Mary Crane

In this excerpt, which the interviewer records in the first person, Mary Crane describes how enslaved people were traded and sold like cattle.  She recounts the story of her enslaved father, and how he was almost “sold down the river” to pay for his enslaver’s debts.  The excerpt ends with Mary Crane by explaining what “freedom” meant to her when she was emancipated.  

The full transcript of the interview includes a photograph of Mary Crane taken at the time of the interview. 

*Historically-used terms that are offensive, marginalizing and/or disparaging have been removed from the transcripts and replaced with [redacted].   See more information.
See full document • Visit the Library of Congress to see the original document


…Zeke Samples [who enslaved Mary Crane’s father] proved to be a man who loved his toddies [alcohol] far better than his bride and before long he was “broke”. Everything he had or owned, including my father, was to be sold at auction to pay off his debts.

In those days, there were men who made a business of buying up [redacted] at auction sales and shipping them down to New Orleans to be sold to owners of cotton and sugar cane plantations, just as men today buy and ship cattle. These men were called “[Redacted]-traders” and they would ship whole boat loads at a time, buying them up, two or three here, two or three there, and holding them in a jail until they had a boat load. This practice gave rise to the expression, “sold down the river.”

My father was to be sold at auction, along with all of the rest of Zeke Samples’ property. Bob Cowherd…owned my grandfather, and the old man, my grandfather, begged Col. Bob to buy my father from Zeke Samples to keep him from being “sold down the river.” Col. Bob offered what he thought was a fair price for my father and a “[redacted]-trader” raised his bid $25.  Col. said he couldn’t afford to pay that much and father was about to be sold … [when my grandfather] told Col. Bob that he had $25 saved up and that if he would buy my father from… he would give him the money. Col. Bob Cowherd took my grandfather’s $25 and offered to meet the trader’s offer and so my father was sold to him.

…When President Lincoln issued his proclamation freeing the [redacted], I remember that my father and most all of the other younger slave men left the farms to join the Union army. We had hard times then for a while and had lots of work to do. I don’t remember just when I first regarded myself as “free”, as many of the [redacted]didn’t understand just what it was all about.

Formerly enslaved person
Birth Year (Age)Interviewer
WPA Volunteer
Enslaver’s Name
Mary Crane1855 (82)Emery TurnerWattie Williams
Interview LocationResidence StateBirth Location
Mitchell, ININKY
Themes & KeywordsAdditional Tags:
Slave Trade, EmancipationLarue County, First Person, Sold,