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The Slave Narrative Collection
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Eliza Elsey
Age 77

Fort Gibson, Oklahoma

        I ainít sure who old I is, but mamma says I was born during the middle of the War, in fodder time. That means in August, Ďcause thatís when fodder pulling is done, and how come I was born is this way:

        Old Master Tom Smith, he the one who own that big plantation maybe 600 acres, down south in Plantersvill, Grimes County, Texas, treated his slaves like animals. He take the strongest men and women, put them together in a cabin soís they raise him some more huskey children. Thatís the kind of a child I is, and thatís why I is so big and so healthy at my old age. I weighs about 250 pounds, and Iím most of 78.

        I donít know about my pappy, Ďcept mamma say his name was Tom McGowan. My mamma come from North Carolina and work in the fields for old Tome Smith who raised lots of figs and cane and some kind of grapes they call ďcut throats.Ē Soon as I is born she go back to the field work, and sometime she feel so bad they whipped her for not working hard enough. She had scars on her back until she died; I see them lots of times and feel sorry that she lived in slave times.

        After the War a man named Harrison Sheppard married my mamma and she change her name to Jane Smith Sheppard. They give me three half brothers; Cicero, Jim and George, and four half sisters; Alice, Nessie, Manda and Friona. They are all dead.

        The only white child on the plantation was Molly, and she the daughter of Tom Smith and his wife, who lived in a big, fine white plank house, with two chimneys, double. The field hands was never allowed to come into the Masterís house, and I donít know how it was fixed up.

        I know about the slave cabins; they was all set in a long row, and seems like they be a mile long and made of logs, There was a fireplace made of mud, and the dirt floor was rock hard from all the feets that tramp over it all the time. The cabins all alike, one room with a door, but no windows, and mamma say the room was horrible hot in the summer.

        All the cloths was made of cotton cloth, even in the winter. That alright for it donít stay cold long, not down south where the sugar cane grow. When a ďnortheríí come the slaves maybe find some old pieces of shoes or wrap up the feets in sacks; if they couldnít find nothing to wear they would work anyways, building a fire with the brush to keep warm by, but they couldnít stay by that fire too much else they get flogged by the overseer that mamma said was the worse one she ever heard of.

        The Master ration out the food by the week, and should anybody eat too much they most likely starve before next ration day, Else they steals from each other, or the Master would lose a hog some might when it be darkest. Like the story my mamma told about the slave who got caught under a hog.

        The colored man he got hungry, and his little girl Caroline got hungry too, so he takes her with him one night to watch out for the Master while he steal a hog. He kill the hog alright and put him on his back to carry to his cabin, but somehow he stumble in the dark and the dead hog so heavy the girl canít get him off her pappy. Caroline get scared and yell, louder all the time, till the Master come to see about the trouble. He whipped the slave for stealing and the man went hungry waiting for the next rations.

        Mamma told me about another time when two men went out to kill a hog. The hogs root around and sleep under the barn, so one man was to chase them out and the other man was to knock one in the head when he scoot out from under the barn. The hogs run out the other side of the barn, but the Negro come back out the same way he went in and when he stick his head out the man waiting for a hog crack him between the eyes and lay him out. The man died and Master sold the other one to some far off plantation.

        Mother always said that stealing in slave days made a birthmark on the younger generation Ė thatís why colored boys and girls steal today.

        The Master kept a doctor around most of the time to look after the slaves. He dose out castor oil and turpentine, calomel and blue-mass pills. The children had some little sacks tied around their necks, I know now it was asafetida, and it keep off the disease.

        When the Negro babies cry with the stomach ache they give them hen feathers tea, and when they break out with the hives, there was nothing better then sheep wool tea.

        Some of the slaves didnít believe it when they was freed, and they didnít want to leave the plantation. Whole lots of them kept on working just the same, but they was treated better. They didnít know how to sell cattle or hogs, or sugar cane, and the Master sell part of the crops and give the Negroes some of the money.

        After mamma married Harrison Sheppard they move up here to Fort Gibson, and I been here since then. I been married three times. First to Bill White, then to Dennis Beck and then to Robert Elsey. They all dead now, and my three children was from my first husband. Two girls and a boy; Armanda, who I lives with, Bessie and George. There is four grandchildren; Hazel Blaine, Leonard Vann, Odell Little and L. V. Little.

        That all I can tell about the slave days, but I is proud we all get out of slavery and I is glad that Lincoln is the one that freed us.

Contributed by M. Dawson, May 2002


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