Clay Reaves

Clav Reaves was born to an enslaved family very late in the Civil War.  In this excerpt, he describes his earliest memories, while still living on the farm where he was born, after Emancipation.  He describes his lineage with the enslavers, his mother’s life and why she stayed on the farm, and his search for his estranged father who changed his name after gaining freedom.
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Father was bought from Kentucky. I couldn’t tell you about him. He stayed on the Reaves place that year, the year of the surrender, and left. He didn’t live with Mother ever again. I never did hear any reason. He went to Joe Night’s farm. He left me and a sister – older, but there was one dead between us. Mother raised us. She stayed on with the Reaves two years after he left. The last year she was there she hired to them. The only thing she ever did before freedom was cook and weave. She had her loom in the kitchen. It was a great big kitchen built off from the house and a portico joined it to the house. I used to lay up under her loom. It was warm there in winter time. I was the baby. I heard mother say some things I remember well.

She said she was never sold. She said the Reaves said her children need never worry, they would never be sold. We were Reaves from back yonder. Mother’s grandfather was a white man. She was a Reaves and her children are mostly Reaves. She was light. Father was about, might be a little darker than I am (mulatto). At times she worked in the field, but in rush time. She wove all the clothes on the place. She worked at the loom and I lay up under there all day long. Mother had three girls and five boys.

Mr. Reaves (we called him ‘master’) had two boys in the army. He was a real old man. He may have had more than two, but I know there was two gone off. The white folks lived in sight of the quarters. Their house was a big house and painted white. I’ve been in there. I’ve never seen any grandparents of mine – that I was allowed to claim kin with.

When I got up some size, I was allowed to go see my father. I went over to see him sometimes. After freedom, he went to where his brothers lived. They wanted him to change his name from Reaves to Cox and he did. He changed it from James Reaves to James Cox. But I couldn’t tell you if at one time they belong to Cox in Kentucky or if they belong to Cox in Tennessee or if they took on a name they liked.

I kept my name Reaves. I am a Reaves from start to finish. I was raised by mother and she was a Reaves. Her name was Olive Reaves. Her old mistress’ name was Charlotte Reaves, old master was Edmond Reaves

Formerly enslaved person
Birth Year (Age)Interviewer
WPA Volunteer
Enslaver’s Name
Clay ReavesYear Unknown (79)Irene RobertsonEdmond Reaves
Interview LocationResidence StateBirth Location
Palestine, ARArkansasUnknown
Themes & KeywordsAdditional Tags:
Family, EmancipationFirst Person, Bound out after war, breeding


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