Sarah Frances Shaw Graves

Sarah Frances Shaw Graves’ enslaver moved her from Kentucky to Missouri at a young age.  In this excerpt, she describes the term “allotment” and the process of hiring out an enslaved person.  She goes on to describe how her father was allotted to another enslaver when they were moved to Missouri, and how the enslavers would not tell her mother where her father was in order to encourage her to remarry and have children.
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Yes ma’am. Allotted? Yes ma’am. I’m going to explain that, she replied. You see there were slave traders in those days, just like you got horse and mule and auto traders now. They bought and sold slaves and hired them out. Yes ma’am, rented them out. Allotted means something like hired out. But the slave never got any wages. That all went to the master. The man they were allotted to paid the master.  

I never was sold. My mama was sold only once, but she was hired out many times. Yes ma’am when a slave was allotted, somebody made a down payment and gave a mortgage for the rest. A chattel mortgage.  A down payment!!  Times don’t change, just the merchandise.  

Allotments made a lot of grief for the slaves, Aunt Sally asserted. 

We left my papa in Kentucky, because he was allotted to another man. My papa never knew where my mama went, and my mama never knew where papa went. 

Aunt Sally paused a moment, then went on bitterly. They never wanted Mama to know, because they knew she would never marry so long as she knew where he was. Our master wanted her to marry again and raise more children to be slaves. They never wanted Mama to know where Papa was, and she never did, sighed Aunt Sally.  Only those who have lost their mate, and never know the end of the tale, can understand such heart anguish.  

Mama said she would never marry again to have children, continued Aunt Sally, so she married my step-father, Trattle Barber, because he was sick and could never be a father. He was so sick he couldn’t work, so me and mama had to work hard. 

Formerly enslaved person
Birth Year (Age)Interviewer
WPA Volunteer
Enslaver’s Name
Sarah Frances Shaw Graves1850 (87)UnknownJimmie Shaw
Interview LocationResidence StateBirth Location
Skidmore, MOMissouriLouisville, KY
Themes & KeywordsAdditional Tags:
Family, EconomicsFirst person, sold (family), hired out