The Slave Narrative Collection
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We strongly recommend that you read the information below from the Library of Congress explaining the language used in these interviews.
Carrie E. Davis
Age 97 Years
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
I was born in Winnsboro, South Carolina, may 8th, 1842. De reason I 'member my age so well is 'cause it stayed in de old family Bible till I was a grown gal. De Bible got burned up or else I'd have it right now.
I am de daughter of Samuel and Amanda Williams. My father was a silversmith. He worked for hisself and bought himself. The way he done this was, he asked his Master how much he was worth and Master told him. He picked another slave 'holder and let him be his guardian. The guardian recognized every check that my father paid old Master. When he was paid for, the guardian told him and then he had to mind the guardian. It was just some more slavery matter-of-course, but it wasn't so bad as the first, cause he could come & go when he wanted to. My father owned three blocks of land and brick building just right out from the capital.
We lived in a little shanty or shed made of sticks and bark from trees. Our beds were made from Chinaberry trees. We cut dem down, tied de poles together wid de bark and put sticks across it for slats. We plaited shucks together to make our mattresses, and sometimes we pulled hay to make mattresses out of. I've had to sleep on peach tree leaves.
I'll tell you we had a hard time, and still do! It's just a few of us (former slaves) living now, and dey do kick us around so! I knowed Lewis Jenkins back in South Carolina, who was the son of a white woman by a nigger coachman and he up and married a white woman, who was the wife of a confederate soldier. Took her clean 'way from her husband. I can't member her name neither, but me and him was int'mate friends. I don't know nothing 'bout any brothers and sisters, only dem in de church.
You know we wasn't allowed to raise nothing much for ourselves and we never did have any money. Of course sometimes we would steal something from some of de white neighbors and sell it, but you know dat didn't amount to nothing much. If we was caught wid de stuff old Master would make us divide wid him, and den if de neighbor dat we stold de stuff from missed it and caught us wid it, he would tell old Master and den old Mastet would say I'm going to give you hundred licks for stealing Mr. So-and So's stuff. Now mind you brother, he didn't bother us if de neighbors didn't miss his stuff and catch us wid it.
My jobs was gathering cherries, chopping cotton, carrying mail and working as a nurse. In cotton chopping time we had to be standing on our row by five o'clock. Den old overseer would say, Work niggers, and den we'd start chopping. We didn't know nothing 'bout breakfast, only a piece of bread. We had to take dat in our and and eat it on de way to de field. I'm telling you it was hard, mighty hard.
I was a slave one time, his name was Townsend, and dey tell me he has some people right here in town now. As I was going to say, Townsend killed Scott, Mr. Blakeney's overseer. Scott had whipped Townsend every morning for 'bout a month, just about nothing at all, you might say. Townsend got tired of dis so one morning when Scott went to whip him. Townsend turned things round, only he did Scott worse dan Scott ever done him. Dere just wasn't no more Scott when Townsend got through with him. Well, dey took Townsend and carried him to de little village and made all the slaves gather 'round to loon on, and Townsend's wife was dere too. They made her look right at him. I don't see how she done it. She must have been praying in her heart, for it was a pitiful sight what happened. Dey tied his hand and feet to some stakes, poured turpentine all over his body and den stuck a match to it. OH! dat was awful, it was awful! We couldn't look off, we had to look right at dat poor man. De poor fellow screamed three times and dat was all for him. Another instance like that was when Mr. Abbercrumby got to be our overseer. He tied a nigger to a tree and a storm come up while they was rounding up the slaves to make dem come to the burning. He lived through all the storming and brush was up to his neck the next morning. All of us slave was gathered up and took to the burning. He was burnt cause he said he was going to kill the overseer for whipping him so much. A nigger that was no good told on him. He was one more pitiful sight.
For food we had peas, corn, cornbreads and bacon. We got our rashings on Sunday morning, and it to last us all de week. We didn't know nothing 'bout no grease, and what grease we got had to come out of de bacon they gave us. We didn't have a garden, but some of the slaves planted gardens at night and would work dem on Sunday afternoons. We could eat fish, rabbit and possums if we caught dem at night, but we didn't do much hunting and fishing 'cause we was too tied when night came.
Dem days we had sweet 'tatoes de year 'round and de slave had to build houses for de 'tatoes, and den cure 'em by piling dry sand and grass on them. Dat reminds me of old Mr. Osau. He lived close by us. He was one of the meanest masters I knowed of. I've seen him work his slave in de 'tato field till dey fell dead. After a slave had worked hisself to death, old Mr. Osau would make some of de slace's relative make a bos for him and if it didn't fit, they broke his body up so it would fit. They was not even allowed to shed a tear for dey dead kinfolks. Dey would say, "Master, making dat bos was de last thing I could do for John," or whoever it was. Oh! dat was an awful time we had den, but de good Lawd come in time. Some of dem white folks dat thought right run old man Osau off for doing dem dead bodies so bad.
We had to make our cloths, and I've had to weave millions of pieces of cloth. In de summer our cloths were made of stuff dat looks like dese old gunny sacks you see now. Most of us went barefooted in de summer time. Some of de slaves wore cloth shoes in winter, but our shoes were made out of cowhides.
You know in dem days de servants went to church weddings and parties wid de white folks. Dey would walk along behind old Mistress and hold her dress to keep if from dragging. At prties the servants would take care of de wraps. De slave women could have party but de colored men was not allowed to come 'round. De white boys would go along to de party to see dat dere was no nigger meant there. Now, I spose you see why de race is so mixed up cause dem white boys didn't mean to good. Some of dem girls just wore chemise to dem dances, while others dressed up nice. Some just didn't hve nothing to wear but chemise, dat's why. The colored boys didn't hardly ever get to dance with the girls of they own race. We had to do just what them boys said do, too. girls who go with them now, they is just sleeping on their rights, 'cause they didn't mean dem no good. Nothing to come of it but illegal children, which they don't own, nor now.
I've seen slaves put on blocks and sold. Dey would have a large crowd of masters gathered 'round and dey would put de slaves on a stump or block and roll de sleeves and pants legs up and say, "dis is good stock; got good muscles, and he's good hard working nigger." Why, dey sold 'em just like you see 'em sell stock now. If de woman was a good breeder she would sell for big money, 'cause she could raise children. They felt all over the woman folks, Mr. Hughes, the official slave seller, would buy all the good looking nigger girls for him and his brother and take 'em home and put 'em in they private home, not they plantation, and raise families by them or just use 'em for they enjoyment, iffen they didn't have no children. I was put on the block seven or eight time myself. The last time was when I was 10 years old. My mama was mostly Irish and she would raise cane when I would be put on the block. She say, "I'll kill myself if you sell her." Old Master said, "Iffen that nigger winch wasn't worth seven or eight hundred dollars, I'd let her kill herself." She was pink complexion, red hair, blue or green eyes and weighed 'round 200 pounds.
De slaves dat would fight, had to work with chains on. They couldn't even get their own water, and someone would have to hold the old gourd dipper while dey drunk. I member one time a man was killed over a ash cake 'cause all dem fighting niggers wanted it and got to fighting and killed a man. Dey just didn't recognize dat they was each other's friends. I 'member one time I was drinking out of a gourd dipper and a snake crawled out of the handle.
If de slaves would work pretty good dey would give dem something good to eat like 'tatoe pie and good old ham. If dey didn't work, dey would have to sear thorns on their ckoths instead of pins. There was no jails in dem days, and dey would lock you in a dark house and whip you when dey took you out."
We didn't have a church. Slaves would meet and shake hands over de fence. De slaves stood outside de white folks' church, and when de old preacher was through wid the services, he would come out on de steps and read de Bible to de slaves. We could have church in their church sometimes when dey done got through. Old man Ashley, my uncle, was a free man. He bought hisself just like my pappy did. He was a carpenter. He bought his wife and if he had any children he bought dem too, He could come and preach in de church, if dere was four overseers dere. Dey baptized in de river, and de song dey sung most of de time was "Religion Is So Sweet." You could sing at de funeral if de Master was willing for you to, and dey would sing de same songs dey sung at church.
Some of de slaves would run off, and sometimes a good white man would slip dem off. I 'member Mr. John Brown, a good old white man, he took some slaves, put dem in his wagon, covered dem over wid hay and carried dem to New York so dey could be free. When it was found dat Mr. Brown did dis, de white folks hung him. He had two or three slaves wid him when he was killed.
When we quit work in de field we had to go home, wash, and cook supper and our dinner for de next day. We didn't know nothing 'bout any hot meals only at night, 'cause den our supper was always hot.
We had Saturday night frolics. We would dance, pull candy and tell jokes. We had to be through by eleven o'clock. Den de folks who worked in de field all de time would have 'dere dance." You know de folk dat worked at de Big House wasn't 'lowed to associate wid de regular field hands and in dem dances dey dared to dance wid each other.
I been a lots of corn huskings. We would have big time, and would sing a lot. I 'memeber one of de songs was "Round up Sally, round Up Corn," and when we'd get to singing dar we'd sure husk some corn. De huskers would be at one end and the grinders at de other. Dey would serve gingerbread and persimmon beer, but of course de beer wasn't strong enough to make us drunk.
If some Master's folks died de slaves would be called to de house and dey would set round and cry and talk about what a good master or mistress he or she was. Of course most of the time de slaves was pretending. 'cause dey was glad for dis to happen, but you know dey had to pretend, 'cause dey was scared to do anything else.
Some of de slaves married right in de church but wouldn't be but two or three persent. Dey would get some pie and cake after de wedding. But this was rare. Sometime de Master would buy husbands for women and wives for men. If a man was bought for a woman she had to live sid him and raise children.
De children played a few little games such as jumping rope, throwing horse shoes and wrestling, and dats 'bout all. We didn't know nothing 'bout de games de kids play now.
Dey wouldn't send for a doctor unless you was in dying condition. Course every plantation had a woman doctor on it and dey was mostly for childbirth you know. Doctors was to expensive. De slaves had to take roots and herbs and make our own medicine. I 'member some of de slaves wearing charms but I never did believe in dem much, and dat's why I don't know nothing 'bout dem now.
All dis happened in Montgomery, Alabama. We was moved to a plantation in dis place 'cause Master had interest in it. I was just 5 years old when this happened.
when I was 20 years old, my mother was put on the block with my two brothers. Mr Hughes, the slave-seller, said he had a nigger winch and two bulls to go. My brother Henry shot him and he never got over it. My brother left and they never found him. It was hard to describe him after he got to manhood. He looked white. I am de darkest of my family and I am almost yellow. My mother's father was Dr. Crush, part Indian and Irish. No Negro looking people at all in my family.
When they was sending the Indians to Oklahoma, I had to stay at the train and serve coffee. I made fifty gallons. I wanted to come the, but my husband wouldn't le me. They gave Oklahoma to the Indians and now they taking it. The indians have no rights now. They just waiting for another governor to be discharged so it can be a territory one more time.
I member when we was told dat we was free. It was the 19th of June. We danced all day and all night. De Yankees had sent old Master word to free us, but he hadn't told us 'bout it. So one day while we was laying by de corn, de Yankees come to the field and told old Master and de overseer dat if dey didn't free us dey would bust their brains out. I 'member quite well how old Master cried out and said, "Lord, ain't I going to have no more niggers to look after?" Den de old overseer come to us and said, "You are free now, just as free as your Master." Dat was a glorious day. We shouted and thanked God and dat night de plantation folk gathered from miles around and we stayed up all night dancing and singing.
Now four years before de War a large star come in de north. It was made in a kind of S-shape. At de top of de S was a large star and at de bottom was a small one, so small you couldn't hardly see it. I asked an old white woman 'bout dat star and she told me to 'hush Carrie,' dat represents trouble. She said something terrible is going to happen, and it did happen, 'cause dat star stayed there till we slaves was freed.
Me and my husband had a big wedding. Course I didn't know it was going to be like dat, 'cause my friends got together and surprised me. I was married after freedom. After de wedding we had chicken, ham, cakes and pies. Dey didn't have weddings in dem days like we have now. My marriage took place in Montgomery, Alabama. I was married to Stephen Davis, one of Jefferson Davis 'illegal children. I am a daughter-in-law of Jeff Davis. I met him during the was. Jeff Davis used to bring his one legal child, Minnie Mae, to visit us. He had nine boys in my husband's mother and one by his legal wife. Course you know in dem days de white man didn't think nothing about having a wife and a colored woman, and dey would both stay right dere wid him. White woman made the colored men go with them. Jeff was a mean man, I'll say dat but he was good to me, I'll say dat for him too.
I thought Abraham Lincoln, de old "rail splitter" as dey called him, was de best man ever lived. We mourned for him a long time after his death. We had what was known as de Lincoln Society. We met and talked of what he done for us and how we all felt 'bout him and prayed for him.
I've seen Booker Washington a number of times. I used to make sheets, ironing board covers, iron holders and give dem to him for de school.
I moved to Oklahoma 8 years ago after my husband died. A white man make here looking for my brother Henry, who killed that white slave seller and I wouldn't tell him where he was. My brother is a preacher now, and he never visits me here, cause these folks here know him too well.
I am a member of de Tabernacle Baptist Church. I love de Lawd and I think all de people should be Christians, 'cause de Lawd Lifted dat heavy burden of slavery from dere heads, and dat ain't all he can do if de folks will only live by his teachings. And de main things is to treat your fellow men right, regardless of his color.
Contributed by M. Dawson, July 2002