Interviewer: W. W. Dixon
Person Interviewed: Alexander Robertson
Location: White Oak, South Carolina
Ex-Slave 84 Years Old
Alexander Robertson lives as a member of the household of his son, Charley, on the General Bratton plantation, four miles southeast of White Oak, S.C. It is a box-like house, chimney in the center, four rooms, a porch in front and morning glory vines, in bloom at this season, climbing around the sides and supports. Does Alexander sit here in the autumn sunshine and while the hours away? Nay, in fact he is still one of the active, working members of the family, ever in the fields with his grandchildren, poke around his neck, extracting fleecy cotton from the bolls and putting it deftly into the poke. He can carry his row equally as well as any of the six grandchildren. He has a good appetite at meal time, digestive organs good, sleeps well, and is the early riser in the mornings. He says the Negro half of his nature objects to working on Saturday afternoon, and at such times his tall figure, with a green patch cloth over the left eye, which is sightless, may be seen strolling to and fro on the streets of Winnsboro.
“Well, well! If it ain’t de youngun dat use to sell me sugar, coffee, fat back and meal, when he clerk for Calvin Brice & Company, at Woodward, in ’84 and ‘long dere.
“I hopes you is well dis mornin’. I’s told to come to Winnsboro and gits blanks for a pension. Andy Foster, man I knows, d’rect me up dese steps and bless God I finds you. You wanna ask me some questions? Well, here I is, more than glad to answer, if I can. Where I born? Strange as it seems, I born right here in Winnsboro. My name set down in a book: ‘Alexander-boy-mother, Hannah, wench of James Stewart’. Dat de way it was read to me by Dr. Beaty, dat marry a Miss Cherry and live in Rock Hill. If slavery had never been done ‘way wid, dat would be my master today, ’cause him lak hound dogs and I lak a hound dog. Dat kind of breed got a good nose and make good ‘possum dog. Marster Jim tell me one time, dat de first dog sprung from a wolf, and dat fust dog was a hound dog. Dat out dat fust dog, (must to a been a bitch, don’t you reckon?) come all dogs. I follow his talk wid belief, ’bout de setters, pointers, and blood hounds, even to de fices, but it strain dat belief when it git to de little useless hairy pup de ladies lead ’round wid a silver collar and a shiney chain. Well, you don’t care to hear anymore ’bout dat? What is de question?
“My master at de fust, was Marster Jim Stewart and my mistress was his wife, Mistress Clara. They have two chillun. I ‘member Marster Jim and Miss Lizzie; they live in a fine house befo’ de war, ’round yonder close to Mt. Zion College. My mother was de cook and I was de house boy. They had a big plantation ’bout two miles out, sorta southwest of Boro, I mean Winnsboro, of course, but de country people still call it Boro.
“On dat plantation was many two-room houses, brick chimneys in de middle, for de plantation slaves. In de growin’ season I go wid marster every day, not to drive, too small for dat, just to hold de hoss, when him git out and then I run errands for him, ’round de house and in de fields.
“My mother had another child, Willie Finch. A colored man name of Finch is his father but her and de white folks never tell me who my father was. I have to find out dat for myself, after freedom, when I was lookin’ ’round for a name. From all I hear and ‘pear in de lookin’ glass, I see I was half white for sure, and from de things I hear, I conclude I was a Robertson which have never been denied. Maybe it best just to give no front names. Though half a nigger, I have tried to live up to dat name, never took it in dat court house over yonder, never took it in dat jail or dat calaboose. I’s paid my debts dollar for dollar and owe no man nothin’ but good will.
“What de Yankees do when they come? Let other people tell dat, but seem lak they lay de whole town in ashes, ‘cept de college and our house close to it, dat they use for de officers while they was in Boro. Why they hear sumpin’ bout de Davis name techin’ de St. John ‘Piscopal Church and they march ’round dere, one cold February Sunday mornin’, set it afire, and burn it up. Mother and me went to de plantation and stayed dere ’til they left.
“When freedom come, I was twelve years old. Mother marry a Finch; Bill was de name of him. Our nex’ move was to Dr. Madden’s place, just north of Boro. Us farm up dere and I do de hoein’. I live dere thirteen years. I got to feelin’ my oats and tired of workin’ for a plum black nigger, I did. Maybe I ought to been more humble but I wasn’t.
“I ask myself one night: ‘What you gonna do, stay here forever for your vittles and clothes?’ Then come over my mind I old ‘nough for to marry. Who I gwine to marry? It pop right in dis head, Sarah was de gal for me. I rode old Beck down dere de nex’ Sunday; dat was in December. I come right to de point wid her and de old folks. They ‘low they have no objections if I could take care of her. I say I try to. They say: ‘Dat ain’t ‘nough, ‘range yourself for another year and then come and git her’.
“De Lord directs me. I’s down here payin’ my poll, too. Marster Tom Shanty Brice come in as us come out. I ask him if he need a hand for nex’ year. He look me up from top to bottom and say: ‘What’s your name?’ I show him my tax receipt. He hire me than and dere. I go right straight to Sarah and us tell de old folks. Rev. Gordon marry us de 29th of January, 1879. Us has seven chillun. Alex, dat’s de one name for me, is in Tampa, Florida. Carrie marry a Coleman and is in Charlotte, N.C. Jimmie is dead. Thomas is in Charleston, S.C. Emma marry a Belton and lives wid her husband in Ridgeway, S.C. I stay wid my son, Charley, up de country.
“I voted one time in 1876, for Gov. Chamberlain, but when I moved to Marster Tom Brice’s I thought so much of him, I just quit voting. I would lak to vote one more time to say: ‘I have vote one time wid de black part of my nature, dis time I votes wid de white side of my nature.’ What you laughin’ ’bout? If it was de call of dark blood de fust time, maybe it’s de call of de white blood dis time. You have no idea de worry and de pain a mulatto have to carry all his eighty-four years. Forced to ‘sociate wid one side, proud to be related to de other side. Neither side lak de color of your skin. I jine de Methodist church here in Boro and ‘tend often as I can and as I hear my preacher Owens preach, dat dere will be no sex in hebben, I hopes and prays dat dere’ll be no sich thing as a color line in hebben.
“Who de best white men I ever know? Mr. Tom Brice, Mr. W.L. Rosborough, Mr. Watt Sinonton, and Mr. August Nicholson. Master Bill Beaty, dat marry my young mistress, Elizabeth, was a fine man.
“What I think of Abe Lincoln? What I think of Mr. Roosevelt? Dere de color come up again. De black say Mr. Lincoln de best President us ever have; de white say us never have had and never will have a President equal of Mr. Roosevelt.”