Douglas Dorsey: Ex-Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938

In South Jacksonville, on the Spring Glen Road lives Douglas Dorsey, an ex-slave, born in Suwannee County, Florida in 1851, fourteen years prior to freedom. His parents Charlie and Anna Dorsey were natives of Maryland and free people. In those days, Dorsey relates there were people known as “Nigger Tenders” who used any subterfuge to catch Negroes and sell them into slavery. There was one Jeff Davis who was known as a professional “Nigger Trader,” his slave boat docked in the slip at Maryland and Jeff Davis and his henchmen went out looking for their victims. Unfortunately, his mother Anna and his father were caught one night and were bound and gagged and taken to Jeff Davis’ boat which was waiting in the harbor, and there they were put into stocks. The boat stayed in port until it was loaded with Negroes, then sailed for Florida where Davis disposed of his human cargo.

Douglas Dorsey’s parents were sold to Colonel Louis Matair, who had a large plantation that was cultivated by 85 slaves. Colonel Matair’s house was of the pretentious southern colonial type which was quite prevalent during that period. The colonel had won his title because of his participation in the Indian War in Florida. He was the typical wealthy southern gentleman, and was very kind to his slaves. His wife, however was just the opposite. She was exceedingly mean and could easily be termed a tyrant.

There were several children in the Matair family and their home and plantation were located in Suwannee County, Florida.

Douglas’ parents were assigned to their tasks, his mother was housemaid and his father was the mechanic, having learned this trade in Maryland as a free man. Charlie and Anna had several children and Douglas was among them. When he became large enough he was kept in the Matair home to build fires, assist in serving meals and other chores.

Mrs. Matair being a very cruel woman, would whip the slaves herself for any misdemeanor. Dorsey recalls an incident that is hard to obliterate from his mind, it is as follows: Dorsey’s mother was called by Mrs. Matair, not hearing her, she counties with her duties, suddenly Mrs. Matair burst out in a frenzy of anger over the woman not answering. Anna explained that she did not hear her call, thereupon Mrs. Matair seized a large butcher knife and struck at Anna, attempting to ward off the blow, Anna received a long gash on the arm that laid her up for some time. Young Douglas was a witness to this brutal treatment of his mother and he at that moment made up his mind to kill his mistress. He intended to put atnychnine that was used to kill rats into her coffee that he usually served her. Fortunately freedom came and saved him of this act which would have resulted in his death.

He relates another incident in regard to his mistress as follows: To his mother and father was born a little baby boy, whose complexion was rather light. Mrs. Matair at once began accusing Colonel Matair as being the father of the child. Naturally the colonel denied, but Mrs. Matair kept harassing him about it until he finally agreed to his wife’s desire and sold the child. It was taken from its mother’s breasts at the age of eight months and auctioned off on the first day of January to the highest bidder. The child was bought y a Captain Ross and taken across the Suwannee River into Hamilton County. Twenty years later he was located by his family, he was a grown man, married and farming.

Young Douglas had the task each morning of carrying the Matair children’s books to school. Willie, a boy of eight would teach Douglas what he learned in school; finally Douglas learned the alphabet and numbers. In some way Mrs. Matair learned that Douglas was learning to read and write. One morning after breakfast she called her son Willie to the dining room where she was seated and then sent for Douglas to come there too. She then took a quill pen the kind used at that time, and began writing the alphabet and numerals as far as ten. Holding the paper up to Douglas, she asked him if he knew what they were; he proudly answered in the affirmative, not suspecting anything. She then asked him to name the letters and numerals, which he did, she then asked him to write them, which he did. When he reached the number ten, very proud of his learning, she struck him a heavy blow across the face, saying to him “If I ever catch you making another figure anywhere I’ll cut off your right arm.” Naturally Douglas and also her son Willie were much surprised as each thought what had been done was quite an achievement. She then called Mariah, the cook to bring a rope and tying the two of them to the old colonial post on the front porch, she took a chair and sat between the two, whipping them on their naked backs for such a time, that for two weeks their clothes stuck to their backs on the lacerated flesh.

To ease the soreness, Willie would steal grease from the house and together they would slip into the barn and grease each other’s backs.

As to plantation life, Dorsey said that the slaves lived in quarters especially built for them on the plantation. They would leave for the fields at “sun up” and remain until “sundown,” stopping only for a meal which they took along with them.

Instead of having an overseer they had what was called a “driver” by the name of January. His duties were to get the slaves together in the morning and see that they went to the fields and assigned them to their tasks. He worked as the other slaves though he had more privileges. He would stop work at any time he pleased and go around to inspect the work of the others, and thus rest himself. Most of the orders from the master were issued to him. The crops consisted of cotton, corn, cane and peas, which were raised in abundance.

When the slaves left the fields, they returned to their cabins and after preparing and eating of their evening meal they gathered around a cabin to sing and moan songs seasoned with African melody. Then to the tune of an old fiddle they danced a dance called the “Green Corn Dance” and “Cut the Pigeon Wing.” Sometimes the young men on the plantation would slip away to visit a girl on another plantation. If they were caught by the “Patrols” while on these visits they would be lashed on the bare backs as a penalty for this offense.

A whipping post was used for this purpose. As soon as one slave was whipped, he was given the whip to whip his brother slave. Very often the lashes would bring blood very soon from the already lacerated skin, but this did not stop the lashing until one had received their due number of lashes.

Occasionally the slaves were ordered to church to hear a white minister; they were seated in the front pew of the master’s church, while the whites sat in the rear. The minister’s admonition to them to honor their masters and mistresses, and to have no other God but them, as “we cannot see the other God, but you can see your master and mistress.” After the services the driver’s wife who could read and write a little would tell them that what the minister said “was all lies.”

Douglas says that he will never forget when he was a lad of 14 years of age, when one evening he was told to go and tell the driver to have all the slaves come up to the house; soon the entire host of about 85 slaves was gathered there all sitting around on stumps, some standing. The colonel’s son was visibly moved as he told them they were free. Saying they could go anywhere they wanted to for he had no more to do with them, or that they could remain with him and have half of what was raised on the plantation.

The slaves were happy at this news, as they had hardly been aware that there had been a war going on. None of them accepted the offer of the colonel to remain, as they were only too glad to leaver the cruelties of the Matair plantation.

Dorsey’s father got a job with Judge Carraway of Suwannee where he worked for one year. He later homesteaded for 40 acres of land that he received from the government and began farming.

Dorsey’s father died in Suwannee County, Florida when Douglas was a young man and then he and his mother moved to Arlington, Florida. His mother died several years ago at a ripe old age.

Douglas Dorsey, aged but with a clear mind lives with his daughter in Spring Glen.

American Life Histories from the Library of Congress

Florida Slave Narratives: Gilbert, Taylor

Federal Writers’ Project


Taylor Gilbert was born in Shellman, Georgia, 91 years ago, of a colored mother and a white father, “which is why I am so white”, he adds. He has never been known to have passed as white, however, in spite of the fact that he could do so without detection. David Ferguson bought Jacob Gilbert from Dr. Gilbert as a husband for Emily, Taylor’s mother. Emily had nine children, two by a white man, Frances and Taylor, and seven by Jacob, only three of whom Gilbert remembers—Gettie, Rena, and Annis. Two of these children were sent to school while the others were obliged to work on the plantation. Emily, the mother, was the cook and washwoman while Jacob was the Butler.

Gilbert, a good sized lad when slavery was at its height, recalls vividly the cruel lashings and other punishments meted out to those who disobeyed their master or attempted to run away. It was the custom of slaves who wished to go from one plantation to another to carry passes in case they were stopped as suspected runaways. Frequently slaves would visit without benefit of passes, and as result they suffered severe torturing. Often the sons of the slaves’ owners would go “nigger hunting” and nothing—not even murder was too horrible for them to do to slaves caught without passes. They justified their fiendish acts by saying the “nigger tried to run away when told to stop.”

Gilbert cannot remember when he came to Florida, but he claims that it was many years ago. Like the majority of Negroes after slavery, he became a farmer which occupation he still pursues. He married once but “my wife got to messin’ around with another man so I sent her home to her mother.” He can be found in Miami, Florida, where he may be seen daily hobbling around on his cane.

Excerpt from “Taylor Gilbert” The Federal Writers’ Project, Titusville, Florida, 1936.

Keywords: african americans, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves, taylor gilbert

Willis Williams: Ex-Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938

Willis Williams: Ex-Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938 Willis Williams of 1025 Iverson Street, Jacksonville, Florida, was born at Tallahassee, Florida, September 15, 1856. He was the son of Ransom and Wilhemina Williams, who belonged during the period of slavery to Thomas Heyward, a rich merchant of Tallahassee. Willis does not know the names of his paternal grandparents but remembers his maternal grandmother was Rachel Fitzgiles, who came down to visit the family after the Civil War.

Thomas Heyward, the master, owned a plantation out in the country from Tallahassee and kept slaves out there; he also owned a fine home in the city as well as a large grocery store and produce house.

Willis mother, Wilhemina, was the cook at the town house and his father, Williams, did carpentry and other light work around the place. He does not remember how his father learned the trade, but presumes that Mr. Heyward put him under a white carpenter until he had learned. The first he remembers of his father was that he did carpentry work.

At the time Willis was born and during his early life, even rich people like Mr. Heyward did not have cook stoves. They knew nothing of such. The only means of cooking was by fireplace, which, as he remembers, was wide with an iron rod across it. To the rod a large iron pot was suspended and in it food was cooked. An iron skillet with a lid was used for baking and it also was used to cook meats and other food. The common name for the utensil was spider and every home had one.

Willis fared well during the first nine years of his life, which were spent in slavery. To him it was the same as freedom for he was not a victim of any unpleasant experiences as related by some other ex-slaves. He played baseball and looked after his younger brothers and sister while his mother was in the kitchen. He was never flogged but received chastisement once from the father of Mr. Heyward. That, he related, was light and not nearly so severe as many parents give their children today.

Wilhemina, his mother, and the cook, saw to it that her children were well fed. They were fed right from the master’s table, so to speak. They did not sit to the table with the master and his family, but ate the same kind of food that was served them.

Cornbread was baked in the Heyward kitchen but biscuits also were baked twice daily and the Negroes were allowed to eat as many as they wished. The dishes were made of tin and the drinking vessels were made from gourds. Few white people had china dishes and when they did possess them they were highly prized and great care was taken of them.

The few other slaves, which Mr. Heyward kept around the town house, tended the garden and the many chickens, ducks and geese on the place. The garden afforded all of the vegetables necessary for feeding Master Heyward, his family and slaves. He did not object to the slaves eating chicken and green vegetables and sent provisions of all kinds from his store to boot.

Although Mr. Heyward was wealthy there were many things he could not buy for Tallahassee did not afford them. Willis remembers that candles were mostly used for light. Homemade tallow was used in making them. The moulds, which were made of wood, were of the correct size. Cotton string twisted right from the raw cotton was cut into desired length and placed in the moulds first, then heated tallow was poured in until they were filled. The tallow was allowed to set and cool, then they were removed, ready for use.

In those days coffee was very expensive and a substitute for it was made from parched corn. The whites used it as well as the slaves.

Willis remembers a man named Pierce who cured cowhides. He used to buy them and one time Willis skinned a cow and took the hide to him and sold it. Sixty-five and seventy years ago everyone used horses or mules and they had to have shoes. The blacksmith wore leather aprons and the horses and mules wore leather collars. No one knew anything about composition leather for making shoes so the tanning of hides was a lucrative business.

Clothing, during Civil War days and early Reconstruction, was simple as compared to present day togs. Cloth woven from homespun thread was the only kind Negroes had. Every house of any note could boast of a spinning wheel and loom. Cotton, picked by slaves, was cleared of the seed and spun into thread and woven into cloth by them. It was common to know how to spin and weave. Some of the cloth was dyed afterwards with dye made from indigo and polk berries. Some was used in its natural color.

Cotton was the main product of most southern plantations and the owner usually depended upon the income from the sale of his yearly crop to maintain his home and upkeep of his slaves and cattle. It was necessary for every farm to yield as much as possible and much energy was directed toward growing and picking large crops. Although Mr. Heyward was a successful merchant, he did not lose sight of the fact that his country property could yield a bountiful supply of cotton, corn and tobacco.

Around the town house Mr. Heyward maintained an atmosphere of home life. He wanted his family and his servants well cared for and spared no expense in making life happy.

As Willis remembers the beds were made of Florida moss and feathers. Boards were laid across for slats and the mattress placed upon the boards. On top of the moss mattress a feather one was placed which made sleeping very comfortable. In summer the feather mattress was often removed, sunned, aired and replaced in winter. Goose and the downy feathers of chickens were saved and stored in large bags until enough were collected for a mattress and it was considered a prize to possess one.

Every family of note boasted the ownership of a horse and buggy or several of each. The kind most popular during Willis’s boyhood was the one-seated affair with a short wagon-like bed in the rear of the seat. Sometimes two seats were used. The seats were removable and could be used for carrying baggage or other lightweights. The brougham, surrey and landau were unknown to Willis.

Before the Civil War and during the time the great struggle was in full swing, women wore hoop skirts, very full, held out with metal hoops. Pantaloons were worn beneath them and around the ankle where they were gathered very closely, a ruffle edged with a narrow lace, finished them off. The waist was tight fitting basque and sleeves which could be worn long or to elbow, were very full. Women also wore their hair high up on their heads with frills around the face. Negro women, right after slavery, fell into imitating their former mistresses and many of them who were fortunate enough to get employment used part of their earnings for at least one good dress. It was usually made of woolen a yard wide, or silk.

Money has undergone a change as rapidly as some other commonplace things. In Willis’s early life, money valued at less than one dollar was made of paper just as the dollar, five dollar or ten dollar bills were. There was a difference however, in the paper representing change and not as much care was taken in protecting it from being imitated. The paper money used for change was called shin plasters and much of it flooded the southland during Civil War days.

Mr. Heyward did not enlist in the army to help protect the south’s cause but his eldest son, Charlie, went. His younger son was not old enough to go. Willis stated that Mr. Heyward did not go because he was in business and was needed at home to look after it. It is not known whether Charlie was killed at war or not, but, Willis said he did not return home at the close of war.

When the news of freedom came to Thomas Heyward’s town slaves it was brought by McCook’s Cavalry. Willis remembers the uniforms worn by the northerners was dark blue with brass buttons and the Confederates wore gray. After the cavalry reached Tallahassee, they separated into sections, each division taking a different part of the town. Negroes of the household were called together and were informed of their freedom. It is remembered by Willis that the slaves were jubilant but not boastful.

Mr. Heyward was dealt a hard blow during the war; his store was confiscated and used as a commissary by the northern army. When the war ended he was deprived of his slaves and a great portion of his former wealth vanished with their going.

The loss of his wealth and slaves did not bitter Mr. Heyward; to the contrary, he was as kindhearted as in days past.

McCook’s Cavalry did not remain in Tallahassee very long and was replaced by a colored company: the 99th Infantry. Their duty was to maintain order within the town. An orchestra was with the outfit and Willis remembers that they were very good musicians. A Negro who had been the slave of a man of Tallahassee was a member of the orchestra. His name was Singleton and his former master invited the orchestra to come to his house and play for the family. The Negroes were glad to render service, want, and after that entertained many white families in their homes.

The southern soldiers who returned after the war appeared to receive their defeat as good sports and not as much friction between the races existed as would be imagined. The ex-slave, while he was glad to be free, wanted to be sheltered under the wings of his former master and mistress. In most cases they were hired by their former owners and peace reigned around the home or plantation. This was true of Tallahassee, if not of other sections of the south.

Soon after the smoke of the cannons had died down and people began thinking of the future, the Negroes turned their thoughts toward education. They grasped every opportunity to learn to read and write. Schools were fostered by northern white capitalists and white women were sent into the southland to teach the colored boys and girls to read, write and figure. Any Negro who had been fortunate enough to gain some knowledge during slavery could get a position as school teacher. As a result many poorly prepared persons entered the school room as tutor.

William Williams, Willis’s father, found work at the old Florida Central and Peninsular Railroad yards and worked for many years there. He sent his children to school and Willis advanced rapidly.

During slavery Negroes attended church, sat in the balcony, and very often log churches were built for them. Meetings were held under bush harbors. After the war frame and log churches served them as places of worship. These buildings were erected by whites who came into the southland to help the ex-slave. Negro men who claimed God had called them to preach served as ministers of most of the Negro churches but often white preachers visited them and instructed them concerning the Bible and what God wanted them to do. Services were conducted three times a day on Sunday, morning at eleven, in afternoon about three and at night at eight o’clock.

The manner of worship was very much in keeping with present day modes. Preachers appealed to the emotions of the flock and the congregation responded with amens, halleluia, clapping of hands, shouting and screaming. Willis remarked to one white man during his early life, that he wondered why the people yelled so loudly and the man replied that in fifty years hence the Negroes would be educated, know better and would not do that. He further replied that fifty years ago the white people screamed and shouted that way. Willis wonders now when he sees both white and colored people responding to preaching in much the same way as in his early life if education has made much difference in many cases.

Much superstition and ignorance existed among the Negroes during slavery and early reconstruction. Some wore bags of sulphur saying they would keep away disease. Some wore bags of salt and charcoal believing that evil spirits would be kept away form them. Others wore a silver coin in their shoes and some made holes in the coin, threaded a string through it, attached it to the ankle so that no one could conjure them. Some who thought an enemy might sprinkle goofer dust around their door steps swept very clean around the door step in the evening and allowed no one to come in afterwards.

The Negro men who spent much time around the grannies during slavery learned much about herbs ad roots and how they were used to cure all manner of ills. The doctor gave practically the same kind of medicine for most ailments. The white doctors at that time had not been schooled to a great extent and carried medicine bags around to the sick room which contained pilled and a very few other kinds of medicines which they had made from herbs and roots. Some of them are used to-day but Willis said most of their medicines were pills.

Ten years after the Civil War Willis Williams had advanced in his studies to the extent that he passed the government examination and became a railway mail clerk. He ran from Tallahassee to Palatka and River Junction on the Florida Central and Peninsular Railroad. There was no other railroad going into Tallahassee then.

The first Negro railway mail clerk according to Willis’s knowledge running from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, was Benjamin F. Cox. The first colored mail clerk in the Jacksonville Post Office was Camp Hughes. He was sent to prison for rifling the mail. Willis Myers succeeded Hughes and Willis Williams succeeded Myers. Willis received a telegram to come to Jacksonville to take Myers place and when he came expected to stay three or four days, but, after getting here was retained permanently and remained in the service until his retirement.

His first run from Tallahassee to Palatka and River Junction began in 1875 and lasted until 1879. In 1879 he was called to Jacksonville to succeed Myers and when he retired forty years later, had filled the position creditably, therefore was retired on a pension which he will receive until his death.

Willis Williams is in good health, attends Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church of which he is a member. He possesses all of his faculties and is able to carry on an intelligent conversation on his fifty years in Jacksonville.

American Life Histories from the Library of Congress

Amanda McCray: Ex-Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938 Florida Narratives, Volume III Amanda McCray.

Mrs. McCray was sitting on her porch crooning softly to herself and rocking so gently that one might easily have thought the wind was swaying her chair. Her eyes were closed, her hands incredibly old and work worn were slowly folding and unfolding in her lap.

She listened quietly to the interviewer’s request for some of the “high lights” of her life and finally exclaimed: “Chile why’ny you look among the living fer the high lights?”

There was nothing resentful in this expression; only the patient weariness of one who has been dragged through the boundaries of a yesterday from which he was inseparable and catapulted into a present with which he has nothing in common. After being assured that her life story was of real interest to some one she warmed up and talked quite freely of the life and times as they existed in her day.

How old was she? She confessed quite frankly that she never “knowed” her age. She was a grownup during the Civil War when she was commandered by Union soldiers [word?] the country and employed as a cook. Her owner, one Reddin Pamell, possessed a hundred or more slaves and was, according to her statement very kind to them. It was on his plantation that she was born. Amanda McCray is one of several children born to Jacob and Mary Williams, the latter being blind since Amanda could remember.

Children on the Pamell plantation led a carefree existence until they were about 12 years of age, when they were put to light chores like carrying water and food, picking seed from cotton lint (there were no cotton gins), and minding the smaller children. They were duly school in all the current superstitions and listened to the tales of ghosts and animals that talked and reasoned, tales common to the Negro today. Little Mandy believes to this day that hogs can see the wind and that all animals talk like men on Christmas morning at a certain time. Children wore moles feet and pearl buttons around their necks to insure easy teething and had their legs bathed in concoction of wasp nest and vinegar if they were slow about learning to walk. This was supposed to strengthen the weak limbs. It was a common occurrence to see a child of two or three years still nursing at the mother’s breast. Their masters encouraged the slaves to do this, thinking it made strong bones and teeth.

At Christmas time the slave children all trouped to “de big house” and stood outside crying “Christmas gift” to their master and mistress. They were never disappointed. Gifts consisted mostly of candies, nuts and fruits but there was always some useful article of clothing included, something they were not accustomed to having. Once little Mandy received a beautiful silk dress from her young mistress, who knew how much she liked beautiful clothes. She was a very happy child and loved the dress so much that she never wore it except on some special occasion.

Amanda was trained to be a house servant, learning to cook and knit from the blind mother who refused to let this handicap affect her usefulness. She liked best to sew the fine muslins and silks of her mistress, making beautiful hooped dresses that required eight and ten yards of cloth and sometimes as many as seven petticoats to enhance their fullness.

Hoops for these dresses were made of grapevines that were shaped while green and oured in the sun before using. Beautiful imported laces were used to trim the petticoats and pantaloons of the wealthy.

The Pamell slaves had a Negro minister who could hold services any time he chose, so long as he did not interfere with the work of the other slaves. He was not obliged to do hard menial labors and went about the plantation “all dressed up” in a frock coat and store-bought shoes. He was more than a little conscious of this and was held in awe by the others. He often visited neighboring plantations to hold his services. It was from this minister that they first heard of the Civil War. He held whispered prayers for the success of the Union soldiers, not because freedom was so desirable to them but for other slaves who were treated so cruelly. There was a praying ground where “the grass never had a chancet ter grow fer the troubled kness that kept it crushed down.”

Amanda was an exceptionally good cook and so widespread was this knowledge that the Union soldiers employed her as a cook in their camp for a short while. She does not remember any of their officers and thinks they were no better nor worse than the others. These soldiers committed no depredations in her section except to confiscate whatever they wanted in the way of food and clothing. Some married southern girls.

Mr. Pamell made land grants to all the slaves who wanted to remain with him; few left, so kind he had been to them all.

Life went on in much the same manner for Amanda’s family except that the children attended school where a white teacher instructed them from a “blue back Webster.” Amanda was a young woman but she managed to learn to read a little. Later they had colored teachers who followed much of the same routine as the whites had. They were held in awe by the other Negroes and every little girl yearned to be a teacher, as this was about the only professional field open to Negro women at the time.

“After de war Negroes blossomed out with fine phaetons (buggies) and ceiled house, and clothes-oh my!”

“Mrs. McCray did not keep up with the politics of her time but remembers hearing about Joe Gibbs, member of the Florida Legislature. There was much talk then of Booker T. Washington, and many thought him a fool for trying to start a school in Alabama for Negroes. She recalls the Negro poet master who served two or three terms at Madison. She could not give his name.

There have been three widespread “panics” (depressions) during her lifetime but Mrs. McCray thinks this is the worst one. During the Civil War, coffee was so dear that meal was parched and used as a substitute but now, she remarked, “You can’t hardly git the meal for the bread.”

Her husband and children are all dead and she lives with a niece who is no longer young herself. Circumstances are poor here. The niece earns her living as laundress and domestic worker, receiving a very poor wage. Mrs. McCray is now quite infirm and almost blind. She seems happiest talking of the past that was a bit kinder to her.

At present she lives on the northeast corner of First and Macon Streets. The post office address is #11, Madison, Florida.

American Life Histories from the Library of Congress


Andrew Simms: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938 Oklahoma Narratives, Volume xIII Andrew Simms. Age 80. Sapulpa, Okla.

My parents come over on a slave ship from Africa about twenty year before I was born on the William Driver plantation down in Florida. My folks didn’t know each other in Africa but my old Mammy told me she was captured by Negro slave hunters over there and brought to some coast town where the white buyers took her and carried her to America.

She was kinder a young gal then and was sold to some white folks when the boat landed here. Dunno who they was. The same thing happen to my pappy. Must have been about the same time from the way they tells it. Maybe they was on the same boat, I dunno.

They was traded around and then mammy was sold to William Driver. The plantation was down in Florida. Another white folks had a plantation close by. Mister Simms was the owner. Bill Simms—that’s the name pappy kept after the War.

Somehow or other mammy and pappy meets ’round the place and the first thing happens they is in love. That’s what mammy say. And the next thing happen is me. They didn’t get married. The Master’s say it is alright for them to have a baby. They never gets married, even after the War. Just jumped the broomstick and goes to living with somebody else I reckon.

Then when I was four year old along come the War and Master Driver takes up his slaves and leaves the Florida country and goes way out to Texas. Mammy goes along, I goes along, all the children goes along. I don’t remember about the trip but I hears mammy talk about it when I gets older.

Texas, that was the place, down near Fairfield. That’s where I learn to do chores. But the work was easy for the Master was kind as old Mammy herself and he never gae me no hard jobs that would wear me down.

All the slaves on our place was treated good. All the time. They didn’t whip. The Master feeds all the slaves on good clean foods and lean meats so’s they be strong and healthy.

Master Driver had four children, Mary, Julia, Frank and George. Every one of them children kind and good just the old Master. They was never mean and could I find some of ’em now hard times would leave me on the run. They’d help this old man get catched up in his eating!

Makes me think of the old song we use to sing: Don’t mind working from Sun to Sun, Iffen you give me my dinner—when the dinner time comes!

Nowadays I gets me something to eat when I can catch it. The trouble is sometimes I can’t catch! But that ain’t telling about the slave days.

In them times it was mostly the overseers and the drivers who was the mean ones. They caused all the misery. There was other white folks caused troubles too. Sneak around where there was lots of the black children on the plantation and steal them. Take them poor children away off and sell them.

There wasn’t any Sunday Schooling. There was no place to learn to read and write—no big brick schools like they is now. The old Master say we can teach ourselves but we can’t do it. Old Klem Bowman owned the place next door to Mister Driver. If he catch his slaves toying with the pencil, why, he cut off one of their fingers. Then I reckon they lost interest in education and get their mind back on the hoe and plow like he say for them to do.

I didn’t see no fighting during of the War. If they was any Yankees soldiering around the country I don’t remember nothing of it.

Long time after the War is over, about 1885, I meets a gal named Angeline. We courts pretty fast and gets married. The wedding was a sure enough affair with the preacher saying the words just like the white folks marriage. We is sure married.

The best thing we do after that is raise us a family. One of them old-fashioned families. Big ‘uns! Seventeen children does we have and twelve of them still living. Wants to know they names? I ain’t never forgets a one! There was Lucy, Bill, Ebbie, Cora, Minnie, George, Frank, Kizzie, Kecie, Andrew, Joe, Sammie, David, Fannie, Jacob, Bob and Myrtle.

All good children. Just like their old pappy who’s tried to care for ’em just like the old Master takes care of their old daddy when he was a boy on that plantation down Texas way.

When the age comes on a man I reckon religion gets kind of meanful. Thinks about it more’n when he’s young and busy in the fields. I believes in the Bible and what it says to do. Some of the Colored folks takes to the voodoo. I don’t believe in it. Neither does I believe in the fortune telling or charms. I aims to live by the Bible and leave the rabbit foots alone!

American Life Histories from the Library of Congress


Florida Slave Narratives: Scott, Anna

Federal Writers’ Project


Anna Scott, an ex-slave who now lives in Jacksonville near the intersection of Moncrief and Edgewood Avenues, was a member of one of the first colonization groups that went to the West coast of Africa following the emancipation of the slaves in this country.

The former slave was born at Dove City, South Carolina, on Jan. 28, 1846, of a half-breed Cherokee-and-Negro mother and Anglo-Saxon father. Her father owned the plantation adjoining that of her master.

When she reached the adolescent age Anna was placed under the direct care of her mistress, by whom she was given direct charge of the dining-room and entrusted with the keys to the provisions and supplies of the household.

A kindred love grew between the slave girl and her mistress; she recalls that everywhere her mistress went she was taken also. She was kept in ‘the big house’. She was not given any education, though, as some of the slaves on nearby plantations were.

Religion was not denied to the former slave and her fellows. Mrs. Abigail Dever[TR:?], her owner, permitted the slaves to attend revival and other services. The slaves were allowed to occupy the balcony of the church in Dove City, while the whites occupied the main floor. The slaves were forbidden to sing, talk, or make any other sound, however, under penalty of severe beatings.

Those of the slaves who ‘felt the sperrit’ during a service must keep silence until after the service, when they could ‘tell it to the deacon’, a colored man who would listen to the confessions or professions of religion of the slaves until late into the night. The Negro deacon would relay his converts to the white minister of the church, who would meet them in the vestry room at some specified time.

Some of the questions that would be asked at these meetings in the vestry room would be:

“What did you come up here for?”

“Because I got religion”.

“How do you know you got religion?”

“Because I know my sins are forgive”.

“How do you know your sins are forgiven?”

“Because I love Jesus and I love everybody”.

“Do you want to be baptized?”

“Yes sir.”

“Why do you want to be baptized?”

“Cause it will make me like Jesus wants me to be”.

When several persons were ‘ready’, there would be a baptism in a nearby creek or river. After this, slaves would be permitted to hold occasional servives of their own in the log house that was sometimes used as a school.

Mrs. Scott remembers vividly the joy that she felt and other slaves expressed when first news of their emancipation was brought to them. Both she and her mistress were fearful, she says; her mistress because she did not know what she would do without her slaves, and Anna because she thought the Union soldiers would harm Mrs. Dove. When the chief officer of the soldiers came to the home of her mistress, she says, he demanded entrance in a gruff voice. Then he saw a ring upon Mrs. Dove’s finger and asked: “Where did you get this?” When told that the ring belonged to her husband, who was dead, the officer turned to his soldiers and told them that they should “get back; she’s alright!”

Provisions intended for the Confederate armies were broken open by the Union soldiers and their followers, and Anna’s mother, to protect her master, organized groups of slaves to ‘tote the meat from the box cars and hide it in dugouts under the mistress’ house’. This meat was later divided between Negroes and whites.

A Provost Judge followed the advance of the army, and he obtained a list of all of the slaves held by each master. Mrs. Dove gave her list to the official, who called each slave by name and asked what that slave had done on the plantation. He asked, also, whether any payment had been made to them since the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed, and when answered in the negative told them that ‘You are free now and must be paid for all of the work you have done since the Proclamation was signed and that you will do in the future. Don’t you work for anybody without pay’.

The Provost Judge also told the slaves that they might leave if they liked, and Anna was among those who left. She went to visit the husband of her mother in Charleston. With her mother and five other children, Anna crossed rivers on log rafts and rode on trains to Charleston.

Elias Mumford was Anna’s step-father in Charleston, and after spending a year there with him the entire family joined a colonizing expedition to West Africa. There were 650 in the expedition, and it left in 1867. Transportation was free.

The trip took several weeks, but finally the small ship landed at Grand Bassa. Mumford did not like the place, however, and continued on to Monrovia, Liberia. He did not like Monrovia, either, and tried several other ports before being told that he would have to get off, anyway. This was at Harper Cape, W. Africa.

Here he almost immediately began an industry that was to prove lucrative. Oysters were ‘large as saucers’, according to Anna, and while the family gathered these he would burn them and extract lime from them. This he mixed with the native clay and made brick. In addition to his brick-making Mumford cut trees for lumber, and with his own brick and lumber would construct houses and structures. One such structure brought him $1100.00.

Another manner in which Mumford added to his growing wealth was through the cashing of checks for the Missionaries of the section. Ordinarily they would have to send these back to the United States to be cashed, and when he offered to cash them–at a discount—they eagerly utilized the opportunity to save time; this was a convenience for them and more wealth for Mumford.

Anna found other things besides happiness in her eight years in Africa. There were death, sickness, and pestilences. She mentions among the latter the African ants, some of which reached huge proportions. Most dreaded were the Mission ants, which infested every house, building and structure. Sometimes buildings had to be burned to get rid of them. The bite of these ants was so serious that after sixty years Anna still exhibits places on her feet where the ants left their indelible traces. Another of the ant pests was the Driver ant, so large, powerful and stubborn that even bodies of water did not stop them. They would join themselves together above the surface of the water and serve as bridges for the passage of the other ants. The Driver ants moved in swarms and their approach could be seen at great distances. When they were seen to be coming toward a settlement the natives would close their doors and windows and build fires around their homes to avoid them. These fires had to be kept burning for weeks.

Eight and more persons died a day from the African fever during the early colonization attempts; three of these in Anna’s family alone were victims of it. It was generally believed that if a victim of the fever became wet by dew he was sure to die.

After eight years Mumford and the remainder of his family returned to America, where the accrued checks he possessed for cashing made him reasonably wealthy. Anna married Robert Scott and moved to Jacksonville, where she has lived since.

At ninety-one she still occupies the little farm on the outskirts of Jacksonville that was purchased with the money left to her out of her mother’s inheritance (from the African transactions of Mumford) and Robert’s post-slavery savings, and in front of her picturesque little cottage spins yarns for the neighbors of her early experiences.

Excerpt from “Anna Scott” The Federal Edgewood and Moncrief Avenues, Jacksonville, Florida, 1937.

Keywords: african americans, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves, anna scott

Arnold Gragston: Ex-Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938

(Verbatim interview with Arnold Gragston, 97-year old ex-slave whose early life was spent helping slaves to freedom across the Ohio River, while he, himself, remained in bondage. As he put it, he guessed he could be called a ‘conductor’ on the underground railway, only we didn’t call it that then. I don’t know as we called it anything—we just knew there was a lot of slaves always a-wantin’ to get free, and I had to help ’em.”)

“Most of the slaves didn’t know when they was born, but I did. You see, I was born on a Christmas mornin’—it was in 1840; I was a full grown man when I finally got my freedom.”

“Before I got it, though, I helped a lot of others get theirs. Lawd only knows how many; might have been as much as two-three hundred. It was ‘way more than a hundred, I know.

“But that all came after I was a young man—’grown’ enough to know a pretty girl when I saw one, and to go chasing after her, too. I was born on a plantation that b’long to Mr. Jack Tabb in Mason County, just across the river in Kentucky.”

“Mr. Tabb was a pretty good man. He used to beat us, sure; but not nearly so much as others did, some of his own kin people, even. But he was kinda funny sometimes; he used to have a special slave who didn’t have nothin’ to do but teach the rest of us—we had about ten on the plantation, and a lot on the other plantations near us—how to read and write and figger. Mr. Tabb liked us to know how to figger. But sometimes when he would send for us and we would be a long time comin’, he would ask us where we had been. If we told him we had been learnin’ to read, he would near beat the daylights out of us—after gettin’ somebody to teach us; I think he did some of that so that the other owners wouldn’t say he was spoilin’ his slaves.”

” He was funny about us marryin’, too. He would let us go a-courtin’ on the other plantations near anytime we liked, if we were good, and if we found somebody we wanted to marry, and she was on a plantation that b’longed to one of his kin folks or a friend, he would swap a slave so that the husband and wife could be together. Sometimes, when he couldn’t do this, he would let a slave work all day on his plantation, and live with his wife at night on her plantation. Some of the other owners was always talking about his spoilin’ us.”

“He wasn’t a Dimmacrat like the rest of ’em in the country; he belonged to the ‘know-nothin’ party’ and he was a real leader in it. He used to always be makin’ speeches, and sometimes his best friends wouldn’t be speaking to him for days at a time.”

“Mr. Tabb was always specially good to me. He used to let me go all about—I guess he had to; couldn’t get too much work out of me even when he kept me righ tunder his eyes. I learned fast, too, and I think he kinda liked that. He used to call Dandy Davis, the slave who taught me, ‘the smartest Nigger in Kentucky.’

“It was ’cause he used to let me go around in the day and night so much that I came to be the one who carried the runnin’ away slaves over the river. It was funny the way I started it, too.”

“I didn’t have no idea of ever gettin’ mixed up in any sort of business like that until one special night. I hadn’t even thought of rowing across the river myself.”

“But one night I had gone on another plantation ‘courtin,’ and the old woman whose house I went to told me she had a real pretty girl there who wanted to go across the river and I would take her? I was scared and backed out in a hurry. But then I saw the girl, and she was such a pretty little thing, brown-skinned and kinda rosy, and looking as scared as I was feelin’, so it wasn’t long before I was listenin’ to the old woman tell me when to take her and where to leave her on the other side.”

“I didn’t have nerve enough to do it that night, though, and I told them to wait for me until tomorrow night. All the next day I kept seeing Mister Tabb laying a rawhide across my back, or shootin’ me, and kept seeing that scared little brown girl back at the house, looking at me with her big eyes and asking me if I wouldn’t just row her across to Ripley. Me and Mr. Tabb lost, and soon as dust settled that night, I was the old lady’s house.”

“I don’t know how I ever rowed the boat across the river the current was strong and I was trembling. I couldn’t see a thing there in the dark, but I felt that girl’s eyes. We didn’t dare to whisper, so I couldn’t tell her how sure I was that Mr. Tabb or some of the others owners would ‘tear me up’ when they found out what I had done. I just knew they would find out.”

“I was worried, too, about where to put her out of the boat. I couldn’t ride her across the river all night, and I didn’t know a thing about the other side. I had heared a lot about it from the other slaves but I thought it was just about like Mason County, with slaves and masters, overseers and raw-hides; and so, I just knew that if I pulled the boat up and went to asking people where to take her I would get a beating or get killed.”

“I don’t know whether it seemed like a long time or a short time, now – it’s so long ago; I know it was a long time rowing there in the cold and worryin’. But it was short, too, ’cause as soon as I did get on the other side the big-eyed, brown-skinned girl would be gone. Well, pretty soon I saw a tall light and I remembered that the old lady had told me about looking for that light and rowing to it. I did; and when I got up to it, two men reached down and grabbed her; I started tremblin’ all over again, and prayin’. Then, one of the men took my arm and I just felt down inside of me that the Lord had got ready for me. ‘You hungry, Boy?’ is what he asked me, and if he hadn’t been holdin’ me I think I would have fell backward into the river.”

“That was my first trip; it took me a long time to get over my scared feelin’, but I finally did, and I soon found myself goin’ back across the river, with two and three people, and sometimes a whole boatload. I got so I used to make three and four trips a month. “

“What did my passengers look like? I can’t tell you any more about it than you can, and you wasn’t there. After that first girl—no, I never did see her again—I never saw any passengers. I would have to be the ‘black nights’ of the moon when I would carry them, and I would meet ’em out in the open or in a house without a single light. The only way I knew who they were was to ask them; “What you say?” And they would answer, “Menare.” I don’t know what that word meant—it came from the Bible. I only know that that was the password I used, and all of them that I took over told it to me before I took them.

“I guess you should wonder what I did with them after I got them over the river. Well, there in Ripley was a man named Mr. Rankins; I think the rest of his name was John. He had a regular station there on his place for escaping slaves. You see, Ohio was a free state and once they got over the river from Kentucky or Virginia, Mr. Rankins could strut them all around town, and nobody would bother ’em. The only reason we used to land ’em quietly at night was so that whoever brought ’em could go back for more, and because we had to be careful that none of the owners had followed us. Every one in a while they would follow in boat and catch their slaves back. Sometimes they would shoot at whoever was trying to save the poor devils.

“Mr. Rankins had a regular ‘station’ for the slaves. He had a big lighthouse in his yard, about thirty feet high and he kept it burnin’ all night. It always meant freedom for slave if he could get to this light.

“Sometimes Mr. Rankins would have twenty or thirty slaves that had run away on his place at a time. It must have cost him a whole lots to keep and feed ’em, but I think some of his friends helped him.

“Those who wanted to stay around that part of Ohio could stay, but didn’t many of ’em do it; because there was too much danger that you would be walking along free one night, feel a hand over your mouth, and be back across the river and in slavery again in the morning. And nobody in the world ever got a chance to know as much misery as a slave that had escaped and been caught.

“So a whole lot of ’em went on North to other parts of Ohio, or to New York, Chicago or Canda; Canda was popular because all the slaves thought it was the last gate before you got all the way inside of heaven. I don’t think there was much chance for a slave to make a living in Canda, but didn’t many of ’em come back. They seem like they rather starve up there in the cold than to be back in slavery.

“The Army soon started taking a lot of ’em, too. They could enlist in the Union Army and get good wages, more food than they ever had, and have all the little gals wavin’ at ’em when they passed. Them blue uniforms was a nice change, too.

“No, I never got anything from a single one of the people I carried over the river to freedom. I didn’t want anything; after I had made a few trips I got to like it, and even though I could have been free any night myself, I figgered I wasn’t gettin’ along so bad so I would stay on Mr. Tabb’s place and help the others get free. I did it for four years.

“I don’t know to this day how he never knew what I was doing; I used to take some awful chances, and he knew I must have been up to something; I wouldn’t do much work in the day, would never been in my house at night, and when he would happen to visit the plantation where I had said I was goin’ I wouldn’t be there. Sometimes I think he didn’t know and wanted me to get the slaves away that way so he wouldn’t have to cause hard feelin’s by freein’ ’em.

“I think Mr. Tabb used to talk a lot to Mr. John Fee; Mr. Fee was a man who lived in Kentucky, but Lord! How that man hated slavery! He used to always tell us (we never let our owners see us listenin’ to him, though) that God didn’t intend for some men to be free and some men to be in slavery. He used to talk to the owners, too, when they would listen to him, but mostly they hated the sight of John Fee.

“In the night, though, he was a different man, for every slave who came through is place going across the river he had a good word, something to eat and some kind of rags, too, if it was cold. He always knew just what to tell you to do if anything went wrong, and sometimes I think he kept slaves there on his place ’till they could be rowed across the river. Helped us a lot.

“I almost ran the business in the ground after I had been carrying the slaves across for nearly four years. It was in 1863, and one night I carried across about twelve on the same night. Somebody must have seen us, because they set out after me as soon as I sterred out of the boat back on the Kentucky side; from that time on they were after me. Sometimes they would almost catch me; I had to run away from Mr. Tabb’s plantation and live in the fields and in the woods. I didn’t know what a bed was from one week to another. I would sleep in a cornfield tonight, up in the branches of a tree tomorrow night, and buried in a hay pile the next night; the River, where I had carried so many across myself, was no good to me; it was watched too close.

“Finally, I saw that I could never do any more good in Mason County, so I decided to take my freedom, too. I had a wife by this time, and one night we quietly slipped across and headed for Mr. Rankin’s bell and light. It looked like we had to go almost to China to get across that river; I could hear the bell and see the light on Mr. Rankin’s place, but the harder I rowed, the farther away it got, and I knew if I didn’t make it I’d get killed. But finally, I pulled up by the lighthouse, and went on to my freedom—just a few months before all of the slaves got theirs. I went on to Detroit and still live there with most of 10 children and 31 grandchildren.

“The bigger ones don’t care so much about hearin’ it now, but the little ones never get tired of hearin’ how their grandpa bought Emancipation to loads of slaves he could touch and feel, but never could see.”

American Life Histories from the Library of Congress


Florida Slave Narratives: Austin, Bill

Federal Writers’ Project


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.

Excerpt from “Bill Austin” The Federal Writers’ Project. Jacksonville, Florida, 1937.

Keywords: african americans, bill austin, slavery, slavery in Florida, slaves

Florida Slave Narratives: Mitchell, Christine

Federal Writers’ Project


An interesting description of the slave days just prior to the War Between the States is given by Christine Mitchell, of Saint Augustine.

Christine was born in slavery at Saint Augustine, remaining on the plantation until she was about 10 years old.

During her slave days she knew many of the slaves on plantations in the Saint Augustine vicinity. Several of these plantations, she says, were very large, and some of them had as many as 100 slaves.

The ex-slave, who is now 84 years old, recalls that at least three of the plantations in the vicinity were owned or operated by Minorcans. She says that the Minorcans were popularly referred to in the section as “Turnbull’s Darkies,” a name they apparently resented. This caused many of them, she claims, to drop or change their names to Spanish or American surnames.

Christine moved to Fernandina a few years after her freedom, and there lived near the southern tip of Amelia Island, where Negro ex-slaves lived in a small settlement all their own. This settlement still exists, although many of its former residents are either dead or have moved away.

Christine describes the little Amelia Island community as practically self-sustaining, its residents raising their own food, meats, and other commodities. Fishing was a favorite vocation with them, and some of them established themselves as small merchants of sea foods.

Several of the families of Amelia Island, according to the ex-slave, were large ones, and her own relatives, the Drummonds, were among the largest of these.

Christine Mitchell regards herself as one of the oldest remaining ex-slaves in the Saint Augustine section, and is very well known in the neighborhood of her home at St. Francis and Oneida Streets.

“Christine Mitchell” The Federal Writers’ Project. Oneida street corner Saint Francis, Saint Augustine, Florida, 1936.

Keywords: african americans, slavery, slaves, slavery in florida, christine mitchell

Florida Slave Narratives: Hilyard, Della Bess

Federal Writers’ Project


Della Bess Hilyard, or “Aunt Bess” as she is better known, was born in Darlington, South Carolina in 1858, the daughter of Resier and Zilphy Hart, slaves of Gus Hiwards. Both her parents were cotton pickers and as a little girl Della often went with her parents into the fields. One day she stated that the Yankees came through South Carolina with Knapsacks on their shoulders. It wasn’t until later that she learned the reason.

When asked if she received any educational training, “Aunt Bess” replied in the negative, but stated that the slaves on the Hiwards plantation were permitted to pick up what education they could without fear of being molested. No one bothered, however, to teach them anything.

In regards to religion, “Aunt Bess” said that the slaves were not told about heaven; they were told to honor their masters and mistresses and of the damnation which awaited them for disobedience.

After slavery the Hart family moved to Georgia where Della grew into womanhood and at an early age married Caleb Bess by whom she had two children. After the death of Bess, about fifteen years ago, “Aunt Bess” moved to Fort Pierce, Florida. While there she married Lonny Hilyard who brought her to Titusville where she now resides, a relic of bygone days.

Excerpt from “Della Bess Hilyard” The Federal Writers’ Project, Titusville, Florida, 1937.

Keywords: african americans, della bess hilyard, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves

Douglas Dorsey: Ex-Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938

In South Jacksonville, on the Spring Glen Road lives Douglas Dorsey, an ex-slave, born in Suwannee County, Florida in 1851, fourteen years prior to freedom. His parents Charlie and Anna Dorsey were natives of Maryland and free people. In those days, Dorsey relates there were people known as “Nigger Tenders” who used any subterfuge to catch Negroes and sell them into slavery. There was one Jeff Davis who was known as a professional “Nigger Trader,” his slave boat docked in the slip at Maryland and Jeff Davis and his henchmen went out looking for their victims. Unfortunately, his mother Anna and his father were caught one night and were bound and gagged and taken to Jeff Davis’ boat which was waiting in the harbor, and there they were put into stocks. The boat stayed in port until it was loaded with Negroes, then sailed for Florida where Davis disposed of his human cargo.

Douglas Dorsey’s parents were sold to Colonel Louis Matair, who had a large plantation that was cultivated by 85 slaves. Colonel Matair’s house was of the pretentious southern colonial type which was quite prevalent during that period. The colonel had won his title because of his participation in the Indian War in Florida. He was the typical wealthy southern gentleman, and was very kind to his slaves. His wife, however was just the opposite. She was exceedingly mean and could easily be termed a tyrant.

There were several children in the Matair family and their home and plantation were located in Suwannee County, Florida.

Douglas’ parents were assigned to their tasks, his mother was housemaid and his father was the mechanic, having learned this trade in Maryland as a free man. Charlie and Anna had several children and Douglas was among them. When he became large enough he was kept in the Matair home to build fires, assist in serving meals and other chores.

Mrs. Matair being a very cruel woman, would whip the slaves herself for any misdemeanor. Dorsey recalls an incident that is hard to obliterate from his mind, it is as follows: Dorsey’s mother was called by Mrs. Matair, not hearing her, she counties with her duties, suddenly Mrs. Matair burst out in a frenzy of anger over the woman not answering. Anna explained that she did not hear her call, thereupon Mrs. Matair seized a large butcher knife and struck at Anna, attempting to ward off the blow, Anna received a long gash on the arm that laid her up for some time. Young Douglas was a witness to this brutal treatment of his mother and he at that moment made up his mind to kill his mistress. He intended to put atnychnine that was used to kill rats into her coffee that he usually served her. Fortunately freedom came and saved him of this act which would have resulted in his death.

He relates another incident in regard to his mistress as follows: To his mother and father was born a little baby boy, whose complexion was rather light. Mrs. Matair at once began accusing Colonel Matair as being the father of the child. Naturally the colonel denied, but Mrs. Matair kept harassing him about it until he finally agreed to his wife’s desire and sold the child. It was taken from its mother’s breasts at the age of eight months and auctioned off on the first day of January to the highest bidder. The child was bought y a Captain Ross and taken across the Suwannee River into Hamilton County. Twenty years later he was located by his family, he was a grown man, married and farming.

Young Douglas had the task each morning of carrying the Matair children’s books to school. Willie, a boy of eight would teach Douglas what he learned in school; finally Douglas learned the alphabet and numbers. In some way Mrs. Matair learned that Douglas was learning to read and write. One morning after breakfast she called her son Willie to the dining room where she was seated and then sent for Douglas to come there too. She then took a quill pen the kind used at that time, and began writing the alphabet and numerals as far as ten. Holding the paper up to Douglas, she asked him if he knew what they were; he proudly answered in the affirmative, not suspecting anything. She then asked him to name the letters and numerals, which he did, she then asked him to write them, which he did. When he reached the number ten, very proud of his learning, she struck him a heavy blow across the face, saying to him “If I ever catch you making another figure anywhere I’ll cut off your right arm.” Naturally Douglas and also her son Willie were much surprised as each thought what had been done was quite an achievement. She then called Mariah, the cook to bring a rope and tying the two of them to the old colonial post on the front porch, she took a chair and sat between the two, whipping them on their naked backs for such a time, that for two weeks their clothes stuck to their backs on the lacerated flesh.

To ease the soreness, Willie would steal grease from the house and together they would slip into the barn and grease each other’s backs.

As to plantation life, Dorsey said that the slaves lived in quarters especially built for them on the plantation. They would leave for the fields at “sun up” and remain until “sundown,” stopping only for a meal which they took along with them.

Instead of having an overseer they had what was called a “driver” by the name of January. His duties were to get the slaves together in the morning and see that they went to the fields and assigned them to their tasks. He worked as the other slaves though he had more privileges. He would stop work at any time he pleased and go around to inspect the work of the others, and thus rest himself. Most of the orders from the master were issued to him. The crops consisted of cotton, corn, cane and peas, which were raised in abundance.

When the slaves left the fields, they returned to their cabins and after preparing and eating of their evening meal they gathered around a cabin to sing and moan songs seasoned with African melody. Then to the tune of an old fiddle they danced a dance called the “Green Corn Dance” and “Cut the Pigeon Wing.” Sometimes the young men on the plantation would slip away to visit a girl on another plantation. If they were caught by the “Patrols” while on these visits they would be lashed on the bare backs as a penalty for this offense.

A whipping post was used for this purpose. As soon as one slave was whipped, he was given the whip to whip his brother slave. Very often the lashes would bring blood very soon from the already lacerated skin, but this did not stop the lashing until one had received their due number of lashes.

Occasionally the slaves were ordered to church to hear a white minister; they were seated in the front pew of the master’s church, while the whites sat in the rear. The minister’s admonition to them to honor their masters and mistresses, and to have no other God but them, as “we cannot see the other God, but you can see your master and mistress.” After the services the driver’s wife who could read and write a little would tell them that what the minister said “was all lies.”

Douglas says that he will never forget when he was a lad of 14 years of age, when one evening he was told to go and tell the driver to have all the slaves come up to the house; soon the entire host of about 85 slaves was gathered there all sitting around on stumps, some standing. The colonel’s son was visibly moved as he told them they were free. Saying they could go anywhere they wanted to for he had no more to do with them, or that they could remain with him and have half of what was raised on the plantation.

The slaves were happy at this news, as they had hardly been aware that there had been a war going on. None of them accepted the offer of the colonel to remain, as they were only too glad to leaver the cruelties of the Matair plantation.

Dorsey’s father got a job with Judge Carraway of Suwannee where he worked for one year. He later homesteaded for 40 acres of land that he received from the government and began farming.

Dorsey’s father died in Suwannee County, Florida when Douglas was a young man and then he and his mother moved to Arlington, Florida. His mother died several years ago at a ripe old age.

Douglas Dorsey, aged but with a clear mind lives with his daughter in Spring Glen.

American Life Histories from the Library of Congress


Florida Slave Narratives: Lycurgas, Edward

Federal Writers’ Project


“Pap tell us ‘nother story ’bout do war—and ’bout de fust time you saw mamma.”

It has been almost 60 years since a group of children gathered about their father’s knee, clamoring for another story. They listened round-eyed to stories they already knew because “pap” had told them so many times before. These narratives along with the great changes he has seen, were carefully recorded in the mind of Edward, the only one of this group now alive.

“Pap” was always ready to oblige with the story they never tired of. He could always be depended upon to begin at the beginning, for he loved to tell it.

“It all begun with our ship being took off the coast of Newport News, Virginia. We wuz runnin’ the blockade—sellin’ guns and what-not to them Northerners. We aint had nothin’ to do wid de war, unnerstand, we English folks was at’ter de money. Whose War? The North and South’s, of course. I hear my captain say many a time as how they was playin’ ball wid the poor niggers. One side says ‘You can’t keep your niggers lessen you pay em and treat em like other folks.’ Mind you dat wasn’t de rale reason, they was mad at de South but it was one of de ways dey could be hurted—to free de niggers.”

“De South says ‘Dese is our niggers and we’ll do dum as we please,’ and so de rumpus got wuss dan it was afore. The North had all do money, and called itself de Gov’ment. The South aint had nothin’, but a termination not to be out-did, so we dealt wid de North. De South was called de Rebels.”

“So when dey see a ship off they coast, they hailed it and when we kep goin’, they fired at us. ‘Twan’t long afore we was being unloaded and marched off to the lousiest jail I ever been in. My captain kep tellin’ em we was English subjects and could not be helt. Me, I was a scairt man, cause I was always free, and over here dey took it for granted dat all black men should be slaves.”

“The jailer felt of my muscles one day, when he had marched me out at the point of his musket to fill de watering troughs for de horses. He wanted to know who I blong ter, and offered to buy me. When nobody claimed me, they was forced to let me go long wid de other Britishers and as our ship had been destroyed, we had to git back home best we could. Dey didn’t dare hold us no longer.”

“As de war was still being fit, we was forced to separate, cause a lot of us would cause spicion, traipsing ’bout do country. Me—I took off southward and way from de war belt, traveling as far as Saint Augustine. It was a dangerous journey, as anybody was liable to pick me off for a runaway slave. I was forced to hide in de day time if I was near a settlement and travel at night. I met many runaway slaves. Some was trying to get North and fight for de freeing of they people; others was jes runnin’ way cause dey could. Many of dem didn’t had no idea where dey was goin’ and told of havin’ good marsters. But one and all dey had a good strong notion ter see what it was like to own your own body.”

“I felt worlds better when I reached Saint Augustine. Many ships landed there and I knowed I could get my way back at least to de West Indies, where I come frum. I showed my papers to everybody dat mounted ter anything and dey knowed I was a free nigger. I had plenty of money on me and I made a big ter do mong de other free men I met. One day I went to the slave market and watched em barter off po niggers lake dey was hogs. Whole families sold together and some was split—mother gone to one marster and father and children gone to others.”

“They’d bring a slave out on the flatform and open his mouth, pound his chest, make him harden his muscles so the buyer could see what he was gittin’. Young men was called ‘bucks’ and young women ‘wenches’. The person that offered the best price was de buyer. And dey shore did git rid uf some pretty gals. Dey always looked so shame and pitiful up on dat stand wid all dem men standin’ dere lookin’ at em wid what dey had on dey minds shinin’ in they eyes One little gal walked up and left her mammy mourning so pitiful cause she had to be sold. Seems like dey all belong in a family where nobody ever was sold. My she was a pretty gal.”

“And dats why your mamma’s named Julia stead of Mary Jane or Hannah or somethin’ else—She cost me $950.00 and den my own freedom. But she was worth it—every bit of it!”

“After that I put off my trip back home and made her home my home for three years. Den with our two young children we left Floridy and went to the West Indies to live. We traveled bout a bit gettin as far as England. We got letters from your ma’s folks and dey jes had to see her or else somebody would’er died, so we sailed back into de war.”

“Freedom was declared soon after we got back to dis country and de whole country was turned upside down. De po niggers went mad. Some refused to work and dey didn’t stay in one place long ‘nough to do a thing. De crops suffered and soon we had starvation times for ’bout two years. After dat everybody lernt to think of a rainy day and things got better.”

Edward recalls of hearing his father tell of eating wild hog salad and cabbage palms. It was a common occurence to see whole families subsisting on any wild plant not known to be poisonous if it contained the least food value. The freedmen helped those who were newly liberated to gain a footing. Prior to Emancipation they had not been allowed to associate with slaves for fear they might engender in them the desire to be free. The freedmen bore the brunt of the white man’s suspicion whenever there was a slave uprising. They were always accusing them of being instigators. Edward often heard his mother tell of the “patter-rollers”, a group of white men who caught and administered severe whippings to these unfortunate slaves. They also corraled slaves back to their masters if they were caught out after nine o’clock at night without a pass from their masters.

George Lycurgas was born at Liverpool, England and became a seaman at an early age. Edward thinks he might have had a fair education if he had had the chance. The mother, Julia Gray, Lycurgas, was the daughter of Barbara and David Gray, slaves of the Flemings of Clay County, Florida.

These slaves were inherited from generation to generation and no one ever thought to sell one except for punishment or in dire necessity. They were treated kindly and like most slaves of the wealthy, had no knowledge of the real cruelties of slavery, but upon the death of their owner it became necessary to parcel the slaves out to different heirs, some of whom did not believe in holding these unfortunates. These would-be abolitionists were not averse to placing at auction their share of the slaves, however.

It was on this occasion that George Lycurgas saw and bought the girl who was to become his wife. Both are now dead, also all of the several children except Edward who tells their story here.

Edward Lycurgas was born on October 28, 1872, at Saint Augustine, Florida shortly after the return of the family from the West Indies. He lived on his father’s farm sharing at an early age the hard work that seemed always in abundance, and listening in awe to the stories of the recent war. He heard his elders give thanks for their freedom when they attended church and wondered what it was all about.

No one failed to attend church on Sundays and all work ceased in a vicinity where a camp meeting was held. Farmers flocked to the meeting from all parts of Saint Johns County. They brought food in their large baskets. Some owned buggies but most of them hauled their families in wagons or walked. The camp meetings would sometimes last for several days according to the spiritual fervor exhibited by those attending.

Lycurgas recalls the stirring sermons and spirituals that rang through the woods and could be heard for several miles on a clear day. And the river baptisms! These climaxed the meetings and were attended by large crowds of whites in the neighborhood. All candidates were dressed in white gowns, stockings and towels would about their heads bandana fashion. Two by two they marched to the river from the spot where they had dressed. There was always some stiring song to accompany their slow march to the river. “Take me to the water to be baptized” was the favorite spiritual for this occasion.

As in all things, some attended camp meetings for the opportunity it afforded them to indulge in illicit love making. Others went to show their finery and there was plenty of it according to Lycurgas’ statement. There seemed to be beautiful clothing, fine teams and buggies everywhere—a sort of reaction from the restraint upon them in slavery. Many wore clothing they could not afford.

There seemed to be a deeper interest in politics during these times. Mass meetings, engineered by “carpet baggers” were often held and largely attended, although the father of Edward did not hold with these activities very much. He often heard the preacher point out Negroes who attended the meetings and attained prominence in politics as an example for members of his flock to follow. He believes he recalls hearing the name of Joseph Gibbs.

Next to the preacher, the Negro school teacher was held in greatest respect. Until the year of the “shake” (earthquake of 1886) there were no Negro school teachers on Saint John’s County and no school buildings. They attended classes at the fort and were taught by a white woman who had come from “up nawth” for this purpose. Edward was able to learn very little from his blue back Webster because his help was needed on the farm.

He was a lover of home, very shy and did not care much for courting. He remained with his parents until their deaths and did not leave the vicinity for many years. He is still unmarried and resides at the Clara White Mission, Jacksonville, Florida, where he receives a small salary for the piddling jobs about the place that he is able to do.

Excerpt from “Edward Lycurgas” The Federal Writers’ Project. 611 West Ashley Street, Jacksonville, Florida, 1936.

Keywords: african americans, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves, edward lycurgas

Emma Knight: Ex-Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938

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.”

American Life Histories from the Library of Congress


Florida Slave Narratives: Coates, “Father” Charles

Federal Writers’ Project


“Father” Charles Coates, as he is called by all who know him, was born a slave, 108 years ago at Richmond, Virginia, on the plantation of a man named L’Angle. His early boyhood days was spent on the L’Angle place filled with duties such as minding hogs, cows, bringing in wood and such light work. His wearing apparel consisted of one garment, a shirt made to reach below the knees and with three-quarter sleeves. He wore no shoes until he was a man past 20 years of age.

The single garment was worn summer and winter alike and the change in the weather did not cause an extra amount of clothes to be furnished for the slaves. They were required to move about so fast at work that the heat from the body was sufficient to keep them warm.

When Charles was still a young man Mr. L’Angle sold him on time payment to W.B. Hall; who several years before the Civil War moved from Richmond to Washington County, Georgia, carrying 135 grown slaves and many children. Mr. Hall made Charles his carriage driver, which kept him from hard labor. Other slaves on the plantation performed such duties as rail splitting, digging up trees by the roots and other hard work.

Charles Coates remembers vividly the cruelties practiced on the Hall plantation. His duty was to see that all the slaves reported to work on time. The bell was rung at 5:30 a.m. by one of the slaves. Charles had the ringing of the bell for three years; this was in addition to the carriage driving. He tells with laughter how the slaves would “grab a piece of meat and bread and run to the field” as no time was allowed to sit and eat breakfast. This was a very different way from that of the master he had before, as Mr. L’Angle was much better to his slaves.

Mr. Hall was different in many ways from Mr. L’Angle, “He was always pretending” says Charles that he did not want his slaves beaten unmercifully. Charles being close to Mr. Hall during work hours had opportunity to see and hear much about what was going on at the plantation. And he believes that Mr. Hall knew just how the overseer dealt with the slaves.

On the Hall plantation there was a contraption, similar to a gallows, where the slaves were suspended and whipped. At the top of this device were blocks of wood with chains run through holes and high enough that a slave when tied to the chains by his fingers would barely touch the ground with his toes. This was done so that the slave could not shout or twist his body while being whipped. The whipping was prolonged until the body of the slave covered with welts and blood trickled down his naked body. Women were treated in the same manner, and a pregnant woman received no more leniency than did a man. Very often after a severe flogging a slave’s body was treated to a bath of water containing salt and pepper so that the pain would be more lasting and aggravated. The whipping was done with sticks and a whip called the “cat o’ nine tails,” meaning every lick meant nine. The “cat o’ nine tails” was a whip of nine straps attached to a stick; the straps were perforated so that everywhere the hole in the strap fell on the flesh a blister was left.

The treatment given by the overseer was very terrifying. He relates how a slave was put in a room and locked up for two and three days at a time without water or food, because the overseer thought he hadn’t done enough work in a given time.

Another offense which brought forth severe punishment was that of crossing the road to another plantation. A whipping was given and very often a slave was put on starvation for a few days.

One privilege given slaves on the plantation was appreciated by all and that was the opportunity to hear the word of God. The white people gathered in log and sometimes frame churches and the slaves were permitted to sit about the church yard on wagons and on the ground and listen to the preaching. When the slaves wanted to hold church they had to get special permission from the master, and at that time a slave hut was used. A white Preacher was called in and he would preach to them not to steal, lie or run away and “be sure and git all dem weeds outen dat corn in de field and your master will think a heap of you.” Charles does not remember anything else the preacher told them about God. They learned more about God when they sat outside the church waiting to drive their masters and family back home.

Charles relates an incident of a slave named Sambo who thought himself very smart and who courted the favor of the master. The neighboring slaves screamed so loudly while being whipped that Sambo told his master that he knew how to make a contraption which, if a slave was put into while being whipped would prevent him from making a noise. The device was made of two blocks of wood cut to fit the head and could be fastened around the neck tightly. When the head was put in, the upper and lower parts were clamped together around the neck so that the slave could not scream. The same effect as choking. The stomach of the victim was placed over a barrel which allowed freedom of movement. When the lash was administered and the slave wiggled, the barrel moved.

Now it so happened that Sambo was the first to be put into his own invention for a whipping. The overseer applied the lash rather heavily, and Sambo was compelled to wiggle his body to relieve his feelings. In wiggling the barrel under his stomach rolled a bit straining Sambo’s neck and breaking it. After Sambo died from his neck being broken the master discontinued the use of the device, as he saw the loss of property in the death of slaves.

Charles was still a carriage driver when freedom came. He had opportunity to see and hear many things about the master’s private life. When the news of the advance of the Union Army came, Mr. Hall carried his money to a secluded spot and buried it in an iron pot so that the soldiers who were confiscating all the property and money they could, would not get his money. The slave owners were required to notify the slaves that they were free so Mr. Hall sent his son Sherard to the cabins to notify all the slaves to come into his presence and there he had his son to tell them that they were free. The Union soldiers took much of the slave owners’ property and gave to the slaves telling them that if the owners’ took the property back to write and tell them about it; the owners only laughed because they knew the slaves could not read nor write. After the soldiers had gone the timid and scared slaves gave up most of the land; some few however, fenced in a bit of land while the soldiers remained in the vicinity and they managed to keep a little of the land.

Many of the slaves remained with the owners. There they worked for small monthly wages and took whatever was left of cast off clothing and food and whatever the “old missus” gave them. A pair of old pants of the master was highly prized by them.

Charles Coates was glad to be free. He had been well taken care of and looked younger than 37 years of age at the close of slavery. He had not been married; had been put upon the block twice to be sold after belonging to Mr. Hall. Each time he was offered for sale, his master wanted so much for him, and refusing to sell him on time payments, he was always left on his master’s hands. His master said “being tall, healthy and robust, he was well worth much money.”

After slavery, Charles was rated as a good worker. He at once began working and saving his money and in a short time he had accumulated “around $200.”

The first sight of a certain young woman caused him to fall in love. He says the love was mutual and after a courtship of three weeks they were married. The girl’s mother told Charles that she had always been very frail, but he did not know that she had consumption. Within three days after they were married she died and her death caused much grief for Charles.

He was reluctant to bury her and wanted to continue to stand and look at her face. A white doctor and a school teacher whose names he does not remember, told him to put his wife’s body in alcohol to preserve it and he could look at it all the time. At that time white people who had plenty of money and wanted to see the faces of their deceased used this method.

A glass casket was used and the dressed body of the deceased was placed in alcohol inside the casket. Another casket made of wood held the glass casket and the whole was placed in a vault made of stone or brick. The walls of the vault were left about four feet above the ground and a window and ledge were placed in front, so when the casket was placed inside of the vault the bereaved could lean upon the ledge and look in at the face of the deceased. The wooden casket was provided with a glass top part of the way so that the face could easily be seen.

Although the process of preserving the body in alcohol cost $160, Charles did not regret the expense saying, “I had plenty of money at that time.”

After the death of his wife, Charles left with his mother and father, Henrietta and Spencer Coates and went to Savannah, Georgia. He said they were so glad to go, that they walked to within 30 miles of Savannah, when they saw a man driving a horse and wagon who picked them up and carried them into Savannah. It was in that city that he met his present wife, Irene, and they were married about 1876.

There are nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren living and in March of 1936, when a party was given in honor of Father Coates’ 108th birthday, one of each of the four generations of his family were present.

The party was given at the Clara White Mission, 615 West Ashley Street by Ertha M.M. White. Father Coates and his wife were very much honored and each spoke encouraging words to those present. On the occasion he said that the cause for his long life was due to living close to nature, rising early, going to bed early and not dissipating in any way.

He can “shout” (jumping about a foot and a half from the floor and knocking his heels together.) He does chores about his yard; looks years younger than he really is and enjoys good health. His hair is partly white; his memory very good and his chief delight is talking about God and his goodness. He has preached the gospel in his humble way for a number of years, thereby gaining the name of “Father” Coates.

Excerpt from “‘Father’ Charles Coates” The Federal Writers’ Project, Jacksonville, Florida, 1936.

Keywords: african americans, bill austin, slavery, slavery in Florida, slaves

Florida Slave Narratives: Clayton, Florida

Federal Writers’ Project


The life of Florida Clayton is interesting in that it illustrates the miscegenation prevalent during the days of slavery. Interesting also is the fact that Florida was not a slave even though she was a product of those turbulent days. Many years before her birth—March 1, 1854—Florida’s great grandfather, a white man, came to Tallahassee, Florida from Washington, District of Columbia, with his children whom he had by his Negro slave. On coming to Florida, he set all of his children free except one boy, Amos, who was sold to a Major Ward. For what reason this was done, no one knew. Florida, named for the state in which she was born, was one of seven children born to Charlotte Morris (colored) whose father was a white man and David Clayton (white).

Florida, in a retrogressive mood, can recall the “nigger hunters” and “nigger stealers” of her childhood days. Mr. Nimrod and Mr. Shehee, both white, specialized in catching runaway slaves with their trained bloodhounds. Her parents always warned her and her brothers and sisters to go in someone’s yard whenever they saw these men with their dogs lest the ferocious animals tear them to pieces. In regards to the “nigger stealers,” Florida tells of a covered wagon which used to come to Tallahassee at regular intervals and camp in some secluded spot. The children, attracted by the old wagon, would be eager to go near it, but they were always told that “Dry Head and Bloody Bones,” a ghost who didn’t like children, was in that wagon. It was not until later years that Florida and the other children learned that the driver of the wagon was a “nigger stealer” who stole children and took them to Georgia to sell at the slave markets.

When she was 11 years old, Florida saw the surrender of Tallahassee to the Yankees. Three years later she came to Jacksonville to live with her sister. She married but is now divorced after 12 years of marriage.

Three years ago she entered the Old Folks Home at 1627 Franklin Street to live.

Excerpt from “Florida Clayton” The Ferderal Writer’s Project, Franklin Street, Jacksonville, Florida, 1936.

Keywords: african americans, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves, florida clayton

Florida Slave Narratives: Berry, Frank

Federal Writers’ Project


Frank Berry, living at 1614 west Twenty-Second street, Jacksonville, Florida, claims to be a grandson of Osceola, last fighting chief of the Seminole tribe. Born in 1858 of a mother who was part of the human chattel belonging to one of the Hearnses of Alachua County in Florida, he served variously during his life as a State and Federal Government contractor, United States Marshal (1881), Registration Inspector (1879).

Being only eight years of age when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, he remembers little of his life as a slave. The master was kind in an impersonal way but made no provision for his freedmen as did many other Southerners—usually in the form of land grants—although he gave them their freedom as soon as the proclamation was issued. Berry learned from his elders that their master was a noted duelist and owned several fine pistols some of which have very bloody histories.

It was during the hectic days that followed the Civil War that Berry served in the afore-mentioned offices. He held his marshalship under a Judge King of Jacksonville, Florida. As State and Federal Government Contractor he built many public structures, a few of which are still in use, among them the jetties at Mayport, Florida which he helped to build and a jail at High Springs, Florida.

It was during the war between the Indians and settlers that Berry’s grandmother, serving as a nurse at Tampa Bay was captured by the Indians and carried away to become the squaw of their chief; she was later re-captured by her owners. This was a common procedure, according to Berry’s statements. Indians often captured slaves, particularly the women, or aided in their escape and almost always intermarried with them. The red men were credited with inciting many uprisings and wholesale escapes among the slaves.

Country frolics (dances) were quite often attended by Indians, whose main reason for going was to obtain whiskey, for which they had a very strong fondness. Berry describes an intoxicated Indian as a “tornado mad man” and recalls a hair raising incident that ended in tragedy for the offender.

A group of Indians were attending one of these frolics at Fort Myers and everything went well until one of the number became intoxicated, terrorizing the Negroes with bullying, and fighting anyone with whom he could “pick” a quarrel. “Big Charlie” an uncle of the narrator was present and when the red man challenged him to a fight made a quick end of him by breaking his neck at one blow.

For two years he was hounded by revengeful Indians, who had an uncanny way of ferreting out his whereabouts no matter where he went. Often he sighted them while working in the fields and would be forced to flee to some other place. This continued with many hairbreadth escapes, until he was forced to move several states away.

Berry recalls the old days of black aristocracy when Negroes held high political offices in the state of Florida, when Negro tradesmen and professionals competed successfully and unmolested with the whites. Many fortunes were made by men who are now little more than beggars. To this group belongs the man who in spite of reduced circumstances manages still to make one think of top hats and state affairs. Although small of stature and almost disabled by rheumatism, he has the fiery dignity and straight back that we associate with men who have ruled others. At the same time he might also be characterized as a sweet old person, with all the tender reminiscences of the old days and the childish prejudices against all things new. As might be expected, he lives in the past and always is delighted whenever he is asked to tell about the only life that he has ever really lived. Together with his aged wife he lives with his children and is known to local relief agencies who supplement the very small income he now derives from what is left of what was at one time a considerable fortune.

Excerpt from “Frank Berry” The Federal Writers’ Project. Jacksonville, Florida, 1937.

Keywords: african americans, frank berry, slavery, slavery in Florida, slaves

Florida Slave Narratives: Pretty, George

Federal Writers’ Project


George Pretty of Vero Beach and Gifford, Florida, was born a free man, at Altoona, Pennsylvania, January 30, 1852. His father Isaac Pretty was also free born. His maternal grand-father Alec McCoy and his paternal grand-father George Pretty were born slaves who lived in the southern part of Pennsylvania.

He does not know how his father came to be born free but knows that he was told that from early childhood.

In Altoona, according to George, there were no slaves during his life there but in southern Pennsylvania slavery existed for a time. His grand-parents moved from southern Pennsylvania during slavery but whether they bought their freedom or ran away from their masters was never known to George.

As in most of the southland, the customs of the Negro in Altoona abounded in superstition and ignorance. They had about the same beliefs and looked upon life with about the same degree of intelligence as Negroes in the south.

The north being much colder than the south naturally had long ago used coal for fuel. Open grates were used for cooking just as open fireplaces were used in the south. Iron skillets or spiders as they called them, were used for cooking many foods, meats, vegetables, pies puddings and even cakes were baked over the fire.

The old familiar, often referred to as southern ash cake, was cooked on the hearth under the grate, right in Altoona, Pennsylvania. The north because of its rapid advance in the use of modern ways of cooking and doing many other things has been thought by many people to have escaped the crude methods of cooking, but not so. George told how a piece of thick paper was placed on the hearth under the grate and corn dough put upon it to bake. Hot ashes were raked over it and it was left to cook and brown. When it had remained a long enough time, the ashes were shaken off, the cake brushed clean with a cloth and no grit was encountered when it was eaten.

Isaac Pretty, George’s father owned a large harness shop at Altoona and made and sold hundreds of dollars worth of saddles and harness to both northern and southern plantation owners. (1)

There was a constant going and coming of northern and southern owners; southern ones seeking places to buy implements for farming and other inventions as well as trying to locate runaway slaves.

Abolitionists were active in the north and there were those who assisted slaves across the boundary lines between free and slave states.

Negroes in the north who were free and had intelligence enough saw the gravity in assisting their slave brothers in the south. Some risked their lives in spreading propaganda which they thought would aid the enslaved Negroes in becoming free.

In and around Altoona, Negroes were very progressive and appreciated their freedom, and had a great deal of sympathy for their fellows and did all they could to demonstrate their attitude toward the slave traffic. Money was solicited and freely given to help abolitionists spread propaganda about freedom.

It is striking to note the similarity of living conditions in Pennsylvania and Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas. Ex-slaves who live in Florida now but who came here since the Emancipation of the Negro tell of living conditions of their respective states; they are very similar to the modes of living in Altoona, during slavery. (2)

Soap was made from grease and lye just as it was made in the south. Shin-plaster (paper money similar to green back, which represented amounts less than a dollar) were very plentiful and after the Civil War confederate money of all kinds was as so much trash.

Food stuffs which were raised on the farm at Altoona were: corn, peanuts, white potatoes and peas. Enough peas were raised to feed the stock and take care of the family for 18 months. Potatoes were raised in large quantities and after they were dug they were banked for the winter. By banked, it is meant, large holes were dug in the cellar of the house or under the house or inside of an outhouse; pine straw was put into this pit and the potatoes piled in; more straw was laid on and more potatoes piled in until all were in the pit. Dirt was shoveled over the lot and it was left until for using them. Northern people used and still use a large amount of white, or Irish potatoes.

In curing hides of cows for making leather the same method was employed as that used in the south. Hides were first salted and water was poured over them. They were covered with dirt and left to soak a few days. A solution of red oak bark was made by soaking the bark in water and this solution was poured over the hides. After it soaked a few days the hair was scraped off with a stiff brush and when it dried leather was ready for making shoes and harness.

George’s father dealt extensively in leather and when he could not get enough cured himself, he bought of others who could supply him.

Now George’s mother was very handy at the spinning wheel and loom. He remembers how the bunch of cotton was combed in preparation for spinning. Cards with teeth were arranged on the spinning wheel and the mass of cotton was combed through it to separate it into fibers. The fibers were rolled between the fingers and then put upon the spinning wheel to be spun into thread. As it was spun, it was wound upon spools. After the spools were filled they were taken off and put on the loom. Threads were strung across the loom some above others and the shuttle running back and forth through the threads would make cloth. All that was done by hand power. A person working at the loom regularly soon became proficient and George’s mother was one who bore the name of being a very good weaver of cloth. Most of the clothes the family wore were home spun.

Underwear and sleeping garments were made of the natural colored homespun cloth. When colored cloth was wanted a dye was made to dip them in so as to get the desired color. Dyes were made by soaking red oak bark in water. Another was made of elder berries and when a real blood red was desired polk berries were used. Polk berries made a blood red dye and was considered very beautiful. Walnut hulls were used to make brown dye and it was lasting in its effects.

In making dye hold its color, the cloth and dye were boiled together. After it had “taken” well, the cloth was removed from the dye and rinsed well, the rinse water was salted so as to set the color.

Tubs for washing clothes and bathing purposes were made of wood. Some were made from barrels out in tew parts. In cutting a stay was left longer on each side and holes were cut length wise in it so there would be sufficient room for all of the fingers to fit. That was for lifting the tub about.

A very interesting side of George’s life was depicted in his statement of the longevity of his innocence. We may call it ignorance but it seems to be more innocence when compared to the incident of Adam and Eve as told in the Holy Bible in the book of Genesis. He was 33 years of age before he knew he was a grown man, or how life was given humans. In plain words he did not know where babies came from, nor how they were bred.

Whenever George’s mother was expecting to be confined with a baby’s birth, his father would say to all the children together, large and small alike, “your mother has gone to New York, Baltimore, Buffalo” or any place he would think of at the time. There was an upstairs room in their home and she would stay there six weeks. She would go up as soon as signs of the coming child would present themselves. A midwife came, cooked three meals a day, fed the children and helped keep the place in order.

In older times people taught their children to respect older persons. They obeyed everyone older than themselves. The large children were just as obedient as the small ones so that it was not hard to maintain peace and order within any home.

The midwife in this case simply told all of the children that she did not want any of them to go upstairs, as she had important papers spread out all over the floor and did not want them disturbed. No questions were asked, she was obeyed.

George does not remember having heard a single cry the whole time they were being born in that upper room, and he said many a baby was born there. Decorum reigned throughout the household for six weeks or until their mother was ready to come down. When the time was up for mother to come down, his father would casually say, “children your ma is coming home today and what do you recon, someone has given her another baby.” The children would say, almost in concert, “what you say pa, is it a boy or girl?” He would tell them which it was and nothing more was said nor any further inquiry made into the happening.

The term “broke her leg” was used to convey the meaning of pregnancy. George relates how his mother told him and his sister not to have any thing more to do with Mary Jones, “cause she done broke her leg.” George said “Ma taint nothin matter wid Mary; I see her every day when the bell rings for 12; she works across the street from Pa’s shop and she and me sets on the steps and talks till time fur her to go back to work.” His mother said, “dont spute me George, I know she is broke her leg and I want yall to stay way frum her.” George said, “Ma I aint sputing you, jes somebody done misinform you dats all. She aint got no broke leg, she walks as good as me.” His mother said “then I’m a lie.” George quickly replied, “no ma, you aint no lie, but somebody done told you wrong.”

Nothing was said further on the question of Mary Jones until that same evening when Isaac Pretty came home from the shop. The mother took him aside and told him of how she had been disputed and called a lie by George and added that she wanted George whipped for it.

“Come here George,” came a commanding voice shortly after the mother and father had been in conference. George obeyed and his father took him apart from the family and locked himself and George in a room. He said “George I know I haven’t done right by not telling you, you are grown. You are 33 years old now and I want to tell you some things you should know.” George was all eyes and ears, for he had been told when previously asked how old he was, “I’ll tell you when you get grown.” That was all he had heard from his parents for years and he was just waiting for him to tell him. His father told him how babies were born and about his mother confining herself in the upper room all the different times when she expected babies. He told him that his mother had never been out of town to Boston or Baltimore on any of the past occasions. In fact he told George all he knew to tell him.

Now the startling thing about it all is that when he had finished giving the information about babies he said, “Now George your mother told me that you called her a lie today.” George at once said, “Pa I didn’t call her a lie, I jes told someone had misinform her ’bout Mary, that she aint got her leg broke cause I see her every day.” His father said “I know ‘taint right to whip you fur that George but your Ma said she wanted me to whip you and I’ll have to do it.” That settled it. George received his first lesson in sex and received the last flogging his father ever gave him. He was now grown and could take his place as a man.

Afterwards the mother took all her daughters aside and told them the same as Isaac had told George. (That is she told the grown girls about sex life.)

George and his older sister talked the whole plan over after they got a chance and decided that since they were now grown, they did not have to give their earnings to their parents any longer. They decided to move into one of their father’s houses on the place and furnish it up. They were making right good money considering the times related George, and with both of them pulling together they soon would have sufficient money saved up to buy a piece of land and start out on a plot of ground of their own.

George told his father their plans. His father asked how much money he had. He told him 200 dollars or more. His father said “you’ve saved 200 dollars out of what I’ve allowed you?” George answered in the affirmative. His father said, “do you know how far that will go?” George said he did not, his father answered “Not far my boy.”

A few days after the conversation, Isaac Pretty furnished one of his houses with the necessary equipment and let George and his sister live there. They had their own bed-rooms and each bought some food. The girl and George both cooked the meals and did the main thing they had set out to do, letting nothing stand in the way of their progress.

When a few months had passed both children had accumulated a nice sum of money. George was prepared to marry and take care of a wife. His sister Eliza, who lived with him had saved almost as much money and when she married she was an asset to the man of her choice rather than a liability.

George had close contact with nature in his early life. The close contact with his mother for 33 years had done something for George which was lasting as well as beneficial. She was a close adherent to nature. She believed in and knew the roots and herbs which cured bodily ailments. This was handed down to her children and George Pretty claims to know every root and herb in the woods. He can identify each as they are presented to him, says he.

Doctors were never used by the ordinary family when George was growing up and during his stay at Altoona. He was called in to sew up a cut place which was too much for home treatment. He was also called in to probe for a bullet but for fever or colds or even child-birth he was considered an unnecessary expense.

Herbs and roots were widely utilized in olden days and during slavery and early reconstruction. The old slave has brought his practices to this era and he is often found gathering and using them upon his friends and neighbors.

George Pretty knows that black snake root is good for blood trouble for he has used it on many a person with safety and surety. Sasafras tea is good for colds; golden rod tea for fever; fig leaves for thrash; red oak bark for douche; slippery elm for fever and female complaint (when bark is inserted in the vagina); catnip tea is good for new born babies; sage tea is good for painful menstruation or slackened flow; fig leaves bruised and applied to the forehead for fever are very affective; they are also good to draw boils to a head; okra blossoms when dried are good for sores (the dried blossoms are soaked in water and applied to the sore and bound with clean old linen cloth); red shank is good for a number of diseases; missing link root is for colds and asthma. George said this is a sure cure for asthma. Fever grass is a purgative when taken in the form of a tea. The blades are steeped in hot water and a tea made. Fever grass is a wide blade grass growing straighter than most grass. It has a blue flower and is found growing wild around many places in Florida. It is plentiful in certain parts of Palatka, Florida.

Riding vehicles in early days were called buggies. The first one George remembers was the go cart. It had two wheels and was without a top. Only two people could ride in a go cart. The equilibrium was kept by buckling the harness over and under the horse’s belly. The strap which ran under the belly was called the belly girt. There was a side strap which ran along the horse’s side and the belly girt was fastened to this. Loops were put to vantage points on the side strap and through these the shafts of the cart were run. The strap going under and over the horse kept the cart from going too far forward or backward.

During George’s early life plows looked very much like they do today. They had wooden handles but the part which turned the ground was made of point iron, (he could not describe point iron.) Plows were not made of cast iron or steel as they are today.

Two kinds of plows were used so far as George remembers. One was called the skooter plow and the other the turn plow. The skooter plow he describes as one which broke the ground up which had been previously planted. When the earth needed loosening up to make more fit for planting, this plow was used over the earth, leaving it rather smooth and light. The turn plow was used to turn the ground completely over. Where grass and weeds had grown, the earth needed turning over so as to thoroughly uproot the weeds and grass. The ground was usually left a while so that the weeds could die and rot and then men with hoes would go over the ground and make it ready for planting.

When freedom came to Negroes in the slave territory, George remembers that Sherman’s army drilled a long time after the Civil War had ended. He saw them right in Pennsylvania. He was much impressed with their blue suits and brass buttons and which fitted them so well. Some of the men wore suits with braid on them and they supposedly were the officers of the outfit. Negro and white men were in the same companies he saw and all were manly and walking proudly.

As George was fifteen years of age when freedom came much of which he related happened after Emancipation. He being out of the slave territory did not have as much contact with the slaves, but he lived around his grand parents who had been slaves in the southern part of the state. After slavery they moved up to Altoona, with George’s parents and brought much in the way of customs to George.

Grandfather McCoy and also grandfather Pretty told of many experiences that they went through during their enslavement. The Negro and white over-seer was much in evidence down there and buying and selling of children from their parents seemed to have left a sad memory with George.

Isaac Pretty’s family was large. He had seven girls and seven boys, George being the eldest. George remembers how his heart would ache when his grandfather told of the children who were torn from their mother’s skirts and sold, never to see their parents again. He went into deep thought over how he would have hated to have been separated from his mother and father to say nothing of leaving his brothers and sisters. They were brought up to love each other and the thought of breaking the family ties seemed to him very cruel.

When George was told that he was grown as formerly related, he saved his money and when the great earth quake in Charleston occured he went down there to see what it had done to the place. Before that time in 1882 he remembered having seen the first block of ice. When he got there, the Charleston people had been making ice for a few years. It was about that time that George saw the first pair of bed springs.

George remained in Pennsylvania and other states farther north for a long time after freedom. His first trip to Florida was made in 1893. He came direct from Altoona, Pennsylvania, with a white man whose name he has forgotten as he did not remain in the man’s employ very long after reaching the state.

Since that time he has farmed in and around different parts of Florida, but now he resides at Tero Beach and Gifford, Florida. He makes regular trips to Palatka, being as much at home there as in the cities on the East Coast.

George says that he has never had a doctor attend him in his life, neither while he was in Altoona, nor since he has been in Florida. He claims to be able to identify any root or herb that grows in the woods in the State of Florida having studied them constantly since his arrival here. Before coming to this state he knew all the roots and herbs around Altoona and it still acquainted with them as he makes regular visits there, since he moved away 43 years ago.

George Pretty is a dark complexioned man; about five feet three inches in heighth; weighs about 135 pounds and looks to be much younger than he is. When asked how he had maintained his youth, he said that living close to nature had done it together with his manner of living. He does not dissipate, neither does he drink strong drink. He is a ready informant. Having heard that only information of slavery was wanted, he volunteered information without any formality or urging on the part of the writer.

Excerpt from “George Pretty” The Federal Writers’ Project. Vero Beach and Gifford, Florida, 1936.

Keywords: african americans, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves, george pretty

Florida Slave Narratives: Maxwell, Henry

Federal Writers’ Project


“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 Sonnie. 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.

Excerpt from “Henry Maxwell” The Federal Writers’ Project. Titusville, Florida, 1936.

Keywords: african americans, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves, henry maxwell

John Henry Kemp: Ex-Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938

A long grey beard, a pair of piercing owl-like eyes and large bare feet, mark “Prophet” Kemp among the citizenry of Daytona Beach, Florida. The “Prophet”, christened John Henry- as nearly as he can remember- is an 80 year old ex-slave whose remininiscences of the past, delight all those who can prevail upon him to talk of his early life on the plantation of the section.

” Prophet” Kemp does not talk only of the past, however, his conversation turns to the future; he believes himself to be equally competent to talk of the future, and talks more of the latter if permitted.

Oketibbeha County, Mississippi was the birthplace of the “Prophet”. The first master he can remember was John Gay, owner of a plantation of some 2,700 acres and over 100 slaves and a heavy drinker. The “Prophet” calls Gay “fahter”, and becomes very vague when asked if this title is a blood tie or a name of which he is generally known.

According to Kemp- Gay was one of the meanest plantation owners in the entire section, and frequently voices his pride in being able to employ the cruelest overseers that could be found in all Mississippi. Among these were such men as G.T. Turner, Nels T. Thompson, Billy Hole, Andrew Winston and other men with statewide reputations for brutality. When all of the cruelties of one overseer had been felt by the slaves on the Gay plantation and another meaner man’s reputation was heard of on the Gay plantation, the master would delight in telling his slaves that if they did not behave, he would send for this man. “Behaving”- the Prophet says, meant living on less food than one should have; mating only at his command and for purposes purely of breeding more and stronger slaves on his plantation for sale. In some cases with women- subjecting to his every demand if they would escape hanging by the wrists for half a day or being beaten with a cowhide whip.

About these whippings, the “Prophet” tells many a blood-curdling tale.

” One day when an old woman was plowing in the field, an overseer came by and reprimanded her for being so slow- one gave him some back talk; he took out a long closely woven whip and leashed her severely. The woman became sore and he took her hoe and chopped him right across his head, and child you should have seen how she chopped this man to a bloody death.”

” Prophet” Kemp will tell you that he hates to tell these things to any investigator, because he hates for people to know just how mean his “fahter” really was.

So great was the fear in which Gay was held that when Kemp’s mother, Arnette Young, complained to Mrs. Gay, that her husband was constantly seeking her for a mistress and threatening her with death if she did not submit, even Mrs. Gay had to advise the slaves to do as Gay demanded, saying- “My husband is a dirty man and will find some reason to kill you if you don’t.” “I can’t do a thing with him.” Since Arnette worked at the “big house” there was no alternative, and it was believed that out of the union with her master, Henry was born. A young slave by the name of Broxton Kemp was given to the woman as husband at the time John Kemp was born; it is from this man that “Prophet” took his name.

Life on the plantation held nothing but misery for the slaves of John Gay. A week’s allowance of groceries for the average small family consisted of a package of about ten pounds containing crudely ground meal, a slab of bacon- called side-meat and from a pint to a quart of syrup made from sorghum, depending on the season.

All slaves reported for work at 5 o’clock in the morning, except those who cared for the overseer, who began their work an hour earlier to enable the overseer to be present at the morning checkup. This checkup determined which slaves were late or who had committed some offense late on the day before or during the night. These were signed out and before the rest of the slaves began their work they were treated to the sight of these delinquents being stripped and beaten until blood flowed; women were no exception to the rule.

The possible loss of his slaves upon the declaration of freedom on January 1, 1866 caused Gay considerable concern. His liquor-ridden mind was not long in finding a solution, however, he barred all visitors from his plantation and insisted that his overseers see to carrying out of this detail. They did, with such efficiency that it was not until May 8, when the government finally learned of the condition and sent a marshal to the plantation, that freedom came to Gay’s slaves. May 8 is still celebrated in this section of Mississippi as the official emancipation day.

Relief for the hundreds of slaves of Gay came at last with the declaration of freedom for them. The government officials divided the grown and growing crops; and some land was parceled out to the former slaves.

Kemp may have gained the name “Prophet” from his constant reference to the future and to his religion. He says he believes on one faith, one Lord and one religion, and preaches this belief constantly. He claims to have turned his back on all religions that “do not do as the Lord says.”

In keeping this belief he says he presents the “True Primitive Baptist Church”, but does not have any connection with that church, because he believes it has not lived exactly up to what the Lord expects of him.

Kemp claims the ability to read the future with ease; even to help determine what it will bring in some cases. He reads it in the palms of those who will believe in him; he determines the good and bad luck; freedom from sickness; success in love and other benefits it will bring from the use of charms, roots, herbs and magical incantations and formulae. He has recently celebrated what he believes to be his 80th birthday, and says he expects to live at least another quarter of a century.

American Life Histories from the Library of Congress

Florida Slave Narratives: Lee, Randall

Federal Writers’ Project


Randall Lee of 500 Branson Street, Palatka, Florida, was born at Camden, South Carolina about seventy-seven years ago, maybe longer.

He was the son of Robert and Delhia Lee, who during slavery were Robert and Delhia Miller, taking the name of their master, as was the custom.

His master was Doctor Miller and his mistress was Mrs. Camilla Miller. He does not know his master’s given name as no other name was ever heard around the plantation except Doctor Miller.

Randall was a small boy when the war between the states broke out, but judging from what he remembers he must have been a boy around six or seven years of age.

During the few years he spent in slavery, Randall had many experiences which made such deep impressions upon his brain that the memory of them still remains clear.

The one thing that causes one to believe that he must have been around seven years of age is the statement that he was not old enough to have tasks of any importance placed upon him, yet he was trusted along with another boy about his own age, to carry butter from the plantation dairy two miles to the ‘big house.’ No one would trust a child younger than six years of age to handle butter for fear of it being dropped into the dirt. He must have at least reached the age when he was sent two miles with a package and was expected to deliver the package intact. He must have understood the necessity of not playing on the way. He stated that he knew not to stop on the two-mile journey and not to let the butter get dirty.

Randall had the pleasure of catching the pig for his father for Doctor Miller gave each of his best Negro men a pig to raise for himself and family. He was allowed to build a pen for it and raise and fatten it for killing. When killing time came he was given time to butcher it and grind all the sausage he could make to feed his family. By that method it helped to solve the feeding problem and also satisfied the slaves.

It was more like so many families living around a big house with a boss looking over them, for they were allowed a privilege that very few masters gave their slaves.

On the Miller plantation there was a cotton gin. Doctor Miller owned the gin and it was operated by his slaves. He grew the cotton, picked it, ginned it and wove it right there. He also had a baler and made the bagging to bale it with. He only had to buy the iron bands that held the bales intact.

Doctor Miller was a rich man and had a far reaching sight into how to work slaves to the best advantage. He was kind to them and knew that the best way to get the best out of men was to keep them well and happy. His arrangement was very much the general way in that he allowed the young men and women to work in the fields and the old women and a few old men to work around the house, in the gin and at the loom. The old women mostly did the spinning of thread and weaving of cloth although in some instances Doctor Miller found a man who was better adapted to weaving than any of his women slaves.

Everyone kept his plantation under fence and men who were old but strong and who had some knowledge of carpentry were sent out to keep the fence in repair and often to build new ones. The fences were not like those of today. They were built of horizontal rails about six or seven feet long, running zig-zag fashion. Instead of having straight line fences and posts at regular points they did not use posts at all. The bottom rails rested upon the ground and the zig-zag fashion in which they were laid gave strength to the fence. No nails were used to hold the rails in place. If stock was to be let in or out of the places the planks were unlocked so to speak, and the stock allowed to enter after which they were laid back as before.

Boys and girls under ten years of age were never sent into the field to work on the Miller plantation but were required to mind the smaller children of the family and do chores around the “big house” for the mistress and her children. Such work as mending was taught the domestic-minded children and tending food on the pots was alloted others with inborn ability to cook. They were treated well and taught ‘manners’ and later was used as dining room girls and nurses.

Randall’s father and mother were considered lucky. His father was overseer and his mother was a waitress.

Doctor Miller was a kind and considerate owner; never believed in punishing slaves unless in extreme cases. No overseer, white or colored could whip his slaves without first bringing the slave before him and having a full understanding as to what the offense was. If it warranted whipping them it had to be given in his presence so he could see that it was not given unmercifully. He indeed was a doctor and practised his profession in the keeping of his slaves from bodily harm as well as keeping them well. He gave them medicine when they did not feel well and saw to it that they took needed rest if they were sick and tired.

Now, Robert Lee, Randall’s father, was brought from Virginia and sold to Doctor Miller when he was a young man. The one who sold him told Doctor Miller, “Here’s a nigger who wont take a whipping. He knows his work and will do it and all you will need to do is tell him what you want and its as good as done.” Robert Lee never varied from the recommendation his former master gave when he sold him.

The old tale of corn bread baked on the hearth covered with ashes and sweet potatoes cooked in like manner are vivid memories upon the mind of Randall. Syrup water and plenty of sweet and butter milk, rice and crackling bread are other foods which were plentiful around the cabin of Randall’s parents.

Cows were numerous and the family of Doctor Miller did not need much for their consumption. While they sold milk to neighboring plantations, the Negroes were not denied the amount necessary to keep all strong and healthy. None of the children on the plantation were thin and scrawny nor did they ever complain of being hungry.

The tanning yard was not far from the house Doctor Miller. His own butcher shop was nearby. He had his cows butchered at intervals and when one died of unnatural causes it was skinned and the hide tanned on the place.

Randall as a child delighted in stopping around the tanning yard and watching the men salt the hide. They, after salting it dug holes and buried it for a number of days. After the salting process was finished it was treated with a solution of water and oak bark. When the oak bark solution had done its work it was ready for use. Shoes made of leather were not dyed at that time but the natural color of the finished hide was thought very beautiful and those who were lucky enough to possess a pair were glad to get them in their natural color. To dye shoes various colors is a new thing when the number of years leather has been dyed is compared with the hundreds of years people knew nothing about it, especially American people.

Randall’s paternal grandparents were also owned by Doctor Miller and were not sold after he bought them. Levi Lee was his grandfather’s name. He was a fine worker in the field but was taken out of it to be taught the shoe-makers trade. The master placed him under a white shoemaker who taught him all the fine points. If there were any, he knew about the trade. Dr. Miller had an eye for business who could make shoes was a great saving to him. Levi made all the shoes and boots the master, mistress and the Miller family wore. Besides, he made shoes for the slaves who wore them. Not all slaves owned a pair of shoes. Boys and girls under eighteen went bare-footed except in winter. Doctor Miller had compassion for them and did not allow them to suffer from the cold by going bare-footed in winter.

Another good thing to be remembered was the large number of chickens, ducks and geese which the slaves raised for the doctor. Every slave family could rest his tired body upon a feather bed for it was allowed him after the members of the master’s family were supplied. Moss mattresses also were used under the feather beds and slaves did not need to have as thick a feather bed on that account. They were comfortable though and Randall remembers how he and the other children used to fall down in the middle of the bed and become hidden from view, so soft was the feather mattress. It was especially good to get in bed in winter but not so pleasant to get up unless ‘pappy’ had made the fire early enough for the large one-room cabin to get warm. The children called their own parents ‘pappy’ and ‘mammy’ in slavery time.

Randall remembers how after a foot-washing in the old wooden tub, (which, by the way, was simply a barrel cut in half and holes cut in the two sides for fingers to catch a hold) he would sit a few minutes with his feet held to the fire so they could dry. He also said his ‘mammy’ would rub grease under the soles of his feet to keep him from taking cold.

It seemed to the child that he had just gone to bed when the old tallow candle was lighted and his ‘pappy’ arose and fell upon his knees and prayed aloud for God’s blessings and thanked him for another day. The field hands were to be in the field by five o’clock and it meant to rise before day, summer and winter. Not so bad in summer for it was soon day but in winter the weather was cold and darkness was longer passing away. When daylight came field hands had been working an hour or more. Robert Lee, Randall’s father was an overseer and it meant for him to be up and out with the rest of the men so he could see if things were going allright.

The Randall children were not forced up early because they did not eat breakfast with their ‘pappy’. Their mother was dining-room girl in her mistress’ house, so fed the children right from the Miller table. There was no objection offered to this.

Doctor Miller was kind but he did not want his slaves enlightened too much. Therefore, he did not allow much preaching in the church. They could have prayer meeting all they wanted to, but instructions from the Bible were thought dangerous for the slaves. He did not wish them to become too wise and get it into their heads to ran away and get free.

There was talk about freedom and Doctor Miller knew it would be only a matter of time when he would loose all his slaves. He said to Randall’s mother one day, “Delhia you’ll soon be as free as I am.” She said. “Sho’ nuf massy?” and he answered. “You sure will.” Nothing more was said to any of the slaves until Sherman’s army came through notifying the slaves they were free.

The presence of the soldiers caused such a comotion around the plantation that Randall’s mind was indelibly impressed with their doings.

The northern soldiers took all the food they could get their hands on and took possession of the cattle and horses and mules. Levi, the brother of Randall, and who was named after his paternal grandfather, was put on a mule and the mule loaded with provisions and sent two miles to the soldier’s camp. Levi liked that, for beside being well treated he received several pieces of money. The federal soldiers played with him and gave him all the food he wanted, although the Miller slaves and their children were fed and there was no reason for the child to be hungry.

Levi Lee, the grandfather of young Levi and Randall, had a dream while the soldiers were encamped round about the place. He dreamed that a pot of money was buried in a certain place; the person who showed it to him told him to go dig for it on the first rainy night. He kept the dream a secret and on the first rainy night he went, dug, and found the pot of money right where his dream had told him it would be. He took the pot of money to his cabin and told no one anything about it. He hid it as securely as possible, but when the soldiers were searching for gold and silver money they did not leave the Negro’s cabin out of the search. When they found the money they thought Levi’s master had given him the money to hide as they took it from him. Levi mourned a long time about the loss of his money and often told his grandchildren that he would have been well fixed when freedom came if he had not been robbed of his money.

“Paddyroles” as the men were called who were sent by the Rebels to watch the slaves to prevent their escaping during war times, were very active after freedom. They intimidated the Negroes and threatened them with loss of life if they did not stay and work for their former masters. Doctor Miller did not want any of his slaves treated in such manner. He told them they were free and could take whatever name they desired.

Robert Lee, during slavery was Robert Miller, as were all of the doctor’s slaves. After slavery was ended he chose the name Lee. His brother Aaron took the name Alexander not thinking how it looked for two brothers of the same parents to have different surnames. There are sons of each brother living in Palatka now, one set Lees and the others, Alexander.

Randall, as was formerly stated, spent a very little time in slavery. Most of his knowledge concerning customs which long ago have been abandoned and replaced by more modern ones, is of early reconstruction days. Just after the Civil War, when his father began farming on his own plantation, his mother remained home and cared for her house and children. She was of fair complexion, having been the daughter of a half-breed Indian and Negro mother. Her father was white. Her native state was Virginia and she bore some of the aristocratic traits so common among those born in that state of such parentage. She often boasted of her “blue blood Virginia stock.”

Robert Lee, Randall’s father was very prosperous in early reconstruction days. He owned horses, mules and a plow. The plow was made of point iron with a wooden handle, not like plows of today for they are of cast iron and steel.

Chickens, ducks and geese were raised in abundance and money began accumulating rapidly for Robert and Delhia Lee. They began improving their property and trying to give their children some education. It was very hard for those living in small towns and out in the country to go to school even though they had money to pay for their education. The north sent teachers down but not every hamlet was favored with such.

Randall was taught to farm and he learned well. He saved his money as he worked and grew to manhood. Years after freedom he left South Carolina and went to Palatka, Florida, where he is today. He bought some land and although most of it is hammock land and not much good he has at intervals been offered good prices for it. Some white people during the “boom” of 1925-26 offered him a few dollars an acre for it but he refused to sell thinking a better price would be offered if he held on.

Today finds Randall Lee, an old man with fairly good health; he stated that he had not had a doctor for years and his thinking faculties are in good order. His eyesight is failing but he does not allow that to handicap him in getting about. He talks fluently about what he remembers concerning slavery and that which his parents told him. He is between a mulatto and brown skin with good, mixed gray and black hair. His features are regular, not showing much Negro blood. He is tall and looks to weigh about one hundred and sixty-five pounds. His wife lives with him in their two-story frame house which shows that they have had better days financially. The man and wife both show interest in the progress of the Negro race and possess some books about the history of the Negro. One book of particular interest, and of which the wife of Randall Lee thinks a great deal, was written, according to her story, by John Brown. It is called “The History of the Colored Race in America.” She could not find but a few pages of it when interviewed but declared she had owned the entire book for years. The pages she had and showed with such pride were 415 to 449 inclusive. The book was written in the year 1836 and the few pages produced by her gave information concerning the Negro, Lovejoy of St. Louis, Missouri. It is the same man for whom the city of Lovejoy, Illinois is named. The other book she holds with pride and guards jealously is “The College of Life” by Henry Davenport Northrop D.D., Honorable Joseph R. Gay and Professor I. Garland Penn. It was entered, according to the Act of Congress in the year 1900 by Horace C. Fry, in the office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington, D.C.

Excerpt from “Randall Lee” The Federal Writers’ Project. 600 Brunson Street, Palatka, Florida, 1937.

Keywords: african americans, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves, randall lee

Florida Slave Narratives: Moore, Lindsey

Federal Writers’ Project


In a little blacksmith shop at 1114 Madison Street, Palatka, is a busy little horse-shoer who was born in slavery eighty-seven years ago. Lindsey Moore, blacksmith, leather-tanner ex-marble shooting champion and a number of other things, represents one of the most resourceful former slaves yet found in the state.

Moore was born in 1850 on the plantation of John B. Overtree, in Forsythe County, Georgia. He was one of the six children of Eliza Moore; all of them remained the property of Overtree until freed.

On the Overtree plantation the slave children were allowed considerable time for play until their tenth or twelfth years; Lindsey took full advantage of this opportunity and became very skillful at marble-shooting. It was here that he first learned to utilize his talents profitably. ‘Massa Overtree’ discovered the ability of Lindsey and another urchin to shoot marbles, and began taking them into town to compete with the little slaves of other owners. There would be betting on the winners.

Mr. Overtree won some money in this manner, Lindsey and his companion being consistent winners. But Lindsey saw possibilities other than the glory of his victories in this new game; with pennies that some of the spectators tossed him he began making small wagers of his own with his competitors, and soon had amassed quite a small pile of silver for those days.

Although shoes were unheard-of in Lindsey’s youth, he used to watch carefully whenever a cow was skinned and its hide tanned to make shoes for the women and the ‘folks in the big house’. Through his attention to the tanning operations he learned everything about tanning except one solution that he could not discover. It was not until years later that he learned that the jealously-guarded ingredient was plain salt and water. By the time he had learned it, however, he had so mastered the tanning operations that he at once added it to his sources of livelihood.

Lindsey escaped much of the farm work on the Overtree place by learning to skillfully assist the women who made cloth out of the cotton from the fields. He grew very fast at cleaning ‘rods’, clearing the looms and other operations; when, at thirteen, it became time for him to pick cotton he had become so fast at helping with spinning and weighing the cotton that others had picked that he almost entirely escaped the picking himself.

Soap-making was another of the plantation arts that Lindsey mastered early. His ability to save every possible ounce of grease from the meats he cooked added many choice bits of pork to his otherwise meatless fare; he was able to spend many hours in the shade pouring water over oak ashes that other young slaves were passing picking cotton or hoeing potatoes in the burning sun.

Lindsey’s first knowledge of the approach of freedom came when he heard a loud brass band coming down the road toward the plantation playing a strange, lively tune while a number of soldiers in blue uniforms marched behind. He ran to the front gate and was ordered to take charge of the horse of one of the officers in such an abrupt tone until he ‘begin to shaking in my bare feet! There followed much talk between the officers and Lindsey’s mistress, with the soldiers finally going into encampment a short distance away from the plantation.

The soldiers took command of the spring that was used for a water supply for the plantation, giving Lindsey another opportunity to make money. He would be sent from the plantation to the spring for water, and on the way back would pass through the camp of the soldiers. These would be happy to pay a few pennies for a cup of water rather than take the long hike to the Spring themselves; Lindsey would empty bucket after bucket before finally returning to the plantation. Out of his profits he bought his first pair of shoes—though nearly a grown man.

The soldiers finally departed, with all but five of the Overtree slaves joyously trooping behind them. Before leaving, however, they tore up the railroad and its station, burning the ties and heating the rails until red then twisting them around tree-trunks. Wheat fields were trampled by their horses, and devastation left on all sides.

Lindsey and his mother were among those who stayed at the plantation. When freedom became general his father began farming on a tract that was later turned over to Lindsey. Lindsey operated the farm for a while, but later desired to learn horseshoeing, and apprenticed himself to a blacksmith. At the end of three years he had become so proficient that his former master rewarded him with a five-dollar bonus for shoeing one horse.

Possessing now the trades of blacksmithing, tanning and weaving-and-spinning, Lindsey was tempted to follow some of his former associates to the North, but was discouraged from doing so by a few who returned, complaining bitterly about the unaccustomed cold and the difficulty of making a living. He moved South instead and settled in the area around Palatka.

He is still in the section, being recognized as an excellent blacksmith despite his more than four-score years.

Excerpt from “Lindsey Moore” The Federal Writers’ Project. 1114 Madison Street, Palatka, Florida, 1937.

Keywords: african americans, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves, lindsey moore

Florida Slave Narratives: Napoleon, Louis

Federal Writers’ Project


About three miles from South Jacksonville proper down the old Saint Augustine Road lives one Louis Napoleon an ex-slave, born in Tallahassee, Florida about 1857, eight years prior to Emancipation.

His parents were Scipio and Edith Napoleon, being originally owned by Colonel John S. Sammis of Arlington, Florida and the Floyd family of Saint Marys, Georgia, respectively.

Scipio and Edith were sold to Arthur Randolph, a physician and large plantation owner of Fort Louis, about five miles from the capital at Tallahassee. On this large plantation that covered and area of about eight miles and composed approximately of 90 slaves is where Louis Napoleon first saw the light of day.

Louis’ father was known as the wagoner. His duties were to haul the commodities raised on the plantation and other things that required a wagon. His mother Edith, was known as a “breeder” and was kept in the palatial Randolph mansion to loom cloth for the Randolph family and slaves. The cloth was made from the cotton raised on the plantation’s fertile fields. As Louis was so young, he had no particular duties, only to look for hen nests, gather eggs and play with the master’s three young boys. There were seven children in the Randolph family, three young boys, two “missy” girls and two grown sons. Louis would go fishing and hunting with the three younger boys and otherwise engage with them in their childish pranks.

He says that his master and mistress were very kind to the slaves and would never whip them, nor would he allow the “driver” who was a white man named Barton to do so. Barton lived in a home especially built for him on the plantation. If the “driver” whipped any of them, all that was necessary for the slave who had been whipped was to report it to the master and the “driver” was dismissed, as he was a salaried man.

Plantation Life. The slaves lived in log cabins especially built for them. They were ceiled and arranged in such a manner as to retain the heat in winter from the large fireplaces constructed therein.

Just before the dawn of day, the slaves were aroused from their slumber by a loud blast from a cow-horn that was blown by the “driver” as a signal to prepare themselves for the fields. The plantation being so expansive, those who had to go a long distance to the area where they worked, were taken in wagons, those working nearby walked. They took their meals along with them and had their breakfast and dinner on the fields. An hour was allowed for this purpose. The slaves worked while they sang spirituals to break the monotony of long hours of work. At the setting of the sun, with their day’s work all done, they returned to their cabins and prepared their evening’s meal. Having finished this, the religious among them would gather at one of the cabin doors and give thanks to God in the form of long supplications and old fashioned songs. Many of them being highly emotional would respond in shouts of hallelujahs sometimes causing the entire group to become “happy” concluding in shouting and praise to God. The wicked slaves expended their pent up emotions in song and dance. Gathering at one of the cabin doors they would sing and dance to the tunes of a fife, banjo or fiddle that was played by one of their number. Finished with this diversion they would retire to await the dawn of a new day which indicated more work. The various plantations had white men employed as “patrols” whose duties were to see that the slaves remained on their own plantations, and if they were caught going off without a permit from the master, they were whipped with a “raw hide” by the “driver.” There was an exception to this rule, however, on Sundays the religious slaves were allowed to visit other plantations where religious services were being held without having to go through the matter of having a permit.

Religion. There was a free colored man who was called “Father James Page,” owned by a family of Parkers of Tallahassee. He was freed by them to go and preach to his own people. He could read and write and would visit all the plantations in Tallahassee, preaching the gospel. Each plantation would get a visit from him one Sunday of each month. The slaves on the Randolph plantation would congregate in one of the cabins to receive him where he would read the Bible and preach and sing. Many times the services were punctuated by much shouting from the “happy ones.” At these services the sacrament was served to those who had accepted Christ, those who had not, and were willing to accept Him were received and prepared for baptism on the next visit of “Father Page.”

On the day of baptism, the candidates were attired in long white flowing robes, which had been made by one of the slaves. Amidst singing and praises they marched, being flanked on each side by other believers, to a pond or lake on the plantation and after the usual ceremony they were “ducked” into the water. This was a day of much shouting and praying.

Education. The two “missy” girls of the Randolph family were dutiful each Sunday morning to teach the slaves their catechism or Sunday School lesson. Aside from this there was no other training.

The War and Freedom. Mr. Napoleon relates that the doctor’s two oldest sons went to the war with the Confederate army, also the white “driver,” Barton. His place was filled by one of the slaves, named Peter Parker.

At the closing of the war, word was sent around among the slaves that if they heard the report of a gun, it was the Yankees and that they were free.

It was in May, in the middle of the day, cotton and corn being planted, plowing going on, and slaves busily engaged in their usual activities, when suddenly the loud report of a gun resounded, then could be heard the slaves crying almost en-masse, “dems de Yankees.” Straightway they dropped the plows, hoes and other farm implements and hurried to their cabins. They put on their best clothes “to go see the Yankees.” Through the countryside to the town of Tallahassee they went. The roads were quickly filled with these happy souls. The streets of Tallahassee were clustered with these jubilant people going here and there to get a glimpse of the Yankees, their liberators. Napoleon says it was a joyous and un-forgetable occasion.

When the Randolph slaves returned to their plantation, Dr. Randolph told them that they were free, and if they wanted to go away, they could, and if not, they could remain with him and he would give them half of what was raised on the farms. Some of them left, however, some remained, having no place to go, they decided it was best to remain until the crops came off, thus earning enough to help them in their new venture in home seeking. Those slaves who were too old and not physically able to work, remained on the plantation and were cared for by Dr. Randolph until their death.

Napoleon’s father, Scipio, got a transfer from the government to his former master, Colonel Sammis of Arlington, and there he lived for awhile. He soon got employment with a Mr. Hatee of the town and after earning enough money, bought a tract of land from him there and farmed. There his family lived and increased. Louis being the oldest of the children obtained odd jobs with the various settlers, among them being Governor Reid of Florida who lived in South Jacksonville. Governor Reid raised cattle for market and Napoleon’s job was to bring them across the Saint Johns River on a litter to Jacksonville, where they were sold.[HW:?]

Louis Napoleon is now aged and infirm, his father and mother having died many years ago. He now lives with one of his younger brothers who has a fair sized orange grove on the south side of Jacksonville. He retains the property that his father first bought after freedom and on which they lived in Arlington. His hair white and he is bent with age and ill health but his mental faculties are exceptionally keen for one of his age. He proudly tells you that his master was good to his “niggers” and cannot recall but one time that he saw him whip one of them and that when one tried to run away to the Yankees. Only memories of a kind master in his days of servitude remain with him as he recalls the dark days of slavery.

Excerpt from “Louis Napoleon” The Federal Writers’ Project. South Jacksonville, Florida, 1936.

Keywords: african americans, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves, louis napoleon

Florida Slave Narratives: Mullen, Mack

Federal Writers’ Project


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.”

Excerpt from “Mack Mullen” The Federal Writers’ Project. 521 West First Street, Jacksonville, Florida, 1936.

Keywords: african americans, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves, mack mullen

Margrett Nickerson: Ex-Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938

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.

American Life Histories from the Library of Congress

Mary Minus Biddie: Ex-Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938

Mary Minus Biddie, age one hundred five was born in Pensacola, Florida, 1833 and raised in Columbia County. She is married, and has several children. For her age she is exceptionally active, being able to wash and do her house work. With optimism she looks forward to many more years of life. Her health is excellent.

Having spent thirty-two years of her life as a slave she relates vividly some of her experiences.

Her master Lancaster Jamison was a very kind man and never mistreated his slaves. He was a man of mediocre means, and instead of having a large plantation as was usual in those days, he ran a boarding house, the revenue therefrom furnishing him substance for a livelihood. He had a small farm from which fresh produce was obtained to supply the needs of his lodgers. Mary’s family were his only slaves. The family consisted of her mother, father, brother and a sister. The children called the old master “Fa” and their father “Pappy.” The master never resented this appellation, and took it in good humor. Many travelers stopped at his boarding house. Mary’s mother did the cooking, her father “tanded” the farm, and Mary, her brother and sister, did chores about the place. There was a large one-room house built in the yard in which the family lived. Her father had a separate garden in which he raised his own produce, also a smoke house where the family meats were kept. Meats were smoked in order to preserve them.

During the day Mary’s father was kept so busy attending his master’s farm that there was no time to attend to a little farm that he was allowed to have. He overcame this handicap, however, by setting up huge scaffolds in the field which he burned and from the flames that this fire emitted he could see well enough to do what was necessary to his farm.

The master’s first wife was a very kind woman; at her death Mary’s master moved from Pensacola to Columbia County.

Mary was very active with the plow, she could handle it with the agility of a man. This prowess gained her the title of “plow girl.”


Stoves were unknown and cooking was done ina fireplace that was built of clay, a large iron rod was built in across the opening of the fireplace on which were hung pots that had special handles that fitted about the rod holding them in place over the blazing fire as the food cooking was done in a moveable oven which was placed in the fireplace over hot coals or corn cobs. Potatoes were roasted in ashes. Oft’times Mary’s father would sit in front of the fireplace until a late hour in the night and on arising in the morning the children would find in a corner a number of roasted potatoes which their father had thoughtfully roasted and which the children readily consumed.


Matches were unknown; a flint rock and a file provided the fire. This occured by striking a file against a flint rock which threw off sparks that fell into a wad of dry cotton used for the purpose. This cotton, as a rule, readily caught fire. This was fire and all the fire needed to start any blaze.


The white folk wove the cloth on regular looms which were made into dresses for the slaves. For various colors of cloth the thread was dyed. The dye was made by digging up red shank and wild indigo roots which were boiled: The substance obtained being some of the best dye to be found.


Bread was made from flour and wheat. The meat used was pork, beef, mutton and goat. For preservation it was smoked and kept in the smokehouse. Coffee was used as a beverage and when this ran out as oft’ times happened, parched peanuts were used for the purpose.

Mary and family rose before day-break and prepared breakfast for the master and his family, after which they ate in the same dining room. When this was over the dishes were washed by Mary, her brother and sister. The children then played about until meals were served again.


Washing was done in home-made wooden tubs, and boiling in iron pots similar to those of today. Soap was made from fat and lye.


The only amusement to be had wsa a big candy pulling, or hog killing and chicken cooking. The slaves from the surrounding plantations were allowed to come together on these occasions. A big time was had.


The slaves went to the “white folks” church on Sundays. They were seated in the rear of the church. The white minister would arise and exhort the slaves to “mind your masters, you owe th em your respect.” An old Christian slave who perceived things differently could sometimes be heard to mumble, “Yeah, wese jest as good as deys is only deys white and we’s black, huh.” She dare not let the whites hear this. At times meetin’s were held in the slaves cabin where some “inspired” slave led services.

In the course of years Mr. Jamison married again. His second wife was a veritable terror. She was always read and anxious to whip a slave for the least misdemeanor. The master told Mary and her mother that before he would take a chance of them running away on account of her meanness he would leave her. As soon as he would leave the house this was a signal for his wife to start on a slave. One day, with a kettle of hot water in her hand, she chased Mary, who ran to another plantation and hid there until the good master returned. She then poured out her troubles on him. He was very indignant and remonstrated his wife for being so cruel. She met her fate in later years; her son-in-law becoming very angry at some of her doings in regard to his shot her, which resulted in her death. Instead of mourning, everybody seemed to rejoice, for the menace to well being had been removed. Twice a year Mary’s father and master went to Cedar Keys, Florida to get salt. Ocean water was obtained and boiled, salt resulting. They always returned with about three barrels of salt.

The greatest event in the life of a slave was about to occur, and the most sorrowful in the life of a mster, FREEDOM was at hand. A Negro was seen coming in the distance, mounted upon a mule, approaching Mr. Jamison who stood upon the porch. He told him of the liberation of the slaves. Mr. Jamison had never before been heard to curse, but this was the one day that he let go a torrent of words that are unworthy to appear in print. He then broke down and cried like a slave who was being bashed by his cruel master. He called Mary’s mother and father, Phyliss and Sandy, “I ain’t go no more to do with you, you are free,” he said, “if you want o stay with me you may and I’ll give you one-third of what you mise.” They decided to stay. When the crop was harvested the master did not do as he promised. He gave them nothing. Mary slipped away, mounted the mule “Mustang” and galloed away at the mules snail speed to Newnansville where she related what happened to a Union captain. He gave her a letter to give to Mr. Jamison. In it he reminded him that if he didn’t give Mary’s family what he had promised he would be put in jail. Without hesitation the old master compiled with these pungent orders.

After this incident Mary and her family left the good old boss to seek a new abode in other parts. This was the first time that the master had in any way displayed any kind of unfairness toward them, perhaps it was a reaction to having to liberate them.


There was no marriage during slavery according to civil or religious custom among the slaves. If a slave saw a woman whom he desired he told his master. If the women in question belong on another plantation, the master would consult her master: “one of my boys wants to marry one of your gals,” he would say. As a rule it was agreeable that they should live together as man and wife. This was encouraged for it increased the slave population by new borns, hence, being an asset to the masters. The two slaves thus joined were allowed to see one another at intervals upon special permission from the master. He must have a pass to leave the plantation. Any slave caught without one while off the plantation was subject to be caught by the “puderollers” (a low class of white who roved the country to molest a slave at the least opportunity. Some of them were hired by the masters to guard against slaves running away or to aprehend them in the event that they did) who would beat them unmercifully, and send them back to the plantation from whence they came.

As a result of this form of matrimony at emancipation there were no slaves lawfully married. Orders were given that if they preferred to live together as man and wife they must marry according to law. They were given nine months to decide this question, after which if they continued to live together they were arrested for adultery. A Mr. Pryer, Justice of the Peace at Gainesville, was assigned to deal with the situation around the plantation where Mary and her family lived. A big supper was given, it was early, about twenty-five slave couples attended. There was gaiety and laughter. A barrel of lemonade was served. A big time was had by all, then those couples who desired to remained together were joined in wedlock according to civil custom. The party broke up in the early hours of the morning.

Marry Biddie, cognizant of the progress that solence and invention has made in the intervening years from Emancipation and the present time, could not help but remark of the vast improvement of the lighting system of today and that of slavery. There were no lamps or kerosene. The first thread that she ever spun was for a wick to be used in a candle, the only means of light. Beef tallow was used to make the candle, this was placed in a candle mould while hot. The wick was then placed in teh center of the tallow as it rest in the mould; this was allowed to cool. When this chemical process occured there was a regular sized candle to be used for lighting.

Mary now past the century mar, her lean bronze body resting in a rocker, her head wrapped in a white ‘kerchief, and puffing slowly on her clay pipe, expressed herself in regard to the presidents: “Roosevelt has done mo’ than any other president, why you know ever since freedom they been talkin’ ’bout dis pension, talkin’ ’bout it tha’s all, but you see Mr. Roosevelt he don’ com’ an’ gived it tu us. What? I’ll say he’s a good rightus man, an’ um sho’ go’ vot’ fo’ him.”

Residing in her little cabin in Eatonville, Florida, she is able to smile because she has some means of security, the Old Age Pension.

American Life Histories from the Library of Congress

Florida Slave Narratives: Brooks, Matilda

Federal Writers’ Project


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.

Excerpt from “Matilda Brooks” The Federal Writers’ Project. Monticello, Florida, 1937.

Keywords: african americans, matilda brooks, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves

Florida Slave Narratives: Boynton, Rivana

Federal Writers’ Project

Circa 1935

1. Where, and about when, were you born? Some time in 1850 on John and Mollie Hoover’s plantation between Savannah and Charleston near the Georgia line.

2. If you were born on a plantation or farm, what sort of farming section was it in? They raised rice, corn wheat, and lots of cotton, raised everything they et—vegetables, taters and all that.

3. How did you pass the time as a child? What sort of chores did you do and what did you play? I had to thin cotton in the fields and mind the flies at the table. I chased them with a fly bush, sometimes a limb from a tree and sometimes wid a fancy bush.

4. Was your master kind to you? Yes, I was favored by being with my massy.

5. How many slaves were there on the same plantation and farm? I don’t know. There was plenty o’ dem up in de hundreds, I reckon.

6. Do you remember what kind of cooking utensils your mother used? Yes, dey had spiders an’ big iron kettles that dey hung in de chimney by a long chain. When dey wanted to cook fast dey lowered de chain and when dey wanted to bake in the spiders, they’s put them under de kettle can cover with coals until dey was hot. Dey’d put de pones in does double concerned spiders and turn them around when dey was done on one side.

7. What were your main foods and how were they cooked? We had everything you could think of to eat.

8. Do you remember making imitation or substitute coffee by grinding up corn or peanuts? No. We had real coffee.

9. Do you remember ever having, when you were young, any other kind of bread besides corn bread? Yes, batter and white bread.

10. Do you remember evaporating sea water to get salt? [TR: word illegible] did hit dat way.

11. When you were a child, what sort of stove do you remember your mother having? Did they have a hanging pot in the fire place, and did they make their candles of their own tallow? Always had fireplaces or open fires on the plantation, but after a long time while my massy had hearth stoves to cook on. De would give us slaves pot liquor to cook green in sometimes. Dey lit de fires with flint and steel, when it would go out. We all ate with wooden paddles for spoons. We made dem taller candles out of beef and mutton tallow, den we’d shoog ’em down into the candle sticks made of tin pans wid a handle on and a holder for the candle in the center. You know how.

12. Did you use an open well or pump to get the water? We had a well with two buckets on a pulley to draw the water.

13. Do you remember when you first saw ice in regular form? No. Ice would freeze in winter in our place.

14. Did your family work in the rice fields or in the cotton on the farm, or what sort of work did they do? They did all kinds of work in the fields.

15. If they worked in the house or about the place, what sort of work did they do? I was house maid and did everything they told me to do. Sometimes I’d sweep and work around all the time.

16. Do you remember ever helping tan and cure hides and pig hides? This was done on the plantation. I took no part in it.

17. As a young person what sort of work did you do? If you helped your mother around the house or cut firewood or swept the yard, say so. I helped do the housework and did what the mistress told me do.

18. When you were a child do you remember how people wove cloth, or spun thread, or picked out cotton seed, or weighed cotton or what sort of bag was used on the cotton bales? No.

19. Do you remember what sort of soap they used? How did they get the lye for making the soap? Yes, I’d help to make the ash lye and soft soap. Never seed and cake soap until I came here.

20. What did they use for dyeing thread and cloth and how did they dye them? They used indigo for blue, copperas for yellow, and red oak chips for red.

21. Did your mother use big, wooden washtubs with cut-out holes on each side for the fingers? Yes, and dey had smaller wooden keels. Never seed any tin tubs up there.

22. Do you remember the way they made shoes by hand in the country? Yes, they made all our shoes on the plantation.

23. Do you remember saving the chicken feathers and goose feathers always for your featherbeds? Yes.

23. Do you remember when women wore hoop [TR: illegible] in their skirts and when they stopped wearing them and wore narrow skirts? Yes. My missus, she made me a pair of hoops, or I guess she bought it, but some of the slaves took thin limbs from trees and made their hoops. Others made them out of stiff paper and others would starch their skirts stiff with rice starch to make their skirts stand way out. We thought those hoops were just the thing for style.

25. Do you remember when you first saw your first windmill? Yes. They didn’t have them there.

26. Do you remember when you first saw bed springs instead of bed ropes? I slept in a gunny bunk. My missus had a rope bed and she covered the ropes with a cow hide. We made hay and corn shuck mattresses for her. We’d cut the hay and shucks up fine and stuff the ticks with them. The cow hides were placed on top of the mattresses to protect them.

27. When did you see the first buggy and what did it look like? It was a buggy like you see.

28. Do you remember your grandparents? No. My mother was sold from me when I was small. I stayed in my uncle’s shed at night.

29. Do you remember the money called “shin-plasters”? No.

30. What interesting historical events happened during your youth, such as Sherman’s army passing through your section? Did you witness the happenings and what was the reaction of the other Negroes to them? I remember well when de war was on. I used to turn the big corn sheller and sack the shelled corn for the Confederate soldiers. They used to sell some of the corn and they gave some of it to the soldiers. Anyway the Yankees got some and they did not expect them to get it. It was this way: The Wheeler boys came through there ahead of Sherman’s Army. Now, we thought the Wheeler boys were Confederates. They came down the road as happy as could be, a-singin’

“Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah
Hurrah for the Broke Book Boys
Hurrah for the Broke Brook Boys of South Carolina.”

So of course we thought they were our soldiers a-singin’ our songs. Well, they came an’ tol’ our boss that Sherman’s soldiers were coming’ and we’d better hide all our food and valuable things, for they’d take everything they wanted. So we “hoped” our Massy hide the tings. They dug holes and buried the potatoes and covered them with cotton seed and all that. Then our ma say give dem food and thanked them for their kindness and he set out wid two of the girls to tote them to safety, but before he got back after the missus the Yanks were on us.

Our missus had od[TR:?] led us together and told us what to say. “Now you beg for me. If they ask you whether I’ve been good to you, you tell ’em ‘yes’. If they ask you if we give you meat, you say ‘yes’.” Now de res’ didn’t git any meat, but I did, ’cause I worked in the house. So I didn’t tell a lie, for I did git meat.

So we begged, an’ we say, “Our missus is good. Don’t you kill her. Don’t you take our meat away from us. Don’t you hurt her. Don’t you burn her house down.” So they burned the stable and some of the other buildings, but they did not burn the house nor hurt us any. We saw the rest of the Yanks comin’. They never stopped for nothin’. Their horses would jump the worn rail fences and they come ‘cross fields ‘n everything. They bound our missus upstairs so she couldn’t get away, then they came to the sheds and we begged and begged for her. Then they loosed her, but they took some of us for refugees and some of the slaves went off with them of their own will. They took all the things that were buried all the hams and everything they wanted. But they did not burn the house and our missus was saved.

31. Did you know any Negroes who enlisted or joined the northern army? Yes.

32. Did you know any Negroes who enlisted in the southern army? Yes.

33. Did your master join the confederacy? What do you remember of his return from the war? Or was he wounded and killed? Yes. Two boys went. One was killed and one came back.

34. Did you live in Savannah when Sherman and the Northern forces marched through the state, and do you remember the excitement in your town or around the plantation where you lived? We lived north of Savannah. I don’t know how far it was, but it was in South Carolina.

35. Did your master’s house get robbed or burned during the time of Sherman’s march? We were robbed, but the house was not burned. We saved it for them.

36. What kind of uniforms did they wear during the civil war? Blue and gray.

37. What sort of medicine was used in the days just after the war? Describe a Negro doctor of that period. She used to make tea out of the Devil’s Shoe String that grew along on the ground. We used oil and turpentine. Put turpentine on sores.

38. What do you remember about northern people or outside people moving into the community after the war? Yes. Mrs. Dermont, she taught white folks. I didn’t go to school.

39. How did your family’s life compare after Emancipation with it before? I had it better and so did the rest.

40. Do you know anything about political meetings and clubs formed after the war? You had to have a ticket to go to church or the paddle rollers.

41. Do you know anything regarding the letters and stories from Negroes who migrated north after the war? No.

42. Were there any Negroes of your acquaintance who were skilled [TR: illegible] particular line of work? Yes. In making shoes and furniture, they had to do most everything well or get paddled.

Excerpt from “Rivana Boynton” The Federal Writers’ Project. Miami, Florida, Circa 1935.

Keywords: african americans, riviana boynton, rivana boynton, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves

Florida Slave Narratives: Boyd, Rev. Eli

Federal Writers’ Project


Reverend Eli Boyd was born May 29, 1864, four miles from Somerville, South Carolina on John Murray’s plantation. It was a large plantation with perhaps one hundred slaves and their families. As he was only a tiny baby when freedom came, he had no “recomembrance” of the real slavery days, but he lived on the same plantation for many years until his father and mother died in 1888.

“I worked on the plantation just like they did in the real slavery days, only I received a small wage. I picked cotton and thinned rice. I always did just what they told me to do and didn’t ever get into any trouble, except once and that was my own fault.

“You see it was this way. They gave me a bucket of thick clabber to take to the hogs. I was hungry and took the bucket and sat down behind the barn and ate every bit of it. I didn’t know it would make me sick, but was I sick? I swelled up so that I all but bust. They had to doctor on me. They took soot out of the chimney and mixed it with salt and made me take that. I guess they saved my life, for I was awful sick.

“I never learned to read until I was 26 years old. That was after I left the plantation. I was staying at a place washing dishes for Goodyear’s at Sapville, Georgia, six miles from Waycross. I found a Webster’s spelling book that had been thrown away, and I learned to read from that.

“I wasn’t converted until I went to work in a turpentine still and five years later I was called to preach. I am one of thirteen children and none of us has ever been arrested. We were taught right.

“I kept on preaching until I came to Miami. I have been assistant pastor at Bethel African Methodist Church for the past ten years.

“I belong to a class of Negroes called Geechees. My grandfather was brought directly from Africa to Port Royal, South Carolina. My grandmother used to hold up her hand and look at it and sing out of her hand. She’d make them up as she would look at her hand. She sang in Geechee and also made rhymes and songs in English.”

Excerpt from “Rev. Eli Boyd” The Federal Writers’ Project. Jacksonville, Florida, 1936.

Keywords: african americans, rev. eli boyd, reverened eli boyd, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves

Florida Slave Narratives: Andrews, Samuel Simeon

Federal Writers’ Project


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.

Excerpt from “Samuel Simeon Andrews” The Federal Writers’ Project. Jacksonville, Florida, 1936.

Keywords: african americans, samuel andrews, samuel simeon andrews, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves

Florida Slave Narratives: Bynes, Titus I.

Federal Writers’ Project


Titus B. [TR: Titus I. above] Bynes, affectionately known as “Daddy Bynes”, is reminiscent of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s immortal “Uncle Tom” and Joel Chandler Harris’ inimitable ‘Uncle Remus’ with his white beard and hair surrounding a smiling black face. He was born in November 1846 in what is now Clarendon County, South Carolina. Both his father, Cuffy, and mother, Diana, belonged to Gabriel Flowden who owned 75 or 80 slaves and was noted for his kindness to them.

Bynes’ father was a common laborer, and his mother acted in the capacity of chambermaid and spinner. They had 12 children, seven boys—Abraham, Tutus[TR:?], Reese, Lawrence, Thomas, Billie, and Hamlet—and five girls—Charity, Chrissy, Fannie, Charlotte, and Violet.

When Titus was five or six years of age he was given to Flowden’s wife who groomed him for the job of houseboy. Although he never received any education, Bynes was quick to learn. He could tell the time of day and could distinguish one newspaper from another. He recalled an incident which happened when he was about eight years of age which led him to conceal his precociousness. One day while writing on the ground, he heard his mistress’ little daughter tell her mother that he was writing about water. Mistress Flowden called him and told him that if he were caught writing again his right arm would be cut off. From then on his precociousness vanished. In regards to religion, Bynes can recall the Sunday services very vividly; and he tells how the Negroes who were seated in the gallery first heard a sermon by the white minister and then after these services they would gather on the main floor and hear a sermon by a Negro preacher.

Bynes served in the Civil War with his boss, and he can remember the regiment camp between Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. His mistress would not permit Bynes to accompany his master to Virginia to join the Hampton Legion on the grounds that it was too cold for him. And thus ended his war days! When he was 20 years of age, his father turned him loose. Young Bynes rented 14 acres of land from Arthur Harven and began farming.

In 1868 he left South Carolina and came to Florida. He settled in Enterprise (now Benson Springs), Velusia County where he worked for J.C. Hayes, a farmer, for one year, after which he homesteaded. He next became a carpenter and, as he says himself, “a jack of all trades and master of none.” He married shortly after coming to Florida and is the father of three sons—”as my wife told me,” he adds with a twinkle in his eyes. His wife is now dead. He was prevailed upon while very ill to enter the Titusville Poor Farm where he has been for almost two years.

Excerpt from “Bynes I. Titus” The Federal Writers’ Project, Titusville, Florida, 1936.

Keywords: african americans, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves, titus i. bynes, titus bynes

Florida Slave Narratives: Sherman, William

Federal Writers’ Project


In Chaseville, Florida, about twelve miles from Jacksonville on the south side of the Saint Johns River lives William Sherman (locally pronounced _Schumann_,) a former slave of Jack Davis, nephew of President Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy.

William Sherman was born on the plantation of Jack Davis, about five miles from Robertsville, South Carolina, at a place called “Black Swamp,” June 12, 1842, twenty-three years prior to Emancipation. His father who was also named William Sherman, was a free man, having bought his freedom for eighteen hundred dollars from his master, John Jones, who also lived in the vicinity of the Davis’ plantation. William Sherman, senior, bargained with his master to obtain his freedom, however, for he did not have the money to readily pay him. He hired himself out to some of the wealthy plantation owners and applied what he earned toward the payment for his freedom. He was a skilled blacksmith and cabinet maker and his services were always in demand. After procuring his freedom he bought a tract of land from his former master and built a home and blacksmith shop on it. As was the custom during slavery, a person who bought his freedom had to have a guardian; Sherman’s former master, John Jones, acted as his guardian. Under this new order of things Sherman was in reality his own master. He was not “bossed,” had his own hours, earned and kept his money, and was at liberty to leave the territory if he desired. However, he remained and married Anna Georgia, the mother of William Sherman, junior. She was also a slave of Jack Davis. After William Sherman, senior, finished his day’s work he would go to the Davis plantation to visit his wife and sometimes remain for the night. It was his intention to purchase the freedom of his wife Anna Georgia, and their son William, but he died before he had sufficient money to do so, and also before the Civil War, which he predicted would ensue between the North and South. His son William says that he remembers well the events that led up to his father’s burial; he states that the white people dug his grave which was six feet deep. It took them three days in which to dig it on account of the hardness of the clay; when it was finished he was put sorrowfully away by the white folk who thought so much of him. William was a boy of nine at that time, and he remembers that his mother was so grieved that he tried to console her by telling her not to worry “papa’s goin’ to com’ back and bring us some more quails” (he had been accustomed to bringing them quails during his life) but William sorrowingly said “he never did come back.”

Anna Georgia was a cook and general house woman in the Davis’ home. She was a half breed, her mother being a Cherokee Indian. Her husband, William, was a descendant of the Cheehaw Indians, some of his a forbears being full-blooded Cheehaws. Their Indian blood was fully evident, states William junior. The Davis family tree as he knew it was as follows: three brothers, Sam, Thomas and Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederacy.) Sam was the eldest of the three and had four children, viz: Jack, Robert, Richard and Washington. Thomas had four, viz: James, Richard, Rusha and Minna. Jefferson Davis’ family was not known to William as he lived in Virginia, whereas, the other brothers and their families lived near each other at “Black Swamp.”

Jack Davis, the master of William Sherman, was the son of Sam Davis, brother of Jefferson Davis. Thomas and Sam Davis were comparatively large men, while Jefferson was thin and of medium height, resembling to a great extent the late Henry Flagler of Florida East Coast fame, states William. Many times he would come to visit his brothers at “Black Swamp.” He would drive up in a two-wheeled buggy, drawn by a horse. Oft’times he visited his nephew, Jack and they would get together in a lengthy conversation. Sometimes he would remain with the Davis family for a few days and then return to Virginia. On these visits William states that he saw him personally. These visits or sojourns occurred prior to the Civil War. Jack Davis being a comparatively poor man had only eight slaves on his plantation; they were housed in log cabins made of cypress timber notched together in such a way as to give it the appearance of having been built regular lumber. It was much larger and of different architecture than the slave cabins, however.

The few slaves that he had arose at 4:00 o’clock in the morning and prepared themselves for the field. They stopped at noon for a light lunch which they always took with them and at sun-down they quit work and went to their respective cabins. Cotton, corn, potatoes and other commodities were raised. There was no regular “overseer” employed. Davis, the master acted in that capacity. He was very kind to them and seldom used the whip. After the outbreak of the Civil War, white men called “patarollers” were posted around the various plantations to guard against runaways, and if slaves were caught off their respective plantations without permits from their masters they were severely whipped. This was not the routine for Jack Davis’ slaves for he gave the “patarollers” specific orders that if any of them were caught off the plantation without a permit not to molest them but to let them proceed where they were bound. Will said that one of the slaves ran away and when he was caught his master gave him a light whipping and told him to “go on now and run away if you want to.” He said the slave walked away but never attempted to run away again. Will states that he was somewhat of a “pet” around the plantation and did almost as he wanted to. He would go hunting, fishing and swimming with his master’s sons who were about his age. Sometimes he would get into a fight with one of the boys and many times he would be the victor, his fallen foe would sometimes exclaim that “that licking that you gave me sure hurt,” and that ended the affair; there was no further ill feeling between them.

Education: The slaves were not allowed to study. The white children studied a large “Blue Back” Webster Speller and when one had thoroughly learned its contents he was considered to be educated.

Religion: The slaves had their own church but sometimes went to the churches of their white masters where they were relegated to the extreme rear. John Kelley, a white man, often preached to them and would admonish them as follows; “you must obey your master and missus, you must be good niggers.” After the beginning of the war they held “meetings” among themselves in their cabins.

Baptism: Those slaves who believed and accepted the Christian Doctrine were admitted into the church after being baptized in one of the surrounding ponds.

Cruelties: There was a very wealthy plantation owner who lived near the Davis plantation; he had eleven plantations, the smallest one was cultivated by three hundred slaves. Oftimes they would work nearly all night. Will states that it was not an unusual thing to hear in the early mornings the echoes of rawhide whips cracking like the report of a gun against the bare backs of the slaves who were being whipped. They would moan and groan in agony, but the whipping went on until the master’s wrath was appeased. John Stokes, a white plantation owner who lived near the Davis’ plantation encouraged slaves to steal from their masters and bring the stolen goods to him; he would purchase the goods for much less than their value. One time one of the slaves “put it out” that “Massa” Stokes was buying stolen goods. Stokes heard of this and his wrath was aroused; he had to find the “nigger” who was circulating this rumor. He went after him in great fury and finally succeeded in locating him, whereupon, he gave him a good “lacing” and warned him “if he ever heard anything like that again from him he was going to kill him.” The accusations were true, however, but the slave desisted in further discussion of the affair for “old Massa Stokes was a treacherous man.” On another occasion one of the Stokes’ slaves ran away and he sent Steven Kittles, known as the “dog man,” to catch the escape. (The dogs that went in pursuit of the runaway slaves were called “Nigger dogs”; they were used specifically for catching runaway slaves.) This particular slave had quite a “head start” on the dogs that were trailing him and he hid among some floating logs in a large pond; the dogs trailed him to the pond and began howling, indicating that they were approaching their prey. They entered the pond to get their victim who was securely hidden from sight; they dissapeared and the next seen of them was their dead bodies floating upon the water of the pond; they had been killed by the escape. They were full-blooded hounds, such as were used in hunting escaped slaves and were about fifty in number. The slave made his escape and was never seen again. Will relates that it was very cold and that he does’nt understand how the slave could stand the icy waters of the pond, but evidently he did survive it.

Civil War: It was rumored that Abraham Lincoln said to Jefferson Davis, “work the slaves until they are about twenty-five or thirty years of age, then liberate them.” Davis replied: “I’ll never do it, before I will, I’ll wade knee deep in blood.” The result was that in 1861, the Civil War, that struggle which was to mark the final emancipation of the slaves began. Jefferson Davis’ brothers, Sam and Tom, joined the Confederate forces, together with their sons who were old enough to go, except James, Tom’s son, who could not go on account of ill health and was left behind as overseer on Jack Davis’ plantation. Jack Davis joined the artillery regiment of Captain Razors Company. The war progressed, Sherman was on his famous march. The “Yankees” had made such sweeping advances until they were in Robertsville, South Carolina, about five miles from Black Swamp. The report of gun fire and cannon could be heard from the plantation. “Truly the Yanks are here” everybody thought. The only happy folk were, the slaves, the whites were in distress. Jack Davis returned from the field of battle to his plantation. He was on a short furlough. His wife, “Missus” Davis asked him excitedly, if he thought the “Yankees” were going to win. He replied: “No if I did I’d kill every _damned nigger_ on the place.” Will who was then a lad of nineteen was standing nearby and on hearing his master’s remarks, said: “The Yankees aint gonna kill me cause um goin to Laurel Bay” (a swamp located on the plantation.) Will says that what he really meant was that his master was not going to kill him because he intended to run off and go to the “Yankees.” That afternoon Jack Davis returned to the “front” and that night Will told his mother, Anna Georgia, that he was going to Robertsville and join the “Yankees.” He and his cousin who lived on the Davis’ plantation slipped off and wended their way to all of the surrounding plantations spreading the news that the “Yankees” were in Robertsville and exhorting them to follow and join them. Soon the two had a following of about five hundred slaves who abandoned their masters’ plantations “to meet the Yankees.” En masse they marched breaking down fences that obstructed their passage, carefully avoiding “Confederate pickets” who were stationed throughout the countryside. After marching about five miles they reached a bridge that spanned the Savannah River, a point that the “Yankees” held. There was a Union soldier standing guard and before he realized it, this group of five hundred slaves were upon him. Becoming cognizant that someone was upon him, he wheeled around in the darkness, with gun leveled at the approaching slaves and cried “Halt!” Will’s cousin then spoke up, “Doan shoot boss we’s jes friends.” After recognizing who they were, they were admitted into the camp that was established around the bridge. There were about seven thousand of General Sherman’s soldiers camped there, having crossed the Savannah River on a pontoon bridge that they had constructed while enroute from Green Springs Georgia, which they had taken. The guard who had let these people approach so near to him without realizing their approach was court martialed that night for being dilatory in his duties. The Federal officers told the slaves that they could go along with them or go to Savannah, a place that they had already captured. Will decided that it was best for him to go to Savannah. He left, but the majority of the slaves remained with the troops. They were enroute to Barnswell, South Carolina, to seize Blis Creek Fort that was held by the Confederates. As the Federal troops marched ahead, they were followed by the volunteer slaves. Most of these unfortunate slaves were slain by “bush whackers” (Confederate snipers who fired upon them from ambush.) After being killed they were decapitated and their heads placed upon posts that lined the fields so that they could be seen by other slaves to warn them of what would befall them if they attempted to escape. The battle at Blis Creek Fort was one in which both armies displayed great heroism; most of the Federal troops that made the first attack, were killed as the Confederates seemed to be irresistible. After rushing up reinforcements, the Federals were successful in capturing it and a large number of “Rebels.”

General Sherman’s custom was to march ahead of his army and cut rights of way for them to pass. At this point of the war, many of the slaves were escaping from their plantations and joining the “Yankees.” All of those slaves at Black Swamp who did not voluntarily run away and go to the “Yankees” were now free by right of conquest of the Federals.

Will now found himself in Savannah, Georgia, after refusing to go to Barnswell, South Carolina, with the Federals. This refusal saved him from the fate of his unfortunate brothers who went. Savannah was filled with smoke, the aftermath of a great battle. Lying in the “Broad River” between Beaufort, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia were two Union gun boats, the _Wabash_ and _Man O War_, which had taken part in the battle that resulted in the capture of Savannah. Everything was now peaceful again; Savannah was now a Union city. Many of the slaves were joining the Union army. Those slaves who joined were trained about two days and then sent to the front; due to lack of training they were soon killed. The weather was cold, it was February, 1862, frost was on the ground. Will soon left Savannah for Beaufort, South Carolina which had fallen before the “Yankee” attack. Soldiers and slaves filled the streets. The slaves were given all of the food and clothes that they could carry–confiscated goods from the “Rebels.” After a bloody struggle in which both sides lost heavily and which lasted for about five years, the war finally ended May 15, 1865. Will was then a young man twenty-three years of age and was still in Beaufort. He says that day was a gala day. Everybody celebrated (except the Southerners). The slaves were _free_.

Thousands of Federal soldiers were in evidence. The Union army was victorious and “Sherman’s March” was a success. Sherman states that when Jefferson Davis was captured he was disguised in women’s clothes.

Sherman states that Florida had the reputation of having very cruel masters. He says that when slaves got very unruly, they were told that they were going to be sent to Florida so they could be handled. During the war thousands of slaves fled from Virginia into Connecticut and New Hampshire. In 1867 William Sherman left Beaufort and went to Mayport, Florida to live. He remained there until 1890, then moved to Arona, Florida, living there for awhile; he finally settled in Chaseville, Florida, where he now lives. During his many years of life he has been married twice and has been the father of sixteen children, all of whom are dead. He never received any formal education, but learned to read and studied taxidermy which he practiced for many years.

He was at one time Inspector of Elections at Mayport during Reconstruction Days. He recalled an incident that occurred during the performance of his duties there, which was as follows: Mr. John Doggett who was running for office on the Democratic ticket brought a number of colored people to Mayport by boat from Chaseville to vote. Mr. Doggett demanded that they should vote, but Will Sherman was equally insistent that they should not vote because they had not registered and were not qualified. After much arguing Mr. Doggett saw that Sherman could not be made “to see the light” and left with his prospective voters. William Sherman once served upon a United States Federal jury during his colorful life.

In appearance he could easily be regarded as a phenomenon. He is ninety-four years of age, though he appears to be only about fifty-five. His hair is black and not grey as would be expected; his face is round and unlined; he has dark piercing but kindly eyes. He is of medium stature. He has an exceptionally alert mind and recalls past events with the ease of a youth. The Indian blood that flows in his veins is plainly visible in his features, the color of his skin and the texture of his hair.

He gives as his reason for his lengthy life the Indian blood that is in him and says that he expects to live for nintey-four more years. Today he lives alone. He raises a few vegetables and is content in the memories of his past life which has been full.

Excerpt from “William Sherman” The Federal Writers’ Project. Chaseville, Florida, 1936.

Keywords: african americans, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves, william sherman

lorida Slave Narratives: Jackson, Rev. Squires

Federal Writers’ Project


Lying comfortably in a bed encased with white sheets, Rev. Squires Jackson, former slave and minister of the gospel living at 706 Third Street cheerfully related the story of his life.

Born in a weather-beaten shanty in Madison, Fla. September 14, 1841 of a large family, he moved to Jacksonville at the age of three with the “Master” and his mother.

Very devoted to his mother, he would follow her into the cotton field as she picked or hoed cotton, urged by the thrashing of the overseer’s lash. His master, a prominent political figure of that time was very kind to his slaves, but would not permit them to read and write. Relating an incident after having learned to read and write, one day as he was reading a newspaper, the master walked upon him unexpectingly and demanded to know what he was doing with a newspaper. He immediately turned the paper upside down and declared “Confederates done won the war.” The master laughed and walked away without punishing him. It la interesting to know that slaves on this plantation were not allowed to sing when they were at work, but with all the vigilance of the overseers, nothing could stop those silent songs of labor and prayers for freedom.

On Sundays the boys on the plantation would play home ball and shoot marbles until church time. After church a hearty meal consisting of rice and salt picked pork was the usual Sunday fare cooked in large iron pots hung over indoor hearths. Sometimes coffee, made out of parched corn meal, was added as an extra treat.

He remembers the start of the Civil war with the laying of the Atlantic Cable by the “Great Eastern” being nineteen years of age at the time. Hearing threats of the War which was about to begin, he ran away with his brother to Lake City, many times hiding in trees and groves from the posse that was looking for him. At night he would cover up his face and body with spanish moss to sleep. One night he hid in a tree near a creek, over-slept himself, in the morning a group of white women fishing near the creek saw him and ran to tell the men, fortunately however he escaped.

After four days of wearied travelling being guided by the north star and the Indian instinct inherited from his Indian grandmother, he finally reached Lake City. Later reporting to General Scott, he was informed that he was to act as orderly until further ordered. On Saturday morning, February 20, 1861, General Scott called him to his tent and said “Squire; I have just had you appraised for $1000 and you are to report to Col. Guist in Alachua County for service immediately.” That very night he ran away to Wellborn where the Federals were camping. There in a horse stable were wounded colored soldiers stretched out on the filthy ground. The sight of these wounded men and the feeble medical attention given them by the Federals was so repulsive to him, that he decided that he didn’t want to join the Federal Army. In the silent hours of the evening he stole away to Tallahassee, throughly convinced that War wasn’t the place for him. While in the horse shed make-shift hospital, a white soldier asked one of the wounded colored soldiers to what regiment he belonged, the negro replied “54th Regiment, Massachusetts.”

At that time, the only railroad was between Lake City and Tallahassee which he had worked on for awhile. At the close of the war he returned to Jacksonville to begin work as a bricklayer. During this period, Negro skilled help was very much in demand.

The first time he saw ice was in 1857 when a ship brought some into this port. Mr. Moody, a white man, opened an icehouse at the foot of Julia Street. This was the only icehouse in the city at that time.

On Sundays he would attend church. One day he thought he heard the call of God beseeching him to preach. He began to preach in 1868, and was ordained an elder in 1874.

Some of the interesting facts obtained from this slave of the fourth generation were: (1) Salt was obtained by evaporating sea water, (2) there were no regular stoves, (3) cooking was done by hanging iron pots on rails in the fireplaces, (4) an open well was used to obtain water, (5) flour was sold at $12.00 a barrell, (6) “shin-plasters” was used for money, (7) the first buggy was called “rockaways” due to the elasticity of the leather-springs, (8) Rev. Jackson saw his first buggy as described, in 1851.

During the Civil War, cloth as well as all other commodities were very high. Slaves were required to weave the cloth. The women would delight in dancing as they marched to and fro in weaving the cloth by hand. This was one kind of work the slaves enjoyed doing. Even Cotton seeds was picked by hand, hulling the seeds out with the fingers, there was no way of ginning it by machine at that time. Rev. Jackson vividly recalls the croker-sacks being used around bales of the finer cotton, known as short cotton. During this same period he made all of the shoes he wore by hand from cow hides. The women slaves at that time wore grass shirts woven very closely with hoops around on the inside to keep from contacting the body.

Gleefully he told of the Saturday night baths in big wooden washtubs with cut out holes for the fingers during his boyhood, of the castor oil, old fashion paragoric, calomel, and burmo chops used for medicine at that time. The herb doctors went from home to home during times of illness. Until many years after the Civil War there were no practicing Negro physicians. Soap was made by mixing bones and lard together, heating and then straining into a bucket containing alum, turpentine, and rosin. Lye soap was made by placing burnt ashes into straw with corn shucks placed into harper, water is poured over this mixture and a trough is used to sieze the liquid that drips into the tub and let stand for a day. Very little moss was used for mattresses, chicken feathers and goose feathers were the principal constituents during his boyhood. Soot mixed with water was the best medicine one could use for the stomach ache at that time.

Rev. Jackson married in 1882 and has seven sons and seven daughters. Owns his own home and plenty of other property around the neighborhood. Ninety-six years of age and still feels as spry as a man of fifty, keen of wit, with a memory as good can be expected. This handsome bronze piece of humanity with snow-white beard over his beaming face ended the interview saying, “I am waiting now to hear the call of God to the promise land.” He once was considered as a candidate for senator after the Civil war but declined to run. He says that the treatment during the time of slavery was very tough at times, but gathering himself up he said, “no storm lasts forever” and I had the faith and courage of Jesus to carry me on, continuing, “even the best masters in slavery couldn’t be as good as the worst person in freedom, Oh, God, it is good to be free, and I am thankful.”

Excerpt from “Squires Jackson” The Federal Writers’ Project, Jacksonville Florida, 1937.

Keywords: african americans, slavery, slavery in florida, slaves, jackson squires