Florida slave narratives

Andrews, Samuel S.

“For almost 30 years Edward Waters College, an African Methodist Episcopal School, located on the north side of Kings Road in the western section of Jacksonville, has employed as watchman, Samuel Simeon Andrews (affectionately called “Parson”), a former slave of A.J. Lane of Georgia, Lewis Ripley of Beaufort, South Carolina, Ed Tillman of Dallas, Texas, and John Troy of Union Springs, Alabama.

“Parson” was born November 18, 1850 in Macon, Georgia, at a place called Tatum Square, where slaves were held, housed and sold. “Speculators” (persons who traveled from place to place with slaves for sale) had housed 84 slaves there—many of whom were pregnant women. Besides “Parson,” two other slave-children, Ed Jones who now lives in Sparta, Georgia, and George Bailey were born in Tatum Square that night. The morning after their births, a woman was sent from the nearby A.J. Lane plantation to take care of the three mothers; this nurse proved to be “Parson’s” grandmother. His mother told him afterwards that the meeting of mother and daughter was very jubilant, but silent and pathetic, because neither could with safety show her pleasure in finding the other. At the auction which was held a few days later, his mother, Rachel, and her two sons, Solomon Augustus and her infant who was later to be known as “Parson,” were purchased by A.J. Lane who had previously bought “Parson’s” father, Willis, from a man named Dolphus of Albany, Georgia; thus were husband and wife re-united. They were taken to Lane’s plantation three miles out of Sparta, Georgia, in Hancock County. Mr. Lane owned 85 slaves and was known to be very kind and considerate.”

Parson” lived on the Lane plantation until he was eight years old, when he was sold to Lewis Ripley of Beaufort, South Carolina, with whom he lived for two years; he was then sold to Ed Tillman of Dallas, Texas; he stayed on the Tillman plantation for about a year and until he was purchased by John Troy of Union Springs, Alabama—the richest slave-holder in Union Springs, Alabama; he remained with him until Emancipation. He recalls that during one of these sales about $800.00 was paid for him.

He describes A.J. Lane as being a kind slave-holder who fed his slaves well and whipped them but little. All of his other masters, he states, were nice to children, but lashed and whipped the grown-ups.

Mr. Lane’s family was comprised of his wife, Fannie (who also was very kind to the slaves) five children, Harriett Ann, Jennie, Jeff, Frankie and Mae Roxie, a brother (whose name he does not recall) who owned a few slaves but was kind to those that he did own. Although very young during slavery, “Parson” remembers many plantation activities and customs, among which are the following: That the master’s children and those of the slaves on the plantation played together; the farm crops consisted of corn, cotton, peas, wheat and oats; that the food for the slaves was cooked in pots which were hung over a fire; that the iron ovens used by the slaves had tops for baking; how during the Civil War, wheat, corn and dried potatoes were parched and used as substitutes for coffee; that his mother was given a peck of flour every two weeks; that a mixture of salt and sand was dug from the earthern floor of the smokehouse and water poured over it to get the salt drippings for seasoning; that most medicine consisted of boiled roots; when thread and cloth were dyed with the dye obtained from maple bark; when shoes were made on a wooden last and soles and uppers fastened together with maple pegs; when the white preachers preached “obey your masters”; that the first buggy that he saw was owned by his master, A.J. Lane; it had a seat at the rear with rest which was usually occupied by a man who was called the “waiter”; there was no top to the seat and the “waiter” was exposed to the weather. He recalls when wooden slats and tightened ropes were used for bed springs; also the patience of “Aunt Letha” an old woman slave who took care of the children in the neighborhood while their parents worked, and how they enjoyed watching “Uncle Umphrey” tan cow and pig hides.

“Parson” describes himself as being very frisky as a boy and states that he did but very little work and got but very few whippings. Twice he ran away to escape being whipped and hid in asparagus beds in Sparta, Georgia until nightfall; when he returned the master would not whip him because he was apprehensive that he might run away again and be stolen by poorer whites and thus cause trouble. The richer whites, he relates, were afraid of the poorer whites; if the latter were made angry they would round up the owners’ sheep and turn them loose into their cotton fields and the sheep would eat the cotton, row by row.

He compares the relationship between the rich and poor whites during slavery with that of the white and Negro people of today.

With a face full of frowns, “Parson” tells of a white man persuading his mother to let him tie her to show that he was master, promising not to whip her, and she believed him. When he had placed her in a buck (hands tied on a stick so that the stick would turn her in any direction) he whipped her until the blood ran down her back.

With changed expression he told of an incident during the Civil War: Slaves, he explained had to have passes to go from one plantation to another and if one were found without a pass the “patrollers” would pick him up, return him to his master and receive pay for their service. The “patrollers” were guards for runaway slaves. One night they came to Aunt Rhoda’s house where a crowd of slaves had gathered and were going to return them to their masters; Uncle Umphrey the tanner, quickly spaded up some hot ashes and pitched it on them; all of the slaves escaped unharmed, while all of the “patrollers” were badly injured; no one ever told on Uncle Umphrey and when Aunt Rhoda was questioned by her master she stated that she knew nothing about it but told them that the “patrollers” had brought another “nigger” with them; her master took it for granted that she spoke the truth since none of the other Negroes were hurt. He remembers seeing this but does not remember how he, as a little boy, was prevented from telling about it.

Asked about his remembrance or knowledge of the slaves’ belief in magic and spells he said: “I remember this and can just see the dogs running around now. My mother’s brother, “Uncle Dick” and “Uncle July” swore they would not work longer for masters; so they ran away and lived in the woods. In winter they would put cotton seed in the fields to rot for fertilizer and lay in it for warmth. They would kill hogs and slip the meat to some slave to cook for food. When their owners looked for them, “Bob Amos” who raised “nigger hounds” (hounds raised solely to track Negro slaves) was summoned and the dogs located them and surrounded them in their hide-out; one went one way and one the other and escaped in the swamps; they would run until they came to a fence—each kept some “graveyard dust and a few lightwood splinters” with which they smoked their feet and jumped the fence and the dogs turned back and could track no further. Thus, they stayed in the woods until freedom, when they came out and worked for pay. Now, you know “Uncle Dick” just died a few years ago in Sparta, Georgia.”

When the Civil War came he remembers hearing one night “Sherman is coming.” It was said that Wheeler’s Cavalry of the Confederates was always “running and fighting.” Lane had moved the family to Macon, Georgia, and they lived on a place called “Dunlap’s Hill.” That night four preachers were preaching “Fellow soldiers, the enemy is just here to Bolden’s Brook, sixteen miles away and you may be carried into judgment; prepare to meet your God.” While they were preaching, bombs began to fly because Wheeler’s Cavalry was only six miles away instead of 16 miles; women screamed and children ran. Wheeler kept wagons ahead of him so that when one was crippled the other would replace it. He says he imagines he hears the voice of Sherman now, saying: “Tell Wheeler to go on to South Carolina; we will mow it down with grape shot and plow it in with bombshell.”

Emancipation came and with it great rejoicing. He recalls that Republicans were called “Radicals” just after the close of the Civil War.Mr. Lane was able to save all of his meat, silver, and other valuables during the war by having a cave dug in the hog pasture; the hogs trampled over it daily.”

Parson” states that among the papers in his trunk he has a piece of money called “shin plasters” which was used during the Civil War.The slaves were not allowed to attend schools of any kind; and school facilities immediately following Emancipation were very poor; when the first teacher, Miss Smith, a Yankee, came to Sparta, Georgia and began teaching Sunday School, all of the children were given testaments or catechisms which their parents were afraid for them to keep lest their masters whip them, but the teacher called on the parents and explained to them that they were as free as their former masters.

“Parson” states that when he was born, his master named him “Monk.” His grandfather, Willis Andrews, who was a free man of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, purchased the freedom of his wife Lizzie, but was never able to purchase their four children; his father, also named Willis, died a slave, was driven in an ox-cart to a hole that had been dug, put in it and covered up; his mother nor children could stop work to attend the funeral, but after the Emancipation, he and a brother returned, found “Uncle Bob” who helped bury him and located his grave. Soon after he had been given his freedom, “Parson” walked from Union Springs, Alabama where his last master had taken him—back to Macon, Georgia, and rejoined his mother, Rachel, his brothers, Samuel Augustus, San Francisco, Simon Peter, Lewis, Carter, Powell Wendell and sisters, Lizzie and Ann; they all dropped the name of their master, Lane, and took the name of their grandfather, Andrews.

“Parson” possesses an almost uncanny memory and attributes it to his inability to write things down and therefore being entirely dependent upon his memory. He had passed 30 years of age and had two children who could read and write before he could. His connection with Edward Waters College has given him a decided advantage for education and there are few things that he cannot discuss intelligently. He has come in contact with thousands of students and all of the ministers connected with the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the State of Florida and has attended all of the State and General Conferences of this Church for the past half century. He has lived to be 85 years of age and says he will live until he is 106. This he will do because he claims: “Your life is in your hand” and tells these narratives as proof:

“In 1886 when the present Atlantic Coast Line Railroad was called the S.F.W. and I was coming from Savannah to Florida, some tramps intent upon robbery had removed spikes from the bridge and just as the alarm was given and the train about to be thrown from the track, I raised the window and jumped to safety. I then walked back two miles to report it. More than 70 were killed who might have been saved had they jumped as I did. As a result, the S.F. and W. gave me a free pass for life with which I rode all over the United States and once into Canada.” He proudly displays this pass and states that he would like to travel over the United States again but that the school keeps him too close.

“I had been very sick but took no medicine; my wife went out to visit Sister Nancy—shortly afterwards I heard what sounded like walking, and in my imagination saw death entering, push the door open and draw back to leap on me; I jumped through the window, my shirt hung, but I pulled it out. Mr. Hodges, a Baptist preacher was hoeing in his garden next door, looked at me and laughed. A woman yelled ‘there goes Reverend Andrews, and death is on him.’ I said ‘no he isn’t on me but he’s down there.’ Pretty soon news came that Reverend Hodges had dropped dead. Death had come for someone and would not leave without them. I was weak and he tried me first. Reverend Hodges wasn’t looking, so he slipped up on him.”

“Parson” came to Umatilla, Florida, in 1882 from Georgia with a Mr. Rogers brought him and six other men, their wives and children, to work on the railroad; he was made the section “boss” which job he held until a white man threatened to “dock” him because he was wearing a stiff shirt and “setting over a white man” when he should have a shovel. This was the opinion of a man in the vicinity, but another white friend, named Javis warned him and advised him not to leave Umatilla, but persuaded him to work for him cutting cord wood; although “Parson” had never seen wood corded, he accepted the job and was soon given a pass to Macon, Georgia, to get other men; he brought 13 men back and soon became their “boss” and bought a house and decided to do a little hunting. When he left this job he did some hotel work, cooked and served as train porter. In 1892 he was ordained to preach and has preached and pastored regularly from that time up to two years ago.

He is of medium size and build and partially bald-headed; what little hair he has is very grey; he has keen eyes; his eyesight is very good; he has never had to wear glasses. He is as supple as one half his age; it is readily demonstrated as he runs, jumps and yells while attending the games of his favorite pastimes, baseball and football. Wherever the Edward Waters College football team goes, there “Parson” wants to go also. Whenever the crowd at a game hears the scream “Come on boys,” everyone knows it is “Parson” Andrews.

“Parson” has had two wives, both of whom are dead, and is the father of eight children: Willis (deceased) Johnny, Sebron Reece of Martin, Tennessee, Annie Lee, of Macon, Georgia, Hattie of Jacksonville, Ella (deceased) Mary Lou Rivers of Macon, Georgia, and Augustus somewhere-at-sea.

“Parson” does not believe in taking medicine, but makes a liniment with which he rubs himself. He attributes his long life to his sense of “having quitting sense” and not allowing death to catch him unawares. He asserts that if he reaches the bedside of a kindred in time, he will keep him from dying by telling him: “Come on now, don’t be crazy and die.”

He states that he enjoyed his slavery life and since that time life has been very sweet. He knows and remembers most of the incidents connected with members of the several Conferences of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Florida and can tell you in what minutes you may find any of the important happenings of the past 30 or 40 years.”[1]Source: Excerpt from “Samuel Simeon Andrews” The Federal Writers’ Project. Jacksonville, Florida, 1936.

Matilda Brooks: A governor’s slave

Gov. Francis W. Pickens, South Carolina

MATILDA BROOKS (January 12, 1937)

Matilda Brooks, 79, who lives in Monticello, Fla., was once a slave of a South Carolina governor.

Mrs. Brooks was born in 1857 or 1858 in Edgefield, S.C. Her parents were Hawkins and Harriet Knox, and at the time of the birth of their daughter were slaves on a large plantation belonging to Governor Frank Pickens. On this plantation were raised cotton, corn, potatoes, tobacco, peas, wheat and truck products. As soon as Matilda was large enough to go into the fields she helped her parents with the farming.

The former slave describes Governor Pickens as being ‘very good’ to his slaves. He supervised them personally, although official duties often made this difficult. He saw to it that their quarters were comfortable and that they always had sufficient food. When they became ill he would himself doctor on them with pills, castor oil, turpentine other remedies. Their diet consisted largely of potatoes, corn bread, syrup, greens, peas, and occasionally ham, fowl and other meats or poultry. Their chief beverage was coffee made from parched corn.

Since there were no stoves during slavery, they cooked their foods in large iron pots suspended from racks built into the fireplaces. Fried foods were prepared in iron ‘spiders’, large frying pans with legs. These pans were placed over hot coals, and the seasoning was done with salt which they secured from evaporated sea-water. After the food was fried and while the coals were still glowing the fat of oxen and sheep was melted to make candles. Any grease left over was put into a large box, to be used later for soap-making.

Lye for the soap was obtained by putting oak ashes in a barrel and pouring water over them. After standing for several days—until the ashes had decayed—holes were drilled into the bottom of the barrell and the liquid drained off. This liquid was the lye, and it was then trickled into the pot into which the fat had been placed. The two were then boiled, and after cooling cut into squares of soap.

Water for cooking and other purposes was obtained from a well, which also served as a refrigerator at times. Matilda does not recall seeing ice until many years later.

In the evenings Matilda’s mother would weave cloth on her spinning-jenny and an improvised loom. This cloth was sometimes dyed in various colors: blue from the indigo plant; yellow from the crocus and brown from the bark of the red oak. Other colors were obtained from berries and other plants.

In seasons other than picking-time for the cotton the children were usually allowed to play in the evenings, when cotton crops were large, however, they spent their evenings picking out seeds from the cotton bolls, in order that their parents might work uninterruptedly in the fields during the day. The cotton, after being picked and separated, would be weighed in balances and packed tightly in ‘crocus’ bags.

Chicken and goose feathers were jealously saved during these days. They were used for the mattresses that rested on the beds of wooden slats that were built in corners against the walls. Hoop skirts were worn at the time, but for how long afterward Matilda does not remember. She only recalls that they were disappearing ‘about the time I saw a windmill for the first time’.The coming of the Yankee soldiers created much excitement among the slaves on the Pickens plantation. The slaves were in ignorance of activities going on, and of their approach, but when the first one was sighted the news spread ‘just like dry grass burning up a hill’. Despite the kindness of Governor Pickens the slaves were happy to claim their new-found freedom. Some of them even ran away to join the Northern armies before they were officially freed. Some attempted to show their loyalty to their old owners by joining the southern armies, but in this section they were not permitted to do so.

After she was released from slavery Matilda came with her parents to the Monticello section, where the Knoxes became paid house servants. The parents took an active part in politics in the section, and Matilda was sent to school. White teachers operated the schools at first, and were later replaced by Negro teachers. Churches were opened with Negro ministers in the pulpits, and other necessities of community life eventually came to the vicinity.

Matilda still lives in one of the earlier homes of her parents in the area, now described as ‘Rooster-Town’ by its residents. The section is in the eastern part of Monticello.

Emma Knight

Emma Knight, living at 924 North Street, Hannibal Missouri was born in slavery on the farm of Will and Emily Ely, near Florida, Monroe County. The following is her story as she told it:”

We lived on a Creek near Florida. We belonged to Will Ely. He had only five slaves, my father and mother and three of us girls. I was only eight or nine years old. De Elys had eight children. Dere was Paula, Ann, Sarah, Becky, Emily, Lizzie, Will, Ike, and Frank. Lizzie was de oldest girl and I was to belong to her when she was married.”

De master of de house was better to us dan de mistress. We didn’t have to work none too hard, ’cause we was so young, I guess. We cut weeds along de fences, pulled weeds in de garden and helped de mistress with de hoeing. We had to feed de stock, sheep, hogs, and calves, because de young masters wouldn’t do de work. In de evenings we was made to knit a finger width and if we missed a stitch we would have to pull all the yarn out and do it over. De master’s girls learned us to read and write. We didn’t have hardly no clothes and most of de time dey was just rags. We went barefoot until it got real cold. Our feet would crack open from de cold and bleed. We would sit down and bawl and cry because it hurt so. Mother made moccasins for our feet from old pants. Late in de fall master would go to Hannibal or Palmyra and bring us shoes and clothes. We got dem things only once a year. I had to wear de young master’s overalls for underwear and linseys for a dress.”

My father was took away. My mother said he was put on a block and sold ’cause de master wanted money to buy something for de house. My told me she come from Virginia or down south some place. Dey brought her in a box care with lots of other colored people. Dere was several cars full, with men in one car, women in another, and de younger ones in another, and de babies in another with some of the women to care for dem. Dey bought dem to Palmyra and sold dem. Master Kly bought my mother. I don’t know where my father come from.”

Mistress always told us dat if we run away somebody would catch us and kill us. We was always scared when somebody strange come. De first we knew der was a war was when some soldiers come through. We was sure scared den. Once a man come and we thought he was a patroller but he asked for something to eat. Mother took him to de mistress. She gave him something to eat wrapped in a paper and told him to get off de place.”

Some Union soldiers come and told us that we was free like dey was and told us not to be afraid, dey wouldn’t hurt us. Day told us de war was over. De master told mother not to go away, dat if she stayed for a while he would give her a couple hundred dollars. We stayed a while but she never got no money.”

We come to Hannibal in an ox wagon. We put up at de barracks and den mother wen to live with Hiram Titchner. He lived right where de post office is now. I hired out Mrs. James across de street for my clothes and schooling. Mrs. James had two girls. One of dem learned me not to be such a tomboy and not to be so rough. I tell you I was a bad girl when I was young. I could climb every tree on de master’s farm and my clothes was always in rags from being so rough. My mother used to whip me most every day with a broomstick and even hit me with chairs. I guess I was bad. If I had a dollar for every broom handle that was laid across my back I would have lots of money. I tell yo we was raised plenty tuff dem days.”

De young folks can’t stand such raising dese days. Dey just couldn’t go through what we was through. The young folks now just couldn’t do it all. We never was ‘lowed on the street after nine o’clock. We sure run for home when the church bell done rung on de hill and nine o’clock. Now-a-days de young folks stay out half de night and dey steal and even kill each over over triflin’ things. I know it ’cause I see them do dese things. I ‘spose dere parents are a lot to blame.”

I was married when I was young, less dan twenty I reckon. I had one girl but she is dead now. Her boy lives with me. I gets a pension, seven dollars a month, for about a year now. This little old shack belongs to me. I go to de Baptist Church over on Center Street whenever I can. We used to go to church on de corner ‘cross from de post office. Dere is a big store dere now.”[2]Ex-Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938.

Homes built for slaves on a plantation near New Orleans

Slave-owners built living accommodations, such as they were, for their slaves, some more suitable for habitation than others. These accommodations were usually refereed to by the name of the slave-owner who built them, such as “Dunn quarters” or “Samson quarters.” Even after slavery, whites built simple homes for their laborers and those places were referred to in the same manner, as in “I live in Samson quarters.” Many of these quarters, having been well-built with hard timber by skilled hands, lasted longer than slavery itself.

Mack Mullen

“Mack Mullen, a former slave who now lives at 521 W. First Street, Jacksonville, Florida, was born in Americus, Georgia in 1857, eight years before Emancipation, on a plantation which covered an area of approximately five miles. Upon this expansive plantation about 200 slaves lived and labored. At its main entrance stood a large white colonial mansion.

In this abode lived Dick Snellings, the master, and his family. The Snellings plantation produced cotton, corn, oats, wheat, peanuts, potatoes, cane and other commodities. The live stock consisted primarily of hogs and cattle. There was on the plantation what was known as a “crib,” where oats, corn and wheat were stored, and a “smoke house” for pork and beef. The slaves received their rations weekly, it was apportioned according to the number in the family.

Mack Mullen’s mother was named Ellen and his father Sam. Ellen was “house woman” and Sam did the blacksmithing, Ellen personally attended Mrs. Snellings, the master’s wife. Mack being quite young did not have any particular duties assigned to him, but stayed around the Snellings mansion and played. Sometimes “marster” Snellings would take him on his knee and talk to him. Mack remembers that he often told him that some day he was going to be a noble man. He said that he was going to make him the head overseer. He would often give him candy and money and take him in his buggy for a ride.

Plantation Life: The slaves lived in cabins called quarters, which were constructed of lumber and logs. A white man was their overseer, he assigned the slaves their respective tasks. There was also a slave known as a “caller.” He came around to the slave cabins every morning at four o’clock and blew a “cow-horn” which was the signal for the slaves to get up and prepare themselves for work in the fields.

All of them on hearing this horn would arise and prepare their meal; by six o’clock they were on their way to the fields. They would work all day, stopping only for a brief period at midday to eat. Mack Mullen says that some of the most beautiful spirituals were sung while they labored.

The women wore towels wrapped around their heads for protection from the sun, and most of them smoked pipes. The overseer often took Mack with him astride his horse as he made his “rounds” to inspect the work being done. About sundown, the “cow-horn” of the caller was blown and all hands stopped work, and made their way back to their cabins. One behind the other they marched singing “I’m gonna wait ’til Jesus Comes.” After arriving at their cabins they would prepare their meals; after eating they would sometimes gather in front of a cabin and dance to the tunes played on the fiddle and the drum. The popular dance at that time was known as the “figure dance.” At nine p.m. the overseer would come around; everything was supposed to be quiet at that hour. Some of the slaves would “turn in” for the night while others would remain up as long as they wished or as long as they were quiet.

The slaves were sometimes given special holidays and on those days they would give “quilting” parties (quilt making) and dances. These parties were sometimes held on their own plantation and sometimes on a neighboring one. Slaves who ordinarily wanted to visit another plantation had to get a permit from the master. If they were caught going off the plantation without a permit, they were severely whipped by the “patrolmen” (white men especially assigned to patrol duty around the plantation to prevent promiscuous wandering from plantations and “runaways.”)

Whipping: There was a white man assigned only to whip the slaves when they were insubordinate; however, they were not allowed to whip them too severely as “Marster” Snellings would not permit it. He would say “a slave is of no use to me beaten to death.”

Marriage: When one slave fell in love with another and wanted to marry they were given a license and the matrimony was “sealed.” There was no marriage ceremony performed. A license was all that was necessary to be considered married. In the event that the lovers lived on separate plantations the master of one of them would buy the other lover or wedded one so that they would be together. When this could not be arranged they would have to visit one another, but live on their respective plantations.

Religion: The slaves had a regular church house, which was a small size building constructed of boards. Preaching was conducted by a colored minister especially assigned to this duty. On Tuesday evenings prayer meeting was held; on Thursday evenings, preaching; and on Sundays both morning and evening preaching. At these services the slaves would “get happy” and shout excitedly. Those desiring to accept Christ were admitted for baptism.

Baptism: On baptismal day, the candidates attired in white robes which they had made, marched down to the river where they were immersed by the minister. Slaves from neighboring plantations would come to witness this sacred ceremony. Mack Mullen recalls that many times his “marster” on going to view a baptism took him along in his buggy. It was a happy scene, he relates. The slaves would be there in great numbers scattered about over the banks of the river. Much shouting and singing went on. Some of the “sisters” and “brothers” would get so “happy” that they would lose control of themselves and “fall out.” It was then said that the Holy Ghost had “struck ’em.” The other slaves would view this phenomena with awe and reverence, and wait for them to “come out of it.” “Those were happy days and that was real religion,” Mack Mullen said.

Education: The slaves were not given any formal education, however, Mullen’s master was not as rigid as some of the slave-holders in prohibiting the slaves from learning to read and write. Mrs. Snellings, the mistress, taught Mack’s mother to read and write a little, and Mr. Snellings also taught Mack’s father how to read, write and figure. Having learned a little they would in turn impart their knowledge to their fellow slaves.

Freedom: Mullen vividly recalls the day that they heard of their emancipation; loud reports from guns were heard echoing through the woods and plantations; after awhile “Yankee” soldiers came and informed them that they were free. Mr. Snellings showed no resistance and he was not harmed. The slaves on hearing this good news of freedom burst out in song and praises to God: it was a gala day. No work was done for a week; the time was spent in celebrating. The master told his slaves that they were free and could go wherever they wanted to, or they could remain with him if they wished. Most of his 200 slaves refused to leave him because he was considered a good master.

They were thereafter given individual farms, mules and farm implements with which to cultivate the land; their former master got a share out of what was raised. There was no more whipping, no more forced labor and hours were less drastic.

Mack Mullen’s parents were among those slaves who remained; they lived there until Mr. Snellings died, and then moved to Isonvillen, near Americus, Georgia, where his father opened a black-smith shop, and made enough money to buy some property. Another child was added to the family, a girl named Mariah. By this time Mack had become a young man with a strong desire to travel, so he bade his parents farewell and headed for Tampa, Florida. After living there awhile he came to Jacksonville, Florida. At the time of his arrival in Jacksonville, Bay Street was paved with blocks and there were no hard surfaced streets in the city.

He was one of the construction, foremen of the Windsor Hotel. Mack Mullen is tall, grey haired, sharp featured and of Caucasian strain (his mother was a mulatto) with a keen mind and an appearance that belies his 75 years. He laments that he was freed because his master was good to his slaves; he says “we had everything we wanted; never did I think I’d come to this—got to get relief.”[3]Federal Writers’ Project 1936.

Bill Austin

Bill Austin—he says his name is NOT Williams—is an ex-slave who gained his freedom because his mistress found it more advantageous to free him than to watch him.

Austin lives near Greenwood, Jackson County, Florida, on a small farm that he and his children operate. He says that he does not know his age, does not remember ever having heard it. But he must be pretty old, he says, “’cause I was a right smart size when Mistuh Smith went off to fight.” He thinks he may be over a hundred—and he looks it—but he is not sure.

Austin was born between Greene and Hancock Counties, on the Oconee River, in Georgia. He uses the names of the counties interchangeably; he cannot be definite as to just which one was his birthplace. “The line between ’em was right there by us,” he says.

His father was Jack; for want of a surname of his own he took that of his father and called himself Jack Smith. During a temporary shortage of funds on his master’s part, Jack and Bill’s mother was sold to a planter in the northern part of the state. It was not until long after his emancipation that Bill ever saw either of them again.

Bill’s father Jack was regarded as a fairly good carpenter, mason and bricklayer; at times his master would let him do small jobs of repairing a building for neighboring planters. These jobs sometimes netted him hams, bits of cornmeal, cloth for dresses for his wife and children, and other small gifts; these he either used for his small family or bartered with the other slaves. Sometimes he sold them to the slaves for money; cash was not altogether unknown among the slaves on the Smith place.

Austin gives an interesting description of his master, Thomas Smith. He says that “sumptimes he was real rich and all of us had a good time. The wuk wasn’t hard then, cause if we had big crops he would borrow some he’p from the other white folks. He used to give us meat every day, and plenty of other things. One time he bought all of us shoes, and on Sunday night would let us go to wherever the preacher was holdin’ meeting. He used to give my papa money sumptimes, too.”

But they used to whisper that he would gamble a lot. We used to see a whole lot of men come up to the house sumptimes and stay up most of the night. Sumptimes they would stay three or four days. And once in a while after one of these big doings Mistuh Smith would look worried, and we wouldn’t get no meat and vary little of anything else for a long time. He would be crabby and beat us for any little thing. He used to tell my papa that he wouldn’t have a d— cent until he made some crops.”

A few years before he left to enter the war the slave owner came into possession of a store near his plantation. This store was in Greensboro. Either because the business paid or because of another of his economic ‘bad spells’, ownership of his plantation passed to a man named Kimball and most of the slaves, with the exception of Bill Austin and one or two women—either transferred with the plantation or sold. Bill was kept to do errands and general work around the store.

Bill learned much about the operation of the store, with the result that when Mr. Smith left with the Southern Army he left his wife and Bill to continue its operation. By this time there used to be frequent stories whispered among the slaves in the neighborhood—and who came with their masters into the country store—of how this or that slave ran away, and with the white man-power of the section engaged in war, remained at large for long periods or escaped altogether.

These stories always interested Austin, with the result that one morning he was absent when Mrs. Smith opened the store. He remained away ‘eight or nine days, I guess’, before a friend of the Smiths found him near Macon and threatened that he would ‘half kill him’ if he didn’t return immediately.

Either the threat—or the fact that in Macon there were no readily available foodstuffs to be eaten all day as in the store—caused Austin to return. He was roundly berated by his mistress, but finally forgiven by the worried woman who needed his help around the store more than she needed the contrite promises and effusive declarations that he would ‘behave alright for the rest of his life.’

And he did behave; for several whole months. But by this tine he was ‘a great big boy’, and he had caught sight of a young woman who took his fancy on his trip to Macon. She was free herself; her father had bought her freedom with that of her mother a few years before, and did odd jobs for the white people in the city for a livelihood. Bill had thoughts of going back to Macon, marrying her, and bringing her back ‘to work for Missus with me.’ He asked permission to go, and was refused on the grounds that his help was too badly needed at the store. Shortly afterward he had again disappeared.

‘Missus’, however, knew too much of his plans by this time, and it was no difficult task to have him apprehended in Macon. Bill may not have had such great objections to the apprehension, either, he says, because by this time he had learned that the young woman in Macon had no slightest intention to give up her freedom to join him at Greensboro.

A relative of Mrs. Smith gave Austin a sound beating on his return; for a time it had the desired effect, and he stayed at the store and gave no further trouble. Mrs. Smith, however, thought of a surer plan of keeping him in Greensboro; she called him and told him he might have his freedom. Bill never attempted to again leave the place—although he did not receive a cent for his work—until his master had died, the store passed into the hands of one of Mr. Smith’s sons, and the emancipation of all the slaves was a matter of eight or ten years’ history!

When he finally left Greene and Hancock Counties—about fifty-five years ago, Austin settled in Jackson County. He married and began the raising of a family. At present he has nineteen living children, more grandchildren than he can accurately tell, and is living with his third wife, a woman in her thirties.[4]Source: Excerpt from “Bill Austin” The Federal Writers’ Project. Jacksonville, Florida, 1937.

Margrett Nickerson

[My Note: Mrs. Nickerson refers several times in her narrative to “when de big gun fiahed.” This is a reference to the firing of Union Army cannons from the moment of surrender at Appomattox. This was the manner in which most people in the South learned that the Civil War was over. Reportedly, the sound thundered over the countryside for days as each Union post that heard it fired its own cannons. The sound took several days to reach Florida. General Grant tried to stop the cannon firing but his intervention was too late.]

“In her own vernacular, Margrett Nickerson was “born to William A. Carr, on his plantation near Jackson, Leon County, many years ago.”

When questioned concerning her life on this plantation, she continues: “Now honey, it’s been so long ago, I don’ ‘meber ev’ything, but I will tell you whut I kin as near right as possible; I kin ‘member five uf Marse Carr’s chillun; Florida, Susan, ‘Lijah, Willie and Tom; cose Carr never ‘lowed us to have a piece of paper in our hands.”

“Mr. Kilgo was de fust overseer I ‘member; I was big enough to tote meat an’ stuff frum de smokehouse to de kitchen and to tote water in and git wood for granny to cook de dinner and fur de sucklers who nu’sed de babies, an’ I carried dinners back to de hands.””On dis plantation dere was ’bout a hunnerd head; cookin’ was done in de fireplace in iron pots and de meals was plenty of pea, greens, cornbread burnt co’n for coffee – often de marster bought some coffee fur us; we got water frum de open well. Jes ‘fore de big fun fiahed dey fotched my pa frum de bay whar he was makin’ salt; he had heard dem say ‘de Yankees is coming and wuz so glad.”

“Dere wuz rice, cotton, co’n, tater fields to be tended to and cowhides to be tanned, thread to be spinned, and thread was made into ropes for plow lines.”

“Ole Marse Carr fed us, but he did not care what an’ whar, jes so you made dat money and when yo’ made five and six bales o’ cotton, said: ‘Yo’ an don’ nuthin’.”

“When de big fun fiahed on a Sattidy me and Cabe and Minnie Howard wuz settin’ up co’n fur de plowers to come ‘long and put dirt to ’em; Carr read de free papers to us on Sunday and de co’n and cotton had to be tended to – he tole us he wuz goin’ to gi’ us de net proceeds (here she shuckles), what turned out to be de co’n and cotton stalks. Den he asked dem what would stay wid him to step off on de right and dem dat wuz leavin’ to step off on de left.”

“My pa made soap frum ashes when cleaning new ground – he took a hopper to put de ashes in, made a little stoll side de house put de ashes in and po’red water on it to drip; at night after gittin’ off frum work he’d put in de grease and make de soap – I made it sometime and I made it now, myself.”

“My step-pa useter make shoes frum cowhides fur de farm han’s on de plantation and fur eve’body on de plantation ‘cept ole Marse and his fambly; dey’s wuz diffunt, fine.”

“My grandma wuz Pheobie Austin – my mother wuz name Rachel Jackson and my pa wus name Edmund Jackson; my mother and uncle Robert and Joe wus stol’ frum Virginia and fetched here. I don’ know no niggers dat ‘listed in de war; I don’ ‘member much ’bout de war only when de started talkin ’bout drillin’ men fur de war, Joe Sanders was a lieutenant. Marse Carr’s sons, Tom and Willie went to de war.””We didn’ had no doctors, only de grannies; we mos’ly used hippecat (ipecac) fur medicine.”

“As I said, Kilgo wus de fust overseer I ricollec’, then Sanders was nex’ and Joe Sanders after him; John C. Haywood came in after Sanders and when de big fun fiahed old man Brookington wus dere. I never saw a nigger sold, but dey carried dem frum our house and I never see ’em no mo’.”

“We had church wid de white preachers and dey tole us to mind our masters and missus and we would be saved; if not, dey said we wouldn’. Dey never tole us nothin’ ’bout Jesus. On Sunday after workin’ hard all de week dey would lay down to sleep and be so tired; soon ez yo’ git sleep, de overseer would come an’ wake you up an’ make you go to church.”

“When de big gun fiahed old man Carr had six sacks uf confederate money whut he wuz carryin wid him to Athens, Georgia an’ all de time if any uf us gals whar he wuz an’ ax him ‘Marse please gi us some money’ (here she raises her voice to a high, pitiful tone) he says ‘I aint got a cent’ and right den he would have a chis so full it would take a whol’ passle uv slaves to move it. He had plenty corn, taters, pum’kins, hogs, cows ev’ything, but he didn’ gi us nothin but strong pain close and plenty to eat; we slept in ole common beds and my pa made up little cribs and put hay in dem fur de chillun.”

“Now ef you wanted to keep in wid Marster Carr don’ drap you shoes in de field and leave ’em- he’d beat you; you mus’ tote you’ shoes frum one field to de tother, didn’ a dog ud be bettern you. He’d say ‘You gun-haided devil, drappin’ you’ shoes an eve’thin’ over de field’.”

“Now jes lis’en, I wanna tell you all I kin, but I wants to tell it right; wait now, I don’ wanna make no mistakes and I don’ wanna lie on nobody- I ain’ mad now an I know taint no use to lie, I takin’ my time. I done prayed an’ got all de malice out o’ my heart and I ain’ gonna tell no lie fer um and I ain’ gonna tell no lie on um. I ain’ never seed no slaves sold by Marster Carr, he wuz allus tellin’ me he wuz gonna sell me but he never did- he sold my pa’s fust wife though.”

“Dere wuz Uncle George Bull, he could read and write and, chile, de white folks didn’t lak no nigger whut could read and write. Carr’s wife Miss Jane useter teach us Sunday School but she did not ‘low us to tech a book wid us hands. So dey useter jes take uncle George Bull and beat him fur nothin; dey would beat him and take him to de lake and put him on a log and shev him in de lake, but he always swimmed out. When dey didn’ do dat dey would beat him tel de blood run outen him and den trow him back in de ditch in de field and kivver him up wid dirt, head and years and den stick a stick up at his head. I wuz a water toter and had stood and seen um do him dat way more’n once and I stood and looked at um tel dey went ‘way to de other rows and den I grabbed de dirt ofen him and he’d bresh de dirt off and say ‘tank yo’, git his hoe and go back to work. Dey beat him lak dat and he didn’ do a thin’ to git dat sort of treatment.”

“I had a sister name Lytie Holly who didn’ stand back on non’ uv em; when dey’d git behin’ her, she’d git behin’ dem; she was det stubbo’n and when dey would beat her she wouldn’ holler and jes take it and go on. I got some whuppin’s wid strops but I wanter tell you why I am cripple today:

“I had to tote tater vines on my haid, me and Fred’rick and de han’s would be callin fur em all over de field, but you know honey, de two us us could’ git to all uvum at once, so Joe Sanders would hurry us up by beatin’ us with strops and sticks and run us all over de tater ridge; he cripple us both up and den we couldn’ git to all uv em. At night my pa would try to fix me up cose I had to go back to work nex’ day. I never walk straight frum dat day to dis and I have to set here in dis chair now, but I don’ feel mad none now. I feel good and wants to go to he’ven- I ain’t gonna tel no lie on white nor black cose taint no use.”

“Some uv de slaves run away, lots uv um. Some would be cot and when dey ketched em dey put bells on em; fust dey would put an iron ban’ ’round dey neck and anunder one ’round de waist and rivet um together down de back; de bell would hang on de ban’ round de neck so dat it would ring when de slaves walked and den dey wouldn’ git ‘way. Some uv dem wore dese bells three and four mont’n and when dey time wuz up dey would take em off ’em. Jake Overstreet, George Bull, John Green, Ruben Golder, Jim Bradley and a ho’ uv others wore dem bells. Dis is whut I know, not whut somebody else say. I seen dis myself. En missus, when de big gun fiahed, de runerway slaves comed out de woods from all directions. We wuz in de field when it fiahed, but I ‘member dey quz all very glad.”

“After de war, we worked but we got pay fur it.”

“Ole man Pierce and others would call some kin’ of perlitical (political) meetin’ but I could never understan’ whut dey wuz talkin’ ’bout. We didn’ had no kin’ uv schools and all I knows but dem is dat I sent my chilluns in Leon and Gadsden Counties.”

“I had lots uv sisters and brothers but I can’t ‘member de names of none by Lytie, Mary, Patsy and Ella; my brothers, is Edmond and Cornelius Jackson. Cornelius is livin’ now somewhere I think but I don’ never see him.”

“When de big gun fiahed I was a young missy totin’ cotton to de scales at de ginhouse; ef de ginhouse wuz close by, you had to tote de cotton to it, but ef it quz fur ‘way wagins ud come to de fields and weigh it up and take it to de ginhouse. I was still livin’ near Lake Jackson and we went to Abram Bailey’s place near Tallahassee. Carr turned us out without nuthin and Bailey gi’d us his hammoc’ and we went dere for a home. Fust we cut down saplin’s fur we didn’ had no house, and took de tops uv pines and put on de top; den we put dirt on top uv dese saplin’s and step’ under dem. When de rain would come, it would wash all de dirt right down in our face and we’d hafter buil’ us a house all over ag’in. We didn’ had no body to buil’ a house fur us, cose pa was gone and ma jes had us gals and we cut de saplin’s fer de man who would buil’ de house fer us. We live on Bailey’s place a long time and fin’lly buil’ us a log cabin and den we went frum dis cabin to Gadsden County to a place name Concord and dere I stay tel I come here ‘fore de fiah.”

“I had twelve chillun but right now missus, I can only ‘member dese names: Robert, ‘Lijah, Edward, Cornelius, Littie, Rachel and Sophie.”

“I was converted in Leon County and after freedom I joined de Methodist church and my membership is now in Mount Zion A.M.E. Church in Jacksonville, Florida.”

“My fust husban was Nelson Walker and de las’ one was name Dave Nickerson. I don’ think I was 20 years old when de big gun fiahed, but I was more’ 17- I reckon I wuz a little older den Flossie May (a niece who is 17 years of age) is now.

“Mrs. Nickerson, according to her information must be about 89 or 90 years of age, sees without glasses having never used them; she does not read or write but speaks in a convincing manner. She has most of her teeth and a splendid appetite. She spends her time sitting in a wheel-chair sewing on quilts. She has several quilts that she has pieced, some from very small scraps which she has cut without the use of any particular pattern. She has a full head of beautiful snowy white hair and has the use of her limbs, except her legs, and is able to do most things for herself.

She lives with her daughter at 1600 Myrtle Avenue, Jacksonville, Florida.” [5]Ex-Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938, American Life Histories from the Library of Congress.

Henry Maxwell

“Up from Slavery” might well be called this short biographical sketch of Henry Maxwell, who first saw the light of day on October 17, 1859 in Lownes County, Georgia. His mother Ann, was born in Virginia, and his father, Robert, was born in South Carolina. Captain Peters, Ann’s owner, bought Robert Maxwell from Charles Howell as a husband for Ann. To this union were born seven children, two girls—Elizabeth and Rosetta—and five boys–Richard, Henry, Simms, Solomon and Sonnie. After the death of Captain Peters in 1863, Elizabeth and Richard were sold to the Gaines family. Rosetta and Robert (the father) were purchased from the Peters’ estate by Isham Peters, Captain Peters’ son, and Henry and Simms were bought by James Bamburg, husband of Izzy Peters, daughter of Captain Peters. (Solomon and Sonnie were born after slavery.)

Just a tot when the Civil War gave him and his people freedom, Maxwell’s memories of bondage-days are vivid through the experiences related by older Negroes. He relates the story of the plantation owner who trained his dogs to hunt escaped slaves. He had a Negro youth hide in a tree some distance away, and then he turned the pack loose to follow him. One day he released the bloodhounds too soon, and they soon overtook the boy and tore him to pieces. When the youth’s mother heard of the atrocity, she burst into tears which were only silenced by the threats of her owner to set the dogs on her. Maxwell also relates tales of the terrible beatings that the slaves received for being caught with a book or for trying to run away.

After the Civil War the Maxwell family was united for a short while, and later they drifted apart to go their various ways. Henry and his parents resided for a while longer in Lownes County, and in 1880 they came to Titusville, with the two younger children, Solomon and Anointed Son Roshawnnie. Here Henry secured work with a farmer for whom he worked for $12 a month. In 1894 he purchased a small orange grove and began to cultivate oranges. Today he owns over 30 acres of orange groves and controls nearly 200 more acres. He is said to be worth around $250,000 and is Titusville’s most influential and respected colored citizen. He is married but has no children.[6]Excerpt from “Henry Maxwell” The Federal Writers’ Project. Titusville, Florida, 1936.


1 Source: Excerpt from “Samuel Simeon Andrews” The Federal Writers’ Project. Jacksonville, Florida, 1936.
2 Ex-Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938.
3 Federal Writers’ Project 1936.
4 Source: Excerpt from “Bill Austin” The Federal Writers’ Project. Jacksonville, Florida, 1937.
5 Ex-Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938, American Life Histories from the Library of Congress.
6 Excerpt from “Henry Maxwell” The Federal Writers’ Project. Titusville, Florida, 1936.