The Slave Narrative Collection
An OKGenWeb Special Project
Charlotte Johnson White
Fort Gibson, Oklahoma
Near as I ever know, I was born in de year of 1850, away back in dem hill east of Tahlequah; the Cherokee folks called it de Flint district and old master Ben Johnson lived somewheres about ten miles east of the big Indian town, Tahlequah. Never did know jest where his farm was, and when de new towns of dis country spring up it make it dat much harder for me to figure out jest where he lived and where at I was born.
Don't kmow much about own folks either, 'ceptin' that my mother's name was Elasey Johnson and my pappy's name was Banjo Lastley, who one time lived 'round where Lenapah now is. Dere was one brother named of Turner Whitemire Johnson, and a half sister name of Jennie Miller Lastley, who is still living down in Muskogee, but brother Turner been dead most 40 years ago I guess. Pappy was belonging to another master, that's how come my folks' name was different, but I kept the old Johnson name, even though the old master was the meanest kind of a man.
His wife, Mistress Anna, died when one of their children was born; maybe dat's why he was so mean, jest worried all de time. De master lived in a double log house, with a double fireplace in de middle of two rooms, and i was one of de girls who stayed in de house to take care of de children. How many children dey had I never remember and I don't remember dere names, but dey was all pretty mean, like de master and de overseer dat drive the folks who work in de field.
The cabin where I live wid my mother was a two-room log house havin' two doors dat open right into de yard. Dere was no gallery on the slave cabins and no windows, so the corners of the rooms get dark early and sometime I get pretty scared before mother got in from the fields in de evenin'. She be gone all de day and always leave me a big baked sweet potato on de board above the fireplace and dat I eat about noon for my dinner.
Dat was before I got big enough to work in de master's house and take care of de children. She always work in de fields; she was sick all de time, but dat didn't keep her out of de fields or the garden work. Sometimes she be so sick she could barely get out of the old wood bunk when de morning work call sound on de farm.
One day my mother couldn't get up and de old master come around to see about it, and he yelled, "Get out of dere and get yourself in de fields." She tried to go but was too sick to work. She got to de door alright; couldn't hurry fast enought for de old master though, so he pushed her in a little ditch dat was by the cabin and whippped her back wid the lash, den he reached down and rolled her over so's he could beat her face and neck. She didn't live long after dat and I guess de whippin's helped to kill her, but she better off dead than jest livin' for the whip.
Time I was twelve year old I was tendin' the master's children like what dey tell me to do, and den one day somehow I drop one of dem right by where de old master was burning some brush in de yard. "What you do that for?" he yelled, and while I was stoopin' to pick up de baby he grabbed me and shoved me into de fire! I sent into dat fire head first, but I never know how I got out. See this old drawn, scarred face? Dat's what I got from de fire, and inside my lips is burned off, and my back is scarred wid lashings dat'll be wid me when I meet my Jesus!
Dem things help me remember about de slave days and how once when I got sick of being treated mean by everybody after mother died, I slipped off in de woods to get away and wondered 'round 'til I come to a place folks said was Scullyville. On de way I eat berries and chew bark from de trees, and one feed I got from some colored people on de way.
But de old master track me down and dere I is back at de ol' farm for more whippin's. Den I was give away to my Aunt Easter Johnson, but she was a mean woman, mean to everybody. She had a boy six year ol'. Dat boy got to cryin' one day and she grabbed up a big club and beat her own chil' to death. Den she laughed about it! Like she was crazy, I guess. And the only thing was done to her was a lockin' up in de chicken house, endin' up wid a salt and pepper whippin.
All de slaves wore cotton clo's in summer, wool jackets in de winter and brass-toed shoes made from de hid of some old cow dat wasn't no good milker anymore. I lost de first pair of shoes dey give me and had to go barefoot all dat winter. Out in the thicket I had seen a rabbit so I started after it, but took off my shoes and set dem down so's I could sneak up wid out making noise. Den I miss de rabbit and go back for de shoes but day ws nowhere I could find dem. When Master Johnson find out de shoes was lost I got another whippin'.
I hear about de slaves being free when mayve a hundred soldiers come to de house. Dey was a pretty sight settin' on dey horses, and de men had on blue uniforms wid little caps. "All de slaves is free" one of de men said, and after dat I jest told everybody, "I is a free Negro now and I ain't goin' to work for nobody!"
A long time after de war is over and everybody is free of dey masters, I get down to Muldrow, and dat's whar I join de church. For 58 year I belong to the colored Baptist and I learn dat everbody ought to be good while dey is livin' so's dey will have a better restin' place when dey die.
In 1891, I met a good man, Randolph White, and we got married. I still got some of the pieces or scraps of my weddin' dress, a cotton dress it was, wid lots of color printed on it, wild colors like the Indians use to wear.
Contributed by M. Dawson, 05/06/03