Interviewer: Mary A. Hicks
Person Interviewed: Cornelia Andrews
Date of Interview: May 21, 1937
Location: Smithfield, North Carolina
An interview on May 21, 1937 with Cornelia Andrews of Smithfield, Johnston County, who is 87 years old.
De fust marster dat I ‘members wuz Mr. Cute Williams an’ he wuz a good marster, but me an’ my mammy an’ some of de rest of ‘em wuz sold to Doctor McKay Vaden who wuz not good ter us.
Doctor Vaden owned a good-sized plantation, but he had just eight slaves. We had plank houses, but we ain’t had much food an’ clothes. We wored shoes wid wooden bottom in de winter an’ no shoes in de summer. We ain’t had much fun, nothin’ but candy pullin’s ’bout onct a year. We ain’t raised no cane but marster buyed one barrel of ‘lasses fer candy eber year.
Yo’ know dat dar wuz a big slave market in Smithfield dem days, dar wuz also a jail, an’ a whippin’ post. I ‘members a man named Rough somethin’ or other, what bought forty er fifty slaves at de time an’ carried ‘em ter Richmond to re-sell. He had four big black horses hooked ter a cart, an’ behind dis cart he chained de slaves, an’ dey had ter walk, or trot all de way ter Richmond. De little ones Mr. Rough would throw up in de cart an’ off dey’d go no’th. Dey said dat der wuz one day at Smithfield dat three hundret slaves wuz sold on de block. Dey said dat peoples came from fer an’ near, eben from New Orleans ter dem slave sales. Dey said dat way ‘fore I wuz borned dey uster strip dem niggers start naked an’ gallop’ em ober de square so dat de buyers could see dat dey warn’t scarred nor deformed.
While I could ‘member dey’d sell de mammies ‘way from de babies, an’ dere wuzn’t no cryin’ ’bout it whar de marster would know ’bout it nother. Why? Well, dey’d git beat black an’ blue, dat’s why.
Wuz I eber beat bad? No mam, I wuzn’t.
(Here the daughter, a graduate of Cornell University, who was in the room listening came forward. “Open your shirt, mammy, and let the lady judge for herself.” The old ladies eyes flashed as she sat bolt upright. She seemed ashamed, but the daughter took the shirt off, exposing the back and shoulders which were marked as though branded with a plaited cowhide whip. There was no doubt of that at all.)
“I wuz whupped public,” she said tonelessly, “for breaking dishes an’ ‘bein’ slow. I wuz at Mis’ Carrington’s den, an’ it wuz jist ‘fore de close o’ de war. I wuz in de kitchen washin’ dishes an’ I draps one. De missus calls Mr. Blount King, a patteroller, an’ he puts de whuppin’ yo’ sees de marks of on me. My ole missus foun’ it out an’ she comed an’ got me.”
A friend of the interviewer who was present remarked, “That must have been horrible to say the least.”
“Yo’ ‘doan know nothin,” the old Negro blazed. “Alex Heath, a slave wuz beat ter death, hyar in Smithfield. He had stold something, dey tells me, anyhow he wuz sentenced ter be put ter death, an’ de folkses dar in charge ‘cided ter beat him ter death. Dey gib him a hundret lashes fer nine mornin’s an’ on de ninth mornin’ he died.”
“My uncle Daniel Sanders, wuz beat till he wuz cut inter gashes an’ he wuz tu be beat ter death lak Alex wuz, but one day atter dey had beat him an’ throwed him back in jail wid out a shirt he broke out an’ runned away. He went doun in de riber swamp an’ de blow flies blowed de gashes an’ he wuz unconscious when a white man found him an’ tuk him home wid him. He died two or three months atter dat but he neber could git his body straight ner walk widout a stick; he jist could drag.”
“I ‘specks dat I doan know who my pappy wuz, maybe de stock nigger on de plantation. My pappy an’ mammy jist stepped ober de broom an’ course I doan know when. Yo’ knows dey ain’t let no little runty nigger have no chilluns. Naw sir, dey ain’t, dey operate on dem lak dey does de male hog so’s dat dey can’t have no little runty chilluns.”
“Some of de marsters wuz good an’ some of dem wuz bad. I wuz glad ter be free an’ I lef’ der minute I finds out dat I is free. I ain’t got no kick a-comin’ not none at all. Some of de white folkses wuz slaves, ter git ter de United States an’ we niggers ain’t no better, I reckons.”