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The Slave Narrative Collection
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Robert Williams

Age About 87 Years

  Muskogee, Oklahoma

I lay here in bed with the heart trouble and don't see no body but case workers. I get a pension from Uncle Sam to keep my medicine. I got just a few more days on this earth the way I feel.

I was a great big boy when the Civil War was going on, so I remember some thing, but children didn't know like they do now. We wait and let the young folks talk, but in slave times they didn't. Cause I know they took me out of a town, but I don't know the name of it now, bin so long. Near as I can think, it was Pontoc, Mississippi. I don't know where I was born; they didn't tell us children; then I remember when the war ceased, and when they was going marching to the war. But done forgot all the names.

My pappy was called Auston Williams and my maw was named Nancy. I was a little bit of a fellow when they took me away from them. I never did learn where they come from. The slave buyers carried my mother away from, we will call Pontoc, my pappy stayed in that town some long time. I had on sister named Martha; the way I remember her, I was a bad boy, threw a rock and hit her in the face. They scared me about it; that's how I know. Master told me I had others but don't know no names.

I know old man John Myers was my master, and I was sold to Robert Williams, a white man. Master Williams told me one time I was sold several times; that's the reason I moved so much; I didn't know why I was moving around. He told me, Sanders and Dowel had bin my masters. I never did know what year I was born in but master said when I was a little baby my ears were froze off, so guess it was winter time.

I that Civil War I heard the pop pop of the guns at Cupalo; don't know what state we was running in. The Yankees passed by on the way to Cupalo master said. They passed by a big elm tree, a cannon ball come from some where and hit that tree.

I remember when young Master Andrew Myers, and his coz Joe Eddington went to town horse back one morning to war to fight the Yankees, they didn't come back.

I don't think Master had many slaves, just hired them to work. Me and a cook was all I remember. I stayed in a little room with the cook in master's three room house. He had three chimneys, called stack chimneys. Master Williams had home made beds of plank. Guess he was kinder poor. Master owned two small 40 acre farms, and had a slave family on one but I didn't see them. Master's house was made of square logs, had a hall in the middle and a long porch; on one end of the porch was boxed up; that where I slept.

After we was free Master built a new house of weather boards. Even after freedom he owned a darky or two.; I was one. He had three women darkeys, them Josephine, Ellen, Birt.

Master's girl was named Josephine, Ellen and Birt. Ellen was married during of the war, her man hid in a cellar in the day time to keep from going to the war. Frank Skinner, Josephine's husband went to the war and didn't come back, was killed she didn't know where. I didn't know if I had any grand parents or not. In slavery I chopped wood, cut logs, hewed them, made boards, chopped cotton and all the time as a child I picked up chips. Lord a mercy, child, I never eared a dime in slave time, but you could buy as much as a dime as now for fifty cents. My master didn't have no stove, cooked on the fire place using a skillet and lid and pot hung down from the top of the fire place to boil in.

I remember my mother one time cooking bread on the ground, called them biscuits ash cakes. She would rake out fire and ashes, brush the ground clean, then cover the dough up with ashes and fire and let it cook; saw her wipe it off with her dress tail.

In salve times I hunted down many coon and fox to eat and save the hides to make cloths out of them, caps and jackets. Master and all ate the rabbits. When my mother was carried away Pappy married again. My step maw had a cake made, the first one I ever saw; it was in a box. I ate that cake. My pappy whipped me hard for that. My father raised a large garden for my master. Seems like old master lived years after the war. In slave time Negro and white children went in their shirts tails because I saw white boys.

When I was coming up I spun my four cuts of cloth every day I worked. I wore home spun cloth pants made by my mistress and the slave women. We had different colors of striped and solid color cloth. One time I had a pair of Yellow pants; these was dyed with dock root because I got the weed. We had colors, gray, blue, and so on. Most of our cloths was white. I bin married since I was about twenty years old but not to the same woman, that's a long time. My first wife was Rilla; my boy is Robert, the girls was Anna, Irena, Sofa. Then my wife Manda's child was named Irene. I forgot the other wife's name but the last one is named Sofa; she is here in Muskogee now some where. We didn't have no children. Any way I got two living some where. My master didn't have no overseer, just a white man on the other farm looked after the work. Some one told me I was sold with a girl one time, said they stood us up in a row and had men looking at us, then bid us off. Got a bi price for a fat woman; said she could bring in good children. When we wasn't free, we started out; one old Negro gentleman went in front walking, singing, praying, there was wagons ging fro place to place like lost cattle. The white people was ahead of us. I guess they knew but we didn't, some said they had started to twon to sell us. We would camp out, then master go to town, get a buyer, he picked out the one he wanted then we start back. I don't know the town name but think Pontoc. I know they got $500 for my head; they sold by the head them days. I heard of them being chained together. Master said it was the run aways chained to keep them. Colored people didn't have no school. White folks brought us to their house. We didn't have no church; we met at different houses, and turned over a pot to deaden the sound so master couldn't hear it; he wanted us to sleep so we could work.. My main preacher was named Jack Dent, a white man. I bin here at Spalding bridge 13 years before a year ago I moved to Muskogee; we live right at the north end of the bridge and farmed. I was a Deacon in my church as long as I had my health but now I just pray and sin, God be with you till we meet again. I heard slaves run away to the North because masters and mistress was mean to them, but when they brought them back was tighter and tighter on them. All the slaves played on Saturday nights that didn't have to set up and work, like washing the children's cloths. Maybe some Negro friend got a pass and come over. ON Christmas we had a big dinner.

So meny of the masters hired the slaves back after freedom. some left and worked for 25 cents and 50 cents a day; got more then for that than we do now for $1.50. Old Master Williams sowed a whear patch, so when we was free we done like he did, we had a big horse that walked on the wheat and thrashed it, the horse went around like when you make sorghum. He trampled that wheat on a big sheet, then he wind it, carry it to the mill. Made shorts, middlings, and flour, had a wood barrel. When we wasn't raising hogs, buy enough grease to last many days for a quarter. To make us be saving Pappy would bor a hole in the barrel' then we got the flour out with a paddle. When we would ge flour for baking biscuits was Wednesday and Sunday morning. The white folks sure learned us how to save. We saved all biscuit crusts in slave days. Mistress did and when she got a big stack she call all the niggers, give them the crust; we was proud of them as we are cookie now. Mistress didn't have no teeth. When I wanted to get on the old pension roll I had my granddaughter write back to Martha Baker, a granddaughter of old Master at Shreveport, Louisiana, for my age. I write for my age by the size of Young Mistress the third girl. Baker was stroked with paralysis. My Master's Grandson was living, named Jud Williams of Louisiana, he made a affidavit saying I  bin knowing him for 75 or 80 years.

My father was stroked for 10 years before he died at Spalding bridge; that's where we come to from Shreveport, Louisiana, town. 

When I heard the white people say you are free to dig for yourself, I didn't know what he meant.

When I got married first time, a white preacher married me; just went like you go to eat a meal and go to work.

Me and my wife rolled logs, split rails. The white people around give log rollings them days. My wife roll them white men down. We toted logs; my wife done this; she was a stout woman. We make cat tail chimneys. We got 50 cents a hundred for chestnut rails, and they were 8 foot long. This was the years after the war.

When I was a child we walked the rail fences for playing. My Pappy had oxen and jenny, pappy whipped me for making the jenny try to go fast. The first train we saw was in Aklama; we drew in a ox wagon. We stopped in the woods and camped; the train was late and all we had time to see was the wooden rails; it took day and night to get home but we thought that great. I was nearly grown but I was scared. I heard minks barking like dogs. I heard Master talking about Abe Lincoln. He freed us, and I feel pound because he freed us, As a Deacon in the rose Baptist church I saw The Lord is above all of us. He left it all plain so a fool can enter heaven if he can say in earnest "forgive me." We could be better than we is but disaster coming up makes us do wrong. I don't read or write but you can't fool me out of any thing, but I am going to write my name in the big book on high. Miss Grant, a W.P.A. teacher, comes here to teach me from her school. I know my a.b.c. That about all I fee like talking; My breath is getting short but I thank you for coming to see me.

Contributed by M. Dawson, 05/06/03


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