black Mammy” said. Negroes and Indians did not get along well together.

The old slave women related two extremely interesting and dramatic incidents illustrating how crime was punished when she was young.

One was the story of Martha and Joe, two slaves who murdered their master by scalding him with boiling coffee, and who were made examples of by hanging in the courthouse square. All the negroes from far and near were forced to witness the scene.

To See Hanging
“I was piled into a wagon with many other black folks,” said “Black Mammy”. “I was scared almost to death and kept up such a yelling and screaming that my master finally said, ‘Put the little fool out.’”

“My mother went on just the same,” she continued, “and said she couldn’t sleep any more afterwards until she got religion.” Times without number she heard her mother, and others, describe the pathetic scene.

The hanging took place at Harrisburg Creek, where the courthouse used to be located.

Martha, a young black woman, sat upon her coffin with a rope around her neck. At her breast, being fed, was a little black baby, born while she was in jail awaiting execution. A few minutes before the time set for her death, as is almost invariably the case with negroes under great emotional stress, she broke into song;

“I’s travellin’ to de grave my Lawd,
To lay dis body down.
Sister, you’d better watch and pray,
I’m huntin’ for Jesus night and day.”

As she finished the verse, someone in the crowd hollered out, “You ought to athought a that ‘fore you scalded your moster.”

The poor creature begged for time to sing one more verse, and continued her song. Then hurriedly handing her baby over to a black woman standing by, she sang on until the suddenly taughtened rope choked out the sound.

Martha and Joe were kitchen servants. They felt that their master was cruel to them, which of course in no way justified their act. Their mistress was dead. One day while they were busy in the kitchen preparing a meal and their master lay asleep in an adjoining room, snoring loudly with his mouth wide open, they conceived the idea of scalding him by pouring boiling coffee down his throat. This they did, and he was so badly burned that he soon died.

It seems that when a slave killed a white man he was dealt with in short order, and made an example of. But when the state took the life of a slave, it had to make restitution to his owner, in the same way that a corporation nowadays has to pay damages for injury to property, perhaps for running over a horse or a cow. Slaves were property then, in exactly the same way that a horse was.

On account of having to pay the master for his value in dollars, a slave who committed a crime against another negro was not often punished by death. Neither was he always cast into prison, for by so doing, the master would still be damaged in that he would be deprived of his labor. Consequently many and devious ways were prescribed for punishment, some very cruel. The law often set so many lashes for this and that crime. But there were punishments far more devilish and barbarous than whipping. Take, for instance, the story “Black Mammy” related for how a black youth was punished for killing his father.

There was a party in progress on a certain plantation. Fat lightwood knots and handmade candles augmented the light from open fires. Considerable drinking was going on, and a negro named Jack went to get another piece of lightwood from his father’s supply. The old man evidently thought it was time for the party to break up, so told his son not to get any more, and stood in his path in an attempt to keep the young man from doing so. In a fit of drunken fury, the son kicked his father in the stomach and killed him instantly.

Branded in Palms
The young negro was punished by being taken to a nearby blacksmith shop and tied to a stake. Then he was forced to hold out one hand while a red hot iron was applied to his palm long enough for him to repeat three times slowly and distinctly – “The Lord save the state – The Lord save the state – The Lord save the state.” Then he had to hold out the other palm and again repeat the words as before three more times. Of course he tried at first to say the words as fast as he could, but for so doing he was stopped and made to begin over and repeat them slowly after his tormentor, who applied the branding iron. This man could not use his hands for a year, “Black Mammy” said. And in order to prevent his own brothers from killing him, his owner sold him to get him out of the way.

Aunt Sally told me about the first train which came through the section, and described the first cook stove she ever saw. She said this stove was used in Oxford’s first hotel and was so big it looked to her like a wagon. The old negro attributes her blindness to weakening her eyes by cooking in the smoke over a fireplace for so long. She did not become totally blind, however, until two years ago following an attack of influenza.

Of her experiences during the War Between the States, she says that she and her husband took care of the place while her young masters went to war, that she carried their money on her person, and hid it about at different places at different times. She said they buried the meat and valuable in ditches, and laughs at how many times she fooled the Yankees. One time she said she put the molasses in front of the liquor jugs. She says she outwitted them many times and managed to keep her master’s money and guns and other valuable away from the invaders until their return from the conflict. For her loyalty during those trying times and always she has been rewarded by being cared for by her white folks ever since.

Never Forgets Manners
This quaint old figure in her white cap and black and white dress, even though living in the same house with her mistress, is in no way presumptuous and never forgets her manners. They are those of old slavery time, when the finest points of etiquette were observed by the white people, and whose manners were imitated by the house servants generally. Even in her blindness, “Black Mammy” is able to do many things for herself. Her mistress has to lead her from one room to another and give her medicine, in the nature of a heart stimulant.

Even now the old woman feels it within her province and a part of her duty to the old family, to admonish and advise her young mistress, when occasion demands, and most of all to tell her “‘bout the way her family did and lived befor’ de war.”

She referred to the intermixture of the races as the greatest curse of slavery. While she said the practice of a slave owner keeping a negro mistress, who bore him mulatto children, was not universal, it was not unusual, and was the cause of a great deal of misery and unhappiness for both races concerned.

“Black Mammy” ended her talk by saying; “It’s de truth, de Gawd’s truth. I’d be afraid to tell lies ‘cause I spec to go up yonder ‘fore long now.”

END

[Eds Notes: A search for records on Sally Parham of Granville County, North Carolina tuned up a death certificate dated February 18, 1937. She died at the County Home in Granville County, of Pneumonia complicated by cardio arrhythmia. On the form, in the box labeled “age” is handwritten 105. In the box with the cause of death notes, the number 107 is written large and encircled. In the box for birthdate, there is only a handwritten X. In the box requesting her husband’s name, on the word “widowed” is written. Her race is listed as “colored”. The burial place is difficult to decipher, but upon careful study and comparing the letter forms with other known words written on this document, I have determined that it reads “Antioch Church”. This would be Antioch Baptist Church in Granville County, NC. Her grave is apparently unmarked. Her father is listed as “Andrew Parham”. Her mother is listed as “Nancy Revis”, both of Granville County. Note that the “Reavis” (note spelling variation) family of Granville was intermarried with many of the prominent Granville families, including the Parham’s, the Hunt’s, the Kittrell’s, and the Cheatham’s. This person declared in this death certificate is undoubtedly the “Aunt Sally” or “Black Mammy” described in the article above. See a scan of this document immediately below.]

Sallie Parham Death Certificate 02-18-1937

Death certificate of Sallie Parham, who was born a slave on Asa Parham’s plantation in Granville County, North Carolina, and died at the age of about 106 in the County Home in nearby Oxford.

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Ida Adkins; Former Slave in Franklin Couny, NC – A Narrative

The following is a revised and edited (into modern English) transcription of a slave narrative recorded on June 1, 1937 by Travis Jordan, a Works Progress Administration writer, working with the Writer’s Project. The original narrative as recorded is available below, and the original document is available at the national archives in Washington, D.C. It is available also through Project Gutenberg, here.

I have chosen to include this particular narrative because the subject, Ida Adkins, belonged to Frank Jeffries of Franklin County, North Carolina (very near the town of Louisburg.) I have not been able to absolutely verify my relationship to this Frank Jeffries as of yet, however I am related to a Frank Jeffries from the same area, who is a generation or two younger. It’s likely that my Frank Jeffries was the son or grandson of Ida Adkin’s “Master Frank Jeffries.” A secondary reason for inclusion is the reference to “bee gums” (hollowed logs housing honey bee colonies.) Her master was a beekeeper. I am a beekeeper. Her solution to the home invasion was a good one and one that I have contemplated many times. This story hits home with me.

————

Hollow log beehives or Bee Gums

“Bee Gums” – or more familiarly “Log Hives” – were the common way to keep domesticated bees prior to the development of modern beekeeping methods in the 1880’s.

IDA ADKINS – Ex-slave 79 years.

“I was born before the war. I was about eight years old when the Yankee men came through.

My mother and father, Hattie and Jim Jeffries, belonged to Master Frank Jeffries. Master Frank came from Mississippi, but when I was born he and Miss Mary Jane were living down here near Louisburg in North Carolina, where they had a big plantation and I don’t know how many niggers. Master Frank was good to his niggers, except he never gave them enough to eat. He worked them hard on half rations, but he didn’t believe in beating them all the time and selling them.

My father worked at the stables; he was a good horseman, but my mother worked at the big house helping Miss Mary Jane. Mother worked in the weaving room. I can see her now sitting at the weaving machine and hear the pedals going plop, plop, as she treadled them with her feet. She was a good weaver. I stayed around the big house too, picking up chips, sweeping the yard and such as that.

Miss Mary Jane was quick as a whippoorwill. She had black eyes that snapped and saw everything. She could turn her head so quick she’d catch you every time you tried to steal a lump of sugar. I liked Master Frank better than I liked Miss Mary Jane. All of us little children called him “Big Pappy”. Every time he went to Raleigh he brought us niggers back some candy. He went to Raleigh about twice a year. Raleigh was far away from the plantations – nearly sixty miles. It always too Master Frank three days to make the trip. A day to go, a day to stay in town, and a day to come back. Then he always got home at night. Except sometimes he rode on horseback instead of the carriage; then he would sometimes get home by sun down.

Master Frank didn’t go to the war. He was too old. So when the Yankee’s came through they found him at home. When Master Frank saw the blue coats coming down the road he ran and got his gun. The Yankee’s were on horses. I have never seen so many men. They were as thick as hornets coming down the road in a cloud of dust. They came up to the house and tied their horses to the pilings around the yard. When they saw Master Frank standing on the porch with the gun leveled on them, they got mad. By the time Master Frank shot one time, a bully Yankee snatched the gun away and told Master Frank to hold up his hands. They tied his hands and pushed him down on the floor, beside the house, and told him that if he moved they would shoot him. Then they went in the house.

I was scared nearly to death, but I ran to the kitchen and got a butcher knife, and when the Yankee’s weren’t looking, I tried to cut the rope and set Master Frank free. But one of those blue devils saw me and came running. He said, “What are you doing, you black brat! You stinking little alligator bait!”

He snatched the knife from my hand and told me to stick out my tongue, that he was going to cut it off. I let out a yell and ran behind the house.

Some of the Yankee’s were in the smokehouse getting the meat, some of them at the stables getting the horses, and some were in the house getting the silver and things. I saw them put the big silver pitcher and tea pot in a bag. Then they took the knives and forks and all the candle sticks and platters off the sideboard. They went in the parlor and got the gold clock that was Miss Mary Jane’s grandmothers. Then they got all the jewelry out of Miss Mary Jane’s box.

They went up to Miss Mary Jane, and while she looked at them with her black eyes snapping, they took the rings off her fingers, then they took her gold bracelet. They even tool the ruby earrings out of her ears and the gold comb out of her hair.

I had quit peeping in the window and was standing beside the house when the Yankees came out in the yard with all the stuff they were carrying off. Master Frank was still sitting on the porch with his hands tied and couldn’t do anything. About that time I saw the bee gums (bee hives) in the side yard. There was a whole line of beehives. Little as I was I had a notion. I ran and got a long stick and turned over every one of those hives. Then I stirred up those bees with that stick till they were so mad I could smell the poison. And bees! You have never seen the likes of bees. They were swarming all over the place. They sailed into those Yankee’s like bullets, each one madder than the other. They lit on their horses til they looked like they were alive with varmints. The horses broke their bridles and tore down the pilings and lit out down the road. But their running was nothing to what the Yankee’s did. They burst out cussing, but what did a bee care about cuss words? They lit on those blue coats and every time they lit they stuck in a poison sting. The Yankees forgot all about the meat and things they had stolen. They took off down the road on the run, passing the horses. The bees were right after them in a long line. They’d zoom and zip, and every time they’d zip a Yankee would yell.

When they were gone, Miss Mary Jane untied Master Frank. Then they took all the silver, meat and things that the Yankee’s left behind and buried it so if they came back they couldn’t find it.

Then they called for mother and said, “Ida Lee, if you hadn’t turned over those beehives those Yankee’s would have taken off nearly everything fine we have. We want to give you something you can keep so you’ll always remember this day, and how you ran those Yankee’s away.”

Then Miss Mary Jane took a plain gold ring off of her finger and put it on mine. And I’ve been wearing it ever since.”

————–
ORIGINAL TRANSCRIPT; Un-edited, below.
————–

N.C. District: No. 3
Worker: Travis Jordan
No. Words: 1500
Title: Ida Adkins Ex-slave
Person Interviewed: Ida Adkins
Editor: Daisy Bailey Waitt
County Home, Durham, N.C.
Date Stamp: “JUN 1 1937”

[Pg 9]

IDA ADKINS – Ex-slave 79 years.

“I wuz bawn befo’ de war. I wuz about eight years ole when de Yankee mens come through.

My mammy an’ pappy, Hattie an’ Jim Jeffries belonged to Marse Frank Jeffries. Marse Frank come from Mississippi, but when I wuz bawn he an’ Mis’ Mary Jane wuz livin’ down herr near Louisburg in North Carolina whare dey had er big plantation an’ don’ know how many niggers. Marse Frank wuz good to his niggers, ‘cept he never give dem ernough to eat. He worked dem hard on half rations, but he didn’ believe in all de time beatin’ an’ sellin’ dem.

My pappy worked at de stables, he wuz er good horseman, but my mammy worked at de big house helpin’ Mis’ Mary Jane. Mammy worked in de weavin’ room. I can see her now settin’ at de weavin’ machine an’ hear de pedals goin’ plop, plop, as she treaded dem wid her feets. She wuz a good weaver. I stayed ‘roun’ de big house too, pickin’ up chips, sweepin’ de yard an’ such as dat. Mis’ Mary Jane wuz quick as er whippo’-will. She had black eyes dat snapped, an’ dey seed everythin’. She could turn her head so quick dat she’d ketch you every time you tried to steal a lump of sugar. I liked Marse Frank better den I did Mis’ Mary Jane. All us little chillun called him Big Pappy. Every time he went to Raleigh he brung us niggers back some candy. He went to Raleigh erbout twice er year. Raleigh wuz er far ways from de plantations—near ’bout sixty miles. It always took Marse Frank three days to make de trip. A day to go,[Pg 10] er’ day to stay in town, an’ a day to come back. Den he always got home in de night. Ceptn’ he rode ho’se back ‘stead of de carriage, den sometimes he got home by sun down.

Marse Frank didn’ go to de war. He wuz too ole. So when de Yankees come through dey foun’ him at home. When Marse Frank seed de blue coats comin’ down de road he run an’ got his gun. De Yankees was on horses. I ain’t never seed so many men. Dey was thick as hornets comin’ down de road in a cloud of dus’. Dey come up to de house an’ tied de horses to de palin’s; ‘roun’ de yard . When dey seed Marse Frank standin’ on de po’ch wid de gun leveled on dem, dey got mad. Time Marse Frank done shot one time a bully Yankee snatched de gun away an’ tole Marse Frank to hold up his hand. Den dey tied his hands an’ pushed him down on de floor ‘side de house an’ tole him dat if he moved dey would shoot him. Den dey went in de house.

I wuz skeered near ’bout to death, but I run in de kitchen an’ got a butcher knife, an’ when de Yankees wasn’ lookin’, I tried to cut de rope an’ set Marse Frank free. But one of dem blue debils seed me an’ come runnin’. He say:

‘Whut you doin’, you black brat! you stinkin’ little alligator bait!’ He snatched de knife from my hand an’ told me to stick out my tongue, dat he wuz gwine to cut it off. I let out a yell an’ run behin’ de house.

Some of de Yankees was in de smoke house gettin’ de meat, some[Pg 11] of dem wuz at de stables gettin’ de ho’ses, an’ some of dem wuz in de house gettin’ de silver an’ things. I seed dem put de big silver pitcher an’ tea pot in a bag. Den dey took de knives an’ fo’ks an’ all de candle sticks an’ platters off de side board. Dey went in de parlor an’ got de gol’ clock dat wuz Mis’ Mary Jane’s gran’mammy’s. Den dey got all de jewelry out of Mis’ Mary Jane’s box.

Dey went up to Mis’ Mary Jane, an’ while she looked at dem wid her black eyes snappin’, dey took de rings off her fingers; den dey took her gol’ bracelet; dey even took de ruby ear rings out of her ears an’ de gol’ comb out of her hair.

I done quit peepin’ in de window an’ wuz standin’ ‘side de house when de Yankees come out in de yard wid all de stuff dey wuz totin’ off. Marse Frank wuz still settin’ on de po’ch floor wid his han’s tied an’ couldn’ do nothin’. ‘Bout dat time I seed de bee gums in de side yard. Dey wuz a whole line of gums. Little as I wuz I had a notion. I run an’ got me a long stick an’ tu’ned over every one of dem gums. Den I stirred dem bees up wid dat stick ‘twell dey wuz so mad I could smell de pizen. An’ bees! you ain’t never seed de like of bees. Dey wuz swarmin’ all over de place. Dey sailed into dem Yankees like bullets, each one madder den de other. Dey lit on dem ho’ses ‘twell dey looked like dey wuz live wid varmints. De ho’ses broke dey bridles an’ tore down de palin’s an’ lit out down de road. But dey runnin’ wuzn’ nothin’ to what dem Yankees done. Dey bust out cussin’, but what did a bee keer about cuss words! Dey[Pg 12] lit on dem blue coats an’ every time dey lit dey stuck in a pizen sting. De Yankee’s forgot all about de meat an’ things dey done stole; dey took off down de road on er run, passin’ de horses. De bees was right after dem in a long line. Dey’d zoom an’ zip, an’ zoom an’ zip, an’ every time dey’d zip a Yankee would yell.

When dey’d gone Mis’ Mary Jane untied Marse Frank. Den dey took all de silver, meat an’ things de Yankees lef’ behin’ an’ buried it so if dey come back dey couldn’ fin’ it.

Den day called ma an’ said:

‘Ida Lee, if you hadn’t tu’ned over dem bee gums dem Yankees would have toted off near ’bout everythin’ fine we got. We want to give you somethin’ you can keep so’ you’ll always remember dis day, an’ how you run de Yankees away.’

Den Mis’ Mary Jane took a plain gold ring off her finger an’ put it on mine. An’ I been wearin’ it ever since.”

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An Observation on Slave Narratives, re; Dialect

I’ve been reading slave narratives all day long, courtesy of the University of Virginia and iBiblio. As I have read a good number of books with slave narratives of various degrees of complexity, I’m hardly unfamiliar with the dialect and vernacular. But today it occurred to me that one hundred years from now, it will be quite difficult for anyone to comprehend these stories as they have been recorded.

I grew up in the south, in a majority African-American community. From my infancy I was surrounded by people who spoke in dialect and I have no difficulty with it in the spoken form. But in writing it can be problematic, especially when it is written by an over-educated white person trying hard to capture the unique pronunciations and rhythm of speech. It’s not far off from trying to read a foreign language. Years from now it will be as difficult to interpret as Elizabethan English is for modern English speakers today.

I have tremendous respect for the writers who participated in the Works Progress Administration Writers Project. What they recorded is an absolutely priceless piece of American history. That said, in my humble opinion, it may be time to revisit this collection and translate the narratives into modern English so as to make them accessible to contemporary researchers, as well as the generally curious.

[I know that out there, somewhere, some PhD. sporting historian is rolling his/her eyes and deriding my opinion as that of an ignorant Philistine. Oh well.]

Okay… so… I am going to be including on this site some of the slave narratives associated with my family. And I am going to include them as they were originally recorded – AND – revised and edited into modern English, without the heavy dialect that makes them unapproachable for some younger readers.

Can’t wait for comments.


1850 Census – Slave Schedule – Benjamin Franklin Crews

United States Census (Slave Schedule), 1850 > North Carolina > Granville > Image 103 and 104 of 129

Schedule 2. – Slave Inhabitants in Ragland District in the County of Granville, State of North Carolina, enumerated by me, on the 19th day of August, 1850. (Signed) Tro (illegible) E. A. Jones, Ass’t Marshal.

Page 103 and 104 – Columns on Right Side of Page

Line #38 – Property Owner: Benjamin F. Crews      

No. of Slaves      Age        Sex         Color    

1                              22           F              Black

1                              21           F              Black

1                              16           F              Black

1                              6              M            Black

1                              1              F              Black

1                              6              F              Black

1                              1              M            Black

1                              12           M            Black

——–
8


1850 Census – Slave Schedule – Tar River Plantation

United States Census (Slave Schedule), 1850 > North Carolina > Granville > Image 18 of 129

Schedule 2. – Slave Inhabitants in Ragland District in the County of Granville, State of North Carolina, enumerated by me, on the 19th day of August, 1850. (Signed) Tro (illegible) E. A. Jones, Ass’t Marshal.

Page 18 – Columns on Left Side of Page

Line #1 – Property Owner:   James Crews
No. of Slaves            Age     Sex      Color 

1                                       37        M        Black

1                                       36        M        Black

1                                       28        M        Black

1                                       30        M        Black

1                                       28        M        Black

1                                       20        M        Black

1                                       11        M        Black

1                                        7          M        Mulatto

1                                        4          M        Mulatto

1                                        1          M        Mulatto    <— Isham Crews?

1                                      70        F          Black

1                                      30        F          Black

1                                      27        F          Black

1                                      25        F          Black

1                                      24        F          Black

1                                      14        F          Black

1                                      11        F          Black

1                                       8          F          Black

1                                       6          F          Black

1                                       4          F          Black

1                                       1          F          Black

1                                       5          F          Black

1                                       4          F          Black

1                                       2          F          Black

——–

24


Slave Account; Isham Crews, Born into Bondage and Transferred to the Property of James A. Crews

This is a transcription of an article that first appeared in a Louisburg, North Carolina newspaper article, June 25, 1943.

Slave Account – Isham Crews, born into slavery; the property of either the Hunts or the Wrights in Franklin County, was transferred to Tar River Plantation and the control of “Mist’ Jimmie Crews” about 1845.

Aging Slave Portrait

A man born into slavery, somewhere in the South.

Washington could use a man like Isham Crews, 96 year-old ex-slave who’s living through his fourth American war.

The aged Franklin County Negro speaks cautiously, sometimes pausing a second in the middle of a sentence, but he goes directly to the point.

“Trouble with these times,” he says, “is that some people need to be made to work.”

Isham could tell the occupied countries a thing or two about hiding valuables, food, and livestock. He vividly remembers when ‘de Yankee’s’ came through North Carolina.

He was born in Franklin County, a Wright, and taken to Granville County at the age of six weeks. His mother’s young mistress, Martha Wright, married “Mist’ Jimmy Crews” and thereby Isham, whose mother and other Negroes were given the young bride by her father, became a Crews.

[Ed Note: James A. “Jimmy” Crews wife was actually Martha Hunt, from Person County, North Carolina. They were married on August 11, 1834. Isham would have been 109 years-old when he gave this interview, if he actually came to the farm with his mothers’ “young mistress” – which isn’t entirely out of the question.]

He was sixteen when Sherman’s army came through the state. His master’s wheat was hidden in a large hollow column on the porch, the silver and gold placed in a large iron pot and buried, and the mules hidden in a swamp bottom.*

[Ed. Note: If Isham came to farm at six weeks old in 1834, then he would have been about 31 years old when Sherman’s army came and camped on the farm in the spring of 1865. What is much more likely is that Isham came to the farm with a bride of one of James A. Crews’ children – though none of those women were “Wright’s” by maiden name, and the dates don’t jibe – or arrived another way entirely (recall that he was just six weeks old when he was transferred.) If he was sixteen when Sherman came, this would place his date of birth about 1849, which would have made him about sixteen or seventeen when Sherman marched though, and about 96 years old when he gave the interview. He reported his age at the time as 96 years old.]

Before the army came through, groups of men “came and sneaked aroun’, bought food from us and gave us silver money to tell where the master hid his things.” Isham said.

They took the money, but never told anything, except one man who told where the mules were hidden, Isham added. Then, chuckling, he recalled “that money won’t no good.”

He still has one of the pieces of money, a Spanish coin minted in 1737.

The Yankee’s took all of his master’s mules except one blind one, Isham said, and pulled up everything that was growing. They raided the corn crib and confiscated all the chickens, cows, and pigs.

Some of the slaves went freely with the Yankees, he said, while others stayed on with their masters. Isham stayed.

Negroes were sent to the “bressel” (breast) works, built to keep the Yankees from “stealin’” the white children, and in many instances Negroes were hidden in underground passage ways and fed for months by their masters to “keep the Yankees from gittin’ them.”

Isham said that “in the old days” the slaves had houses built in rows back of the master’s house. Every woman had to spin three pounds of cotton each night, except Saturday night, at which time all the children’s clothes were washed. Each child had two long shirts for summer and two for winter, but had no shoes (no 18 stamps, possibly). Only the grown-ups had shoes – the men’s had wooden soles, the women’s all leather.

The men, of course, worked in the fields.

No baths were ever given or heads combed, only among the “favorite” children, Isham recalled. The children were fed 12 at a time out of a trough dug out of a tree trunk. “Mushroom” shells (apparently mussel) were used by each child to eat peas and beans with and each child had a gourd dipper to drink from. The food was mostly pot-liquor, corn bread, peas, turnip salad and meat skins.

The slaves couldn’t go from one plantation to another without a “furlough” because the patteroes” would punish them. The “patteroes”, Isham explained, were poor white people hired by the plantation owners apparently as guards or patrols. The slaves and patteroes seemed to have a healthy dislike for each other, because Isham smilingly recalled that the Negroes would string grape vines across the road to trip the patteroes’ mules.

His master treated the slaves pretty well, Isham said, and never whipped them much – because his wife wouldn’t let him. He never sold any of them, either. In fact, he couldn’t, as they were owned by his wife.

Isham said that the flat woodland in Granville County had never been hunted, so when he was 14 he begged permission of his master to allow him to go hunting. Permission granted, Isham set out, taking his master’s young son, Edgar, with him. (Ed. Note: Edgar Crews was the son of David Goodman Crews and his wife, Louisa Flemming Crews. They married in 1866 and Edgar was born in 1867, when Isham would have been about seventeen. If Edgar was old enough to ride along (perhaps four years old), this would have put Isham at 21 years old.) Despite having to carry Edgar seated astraddle his neck, Isham returned to the plantation with two ‘possums.

After that, his master gave him two dogs and allowed him to go hunting regularly – the master apparently agreeing with those who think ‘possum and sweet potatoes can’t be beat.

Isham, who’s pretty spry for a young lad of 96, spends most of his time sitting in the shade these hot days. He doesn’t have much to say about this new war – the real fight was in the 1860’s as far as he’s concerned.

But times are worse now, he says. He still thinks there are too many people who “need to be made to work”.

—————————–

[Ed Notes:
1. Many of the dates and names associated with this account do not add up, and I have made notes in content where I find factual conflict. That said, I feel strongly that the gist of his account is quite true, as I have heard similar recollections passed down through generational family lore. Where this occurs, I have noted the text with a “*”.
2. My source for this account is: “Granville County Heritage, North Carolina, Vol. I”, pp. 164 – 165. ©2002, Granville County Heritage Book Committee & County Heritage, Inc., located at the Richard H. Thornton Library, Oxford, North Carolina.
3. This account first appeared in the Louisburg newspaper, June 25, 1943, and may have appeared simultaneously on the same date in the Raleigh, News and Observer; although I have been unable to verify this. My belief is based upon a reference to this slave account in a biography of James A. Crews and his Wife Martha Ann Hunt Crews that appears in “Granville County Heritage”, on page 165.]

UPDATE 12/10/2013:

My cousin, Dan (who is a far better researcher than me!) read my blog post and then came up with a death certificate for one Isham Crews, of Franklin County, N.C. This document clarifies a lot of the details that didn’t quite synch in the original article. So let’s set the record straight in regards to Isham Crews age and how/when he came to Tar River Plantation.

Isham Crews was born on July 22, 1847. He was not yet born when Martha Hunt married Jimmie Crews in 1834. It’s likely that Isham’s mother, Jennie Hunt, belonged to Martha’s father, David Hunt, and was transferred to Martha shortly before Isham was born. Isham would have been eighteen years old when Sherman’s Army marched through Granville County and camped out on the plantation. He would have been almost ninety-six years old when he gave this interview in 1943. Isham Crews died on August 30, 1950, at the age of 103 years old.

Isham Crews Death Cerificate

Death certificate of Isham Crews, 103 years old at his passing.


Slave Account; Rev. J.M. Taylor Recalls His Youth in Bondage at Tar River Plantation

Below is a transcription of a brief newspaper article that appeared in the Oxford Public Ledger, on February 25, 1930.

Tar River Plantation House and Family, at Tally-Ho, Granville County, North Carolina

Greek Revival Plantation House of James A. Crews, built about 1830 by the famous Antebellum architect Jacob Holt. This is the home place as it appeared in a photograph taken before 1917. Pictured in the photo are; standing at gate on right; LeRoy Lafayette Crews, at gate on left; Ellen Hamill, LeRoy’s second wife, African-American child on porch on left is “Cora”, whose parents were born into slavery on the plantation, and on the porch on the right; an unidentified child who is probably a relation of Ellen Hamill.

SLAVE ACCOUNT

Oxford Public Ledger – Tuesday, February 25, 1930. Page 1.

THE OLD J.A. CREWS’ PLACE ON TAR RIVER

Scene Of Much Activity In Anti-Bellum Days

From Rev. J.M. Taylor, a colored preacher who lives near Creedmoor, we gather the following data in reference to the old James A. Crews’ farm on Tar River. Taylor, who was born in slavery spent his early life on the Crews’ “plantation” and is known as one of the “Crews boys”.

Our informant relates that in 1864-1865 there were 10 in the white family and 32 in the colored family on this farm of 740 acres. “Our Master”, he said, was a typical farmer.

“I remember,” he continued, “that the corn crop was 300 barrels, wheat crop 300 bushels, potato crop 1,200 bushels, molasses 1,500 gallons. He ground cane and made molasses for his neighbors. Being 8 or 9 years of age, I heard the cannon roar in Eastern Carolina in 1864; saw several hundred soldiers of Sherman’s army on the first and second of May 1865; they passed through our yard and took one of our mules. The Northern army was dressed in blue uniforms. Of the ten of our white people in 1865 there are only 3 survivors, namely: Mr. Leroy Crews, of Thelma, Mr. Albert Crews of Oxford and Mrs. Carolina Smith of Oxford. Of the 32 colored people on the Crews’ farm in 1865 only 5 are living today.”

Rev. J.M. Taylor, quoted above, is a very remarkable man and is doing a fine work among the people of his race. During the campaign he formed a colored Democratic Club for Wilson, and one of his choice possessions today is a personal letter he received from President Wilson.

——————————

CH Jones Note: Rev. J.M. Taylor would have been born in about 1856, so he would have been about the same age as the children of James A. Crews; Flora and Albert Crews, and a bit younger than LeRoy Crews who is my great-great grandfather.


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