Interviewer: Mrs. W. N. Harris
Person Interviewed: John Evans
Location: North Carolina
Date of Birth: August 15, 1859
Story of John Evans. Born in Slavery.
I was born August 15th, 1859. I am 78 years old. Dat comes out right, don’t it? My mother’s name was Hattie Newbury. I don’t never remember seein’ my Pa. We lived on Middle Sound an’ dat’s where I was born. I knows de room, ’twas upstairs, an’ when I knowed it, underneath, downstairs dat is, was bags of seed an’ horse feed, harness an’ things, but it was slave quarters when I come heah.
Me an’ my mother stayed right on with Mis’ Newberry after freedom, an’ never knowed no diffunce. They was jus’ like sisters an’ I never knowed nothin’ but takin’ keer of Mistus Newberry. She taught me my letters an’ the Bible, an’ was mighty perticler ’bout my manners. An’ I’m tellin’ you my manners is brought me a heap more money than my readin’–or de Bible. I’m gwine tell you how dat is, but fust I want to say the most I learned on Middle Sound was’ bout fishin’ an’ huntin’. An’ dawgs.
My! But there sho’ was birds an’ possums on de Sound in dem days. Pa’tridges all over de place. Why, even me an’ my Mammy et pa’tridges fer bre’kfust. Think of dat now! But when I growed up my job was fishin’. I made enough sellin’ fish to the summer folks all along Wrightsville and Greenville Sounds to keep me all winter.
My Mammy cooked fer Mis’ Newberry. After a while they both died. I never did’nt git married.
I don’t know nothin’ ’bout all the mean things I hear tell about slaves an’ sich. We was just one fam’ly an’ had all we needed. We never paid no ‘tention to freedom or not freedom. I remember eve’ybody had work to do in slavery an’ dey gone right on doin’ it sence. An’ nobody don’t git nowheres settin’ down holdin’ their han’s. It do’n make so much diffunce anyhow what you does jes so’s you does it.
One time when I was carryin’ in my fish to “Airlie” [TR: difficult to read] Mr. Pem Jones heard me laff, an’ after I opened dis here mouf of mine an’ laffed fer him I didn’t have to bother ’bout fish no mo’. Lordy, dose rich folks he used to bring down fum New Yo’k is paid me as much as _sixty_ dollars a week to laff fer ‘em. One of ‘em was named Mr. _Fish_. Now you know dat tickled _me_. I could jes laff an’ laff ’bout dat. Mr. Pem give me fine clo’es an’ a tall silk hat. I’d eat a big dinner in de kitchen an’ den go in’ mongst de quality an’ laff fer’ em an’ make my noise like a wood saw in my th’oat. Dey was crazy ’bout dat. An’ then’s when I began to be thankful ’bout my manners. I’s noticed if you has nice manners wid eve’ybody people gwine to be nice to you.
Well, (with a long sigh) I don’t pick up no sich money nowadays; but my manners gives me many a chance to laff, an’ I never don’t go hungry.
John has been a well known character for fifty years among the summer residents along the sounds and on Wrightsville Beach. He was a fisherman and huckster in his palmy days, but now John’s vigor is on the wane, and he has little left with which to gain a livelihood except his unusually contagious laugh, and a truly remarkable flow of words. “Old John” could give Walter Winchel a handicap of twenty words a minute and then beat him at his own game. His mouth is enormous and his voice deep and resonant. He can make a noise like a wood saw which he maintains for 2 or 3 minutes without apparent effort, the sound buzzing on and on from some mysterious depths of his being with amazing perfection of imitation.
Any day during the baseball season John may be seen sandwiched between his announcement boards, a large bell in one hand, crying the ball game of the day. “Old John” to the youngsters; but finding many a quarter dropped in his hand by the older men with memories of gay hours and hearty laughter.