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The Slave Narrative Collection
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Johnson Thompson
Cherokee Freedman  

Age 84
Fort Gibson, Oklahoma

 

        Just 'bout two weeks before the coming of Christmas Day in 1853, I was born on a plantation somewheres eight miles east of Bellview, Rusk County, Texas. One year later my sister Phyllis was born on the same place and we been together pretty much of the time ever since, and I reckon dere's only one thing that could separate us slave born children.

        Mammy and pappy belong to W.P. Thompson, mixed blood Cherokee Indian, but before that pappy had been owned by three different master; one was the Rich Joe Vann who lived down at Webber Falls and another was Chief Lowery of the Cherokees. I had a brother named Harry who belonged to the Vann family at Tahlequah. Dere was a sister named Patsy; she died at Wagoner, Oklahoma. My mother was born way back in the hills of the old Flint district of the Cherokee Nation; just about where Scraper Oklahoma is now.

        My parents are both dead now--seems like fifty, maybe sixty year ago. Mammy died in Texas, and when we left Rusk County after the Civil War, pappy took us children to the graveyard. We patted her grave and kissed the ground ...telling her goodbye. Pappy is buried in the church yard on Four Mile Branch.

        I don't remember much about my pappy's mother; but I remember she would milk for a man named Columbus Balreade and she went to prayer meeting every Wednesday night. Sometimes us children would try to follow her, but she'd turn us around pretty quick and chase us back with: Go on back to the house or the wolves get you."

        Master Thompson brought us from Texas when I was too little to remember about it, and I din't know how long it was before we was all sold to John Harnage, "Marse John" was his pet name and he liked to be called that-a-way. He took us back to Texas right down near where I was born at Bellview.

        The master's house was a big log building setting east and west, with a porch on the north side of the house. The slave cabins was in a row, and we lived in one of them. It had no windows, but it had a wood floor that was kept clean with plenty of brushings, and a fireplace where mammy'd cook the turnip greens and peas and corn--I still likes the cornbread with fingerprints baked on it like in the old days when it was cooked on a skillet over the hot wood ashes. I eat from a big pan set on the floor---there was no chairs--and I slept in a trundle bed that was pushed under the big bed in the daytime.

        I spent happy days on the Harnage plantation going squirrel hunting with the master---he was always riding, while I run along and throw rocks in the trees to scare the squirrels so's Marse John could get the aim on them; pick a little cotton and put it in somebody's hamper (basket) and run races with other colored boys to see who would get to saddle the masters horse, while the master would stand laughing by the gate to see which boy won the race.

        Our clothes was home-made---cotton in the summer, mostly just a long-tailed shirt and no shoes, and wood goods in the winter. Mammy was the house girl and she weaved the cloth and my Aunt Tilda dyed the cloth with indigo, leaving her hands blue looking most of the time. Mammy work late in the night, and I hear the loom making noises while I try to sleep in the cabin. Pappy was the shoe-maker and he used wooden pegs of maple to fashion the shoes.

        The master had a bell to ring every morning at four o'clock for the folks to turn out. Sometimes the sleep was too deep and somebody would be late, but the master never punish anybody, and I never see anybody whipped and only one slave sold.

        Pappy wanted to go back to his mother when the War was over the slaves was freed. He made a deal with Dave Mounts, a white man, who was moving into the Indian country to drive for him. A four mule team was hitched to the wagon and for five weeks we was on the road from Texas finally getting to grandma Brewer's at Fort Gibson. Pappy worked around the farms and fiddled for the Cherokee dances.

        Den I went to a subscription school for a little while, but didn't get much learning. Lots of the slave children didn't ever learn to read or write. And we learned some things about religion from an old colored preacher named Tom Vann. He would sing for us, and I'd like to hear them old songs again!

        The first time I married was to Clara Nevens, and I wore checked wool pants, and a blue striped cotton shirt. Dere come six children; Charley, Alec, Laura, Harry Richard and Jeffy, who waS named after Jefferson Davis. The second time I married a cousin, Rela Brewer.

        Jefferson Davis was a great man, but I think Roosevelt is greater than Davis or Abraham Lincoln.

Contributed by M. Dawson, May 2002


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