Up from Slavery: An Autobiography HTML version
After the coming of freedom there were two points upon which practically all the people
on our place were agreed, and I found that this was generally true throughout the South:
that they must change their names, and that they must leave the old plantation for at least
a few days or weeks in order that they might really feel sure that they were free.
In some way a feeling got among the coloured people that it was far from proper for them
to bear the surname of their former owners, and a great many of them took other
surnames. This was one of the first signs of freedom. When they were slaves, a coloured
person was simply called "John" or "Susan." There was seldom occasion for more than
the use of the one name. If "John" or "Susan" belonged to a white man by the name of
"Hatcher," sometimes he was called "John Hatcher," or as often "Hatcher's John." But
there was a feeling that "John Hatcher" or "Hatcher's John" was not the proper title by
which to denote a freeman; and so in many cases "John Hatcher" was changed to "John S.
Lincoln" or "John S. Sherman," the initial "S" standing for no name, it being simply a
part of what the coloured man proudly called his "entitles."
As I have stated, most of the coloured people left the old plantation for a short while at
least, so as to be sure, it seemed, that they could leave and try their freedom on to see
how it felt. After they had remained away for a while, many of the older slaves,
especially, returned to their old homes and made some kind of contract with their former
owners by which they remained on the estate.
My mother's husband, who was the stepfather of my brother John and myself, did not
belong to the same owners as did my mother. In fact, he seldom came to our plantation. I
remember seeing his there perhaps once a year, that being about Christmas time. In some
way, during the war, by running away and following the Federal soldiers, it seems, he
found his way into the new state of West Virginia. As soon as freedom was declared, he
sent for my mother to come to the Kanawha Valley, in West Virginia. At that time a
journey from Virginia over the mountains to West Virginia was rather a tedious and in
some cases a painful undertaking. What little clothing and few household goods we had
were placed in a cart, but the children walked the greater portion of the distance, which
was several hundred miles.
I do not think any of us ever had been very far from the plantation, and the taking of a
long journey into another state was quite an event. The parting from our former owners
and the members of our own race on the plantation was a serious occasion. From the time
of our parting till their death we kept up a correspondence with the older members of the
family, and in later years we have kept in touch with those who were the younger
members. We were several weeks making the trip, and most of the time we slept in the
open air and did our cooking over a log fire out-of-doors. One night I recall that we
camped near an abandoned log cabin, and my mother decided to build a fire in that for
cooking, and afterward to make a "pallet" on the floor for our sleeping. Just as the fire