The Slave Narrative Collection
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Age 83 yrs.
Page 22 - 29
I was born in Jackson, Tennessee, and I’m going on 83 years. My mother was Harriett Neal and father Jeff Bills, both of them named after their masters. I has one brother, J. B. Bills, but all de rest of my brothers and sisters is dead.
No sir, we never had no money while I was a slave. We jest didn’t have nothing a tall! We ate greens, corn bread, and ash cake. De only time I ever got a biscuit would be when a misdemeanor was did, and my Mistress would give a buttered biscuit to de one who could tell her who done it.
In hot weather and cold weather dere was no difference as to what we wore. We wore deresses my mother wove for us and no shoes a tall. I never wore any shoes till I was grown and den dey was old Brogans wid only two holes to lace, one on each side. During my wedding I wore a blue calico dress, a man’s shirt tall as a headpag, and a pair of brogan shoes.
My Master lived in a three-story frame house pained white. My Mistress was very mean. Sometimes she would make de overseer whip negroes for looking to hard at her when she was taking to dem. Dey had four children, three girls and one boy.
I was a servant to my Master, and as he had de palsy I had to care for him, feed him and push him around. I don’t know how many slaves but he had a good deal of ‘em.
Bout four o’clock mornings de overseer or negro carriage driver who stayed at the Big House would ring de bell to git up and git to work.
De slaves would pick a heap of cotton and work till late on moonshining nights.
Dere was a white post in front of my door with ropes to tie the slaves to whip dem. Dey used a plain strap, another one with holes in it, and one dey call de cat wid nine tails which was a number of straps plated and de ends unplated. Dey would whip de slaves wid a wide strap wid holes in it and de holes would make blisters. Den dey would take de cat wid nine tails and burst de blisters and den rub de sores with turpentine and red pepper.
I never say any slaves auctionsed of but I seen dem pass our house chained together on de way to be sold, including both men and women wid babies all chained to each other. Dere was no churches for slaves, but at nights dey would slip off and git in ditches and sing and pray, and when dey would sometimes be caught at it dey would be whipped. Some of de slaves would turn down big pots and put dere heads in dem and pray. My Mistress would tell me to be a good abedient slave and I would go to heaven, When slaves would attempt to tun off dey would catch dem and chain dem and fetch ‘em back and whip dem before dey was turned loose again.
De patrollers would go about in de quarters at nights to see if any of de slaves was out or slipped off. As we sleep on de dirt floors on pallets, de patrollers would walk all over and on us and if we even grunt dey would whip us. De only trouble between de whites and blacks on our plantation was when de overseer tied my mother to whip her and my father untied her and de overseer shot and killed him.
Negroes never was allowed to git sick, and when dey would look somewhat sick, de overseer would give dem some blue – mass pills and oil of some sort and make dem continue to work.
During de War de Yankees would pass through and kill up de chickens, and hogs, and cattle, and eat up all dey could fine. De day of freedom de overseer went into de field and told de slaves dat dey was free, and de slaves replied, “free how” and he told dem! “free to work and live for demselves.” And dey said dey didn’t know what to do, and so some of dem stayed on. I married Josh Forch. I am mother of four children and 35 grand children.
I like Abraham Lincoln. I think he was a good man and president. I didn’t know much who Jeff Davis was. What I heard ‘bout Booker T. Washington, he was a good man.
Now dat slavery is over, I don’t want to be in nary ‘nother slavery, and if ever nary ‘nothern come up I wouldn’t stay here.
Contributed by M. Dawson, May 2002