Charles Green lived in enslavement in Kentucky before and during the Civil War. In this excerpt, he describes the fear the enslavers put into the enslaved about the raiding Union (Yankee) soldiers, and how Confederate Soldiers (led by John Morgan) were not to be feared. However, he also mentions how his half brother and father joined the Union cause.
When old John Morgan came through raiding, he took meat and horses from our place, and just left the smokehouse empty. Father and my half-brother, George Spencer Green, joined up with the 112th Kentucky boys, and was with General Sherman marching to the sea. Father, he died, but Spence came home after the war and settled in the lower part of Mason County.
…We thought the Yankee soldiers were coming to carry us off, and they told us to hide if we saw them. I remember one night; ‘twas mostly dark; I saw some Yankee soldiers, and I was scared to death. They yelled at me, and I took to my heels; then they shot in the air and I ran all the faster getting back to the house. But when Old [Confederate General] John Morgan came along a-raiding and carrying off the meat and good horses, we weren’t afraid.
This Third Person recollection of an interview with the formerly enslaved Charlie Richmond describes how the dialect of the formerly enslaved populations remained prominent in the South among both Black and White families due to the fact that so many of them lived together during times of enslavement.
The n—-o dialect of this county is a combination of the dialect white folk use plus that of the n—o of the South. The colored population is continually moving back and forth from Alabama, Georgia, and North and South Carolinas. They visit a lot. Colored teachers so far have all been from Ohio. Most visiting colored preachers come from Alabama and the Carolinas. The negroes leave out their R’s use an’t han’t gwin, su’ for sir, yea for yes, dah for there and such expressions as, “I’s Ye?”
The wealthiest families o’ white folk still retain colored servants. In Prestonsburg, Kentucky one may see on the streets neat looking colored gals leading or wheeling young white children along. Folks say this is why so many southerners leave out their R’s and hold on to the old superstitions, they’ve had a colored mama for a nurse-maid.
Ann Gudgel lived in enslavement during the Civil War. In this excerpt, she describes her life as an enslaved person, including the troublesome fact that she and her family chose to remain with their enslavers after Emancipation.
*Historically-used terms that are offensive, marginalizing and/or disparaging have been removed from the transcripts and replaced with [redacted]. See more information.
I don’t know how old I am, but I was a little girl when that man Lincoln freed us [redacted]. My mammy never told us our age, but I know I am plenty old, cause I feel like it.
When I was a little girl all of us were owned by Master Ball. When Lincoln freed us [redacted], we went on and lived with Master Ball till us children were about grown up. None of us was ever sold, cause we belonged to the Balls for always back as far as we could think.
Mammy worked up at the big house, but us children had to stay at the cabin. But I didn’t very much care, because ole Miss had a little child just about my age, and we played together.
The only time ole Miss ever beat me was when I caused Miss Nancy to get ate up with the bees. I told her ‘Miss Nancy, the bees are asleep, let’s steal the honey.’ Soon as she touched it, they flew all over us, and it took Mammy about a day to get the stingers out of our heads. Ole Miss just naturally beat me up about that.
One day they vaccinated all the slaves but mine never took at all. I never told anybody, but I just sat right down by the fireplace and rubbed wood ashes and juice that spewed out of the wood real hard over the scratch. All the others were really sick and had the most awful arms, but mine never did even hurt.
The interviewer records the life of Joe Robinson in the third person. In the excerpt below, the interviewer recounts Joe Robinson’s comparison of how two different enslavers treated those they enslaved. The teacher may need to help students critically consider what it means for an enslaver to be “very kind” to the people he is enslaving.
…[Joe Robinson’s] master, Gus Hargill, was very kind to him and all his slaves. He owned a large farm and raised every kind of vegetation. He always gave his slaves plenty to eat. They never had to steal food. He said his slaves had worked hard to permit him to have plenty, therefore they should have their share.
Joe, his mother, a brother, and a sister were all on the same plantation. They were never sold, lived with the same master until they were set free.
Joe’s father was owned by Rube Black, who was very cruel to his slaves, beat them severely for the least offense. One day he tried to beat Joe’s father, who was a large strong man; he resisted his master and tried to kill him. After that, he never tried to whip him again. However, at the first opportunity, Rube sold him.
The Robinson family learned the father had been sold to someone down in Louisiana. They never heard from, or of him, again…
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.
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
Master Bogie owned about 200 acres of land in the eastern section of the county, and as far as I can remember there were only four slaves on the place. We lived in a one-room cabin, with a loft above, and this cabin was an old fashioned one about hundred yards from the house. We lived in one room, with one bed in the cabin. The one bed was an old fashioned, high post corded bed where my father and mother slept. My sister and I slept in a trundle bed, made like the big bed except the posts were made smaller and were on rollers, so it could be rolled under the big bed. There was also a cradle, made of a wooden box, with rockers nailed on, and my mother told me that she rocked me in that cradle when I was a baby. She used to sit and sing in the evening. She carded the wool and spun yarn on the old spinning wheel. My grandfather was a slave of Talton Embry, whose farm joined the Wheeler farm. He made shingles with a steel drawing knife that had a wooden handle. He made these shingles in Mr. Embry’s yard. I do not remember my grandmother, and I didn’t have to work in slave days, because my mother and father did all the work except the heavy farm work. My Mistus used to give me my winter clothes. My shoes were called brogans. My old master had shoes made. He would put my foot on the floor and mark around it for the measure of my shoes.
Most of the cooking was in an oven in the yard, over the bed of coals. Baked possum and groundhog in the oven, stewed rabbits, fried fish and fried bacon called streaked meat all kinds of vegetables, boiled cabbage, pone cornbread, and sorghum molasses. Old folks would drink coffee, but children would drink milk, especially buttermilk.
Dan Bogie lived in enslavement on a small plantation with few enslaved persons. In this excerpt, he describes the relationship he developed with the enslavers’ children, as well as his first experiences with education and religion.
There were four slaves. My mother did cooking and the men did the work. Bob Wheeler and Arch Bogie were our masters. Both were good and kind to us. I never saw a slave shipped, for my boss did not believe in that kind of punishment. My master had four boys, named Rube, Falton, Horace, and Billie. Rube and me played together and when we acted bad old Master always licked Rube three or four times harder than he did me because Rube was older. Their daughter was named American Wheeler, for her mother.
White folks did not teach us to read and write. I learned that after I left my white folks. There was no church for slaves, but we went to the white folks’ church at Mr. Freedom. We sat in the gallery. The first colored preacher I ever heard was old man Leroy Estill. He preached in the Freedom meeting house (Baptist). I stood on the banks of Paint Lick Creek and saw my mother baptized, but do not remember the preacher’s name or any of the songs they sang.
We did not work on Saturday afternoon. The men would go fishing, and the women would go to the neighbors’ and help each other piece quilts. We used to have big times at the corn shuckings. The neighbors would come and help. We would have campfires and sing songs, and usually a big dance at the barn when the corn was shucked. Some of the slaves from other plantations would pick the banjo, then the dance. Miss America married Sam Ward. I was too young to remember only that they had good things to eat.
Easter Sudie Campbell was born near the end of the Civil War. She describes her many experiences as a free midwife in Kentucky. Here, she describes several experiences she has had supporting women during pregnancy and while giving birth.
When I go on a baby case, I just let nature have its way. I always test the baby, the first thing I do is blow my breath in the baby’s mouth. I spank it just a little so it will cry and I give it warm catnip tea so if it is going to have the hives they will break out on it. I always have my own catnip and sheep balls, for some cases need one kind of tea and some another. I give sink field tea for the colic. It is just good for a young baby’s stomach. I have been granning for nigh under forty years and I only lost two babies that were born alive. One of these was the white man’s fault, this baby was born with the jaundice and I told this white man to go to the store and get me some calomel and he says, whoever heard of giving a baby such truck, and so that baby died.
Of course you can tell whether the baby is going to be a boy or girl before he is born. If the mother carries that child more on the left and high up, that baby will be a boy; and if she carries it more to the middle, that will be a girl. Mothers ought to be more careful while carrying their children not to get scared of anything, for they will sure mark their babies with terrible ugly things. I know once a young woman was expecting and she went blackberry hunting and a bull cow with long horns got after her and she was so scared that she threw her hands over her head. And when that baby boy was born he had two nubs on his head just like horns beginning to grow. So I had her call her doctor and they cut them off. One white woman I waited on liked hot chocolate and she always wanted more, she never had enough of that stuff, and one day she spills some on her leg and it just splotched and burned her and when that gal was born, she had a big brown spot on her leg just like her mammy’s scar from the burn. Now you see, I know you can mark the babies.
There was a colored woman once I waited on that had to help the white folks kill hogs and she never did like hog liver but the white folks told her to take one home and fix it for her supper. Well, she picked that thing up and started off with it and it made her feel creepy all over. And that night her baby was born, a gal child, and the print of a big hog-liver was standing out all over one side of her face. That side of her face is all blue and purplish and just the shape of a liver. And it’s still there.
I grannied over three hundred children and I know what I’m talking about.
Alex and Elizabeth Smith were enslaved on separate farms, owned by relatives in close proximity to each other. This excerpt describes their different experiences during enslavement, and their early life after gaining freedom.
On the Peter Stubblefield plantation, the slaves were treated very well and had plenty to eat, while on the Robert Stubblefield plantation Mr. Smith went hungry many times, and said, “Often, I would see a dog with a bit of bread, and I would have been willing to take it from him if I had not been afraid the dog would bite me.”
Mrs. Smith was named after Elizabeth Stubblefield, a relative of Peter Stubblefield. As a child of five years or less, Elizabeth had to spin “long reels five cuts a day,” pick seed from cotton, and cockle burrs from wool, and perform the duties of a house girl.
Unlike the chores of Elizabeth, Mr. Smith had to chop wood, carry water, chop weeds, care for cows, pick bugs from tobacco plants. This little boy had to go barefoot both summer and winter and remembers the cracking of ice under his bare feet.
The day the mistress and master came and told the slaves they were free to go anyplace they desired, Mrs. Smith’s mother told her later that she was glad to be free but she had no place to go or any money to go with. Many of the slaves would not leave and she never witnessed such crying as went on. Later Mrs. Smith was paid for working. She worked in the fields for “vittles” and clothes. A few years later she nursed children for twenty-five cents a week and “vittles,” but after a time she received fifty cents a week, board, and two dresses. She married Mr. Smith at the age of twenty.
A cruel master enslaved Ellen Cave before and during the Civil War. Her recollections of cruel treatment by her enslaver are recorded in this excerpt. Especially notable is the example of the children or enslavers and their enslaved being sold to other plantations.
Mrs. Cave told of seeing wagon loads of slaves sold down the river. She, herself was put on the block several times but never actually sold, although she would have preferred being sold rather than the continuation of the ordeal of the block.
Her master was a “mean man” who drank heavily, he had twenty slaves that he fed now and then, and gave her her freedom after the war only when she would remain silent about it no longer.
. . . Mrs. Cave said that her master’s father had many young women slaves and sold his own half-breed children down the river to Louisiana plantations where the work was so severe that the slaves soon died.
While in slavery, Mrs. Cave worked as a maid in the house until she grew older when she was forced to do all kinds of outdoor labor. She remembered sawing logs in the snow all day. In the summer she pitched hay or any other man’s work in the field. She was trained to carry three buckets of water at the same time, two in her hands and one on her head, and said she could still do it.
On this plantation, the chief article of food for the slaves was bran-bread, although the master’s children were kind and often slipped them out meat or other food.