John W. Fields

John W. Fields lived in enslavement and gained freedom shortly before the Civil War ended.  In this excerpt, he describes the situation that arose when his first enslaver died, and the 12 children had to pick the name of their new enslaver out of a hat.  This led to every child being separated from their mother.

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My name is John W. Fields and I’m eighty-nine (89) years old. I was born March 27, 1848 in Owensboro, Ky. That’s 115 miles below Louisville, Ky. There were 11 other children besides myself in my family. When I was six years old, all of us children were taken from my parents, because my master died and his estate had to be settled. We slaves were divided by this method. Three disinterested persons were chosen to come to the plantation and together they wrote the names of the different heirs on a few slips of paper. These slips were put in a hat and passed among us slaves. Each one took a slip and the name on the slip was the new owner. I happened to draw the name of a relative of my master who was a widow. I can’t describe the heartbreak and horror of that separation. I was only six years old and it was the last time I ever saw my mother for longer than one night. Twelve children taken from my mother in one day. Five sisters and two brothers went to Charleston, Virginia, one brother and one sister went to Lexington Ky., one sister went to Hartford, Ky., and one brother and myself stayed in Owensburg, Ky. My mother was later allowed to visit among us children for one week of each year, so she could only remain a short time at each place.

Formerly enslaved person
Birth Year (Age)Interviewer
WPA Volunteer
Enslaver’s Name
John W. Fields1848 (89)Cecil C. MillerDavid Hill
Interview LocationResidence StateBirth Location
Lafayette, INIndianaOwensboro, KY
Themes & KeywordsAdditional Tags:
Family, slave tradersFirst person, sold