Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves by Anonymous. - HTML preview

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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?


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 yel ow, 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 smal er 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?


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 cal ed "shin-plasters"?


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 wel when de war was on. I used to turn the big corn shel er 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 al 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 tel

'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 al the things that were buried al 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?


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


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 rol ers.

41. Do you know anything regarding the letters and stories from Negroes who migrated north after the war?


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.


American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

Alfred Farrel , Field Worker

Monticello, Florida

January 12, 1937



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

Mrs. Brooks was born in 1857 or 1858 in Edgefield, S.C. Her parents were Hawkins and Harriet Knox, and at the time of the birth of their daughter were slaves on a large plantation belonging to Governor Frank Pickens.

On this plantation were raised cotton, corn, potatoes, tobacco, peas, wheat and truck products. As soon as Matilda was large enough to go into the fields she helped her parents with the farming.

The former slave describes Governor Pickens as being 'very good' to his slaves. He supervised them personal y, 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 occasional y 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 barrel 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 recal 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; yel ow 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 usual y allowed to play in the evenings, when cotton crops were large, however, they spent their evenings picking out seeds from the cotton bol s, 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 eventual y 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.


Interview with subject, Matilda Brooks; "Rooster-Town", eastern part of city, Monticel o, Jefferson County, Fla.


American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

Alfred Farrel , Field Worker

John A. Simms, Editor

Titusville, Florida

September 25, 1936


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 tel 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 tel her mother that he was writing about water. Mistress Flowden cal ed 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 tel s 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.


Del a Bess Hilyard ("Aunt Bess")

Del a 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 Del a 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. (3)

Taylor Gilbert

Taylor Gilbert was born in Shel man, 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. (4)


1. Personal interview of field worker with subject.

2. Personal interview with subject.

3. Personal interview with subject.

4. Personal interview of field worker with subject.


American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

James Johnson, Field Worker

Monticello, Florida

December 15, 1936


Patience Campbel , blind for 26 years, was-born in Jackson County, near Marianna, Florida about 1883[TR: incorrect date?], on a farm of George Bul ock. Her mother Tempy, belonged to Bullock, while her father Arnold Merritt, belonged to Edward Merritt, a large plantation owner. According to Patience, her mother's owner was very kind, her father's very cruel.

Bul ock had very few slaves, but Merritt had a great many of them, not a few of whom he sold at the slave markets.

Patience spent most of her time playing in the sand when she was a child, while her parents toiled in the fields for their respective owners. Her grandparents on her mother's side belonged to Bul ock, but of her father's people she knew nothing as "they didn't come to this country." When asked where they lived, she replied "in South Carolina."

Since she lived with her mother, Patience fared much better than had she lived with her father. Her main foods included meats, greens, rice, corn bread which was replaced by biscuits on Sunday morning. Coffee was made from parched corn or meal and was the chief drink. The food was cooked in large iron pots and pans in an open fireplace and seasoned with salt obtained by evaporating sea water.

Water for all purposes was drawn from a wel . In order to get soap to wash with, the cook would save all the grease left from the cooking. Lye was obtained by mixing oak ashes with water and al owing them to decay; Tubs were made from large barrels.

When she was about seven or eight, Patience assisted other children about her age and older in picking out cotton seeds from the picked cotton. After the cotton was weighed on improved scales, it was bound in bags made of hemp.

Spinning and weaving were taught Patience when she was about ten.

Although the cloth and thread were dyed various colors, she knows only how blue was obtained by al owing the indigo plant to rot in water and straining the result.

Patience's father was not only a capable field worker but also a finished shoemaker. After tanning and curing his hides by placing them in water with oak bark for several days and then exposing them to the sun to dry, he would cut out the uppers and the soles after measuring the foot to be shod. There would be an inside sole as well as an outside sole tacked together by means of small tacks made of maple wood. Sewing was done on the shoes by means of flax thread.

Patience remembers saving the feathers from al the fowl to make feather beds. She doesn't remember when women stopped wearing hoops in their skirts nor when bed springs replaced bed ropes. She does remember, however, that these things were used.

She saw her first windmill about 36 years ago, ten years before she went blind. She remembers seeing buggies during slavery time, little light carriages, some with two wheels and some with four. She never heard of any money cal ed "shin-plasters," and she became money-conscious during the war when Confederate currency was introduced. When the slaves were sick, they were given castor oil, turpentine and medicines made from various roots and herbs.

Patience's master joined the confederacy, but her father's master did not. [Although Negroes could enlist in the Southern army if they desired,] none of them wished to do so but preferred to join northern forces and fight for the thing they desired most, freedom. When freedom was no longer a dream, but a reality, the Merritts started life on their own as farmers. Twelve-year old Patience entered one of the schools established by the Freedmen's Bureau. She recal s the gradual growth of Negro settlements, the churches and the rise and fall of the Negroes political y.


1. Personal interview with Patience Campbel , 910 Cherry Street, Monticello, Florida


American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

Rachel A. Austin, Field Worker

Jacksonville, Florida

November 20, 1936


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 Tal ahassee, Florida from Washington, District of Columbia, with his children whom he had by his Negro slave. On coming to Florida, he set al 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 Tal ahassee 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.

1. Personal Interview with Florida Clayton, 1627 Franklin Street, Jacksonville, Florida


American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

Viola B. Muse, Field Worker

Jacksonville, Florida

December 3, 1936


"Father" Charles Coates, as he is cal ed 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. Hal 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 Hal plantation. His duty was to see that all the slaves reported to work on time. The bel 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 tel s with laughter how the slaves would "grab a piece of meat and bread and run to the field" as no time was al owed 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 Hal plantation there was a contraption, similar to a gal ows, 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 cal ed 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 al 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 cal ed in and he would preach to them not to steal, lie or run away and "be sure and git al 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 al owed 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 compel ed 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. Hal 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 al the slaves to come into his presence and there he had his son to tel them that they were free. The Union soldiers took much of the slave owners' property and gave to the slaves tel ing them that if the owners' took the property back to write and tel 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 wel 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 sel him on time payments, he was always left on his master's hands. His master said "being tal , 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 fal 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 wal s 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.


1. Personal interview with Charles Coates--2015 Windle Street, Jacksonville, Florida


American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

Viola B. Muse, Field Worker

Jacksonville, Florida

December 16, 1936


Immediately after slavery in the United States, the southern white people found themselves without servants. Women who were accustomed to having a nurse, maid, cook and laundress found themselves without sufficient money to pay wages to al these. There was a great amount of work to be done and the great problem confronting married women who had not been taught to work and who thought it beneath their standing to soil their hands, found it very difficult.

There were on the other hand many Negro women who needed work and young girls who needed guidance and training.

The home and guidance of the aristocratic white people offered the best opportunity for the dependent un-schooled freed women; and it was in this kind of home that the ex-slave child of this story was reared.

Irene Coates of 2015 Windle Street, Jacksonville, Florida, was born in Georgia about 1859. She was close to six years of age when freedom was declared.

She was one among the many Negro children who had the advantage of living under the direct supervision of kind whites and receiving the care which could only be excel ed by an educated mother.

Jimmie and Lou Bedell were the names of the man and wife who saw the need of having a Negro girl come into their home as one in the family and at the same time be assured of a good and efficient servant in years to come.

When Irene was old enough, she became the nurse of the Bedell baby and when the family left Savannah, Georgia to come to Jacksonville, they brought Irene with them.

Although Irene was just about six years old when the Civil War ended, she has vivid recol ection of happenings during slavery. Some of the incidents which happened were told her by her slave associates after slavery ended and some of them she remembers herself.

Two incidents which she considers caused respect for slaves by their masters and finally the Emancipation by Abraham Lincoln she tells in this order.

The first event tel s of a young, strong healthy Negro woman who knew her work and did it wel . "She would grab up two bags of guana (fertilizer) and tote 'em at one time," said Irene, and was never found shirking her work. The overseer on the plantation, was very hard on the slaves and practiced striking them across the back with a whip when he wanted to spur them on to do more work.

Irene says, one day a crowd of women were hoeing in the field and the overseer rode along and struck one of the women across the back with the whip, and the one nearest her spoke and said that if he ever struck her like that, it would be the day he or she would die. The overseer heard the remark and the first opportunity he got, he rode by the woman and struck her with the whip and started to ride on. The woman was hoeing at the time, she whirled around, struck the overseer on his head with the hoe, knocking him from his horse, she then pounced upon him and chopped his head off. She went mad for a few seconds and proceeded to chop and mutilate his body; that done to her satisfaction, she then killed his horse. She then calmly went to tel the master of the murder, saying

"I've done killed de overseer," the master replied--"Do you mean to say you've killed the overseer?" she answered yes, and that she had killed the horse also. Without hesitating, the master pointing to one of his smal cabins on the plantation said--"You see that house over there?"

she answered yes--at the same time looking--"Well" said he, "take all your belongings and move into that house and you are free from this day and if the mistress wants you to do anything for her, do it if you want to." Irene related with much warmth the effect that incident had upon the future treatment of the slaves.

The other incident occured in Virginia. It was upon an occasion when Mrs. Abraham Lincoln was visiting in Richmond. A woman slaveowner had one of her slaves whipped in the presence of Mrs. Lincoln. It was easily noticed that the woman was an expectant mother. Mrs. Lincoln was horrified at the situation and expressed herself as being so, saying that she was going to tel the President as soon as she returned to the White House. Whether this incident had any bearing upon Mr. Lincoln's actions or not, those slaves who were present and Irene says that they all believed it to be the beginning of the President's activities to end slavery.

Besides these incidents, Irene remembers that women who were not strong and robust were given such work as sewing, weaving and minding babies.

The cloth from which the Sunday clothes of the slaves was made was called _ausenburg_ and the slave women were very proud of this. The older women were required to do most of the weaving of cloth and making shirts for the male slaves.

When an old woman who had been sick, regained her strength, she was sent to the fields the same as the younger ones. The ones who could cook and tickle the palates of her mistress and master were highly prized and were seldon if ever offered for sale at the auction block.

The slaves were given fat meat and bread made of husk of corn and wheat.

This caused them to steal food and when caught they were severely whipped.

Irene recal s the practice of blowing a horn whenever a sudden rain came. The overseer had a certain Negro to blow three times and if shelter could be found, the slaves were expected to seek it until the rain ceased.

The master had sheds built at intervals on the plantation. These accomodated a goodly number; if no shed was available the slaves stood under trees. If neither was handy and the slaves got wet, they could not go to the cabins to change clothes for fear of losing time from work.

This was often the case; she says that slaves were more neglected than the cattle.

Another custom which impressed the child-mind of Irene was the tieing of slaves by their thumbs to a tree limb and whipping them. Women and young girls were treated the same as were men.

After the Bedel s took Irene to live in their home they traveled a deal.

After bringing her to Jacksonville, when Jacksonville was only a smal port, they then went to Camden County, Georgia.

Irene married while in Georgia and came back to Jacksonville with her husband Charles, the year of the earthquake at Charleston, South Carolina, about 1888.

Irene and Charles Coates have lived in Jacksonville since that time. She relates many tales of happenings during the time that this city grew from a town of about four acres to its present status.

Irene is the mother of five children. She has nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Her health is fair, but her eyesight is poor.

It is her delight to entertain visitors and is conversant upon matters pertaining to slavery and reconstruction days.


1. Irene Coates, 2015 Windle Street, Jacksonville, Florida FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT

American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

Martin D. Richardson, Field Worker

Grandin, Florida


Interesting tales of the changes that came to the section of Florida that is situated along the Putnam-Clay County lines are told by Neil Coker, old former slave who lives two miles south of McRae on the road Grandin.

Coker is the son of a slave mother and a half-Negro. His father, he states, was Senator John Wall, who held a seat in the senate for sixteen years. He was born in Virginia, and received his family name from an old family bearing the same in that state. He was born, as nearly as he can remember, about 1857.

One of Coker's first reminiscences is of the road on which he still lives. During his childhood it was known as the 'Bel amy Road,' so called because it was built, some 132 years ago, by a man of that name who hailed from West Florida.

The 'Bel amy Road' was at one time the main route of traffic between Tal ahassee and St. Augustine. (Interestingly enough, the road is at least 30 miles southwest of St. Augustine where it passes through Grandin; the reason for cutting it in such a wide circle, Coker says was because of the ferocity of the Seminoles in the swamps north and west of St. Augustine.)

Wagons, carriages and stages passed along this road in the days before the War Between the States, Coker says. In addition to these he claims to have seen many travel ers by foot, and not infrequently furtive escaped slaves, the latter usual y under cover of an appropriate background of darkness.

The road again came into considerable use during the late days of the War. It was during these days that the Federal troops, both whites and Negroes, passed in seemingly endless procession on their way to or from encounters. On one occasion the former slave recounts having seen a procession of soldiers that took nearly two days to pass; they travelled on horse and afoot.

Several amusing incidents are related by the ex-slave of the events of this period. Dozens of the Negro soldiers, he says, discarded their uniforms for the gaudier clothing that had belonged to their masters in former days, and could be identified as soldiers as they passed only with difficulty. Others would pause on their trip at some plantation, ascertain the name of the 'meanest' overseer on the place, then tie him backward on a horse and force him to accompany them. Particularly retributive were the punishments visited upon Messrs. Mays and Prevatt--general y recognized as the most vicious slave drivers of the section.

Bel amy, Coker says built the road with slave labor and as an investment, realizing much money on tol s on it for many years. A remarkable feature of the road is that despite its age and the fact that County authorities have permitted its former good grading to deterierate to an almost impassable sand at some seasons, there is no mistaking the fact that this was once a major thoroughfare.

The region that stretches from Green Cove Springs in the Northeast to Grandin in the Southwest, the former slave claims, was once dotted with lakes, creeks, and even a river; few of the lakes and none of the other bodies still exist, however.

Among the more notable of the bodies of water was a stream--he does not now remember its name--that ran for about 20 miles in an easterly direction from Starke. This stream was one of the fastest that the former slave can remember having seen in Florida; its power was utilised for the turning of a power mill which he believes ground corn or other grain. The fal s in the river that turned the water mill, he states, was at least five or six feet high, and at one point under the Fal s a man named (or possibly nicknamed) "Yankee" operated a sawmill. Coker believes that this mill, too, derived its power from the little stream.

He says that the stream has been extinct since he reached manhood. It ended in 'Scrub Pond,' beyond Grandin and Starke.

Some of the names of the old lakes of the section were these: "Brooklyn Lake; Magnolia Lake; Soldier Pond (near Keystone); Half-Moon Pond, near Putnam Hall; Hick's Lake" and others. On one of them was the large grist mill of Dr. McCray; Coker suggests that this might be the origin of the town of McRae of the present period.

To add to its natural water facilities, Coker points out, Bradford County also had a canal. This canal ran from the interior of the county to the St. John's River near Green Cove Springs, and with Mandarin on the other side of the river still a major shipping point, the canal handled much of the commerce of Bradford and Clay Counties.

Coker recalls vividly the Indians of the area in the days before 1870.

These, he claims to have been friendly, but reserved, fellows; he does not recal any of the Indian women.

Negro slaves from the region around St. Augustine and what is now Hastings used to escape and use Bellamy's Road on their way to the area about Micanopy. It was considered equivalent to freedom to reach that section, with its friendly Indians and impenetrable forests and swamps.

The little town of Melrose probably had the most unusual name of al the strange ones prevalent at the time. It was cal , very simply,

"Shake-Rag." Coker makes no effort to explain the appelation.


1. Interview with subject, Neil Coker, Grandin, Putnam County FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT

American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

Rachel Austin, Field Worker

Jacksonville, Florida


Young Winston Davis states that he was born in Ozark, Alabama, June 28, 1855 on the plantation of Charles Davis who owned about seven hundred slaves and was considered very wealthy. Kindness and consideration for his slaves, made them love him.

Reverend Davis was rather young during his years in slavery but when he was asked to tel something about the days of slavery, replied: "I remember many things about slavery, but know they will not come to me now; anyway, I'll tel what I can think of."

He tells of the use of iron pots, fireplaces with rods used to hold the pots above the fire for cooking peas, rice, vegetables, meats, etc.; the home-made coffee from meal, spring and wel water, tanning rawhide for leather, spinning of thread from cotton and the weaving looms.

"There was no difference," he states, "in the treatment of men and women for work; my parents worked very hard and women did some jobs that we would think them crazy for trying now; why my mother helped build a railroad before she was married to my father. My mother's first husband was sold away from her; shucks, some of the masters didn't care how they treated husbands, wives, parents and children; any of them might be separated from the other. A good price for a 'nigger' was $1500 on down and if one was what was cal ed a stal ion (healthy), able to get plenty children he would bring about $2500.

"They had what was cal ed legal money--I did have some of it but guess it was burned when I lost my house by fire a few years ago.

"Now, my master had three boys and two girls; his wife, Elizabeth, was about like the ordinary missus; Master Davis was good, but positive; he didn't al ow other whites to bother his slaves.

"When the war came, his two boys went first, final y Master Davis went; he and one son never returned.

"The Yankees killed cows, etc., as they went along but did not destroy any property 'round where I was.

"We had preachers and doctors, but no schools; the white preachers told us to obey and would read the Bible (which we could not understand) and told us not to steal eggs. Most of the doctors used herbs from the woods and "Aunt Jane" and "Uncle Bob" were known for using "Samson's Snake Root," "Devil's shoe-string" for stomach troubles and "low-bud Myrtle"

for fevers; that's good now, chile, if you can get it.

"The 'nigger' didn't have a chance to git in politics during slavery, but after Emancipation, he went immediately into the Republican Party; a few into the Democratic Party; there were many other parties, too.

"The religions were Methodist and Baptist; my master was Baptist and that's what I am; we could attend church but dare not try to get any education, less we punished with straps.

"There are many things I remember just like it was yesterday--the general punishment was with straps--some of the slaves suffered terribly on the plantations; if the master was poor and had few slaves he was mean--the more wealthy or more slaves he had, the better he was. In some cases it was the general law that made some of the masters as they were; as, the law required them to have an overseer or foreman (he was cal ed

"boss man") by the 'niggers' and usual y came from the lower or poorer classes of whites; he didn't like 'niggers' usual y, and took authority to do as he pleased with them at times. Some plantations preferred and did have 'nigger riders' that were next to the overseer or foreman, but they were liked better than the foreman and in many instances were treated like foremen but the law would not let them be called "foremen."

Some of the masters stood between the 'nigger riders' and foremen and some cases, the 'nigger' was real y boss.

"The punishments, as I said were cruel--some masters would hang the slaves up by both thumbs so that their toes just touched the floor, women and men, alike. Many slaves ran away; others were forced by their treatment to do al kinds of mean things. Some slaves would dig deep holes along the route of the "Patrollers" and their horses would fal in sometimes breaking the leg of the horse, arm or leg of the rider; some slaves took advantage of the protection their masters would give them with the overseer or other plantation owners, would do their devilment and "fly" to their masters who did not allow a man from another plantation to bother his slaves. I have known pregnant women to go ten miles to help do some devilment. My mother was a very strong woman (as I told you she helped build a railroad), and felt that she could whip any ordinary man, would not get a passport unless she felt like it; once when caught on another plantation without a passport, she had al of us with her, made al of the children run, but wouldn't run herself--somehow she went upstream, one of the men's horse's legs was broken and she told him "come and get me" but she knew the master allowed no one to come on his place to punish his slaves.

"My father was a blacksmith and made the chains used for stocks, (like handcuffs), used on legs and hands. The slaves were forced to lay flat on their backs and were chained down to the board made for that purpose; they were left there for hours, sometimes through rain and cold; he might 'holler' and groan but that did not always get him released.

"The Race became badly mixed then; some Negro women were forced into association, some were beaten almost to death because they refused. The Negro men dare not bother or even speak to some of their women.

"In one instance an owner of a plantation threatened a Negro rider's sweetheart; she told him and he went crying to this owner who in turned threatened him and probably did hit the woman; straight to his master this sweetheart went and when he finished his story, his master immediately took his team and drove to the other plantation--drove so fast that one of his horses' dropped dead; when the owner came out he level ed his double-barrel shotgun at him and shot him dead. No, suh; some masters did not al ow you to bother their slaves.

"A peculiar case was that of Old Jim who lived on another plantation was left to look out for the fires and do other chores around the house while 'marster' was at war. A bad rumor spread, and do you know those mean devils, overseers of nearby plantations came out and got her dug a deep hole, and despite her cries, buried her up to her neck--nothing was left out but her head and hair. A crowd of young 'nigger boys' saw it all and I was one among the crowd that helped dig her out.

"Oh, there's a lots more I know but just cant get it together. My mother's name was Caroline and my father Patrick; all took the name of Davis from our master. There were thirteen children--I am the only one alive."

Mr. Davis appears wel preserved for his age; he has most of his teeth and is slightly gray; his health seems to be good, although he is a cripple and uses a cane for walking always; this condition he believes is the result of an attack of rheumatism.

He is a preacher and has pastored in Alabama, Texas and Florida. He has had several years of training in public schools and under ministers.

He has lived in Jacksonville since 1918 coming here from Waycross, Georgia.

He was married for the first and only time during his 62 years of life to Mrs. Lizzie P. Brown, November 19, 1935. There are no children. He gives no reason for remaining single, but his reason for marrying was

"to give some lady the privilege and see how it feels to be called husband."


1. Interview with Young Winston Davis, 742 W. 10th Street, Jacksonville, Florida


American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

James Johnson, Field Worker

South Jacksonville, Florida