Thomas Lewis

In this excerpt, the interviewer recounts in the first person Thomas Lewis’s memory of how White people forced Black people to work for free even after the Civil War and how Thomas Lewis’s mother resisted this practice. 

*Historically-used terms that are offensive, marginalizing and/or disparaging have been removed from the transcripts and replaced with [ ___ ].   See more information.
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…I was born in Spencer County, Kentucky, in 1857. I was born a slave. There was slavery all around on all the adjoining places. I was seven years old when I was set free. My father was killed in the Northern army. My mother, step-father and my mother’s four living children came to Indiana when I was twelve years old. My grandfather was set free and given a little place of about sixteen acres. 

[After the Civil War was over] A gang of white men went to my grandmother’s place and ordered the [ ___ ] people out to work. The [ ___ ] people had worked before for white men, on shares. When the wheat was all in and the corn laid by, the white farmers would tell the [ ___ ] people to get out, and would give them nothing. The [ ___ ] people did not want to work that way, and refused. This was the cause of the raids by white farmers. My mother recognized one of the men in the gang and reported him to the standing soldiers in Louisville. He was caught and made to tell who the others were until they had 360 men. All were fined and none allowed to leave until all the fines were paid. So the rich ones had to pay for the poor ones. Many of them left because all were made responsible if such an event ever occurred again.

Our family left because we did not want to work that way….

Formerly enslaved person
Birth Year (Age)Interviewer
WPA Volunteer
Enslaver’s Name
Thomas Lewis1857 (approx. 80)Estella R. DodsonUnknown
Interview LocationResidence StateBirth Location
Bloomington, ININKY
Themes & KeywordsAdditional Tags:
Sharecropping, ViolenceSpencer County, First Person, Witnessed Extreme Cruelty, Union Troops, Klan/Mob Violence, Hired Out