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The Slave Narrative Collection
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Sina Banks

Age 86 Years
McAlester, Oklahoma

 

And must I be to judgment brought,
And Answer in that day,
Yes, every secret of my heart
And every word I say.

I'm going home, I'm going home
I'm going home to die no more.
To die no more, to die no more
I'm going home to die no more.

I learned those two old songs when I was just a little child going along with my mother to white folks church. Brother Green and Brother Ayers was the preachers. Our Old Master made all his slaves go to church. The women washed and ironed on Friday and mended, cleaned the house and baked on Saturday and on Sunday there wasn't much to do. Everyone black and white went to church. Old Master, John Holleman, was a real old man when the war broke out. His wife, Miss Nancy, was just a little younger then he was. They was the best and kindest people in the world. They saw that none of their slaves was ever whipped, kept us in plenty of good food and we was always clean.

My uncle Caleb run the farm for Old Master. He was head overseer and all the men and women took orders from him with never a word. Old Master owned twenty-five slaves. Mother and her eight children, Aunt Patsy and her seven children, Hannah Scott and her four children and my two uncles and Aunt Patsy's husband, Uncle Dock Thomas.

Mother had five grown children, three boys and two girls. Aunt Patsy had six grown, two boys and three girls. Hannah had three grown boys. This group gave Old master plenty of good work hands. He needed them as he had a big farm and they raised lots of corn, rye, wheat, hemp, flax and fruit. He had lots of hogs and mules and he kept lots of milk cows and there was always plenty of food for everybody.

He had big orchard with apples, peaches and plums. We never could use all of them and there was always apples left on the trees to freeze and I as glad for I sure did like frozen apples. When apple picking time came uncle and the boys would put hay on the ground and pile the apples in a heap on this hay. hey then would pile more hay and dirt on till the apples were covered. When the weather got colder uncle would walk around and look at the sky and say, "Boys we are in for a spell of bad weather and we must cover the apples and vegetables deeper." They kept potatoes, cabbage, collards, and turnips in heaps this way. Parsnips were left in the ground and it was a job to dig them out of the frozen ground. I've done it lots of times, but I hated that job.

Our home was in Marion County, Missouri, near Palmyra. I was born there and was about ten years old when the war broke out. My father and mother settled about four miles from the old place after the war and we used to go there to visit real often. We lived four years about forty miles away and we went back to see the white folks once a year every year we was there. Father and mother was so dissatisfied away from their white folks that we went back to live and never moved away again.

I remember very well when the war started. And old woman came to our house one night about dark and wanted to sty all night and Old Master let her stay. She had a little bundle tied up in a handkerchief and was walking. I suppose she told them where she was going and why she was walking but I never knew. She left the next day about nine o'clock and my mother was out behind the cabins making soap. She stopped to talk to her and I remember hearing her say, "We are going to have a war, maybe soon, and if we do you colored folks will be free." She went on her way but I couldn't keep from thinking about what she said. I asked mother about it but she told me to forget it, that we would always be slaves and that we might as well forget about anything else.

I remember the men scouting around trying to keep from going to war. When things finally settled down and the white men went off to war and left the colored men to look after the farms and to take care of the women and children. They done it and would have shed the last drop of their blood to protect them if it had been necessary. Uncle and the boys worked hard and raised plenty of corn and other food and we never did suffer for anything. Old Master was too old to go to war and he never done no work. He just set in the yard in the shade or in the house in the chimney corner according to the time of the year.

Us children didn't do no work either to speak of. We mostly just run and kicked our heels, like young colts, on the bluegrass lawn. Old Master would make us pull up the weeds that come up in the yard.

The house was a big two story one with a long porch across the front downstairs and one across the front upstairs also. I think there was about eight or nine rooms. The house set on a hill and there was a lot of big shade trees in the yard close to the house. We had a a regular flower garden with every kind of flower in it. Old Master's old maid daughter, Miss Nellie, took care of the flowers.

Old Master let all his slaves know that the harder they worked and the more they raised the more they and their families would have to eat and wear. He always divided with them and none of them minded the hard work and never let nothing go to waste.

He never let any of his women work in the field as he always said that they had plenty to do to look after the work at the house, spinning weaving, sewing, cooking, mending and looking after the white folks and the children. Everybody was always busy. All the women did the spinning and weaving but they divided the rest of the work. All the food was cooked at the big house. They had big pots that hung over the fire on racks and big ovens with lids to bake bread and cakes. They had a big cook stove but hardly ever used it as they had rather cook on the fireplace. Two of the women done the cooking and two others dished it up and served the white folks and the others took part of it to their cabins for they men and children. Everybody et at the same time, and the same kind of food.

We as all perfectly happy and knowed we was well off. My father belonged to John Sykes and lived about five miles from us. He could come home often. He was crippled up with rheumatism and couldn't do much work as he walked with two canes. He stayed at the house and sort of looked after the children and done odd jobs and he raised a patch of broomcorn. His master let him make it up into brooms and sell them and keep the money. He would buy thing for mother to use in our cabin. It was a nice big one and was purty well furnished as father got us some chairs, and a bedstead and trundle bed. Mother kept our house spic and span.

When the women had plenty of cloth woven they would go to work and make it up into clothes. The men were looked after first. Mother done all the cutting. She would take her lapboard in her lap and cut out pants, coats, shirts and underwear. Another job women had was to make hats for the men. They would plait wheat and rye straw and weave it into hats. They would line the hats with green material so it would shade their eyes.

The sheep were sheared in May. The wool was washed, picked apart and combed and taken to the factory to be made into rolls. It was then spun into thread and woven into cloth. Weaving was hard work. The whole body was in constant motion as there was five pedals to be operated and in throwing the shuttle through you had to use both feet and hands.

They made cloth from hemp and flax, too. From Flax they made sheets, tablecloths, towels and clothing. A coarse cloth was made from hemp and this was made into summer work cloths as it was very cool.

Flax grew about two feet high and hemp about three high. the hands would go through and cut it down and let it lay there till it rotted. It was then gathered up and placed in the brakes. A brake was a frame on a stand with a slatted floor about three feet long and three or four feet high. The flax was laid across these slats and a lever pressed down to break the chaff from the coarse thread like skin. The chaff fell to the ground and the skins were placed in piles to be run through the hackles. Hackels was comb like things made of wood with teeth like a comb or brush. The flax was combed through three or four hackles each one a little finer then the other. This product was called tow. This made coarse linen. Finer tow made finer linen for dresses.

When the war was finally declared some of the men in the country enlisted, especially the ones that owned slaves. Some few began to scout around and try to keep from going and some deserted the army and come home. They had to scout around, too, I can tell you. I remember that they shot ten deserters down at Palmyra.

Old Master died just at the beginning of the war. He left a will saying just what he wanted done with all his property and slaves. He give mother and Uncle Caleb and three or four of the grown men and women to Miss Nellie and he also left her the farm. She was to take care of Old Miss as long as she lived. All the rest of us children was scattered out among his married children. Master Judson was killed in the war right at the beginning and his property was also divided up among his brothers and sisters. My grown sister and I went to the same place. Master David was our young master's name. He wasn't so very young as he had two grown sons. His wife was the meanest woman that God ever made. I thought at first that she was crazy but I found that she was just mean. She would go off and stay a week at a time and none of us would know where she was and then she would come riding home and how we did hate to see her. She would cuss everything and everybody but nobody paid her any mind. Her husband and boys never said a word to her but come and went just like she wasn't on the place.

My sister done all the cooking and as they were short handed in the field she had to help in the field, too. She would put the meat for the vegetables on to boil and she would mark on the floor to show ,me where the sun would bee when it was ten o'clock and I would put the vegetables in to boil with the meat. She would come in and put the bread on and finish up the dinner. It was a lonesome job just setting there waiting for the sun to tell me it was ten o'clock and then to wait for my sister to come so one di I decided to try my hand at cooking bread. I made up some bread and baked a little to see if it was all right and then I found it was and I went ahead and baked the rest. Sister was sure surprised when she come in and found that I had dinner ready. She was tired and it made her happy to think she had a real helper. The next day I decide to make a desert so I made some egg custards. I made enough for all to have some and the boys was sure glad to have desert for dinner.

One of the things Old Master said in his will was that none of his colored folks was to be struck a lick. If we was, we was to go back to the old home place and live with Miss Nellie. We wasn't afraid we would ever be whipped and I guess I was right spoiled. Young master's wife used to try to whip me but I wouldn't give her no chance as I stayed our of her way. when I would get the dinner dishes cleaned up there wasn't anything for me to do till time to get supper so I would go down to the river about three hundred yards from the house and fish all afternoon. I would have good luck and fed them so much fish they got tired of it.

Young Master's boys liked to dress up and go to see the girls. They wore boots and they would get me to  black them for them. I'm make them pay me and I wouldn't take no pennies either. They always paid me in nickels. I had a double handful of nickels to take home to my mother when I went back to live when the war was over. I didn't have to spend any of it as they bought everything I wanted. When they started to town they would ask me what I wanted and whatever I asked for they got. some times I'd ask for ribbon and then I'd ask for candy, cookie, brown sugar or just anything I could think of and they always brought it. I didn't have such a good time after the boys had to go to war. Young Master went before they did.

Young Master's married daughter come and begged them to let me go home with her and sty awhile. Her husband was in the war and there wasn't anybody there but one colored woman, Aunt Callie, and her little girl, smaller than I was. I went back with her and stayed about six months.

The Union soldiers came there often. They'd make out like they was hunting guns but they was hunting men that might be there.

One day I happened to look out and saw some soldiers coming. the man was at home and I told him and he just barely had time to get away before they got there. They come in without knocking and told Young Miss that they was looking for guns and they looked in the drawers and under the beds and closets. Finally they said, "Little girl where is your Master?" I told them that I didn't know. They went on directly and I guess Young Miss's husband went back to his regiment. The first time I went there he hadn't enlisted. I stayed about two months that time. He had three men then and he sure was hard on them. He made them work like dogs and was always beating them for everything. One day I took their food to them and while they was eating they told me that they was going to run off the next day which was Sunday. I didn't say a word about it, of course, and the next morning we got up and after the chores were done we went to church. Me and Aunt Callie and her little girl went to visit a family after church and didn't come home till kind of late in the evening. The men was there that morning but they didn't show up that night before we went to bed. The next morning their master jumped up and called them. They always got right up and went to feeding and master would go back to sleep till breakfast. He waked up again and didn't hear no sound so he called me and told me to go and wake them up. I got up and went to their cabin and came back and told him that they wasn't there and that their beds was still made up.

He sure rolled out of there and got busy hunting them but he didn't catch them as they got away to the Union soldiers and joined the army. Pretty soon he had to go, too, so he had to give up hunting for them.

One night about three o'clock we heard the tramp of horses' feet and of course we was scared most to death. Young Miss had had Aunt Callie and me to bring our bed and put it on the floor i the hall just outside her room so we wouldn't any of us be so scared. We just laid there and waited to see who it was. They rode up into the yard and hallooed. We put on our dresses and went down to see what they wanted.

There was about thirty men on horses and they told her they wanted a wagon and team and a load of corn. They was Union soldiers. She told that that her was in the pasture. They said they would go get them and two men went down and the only team they could catch was the carriage team. They opened the gate and I guess they thought it was feeding time and they walked right into the stall. When Young Miss saw what team they had she began to cry ad told them that they had the only team she could drive and they told her they would bring it back, that it might be quite a while but that they would see that she got them back. They loaded the corn and drove off. Three months later she got a message that her team was about twenty miles from there and that she could get it if she would come after it. She sent a boy after them and got them back all right.

One of my brothers ran off and went to the army. It wasn't because he wasn't treated good but he jut got with some other men and they persuaded him off. Union soldiers would come up to where a nigger was plowing and say to him, "Ain't you tired following that mule up and down that row? Come on and go with me and you won't have to work so had any more." Maybe they would tie up the mule and go on with him; if they didn't go right then they would run off later.

My brother's young master came over to my mothers and he said, "Sallie, where is young Caleb?" Mother say, "Why you ought to know. How you think I would know when he don't live here no more?" The never did see him any more till after the war was over and he come back home. He said he sure was glad he went.

I went back to my Young Master's as my Young Miss's husband got killed and she took Aunt Callie and went back home to stay till the war was over. My sister was married and her husband had run away and joined the Union soldiers, too.

Sister learned me how to spin and weave and to sew. I was getting to be a purty big girl by this time. The war closed and my sister's husband come to got her and Young Miss went back and took Aunt Callie and that left me the only colored one left. Young Master told me, "You is free now, just as free as I am, and it is my duty to take you back to your mother, but if you will stay with me and help me till I get my crop in I will take you home. I need someone to cook and keep the house for me." I told him I would stay and I did. They was good to me and I worked hard to help him.

I was going home on Tuesday and on Sunday I was going over to Reverend Lowther's to spend the day. They had the purtiest farm you ever saw. The house was on a hill and the lawn was as smooth as velvet. None of his slaves left him. They had nice warm, well built houses and he had a big farm so he made a trade with them to stay and work his farm for him. He couldn't work as he weighted about three hundred pounds. I like to go there and play on the grass and do purty much as we pleased.

As I went over to stile I though I saw somebody I knew. When I got to the house I found my brother had come after me. I went home then and lived with my mother and father from then on. Father came and took all of us and we went out in the woods and built us a house and cleared a lot of land and we got along find. His Master gave him some food and a hog, a cow and a mule. Miss Nellie gave mother a purty good start, too, so we got along al right. Miss Nellie had a sale and sold all the things she had and went to live with one of her sisters. Her mother died during the war and she didn't want to live there by herself.  She gave me this ea cup when she made the sale. It was one her mother first bought after she went to housekeeping so it is no telling how old it is. I've kept it with me all these years. Don't you think it odd not having a handle on it?

Lots of colored folks when they set free would go around and say, "I don't have to work; I'm free," and they would roam around the country and eat with the ones that was working and trying to make a living. That would make me mad but mother would say, "Don't you say anything for you don't know what you will come to before you die," I told her that just as long as these old hands would work for me I'd not quit working and I'd not sponge off of anybody and I never has. I cooked for Mrs. Priscilla Baird for thirty years. She was president of Engleside College and of Hardin College and I cooked for at both places. I came to McAlester with the Hailey girls one summer to take care of their mother that was sick and went back and cooked at the college that winder. Next summer I came home with them again and I just stayed as Mrs. Baird's health was bad and she decided to quit teaching. 

I've never believed in ghosts, voo-doo or charms. I've seen people wear a sting of buttons that people give them and called it a charm string but I think that is just a sort of custom and don't put no faith in it. 

I learned a long time ago to do as I was told. One day my mother was in the loom house and my sister and I was playing around the yard and keeping an eye on the baby that was asleep. Mother had a lot of good things to eat, in a chest, and sister told me that let's us get some of the brown sugar that she had in the chest. I told her all right so we got into it and et all we wanted and even made up some sweetened water and drank that. We didn't know that when you opened up brown sugar that it would smell up the whole house. When mother came in she looked around but didn't say nothing but went to bed and picked up the baby and sat down and nursed and she put it back on the bed and said to me, "Sina, what you been doing with that sugar?" I told her that I hadn't had no sugar. She didn't have to go out to get a switch as she always had one sticking up in house. She switched us good and told us we didn't have no right to bother things that didn't belong to us. We never did bother anything else that didn't belong to us again. 

There was an apple tree that grew in the garden. It had green looking apples with red specks on them. They smelled like and I wondered how they tasted. They told us not to bother them as they used all of them to make preserves out of. I never tasted one of those apples as they told me not to bother them. I learned my lesson with the surgar. 

I don't git out much now. I sets here and think of the days that are fone and the life that is to come. I think of the old songs I used to sing and they comfort me.

    Jesus My god, I know his name, His name is all my trust,
He would not put my soul to shame, or let my hopes be lost.
Firm is His throne, His promise, and thus my soul is secure.

Contributed by M. Dawson, May 2002.


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