Tag Archives: Slave narrative

Slaves in the Family – Review

slaves-in-family-edward-ball-paperback-cover-artSlaves in the Family, by Edward Ball

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York

Edward Ball blows the doors off the spoken-of-only-in-inferences-and-whispers subject of the source of his family’s wealth, status, and generations long domination (economically and socially) of the South Carolina Low Country; i.e., their slaves.

The book is a thoroughly researched historical document specific to the Ball family, well-written, and candid. But more than all that, it is a look at All Our Histories,  putting a mirror in front of us and forcing us to look at the aftermath (for both black and white) of slavery, and the “cover-up” created by white descendants to romanticize and gloss over the grim facts of the past.

Bell’s is one of the bravest books on this subject that I have so far encountered. Near the top of my “Must Read” list.

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Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 – Review

Frances Kimble - JournalJournal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839, by Frances Anne Kemble, Edited with an introduction by, John A Scott

Brown Thrasher Books / University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia, 1984. (Originally published, 1863.)

Frances Kimble’s journal is surprisingly approachable, despite its vintage. She’s a skilled, sharp-eyed “journalist”, motivated to tell a story that few people in the 1830’s wanted to hear, fewer would have found sympathetic, and most would have derided as fiction.

This book is ‘Downton Abby’ with an underbelly so bleak, so grim it makes Dickens’ (writing in the same vein, on similar subjects occurring in England), seem like pretty cartoons. Kimble’s work is the very factual, well-documented, first-person account of what slavery was in the American South. Hard to face, but impossible to look away.

If you only read one book on the subject of antebellum slavery, this is the one.


Hardie House – Slave of Turner & Patience House – Tawdry Scandal!

Slave Hardie House, Patience House, Turner House of Pitt County NC

Not the Slave Story Anyone’s Taught to Expect – Except Here It Is, In The NC Court Records.

Talk about suppressed slave stories! This one is among the most interesting I have come across.

I’m still working on my connection to Turner House, but there is a relation. Will post it here as soon as I have tracked it down.

“921. [HOUSE], Hardie – slave of Turner HOUSE. See HOUSE, Turner and wife, Patience.

922. HOUSE, Turner and wife, Patience. Petition of Turner HOUSE of Pitt County sheweth that he intermarried with Patience YOUNG many years ago and enjoyed in her society more than the usual comforts and blessings of a married life. His exertions to perpetuate this happiness were indefatigable, and he discharged the duties of an affectionate husband in every particular. Your petitioner and the said Patience were blessed during this time with those fondest pledges, for they had born to them four promising children in whose society he believed both enjoyed the endearing pleasure of parents. This state of connubial bliss continued up to the year 1823, when the conduct of his wife was so strangely different and repulsive that his suspicions were awakened, and his mind yielded to the influence of corroding jealousy. He suspected that he had been supplanted in the affection of his wife by some object unknown. He was determined to conceal his feelings from his wife and the world and to grieve in silence. He believed that his forbearances would regain her love, and domestic harmony would be restored. But in these fond expectations, he was woefully disappointed, for his demeanor seemed to add to her alienation. Eventually she refused to admit your petitioner to her embraces and to a participation of all the rights of a husband. He was determined if possible to ascertain the cause of his suspicions and kept a strict watch on her conduct. To his great mortification he discovered her secretly enjoying the embraces of a slave, the property of your petitioner. What was before to him a terrestrial paradise was thus converted into a Hell. He has been informed and believes that she was guilty of a repetition of the same crime with the same person. Some time after this occurrence, your petitioner and the said Patience agreed to separate and entered into deed for that purpose. Your petitioner conveyed to said Patience the one-third part of his estate, and since that time they have lived separate and apart. Pray for a divorce from said wife, Patience. Sworn and subscribed before J.J. Brickell, J.P., 4 December 1826.

Deposition of Hillary WHITEHURST of Pitt County that he is a near neighbor of Turner HOUSE and went to his house about eighteen months ago to make a pair leading lines. He learned that Mr. HOUSE and his two eldest sons had gone to neighbor, so he went into the house to get the instruments for making the lines. After entering one room, he saw through an open door of another room the wife of said Turner on the bed and a negro slave named Hardie, belonging to said Turner, on top of her in an act of adultery. This deponent being ashamed of the sight immediately turned around to the kitchen and sent a negro woman for the instruments. Mrs. HOUSE afterwards came to the door, but this deponent does not know whether she was aware of his discovery or not. Some weeks afterward, this deponent was going to his brother’s and while passing said Turner’s house, he saw near the corner of the fence in a potato patch the same negro slave with Mrs. HOUSE engaged in the act of adultery. Sworn at Raleigh, 20 January 1827, before Wm. PEACE, J.P. of Wake County.

The Committee on Divorce and alimony to whom was referred this petition of Turner HOUSE have considered the same and report that the statements of the petitioner are well substantiated and recommend the accompanying bill be passed into law: that Turner HOUSE of the County of Pitt is hereby divorced from his wife Patience as if the rites of matrimony had never been solemnized. [On reverse:] In the House of Commons, 22 January 1827, read and laid on the table. In the House of Commons, 7 February 1827, read and postponed indefinitely.
(GASR 28 Dec. 1826 – 10 Feb. 1827, Box 1, folder “HB 23 Jan.”)”

Source for the above information is imprecise. It is published in the North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal, but I do not know what volume, date, or page number. I was provided a photocopy of a photocopy by a Mr. House, resident of Raleigh, North Carolina, and  who frequents the bookshop where I work. I will endeavor to locate better source information.


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.”

------- 
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions 
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project 
Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org

 


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.


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