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Person Interviewed: Alec Bostwick
All of Uncle Alec Bostwick’s people are dead and he lives in his tiny home with a young Negress named Emma Vergal. It was a beautiful April morning when his visitor arrived and while he was cordial enough he seemed very reluctant about talking. However, as one question followed another his interest gradually overcame his hesitancy and he began to unfold his life’s story.
“I wuz born in Morgan County, an’ I warn’t mo’ dan four year old when de War ended so I don’t ricollect nothin’ ’bout slav’ry days. I don’t know much ’bout my ma, but her name was Martha an’ pa’s name was Jordan Bostwick, I don’t know whar dey come from. When I knowed nothin’ I wuz dar on de plantation. I had three brothers; George, John an’ Reeje, an’ dey’s all dead. I dis’members my sister’s name. Dar warn’t but one gal an’ she died when she wuz little.
“Ain’t much to tell ’bout what wuz done in de quarters. Slaves wuz gyarded all de time jus’ lak Niggers on de chain gang now. De overseer always sot by wid a gun.
“‘Bout de beds, Nigger boys didn’t pay no ‘tention to sich as dat ’cause all dey keered ’bout wuz a place to sleep but ‘peers lak to me dey wuz corded beds, made wid four high posties, put together wid iron pegs, an’ holes what you run de cords thoo’, bored in de sides. De cords wuz made out of b’ar grass woun’ tight together. Dey put straw an’ old quilts on ’em, an’ called ’em beds.
“Gran’pa Berry wuz too old to wuk in de field so he stayed ‘roun’ de house an’ piddled. He cut up wood, tended to de gyarden an’ yard, an’ bottomed chairs. Gran’ma Liza done de cookin’ an’ nussed de white folkses chilluns.
“I wukked in de field ‘long side da rest of de Niggers, totin’ water an’ sich lak, wid de overseer dar all de time wid dat gun.
“What you talkin’ ’bout Miss? Us didn’t have no money. Sho’ us didn’t. Dey had to feed us an’ plenty of it, ’cause us couldn’t wuk if dey didn’t feed us good.
“Us et cornbread, sweet ‘tatoes, peas, home-made syrup an’ sich lak. De meat wuz fried sometimes, but mos’ of de time it wuz biled wid de greens. All de somethin’ t’eat wuz cooked in de fireplace. Dey didn’t know what stoves wuz in dem days. Yes Ma’am, us went ‘possum huntin’ at night, an’ us had plenty ‘possums too. Dey put sweet ‘tatoes an’ fat meat roun’ ’em, an’ baked ’em in a oven what had eyes on each side of it to put hooks in to take it off de fire wid.
“No Ma’am, us didn’t go fishin’, or rabbit huntin’ nuther. Us had to wuk an’ warn’t no Nigger ‘lowed to do no frolickin’ lak dat in daytime. De white folkses done all de fishin’ an’ daytime huntin’. I don’t ‘member lakin’ no sartin’ somethin’. I wuz jus’ too glad to git anythin’. Slaves didn’t have no gyardens of dey own. Old Marster had one big gyarden what all de slaves et out of.
“Tell you ’bout our clo’es: us wore home-made clo’es, pants an’ shirts made out of cotton in summer an’ in de winter dey give us mo’ home-made clo’es only dey wuz made of wool. All de clawf wuz made on de loom right dar on de plantation. Us wore de same things on Sunday what us did in de week, no diffunt. Our shoes wuz jus’ common brogans what dey made at home. I ain’t seed no socks ’til long atter de War. Co’se some folkses mought a had ’em, but us didn’t have none.
“Marster Berry Bostwick an’ Mist’ess Mary Bostwick, had a passel of chillun, I don’t ‘member none ‘cept young Marse John. De others drifted off an’ didn’t come back, but young Marse John stayed on wid Old Marster an’ Old Mist’ess ’til dey died. Old Marster, he warn’t good. Truth is de light, an’ he wuz one mean white man. Old Mist’ess wuz heaps better dan him. Dar wuz ’bout 150 mens an’ 75 ‘omans. I couldn’t keep up wid de chilluns. Dere wuz too many for me.
“Marster an’ Mist’ess lived in a big fine house, but de slave quarters wuz made of logs, ’bout de size of box cyars wid two rooms.
“‘Bout dat overseer he wuz a mean man, if one ever lived. He got de slaves up wid a gun at five o’clock an’ wukked ’em ’til way atter sundown, standin’ right over ’em wid a gun all de time. If a Nigger lagged or tuk his eyes off his wuk, right den an’ dar he would make him strip down his clo’es to his waist, an’ he whup him wid a cat-o-nine tails. Evvy lick dey struck him meant he wuz hit nine times, an’ it fotch da red evvy time it struck.
“Oh! Yes Ma’am, dey had a cyar’iage driver, he didn’t do much ‘cept look attar de hawses an’ drive de white folkses ‘roun’.
“I done tole you ’bout dat overseer; all he done wuz sot ‘roun’ all day wid a gun an’ make de Niggers wuk. But I’se gwine tell you de trufe, he sho’ wuz poor white trash wid a house full of snotty-nose chilluns. Old Marster tole him he wuz jus’ lak a rabbit, he had so many chillun. I means dis; if dem days comes back I hope de good Lord takes me fus’.
“Dey had a house whar dey put de Niggers, what wuz called de gyard house, an’ us didn’t know nothin’ ’bout no jail dat day an’ time. I seed ’em drive de Niggers by old Marster’s place in droves takin’ ’em to Watkinsville. Morgan County, whar us lived, touched Oconee an’ dat wuz the nighes’ town. One day I went wid old Marster to Watkinsville an’ I seed ’em sell Niggers on de block. I warn’t sold. When I knowed nothin’ I wuz right whar I wuz at.
“No Ma’am, dey warn’t no schools for de Niggers in dem days. If a Nigger wuz seed wid a paper, de white folks would pretty nigh knock his head off him.
“Us didn’t have no church in de country for Niggers, an’ dey went to church wid deir white folkses, if dey went a tall. De white folks sot in front, an’ de Niggers sot in de back. All de time dat overseer wuz right dar wid his gun. When dey baptized de Niggers dey tuk ’em down to de river and plunged ’em in, while dem what had done been baptized sang: “Dar’s a Love Feast in Heb’en Today.”
“Yes Ma’am, de white folkses had deir cemetery, an’ dey had one for de slaves. When dere wuz a funeral ‘mong de Niggers us sung:
‘Dark was de night
And cold was de groun’
Whar my Marster was laid
De drops of sweat
Lak blood run down
In agony He prayed.’
“Dem coffins sho’ wuz mournful lookin’ things, made out of pine boa’ds an’ painted wid lampblack; dey wuz black as de night. Dey wuz big at de head an’ little at de foot, sort a lak airplanes is. De inside wuz lined wid white clawf, what dey spun on de plantation.
“De patterollers wuz right on dey job. Slaves use’ to frame up on ’em if dey knowed whar dey wuz hidin’, ‘waitin’ to cotch a Nigger. Dey would git hot ashes an’ dash over ’em, an’ dem patterollers dey sho’ would run, but de slaves would git worse dan dat, if dey was cotched.
“Miss, in slav’ry time when Niggers come from de fields at night dey warn’t no frolickin’. Dey jus’ went to sleep. De mens wukked all day Sadday, but de ‘omans knocked off at twelve o’clock to wash an’ sich lak.
“Christmas times dey give us a week off an’ brung us a little candy an’ stuff ‘roun’. Not much, not much. On New Year’s Day us had to git back on de job.
“Chilluns what wuz big enough to wuk didn’t have time in week days to play no games on Marse Bostwick’s place. On Sunday us played wid marbles made out of clay, but dat’s all. I heered my ma sing a little song to de baby what soun’ lak dis:
‘Hush little baby
Don’t you cry
You’ll be an angel
“Yes Ma’am, dere wuz one thing dey wuz good ’bout. When de Niggers got sick dey sont for de doctor. I heered ’em say dey biled jimson weeds an’ made tea for colds, an’ rhubarb tea wuz to cure worms in chillun. I wuz too young to be bothered ’bout witches an’ charms, Rawhead an’ Bloody Bones an’ sich. I didn’t take it in.
“When de Yankees come thoo’ an’ ‘lowed us wuz free, us thought dey wuz jus’ dem patterollers, an’ us made for de woods. Dey tole us to come out, dat us wuz free Niggers. Marster Berry said: ‘You dam Niggers am free. You don’t b’long to me no more.’
“Us married long time atter de War, an’ us had a little feast: cake, wine, fried chicken, an’ ham, an’ danced ’til ‘mos’ daybreak. I ‘members how good she looked wid dat pretty dove colored dress, all trimmed wid lace. Us didn’t have no chillun. She wuz lak a tree what’s sposen to bear fruit an’ don’t. She died ’bout thirteen years ago.
“When de Ku Kluxers come thoo’, us chillun thought de devil wuz atter us for sho’. I wuz sich a young chap I didn’t take in what dey said ’bout Mr. Abyham Lincoln, an’ Mr. Jeff Davis. Us would a been slaves ’til yit, if Mr. Lincoln hadn’t sot us free. Dey wuz bofe of ’em, good mens. I sho’ had ruther be free. Who wants a gun over ’em lak a prisoner? A pusson is better off dead.
“I jined de church ’cause dis is a bad place at de bes’ an’ dere’s so many mean folkses, what’s out to seem good an’ ain’t. An’ if you serve God in de right way, I’se sho’ when you die he’ll give you a place to rest for evermore. An’ ‘cordin’ to my notion dat’s de way evvybody oughta live.”
In conclusion, Alec said: “I don’t want to talk no more. I’se disappointed, I thought sho’ you wuz one of dem pension ladies what come for to fetch me some money. I sho’ wish dey would come. Good-bye Miss.” Then he hobbled into the house.