The Slave Narrative Collection
An OKGenWeb Special Project
Age 80 Years
I was born in Nashville, Tenn., in my grandmother's two room log cabin on the big farm place of Master Billie Robertson and his wife Annie. Folks said in the old days that Master was a millionaire and that he had thousands of acres, hundreds of slaves and plenty of sense. He was a good master and wouldn't have overseers around who was mean either.
Susan and Billie was the master's children. The boy was kinder crazy-like and my pappy, Martin Robertson, was tolled off to watch over him. Went everywhere the boy did, even when he growed up and was big enough to drive the oxen to the mills for corn grinding and all such. The girl Susan was just like her folks. Kind and good, always try to help me. She's the one who take me out side by the house and teach me out of the books. And write, too. She took me and mammy with her when she got married and moved to another big farm about three mile from the old master's plantation.
My mammy was name Annie, after her mistress. Annie Robertson. Both my parents were born slaves and my grandparents was slave born, too. I remember seeing my grandfather; he was 110 year old when he died. My brothers were Cupe, Robertson, Ed and Buddy; sisters were Ona and Julia, but I'm the only child of them all who is still living.
Mammy was a house girl and all us children work around in the yard and the house. I saw the field mothers marching to the fields, but we never worked there. The field workers lived in the slave cabins down the path from the master's big house. Now that was a house!
Twelve rooms it was, with a big hall that let the breeze swept through on the hot days, and a gallery that was long and high where the folks use to sit in the evening and talk and laugh and listen to some of the young negros singing around the place. Them was the best times the negroes ever had and expect they'll never have no more good times as that. The parlor was a big room, fixed up with nice chairs and colored rugs scattered on the floor, most of the things was made by the slaves. The master sent off somewhere and fetched in a carpenter one time. He built some things and the master paid him to teach the slaves how to do what he did with a saw and hammer.
The kitchen where old black Betty Robertson use to cook for the white folks was just like any other such place until the master went down to New Orleans one time and come back with a stove. A cook stove. why, folks from all over the country come in to see that stove and watch Betty pan up the food stuffs. She had plenty to cook with and plenty of folks to cook for. The master killed his own beef and pork, part of it was for the slaves and part for hisself, but everybody get all they need. And there was always white folks come a visiting, so Betty done cooked about just all the time all day long.
At night the rooms in the big house was lighted with grease lamps. The base was green copper stuff with a string to make the light after my mammy pour on the grease. She take such a lamp down to the creek at night, sometimes I go with her and hold it while she wash a few of the children's clothes.
In them days washing wasn't so easy. It ain't to easy nowadays, but then it was real work. They had no bought soap. It was homemade lye soap and I use to tote water from the spring to the ash hopper where mammy and some of the others made that soap. There wasn't any washboards. They had a big wide board, lay the cloths on the board after they soak 'em up and with a paddle they would beat out the dirt. That was work! When I was a child I done lots of playing. Swinging on the grape vines that trailed down from high up in the trees. And hunting for rabbits. Soon as we children fetch in the rabbit to the old cook Betty, she would have it in the iron skillet almost before the rabbit knew he was caught! She was the best rabbit cook in the whole country, least we always thought so.
My mammy would weave all the cloth and make cloths. She knew how to run the loom but I don't know how. She would send out in the woods for certain kinds of roots and bark. Mix'em up and boil, and when the color was right all the cloth was dyed and made ready for hand sewing the dresses and shirts. I learned to knit and made stockings even if I was a little girl.
The mster had bells and horns to wake up the slaves. They would start their work at daybreak, soon as the bells ring and the horns blow. At noon the bells ring and the horns would blow again. The slaves come in from the fields and go to the long kitchen eating place where all the field hands ate and everybody pile in the food.
We use to hear about other masters whipping their slaves, but on the Robertson place everybody treated alright. Sometimes they would be somebody needing a going over. the the master order him to the calaboose. That was a jail. Just a little old log cabin thing without windows, but the door was locked and nobody could get out without the overseer's keys.
The master bought slaves from the slave traders what use to travel around the country. Sometime he go to the big markets and buy a few. He didn't sell many himself. but when the slaves got a feeling there was going to be an auction they would pray. The night before the sale they would pray in their cabins. They didn't pray loud but they prayed long and you could hear the hum of voices in all the cabins row the row.
There was an old negro woman on the place who doctored the slaves. Somebody get sick she was called in and gave 'em medicine made of roots and herbs. If they got well right away she was mighty glad. but if her medicine didn't do no good the old master would call in the white doctor, Dr. Ganaway.
When the master and his wife went to visit the neighbors they always took one or two of the negro children with them. I went lots of times. come to a gate I would get out of the buggy or wagon and open the gate.
After the war started everything was different. During the war the old master had his meats and stuff hid out. some of it he put in the lofts of the slave cabins, some he hide out in the fields.
The Yanks finally come to our place. They went through the house and tore up the feather beds. They cut off the ears of the dogs; they killed the chickens running in the yard; they burn the master's barn and killed his cows and take off with his horses.
All the time we was hiding in the oat field, scared to death. The mistress was with us, and she told us to keep down on the ground lest we get hit with the bullets that was aimed for a chicken.
After the master lost all his things he left out for Coffee County, Tenn., where we stayed during the rest of the war. Sometime though he took a bunch of the field hands down in Louisiana somewheres.
One of the neighbors down in coffee county made a wedding dress for my oldest sister when she married. It was a wool dress, but I don't remember what was it's style. After the war they had big weddings. the parents fix up the wedding dinner. There was cakes two foot high! Pound cakes they was. Everything was pound cakes in them days. They was baked in the old time iron dutch over.
When I married James Pinkard we had a big wedding. I can't describe it, it's been so long ago. There was no children and my husband been dead a long time.
Contributed by M. Dawson, 05/06/03