The Slave Narrative Collection
An OKGenWeb Special Project
I was born in Arkansas, in 1854, but we moved to Texas in 1855. I've heard 'em tell about de trip to Texas. De grown folks rode in wagons and carts but de chaps all walked dat was a big enuff. De men walked and toted their guns and hunted all de way. Dey had plenty of fresh game to eat.
My mother's name was Nellie Bell. I had one sister, Liza. I never saw my father; in fact, I never heard my mammy say anything about him and I don't guess I ever asked her anything about him for I never thought anything about not having a father. I guess he belonged to another family and when we moved away e was left behind and he didn't try to find us after de War.
My mammy and my sister and me belonged to young Master Jason Bell. We was his onliest slaves and as he wasn't married and lived at home wid his parents; we was worked and bossed by his father, Cap'n William Bell and his wife, Miss Mary.
After we moved to Texas, old Master built a big double long house, weather-boards on de inside and out. It was painted white. Dey was a long gallery clean across de front of de house and a big open hall between de two front rooms. Dey was three rooms on each side of de hall and a wide gallery across the back. De kitchen set back from de house and dey was a board walk leading to it. Vines was planted 'round de gallery and on each side of de walk in de summer time. De house was on a hill and set back from de big road about a quarter of a mile and dey was big oak and pine trees all 'round de yard. We had purty flowers, too.
We had good quarters. Dey was log cabins, but de logs was pealed and square-adzed and put together with white plaster and had shuttered windows and pine floors. Our furniture was home made but it was good and made our cabin comfortable.
Old Master give us our allowance for staple food and it had to run us, too. We could raise our own gardens and in dat way we had purty pleanty to eat. Dey took good care of us sick or well and old Mistress was awful good to us.
My mammy was de cook. I remember old Master had some puurty strict rules and one of 'em was iffen you burnt de bread you had to eat it. One day mammy burnt de bread. She was awful busy and forgot it and it burnt purty bad. She knowed dat old Master would be mad and she'd be punished so she got some grub and her bonnet and she lit out. She hid in de woods and cane brakes for two seeks and dey couldn't find her either. One of de women slipped food out to her. Finally she come home and old Master gave her a whipping but he didn't hurt her none. He was glad to git her back. She told us dat she could'a clipped of de North but she didn't want to leave us children. She was afraid young Master would be mad and sell us and we'd a-had a hard time so she come back. I don't know whether she ever burnt de bread any more or not.
Once one of de men got his 'lowance and he decided he'd have de meat all cooked at once so he come to our cabin and got mammy to cook it for him. She cooked it and he took it home. One day he was at work and a dog got in and et de meat all up. He didn't have much food for de rest of de week. He had to make out wid parched corn.
We all kept parched corn all de time and went 'round eating it. It was good to fill you up iffen you was hungry and was nourishing, too.
When de niggers cooked in dere own cabins dey put de food in a sort of tray or trough and everybody et together. Dey didn't have no dishes. We allus ate at de Big House as mammy had to do de cooking for de family.
I never had to work hard as old Master wanted us to grow up strong. He'd have mammy boil Jerusalem Oak and make a tea for us to drink to cure us of worms and we'd run races to get exercise so we would be healthy.
Old Mistress and old Master had three children. Dey was two children dead between Master Jason and Miss Jane. Dey was a little girl 'bout my age, named Arline. We played together all de time. We used to set on de steps at night and old Mistress would tell us about de stars. She'd tell us and show us de Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Milky Way, Ellen's Yard, Job's Coffin, and de Seven Sisters. I can show 'em to you and tell you all about 'em yet.
I scared ARline and made her fall and break her leg twice. One time we was on de proch after dark one night and I told her dat I heard something and I made like I could see it and she couldn't so she got scared and run and hung her tow in a crack and fell off de high porch and broke her leg. Another time while de War was going on we was dressed up in long dresses playing grown-ups. We had a play-house under some big castor-bean bushes. We climbed up on de fence and jest for fun I told her dat I seen some Yankees coming. She started to run and to tangled up in her long dress and fell and broke her leg again. It nigh broke my heart for I love her and she loved me, and se didn't tell on me either time. I used to visit her after she was married and we'd sure have a good visit talking 'bout de things we used to do. We was separated when we was bout fifteen and didn't see each other any more till we was both married and had children. I went to visit her in Bryant, Brazos County, Texas and I ain't seen her since. I don't know whether she is still living or not.
I 'member hearing a man say dat once he was a nigger trader. He'd buy and trade or sell 'em like they was stock. He become a Christian and never sold any more.
Our young Master went to de War and got wounded and come home and died. Old Mastet den took full charge of us and when de War ended he kept us because he said we didn't have no folks and he said as our owner was dead we wasn't free. Mother died about a year after de War, and some white folks took my sister but I was afraid to go. Old Master told me iffen I left him he would cut my ears off and I'd starve and I don't know what all he did tell me he'd do. I must a been a fool but I was afraid to try it.
I had so much work to do and I never did git to go anywhere. I reckon he was afraid to let me go off de place for fear someone would tell me what a fool I was, so I never did get to go anywhere but had to work all de time. I was de only one to work and old Mistress and de girls never had done no work and didn't know much about it. I had a harder time dan when we was slaves.
I got to wanting to see my sister so I made up my mind to run off. ONe of Old Master's motherless nephews lived with him and I got him to go with me one night to the potato bank and I got me a lap full of potatoes to eat so I wouldn't starve like old Masster said I would. Dis white boy went nearly to a house where some white folks lived. I went to de house and told 'em I wanted to go to where my sister was and dey let me stay fer a few days and sent me on to my sister.
I saw old Master lots of times after I run away but he wasn't mad at me. I heard him tell de white folks dat I lived wid dat he raised me and I sure wouldn't steal nor tell a lie. I used to steal brown sugar lumps when mammy would be cooking but he didn't know 'bout dat.
One holidays we sued to allus have big dinners, 'specially on chirstmas, and we allus had egg-nog.
We allus had hog-jowel and peas on New Years Day 'cause iffen you'd have dat on New Years Day you'd have good luck all de year.
Iffen you have money on New Years Day you will have money all de year.
My husband, Lewis Wells, lived to be one-hundred and seven years old. He died five years ago. He could see witches, spirits and ghosts but I never could. Dere are a few things dat I've noticed and dey never fail.
Dogs howling and scritch owls hollering is allus a warning. My mother was sick and we didn't think she was much sick. A dog howled and howled right outside de house. Old Master say, "Nellie gonna die." Sure nuff she died dat night.
Another time a gentle old mule we had got after de children and run 'em to de house and den he lay down and wallow and wallow. One of our children was dead 'fore a week.
One of our neighbors say his dog been gone 'bout a week. He was walking and met de dog and it lay down and stretched out on de ground and measured a grave wide his body. He made him git up and he sent home jest as fast as he could. When he got dere one of his children was dead.
Iffen my left eye quiver I know I'm gwineter cry and iffen both my eyes quiver I know I gwinter laugh till I cry. I don't like for my eyes to quiver.
We has allus made our own medicine. Iffen we hadn't we never could astood de chills and fevers. We made a tea out'n bitter weeds and bathed in it to sure malaria. We also made bread pills and soaked 'em in dis tea and swallowed 'em. After bathing in dis tea we'd go to bed and kiver up and sweat de malaria out.
Horse mint and palm of crystal (Castor_bean) and bullnettle root boiled together will make a cure for swelling. Jest bathe de swollen part in dis hot tea.
Anvil dust and apple vinegar will cure dropsy. One tea cup of anvil dust to a quart of vinegar. Shake up well and bather in it. It sure will cure de worst kind of a case.
Good worked through Abraham Lincoln and he answered de prayers of dem dat was wearing de burden of slavery. We cullud folks all love and honor Abraham Lincoln's memory and don't you think we ought to?
I love to hear good singing. My favorite songs are: "Am I A Soldier Of The Cross," an "How Can I Live In Sin and Doubt My Saviour's Love." I belongs to de Baptist church.
Contributed by M. Dawson, 05/06/03