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The Slave Narrative Collection
An OKGenWeb Special Project

Robert H. Burns

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

I's born Agefield, Tennessee, south of Nasville. I's born de last of March 1856. Me father was named Athony Owens and mother's name Catherine Owens. They wuz Tennessee born. During slavery I's a child. Never worked, just played around. Our beds was made of straw. Me grand parents belonged to moster Montgomery Bell. He was so rich he set free about 75 of his slaves and sent dem to Liberia. He also set de remainder of about 225 Negroes free dat he kept.

After his death his son-in-law enslaved dem again by breaking de will of his father-in-law.

During Salver dar wuz ar white man i Mississippi doat made his living catching runaway slaves. One Negro slave one night killed 75 hounds wid ar side blade after dey had run him down and got away again and dey never did git dis slave. Anuther slave would always run away and when dey would git at him he knew of ar pond wid ar hollow tree growing a distance from the banks where he could run and jump into this pond of water and swim to this old tree and go up in its hollow and the dogs would run up to de edge of dis pond and stand dare and bark and de hunters would come dar and couldn't see nuzzin and leave.

We wore white cotton shirts and pants and shirts only during the summer dat was weaved right dare on de plantation. I never seed any under-wear until i wuz bout 12 years of age. We all wore hats made from wheat straw. Dare wuz no shoes for de slaves a-tall. In winter de women would tie dar feet up in rags.

I got married me first time near Florence, Alabama. I's 25 years old. I paid $1.50 for me license and if you wanted to divorce it would cost 50 cents.

Isaac Curkendoll was me moster. His house was shite ar frame building. He owned five or six farms, in Tennessee, Mississippi and owned about 300 slaves on the place where I wuz. I don't know how many slaves on de other plantation, dare wuz as many as 150 Nigro children in the quarters. Dare wuz so many wolves in Tennessee dat dey would at nights fight. One night dey ran a Negro salve up a tree and kept him up dare all night. Dey howled and howled and more wolves came dat it seemed to be about ar hundred. Dey dog all night at de roots of dis tree till nearly day when dey dug it down and when de tree felled it frightened de wolves and dey run away and de slave den come home and told his moster de wolves had caused him to be out all night.

De slaves would be whipped each evening, if dey failed to pick 300 lbs. of cotton. One day de overseer tied a Negro woman to a tree and let de body part of clothing down and he sat down in a chair and whipped her for one hour.

My moster would put slave in a calaboose at nights to be whipped de next morning. He always limited de lashings to 500. After whipping dem he would rub pepper and salt on dare backs, where whipped, and lay dem before de fire until blistered and den take a cat and hold de cat and make him claw de blisters to burst them.

I had eight children by my first wife. De second time I married a half Indian and white woman. Dare wuz 11 children born to her.

Me moster wuz so mean he didn't allow any church. Four or five slaves succeeded in running away and went north to de free states. De patrollers wuz plentiful and if dey would catch you our at nights wid out a pas dey would hip um unmercifully even if you wuz caught visiting within de quarters. Sometime de slaves would be out at nights and de patrollers would be looking for dem de slaves would lie down in de dark and grunt like a hog and de patrollers would go on thinking dem to be hogs.

He said, when a slave man wanted to marry, his master would never object to a big tall nigger like you as dey preferred big tall slaves as dey wuz strong and would bring more money when sold.

De white preachers who would call dem selves preaching to de slaves would only preach to de niggers about being good, obedient and work good and hard for dare moster. He would preach and tell de nigger dat dey didn't have any souls, and that niggers didn't go to heaven. Only white people had souls and went to heaven. He told dem dat niggers had no more souls than dogs, and dey couldn't go to heaven any more than could a dog.

De slaves would use rag-weed tea for bowels complaint, bone-set-weeds for chills, and Sampson-snake-root for chills. Dey wore anjullico roots around de neck to keep down diseases.

De Slaves would all try to git dem a black cat and cook him and when done take the cooked cat to a stream of water and pour into stream and de bone dat would come to de top of de water and float for good luck to give him luck, keep moster from whipping him and many other things.

During Civil War de Yankees to me mosters plantation and killed up me moster's chickens, hogs, cattle and told us to help our selves.

Our Master ran off so dat de Yankees couldn't find him and when he returned he was mad and whipped de slaves because he thought dey told de Yankee where to find his hogs and cattle, etc.

We all thought Abraham Lincoln was our God, but we had to keep it a secret as our moster didn't not like him as he was trying to set us free. We had to pretend, to him, dat we liked Jefferson Davis, to our Master as he pretended to dat Davis wuz de nigger's friend, and dat he, Davis, was going to set dem free and give each nigger family 40 acres and a mule.

Now dat slavery is over I wish and hope dat God would treat all dem slave owners as dey did us when they get in hell.

Contributed by M. Dawson, 05/06/03

2018 OKGenWeb

updated 01/10/2016

Linda Simpson, State Coordinator
Mel Owings, Assistant Coordinator