John W. Fields

John W. Fields lived in enslavement and gained freedom shortly before the Civil War ended.  In this excerpt, he describes the process of Emancipation and his failed attempts to join the Union Army.  He finishes by describing the first paid work he was able to get.
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At the beginning of the Civil War I was still at this place as a slave. It looked at the first of the war as if the south would win, as most of the big battles were won by the South. This was because we slaves stayed at home and tended the farms and kept their families.

To eliminate this solid support of the South, the Emancipation Act was passed, freeing all slaves. Most of the slaves were so ignorant they did not realize they were free. The planters knew this and as Kentucky never seceded from the Union, they would send slaves into Kentucky from other states in the south and hire them out to plantations. For these reasons I did not realize that I was free until 1864. I immediately resolved to run away and join the Union Army and so my brother and I went to Owensburg, Ky. and tried to join. My brother was taken, but I was refused as being too young. I tried at Evansville, Terre Haute and Indianapolis but was unable to get in. I then tried to find work and was finally hired by a man at $7.00 a month.

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:
Civil War, EmancipationFirst person, witnessed extreme cruelty, hired out, Civil War