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Interviewer: Lauana Creel
Person Interviewed: Joseph William Carter
Location: Evansville, Indiana
Ex-Slave Stories 5th District Vandenburgh County Lauana Creel
SLAVE STORY JOSEPH WILLIAM CARTER
This information was gained through an interview with Joseph William Carter and several of his daughters. The data was cheerfully given to the writer. Joseph William Carter has lived a long and, he declares, a happy life, although he was born and reared in bondage. His pleasing personality has always made his lot an easy one and his yoke seemed easy to wear.
Joseph William Carter was born prior to the year 1836. His mother, Malvina Gardner was a slave in the home of Mr. Gardner until a man named D.B. Smith saw her and noticing the physical perfection of the child at once purchased her from her master.
Malvina was agrieved at being compelled to leave her old home, and her lovely young mistress. Puss Gardner was fond of the little mullato girl and had taught her to be a useful member of the Gardner family; however, she was sold to Mr. Smith and was compelled to accompany him to his home.
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Both the Gardner and Smith families lived near Gallatin, Tennessee, in Sumner County. The Smith plantation was situated on the Cumberland River and commanded a beautiful view of river and valley acres but Malvina was very unhappy. She did not enjoy the Smith family and longed for her old friends back in the Gardner home.
One night the little girl gathered together her few personal belongings and started back to her old home.
Afraid to travel the highway the child followed a path she knew through the forest; but alas, she found the way long and beset with perils. A number of uncivil Indians were encamped on the side of the Cumberland mountains and a number of the young braves were out hunting that night. Their stealthy approach was heard by the little fugitive girl but too late for her to make an escape. An Indian called “Buck” captured her and by all the laws of the tribe was his own property. She lived for almost a year in the teepe with Buck and during that time learned much about Indian habits.
When Malvina was missed from her new home, Mr. Smith went to the Gardner plantation to report his loss, not finding her there a wide search was made for her but the Indians kept her thoroughly concealed. Miss Puss, however, kept up the search. She knew the Indians were encamped on the mountain and believed she would find the girl with them. The Indians finally broke camp and the members of the Gardner home watched them start on their journey and Miss Puss soon discovered Malvina among the other maidens in the procession.
The men of the Gardner plantation, white and black, overtook the Indians and demanded the girl be given up to them. The Indians reluctantly gave her to them. Miss Puss Gardner took her back and Mr. Gardner paid Mr. Smith the original purchase price and Malvina was once more installed in her old home.
Malvina Gardner was not yet twelve years of age when she was captured by the Indians and was scarcely thirteen years of age when she became the mother of Joseph William, son of the uncivil Indian, “Buck”. The child was born in the Gardner home and mother and child remained there. The mother was a good slave and loved the members of the Gardner family and her son and she were loved by them in return.
Puss Gardner married a Mr. Mooney and Mr. Gardner allowed her to take Joseph William to her home. The Mooney estate was situated up on the Carthridge road and some of Joseph William’s most vivid memories of slavery and the curse of bondage embrace his life’s span with the Mooneys.
One story that the aged man relates is of an encounter with an eagle and follows: “George Irish, a white boy near my own age, was the son of the miller. His father operated a sawmill on Bledsoe Creek near where it empties into the Coumberland river. George and I often went fishing together and had a good dog called Hector. Hector was as good a coon dog as there was to be found in that part of the country. That day we boys climbed up on the mill shed to watch the swans in Bledsoe Creek and we soon noticed a great big fish hawk catching the goslings. It made us mad and we decided to kill the hawk. I went back to the house and got an old flint lock rifle Mars. Mooney had let me carry when we went hunting. When I got back where George was, the big bird was still busy catching goslings. The first shot I fired broke its wing and I decided I would catch it and take it home with me. The bird put up a terrible fight, cutting me with its bill and talons. Hector came running and tried to help me but the bird cut him until his howls brought help from the field. Mr. Jacob Greene was passing along and came to us. He tore me away from the bird but I could not walk and the blood was running from my body in dozens of places. Poor old Hector, was crippled and bleeding for the bird was a big eagle and would have killed both of us if help had not come.” The old negro man still shows signs of his encounter with the eagle. He said it was captured and lived about four months in captivity but its wing never healed. The body of the eagle was stuffed with wheat bran, by Greene Harris, and placed in the court yard in Sumner County. “The Civil War changed things at the Mooney plantation,” said the old man. “Before the War Mr. Mooney never had been cruel to me. I was Mistress Puss’s property and she would never have allowed me to be abused, but some of the other slaves endured the most cruel treatment and were worked nearly to death.”
Uncle Joe’s memory of slavery embraces the whole story of bondage and the helpless position held by strong bodied men and women of a hardy race, overpowered by the narrow ideals of slave owners and cruel overseerers. “When I was a little bitsy child and still lived with Mr. Gardner,” said the old man, “I saw many of the slaves beaten to death. Master Gardner didn’t do any of the whippin’ but every few months he sent to Mississippi for negro rulers to come to the plantation and whip all the negroes that had not obeyed the overseers. A big barrel lay near the barn and that was always the whippin place.” Uncle Joe remembers two or three professional slave whippers and recalls the death of two of the Mississippi whippers. He relates the story as follows: “Mars Gardner had one of the finest black smiths that I ever saw. His arms were strong, his muscles stood out on his breast and shoulders and his legs were never tired. He stood there and shoed horses and repaired tools day after day and there was no work ever made him tired.”
The old negro man so vividly described the noble blacksmith that he almost appeared in person, as the story advanced. “I don’t know what he had done to rile up Mars Gardner, but all of us knew that the Blacksmith was going to be flogged. When the whippers from Mississippi got to the plantation. The blacksmith worked on day and night. All day he was shoein horses and all the spare time he had he was makin a knife. When the whippers got there all of us were brought out to watch the whippin but the blacksmith, Jim Gardner did not wait to feel the lash, he jumped right into the bunch of overseers and negro whippers and knifed two whippers and one overseer to death; then stuck the sharp knife into his arm and bled to death.”
Suicide seemed the only hope for this man of strength. He could not humble himself to the brutal ordeal of being beaten by the slave whippers.
“When the war started, we kept hearing about the soldiers and finally they set up their camp in the forest near us. The corn was ready to bring into the barn and the soldiers told Mr. Mooney to let the slaves gather it and put it into the barns. Some of the soldiers helped gather and crib the corn. I wanted to help but Miss Puss was afraid they would press me into service and made me hide in the cellar. There was a big keg of apple cider in the cellar and every day Miss Puss handed down a big plate of fresh ginger snaps right out of the oven, so I was well fixed.” The old man remembers that after the corn was in the crib the soldiers turned in their horses to eat what had fallen to the ground.
Before the soldiers became encamped at the Mooney plantation they had camped upon a hill and some skirmishing had occurred. Uncle Joe remembers the skirmish and seeing cannon balls come over the fields. The cannon balls were chained together and the slave children would run after the missils. Sometimes the chains would cut down trees as the balls rolled through the forest.
“Do you believe in witchcraft?” was asked while interviewing the aged negro. “No” was the answer. “I had a cousin that was a full blooded Indian and a Voodoo doctor. He got me to help him with his Voodoo work. A lot of people both white and black sent for the Indian when they were sick. I told him I would do the best I could, if it would help sick people to get well. A woman was sick with rhumatism and he was going to see her. He sent me into the woods to dig up poke roots to boil. He then took the brew to the house where the sick woman lived. Had her to put both feet in a tub filled with warm water, into which he had placed the poke root brew. He told the woman she had lizards in her body and he was going to bring them out of her. He covered the woman with a heavy blanket and made her sit for a long time, possibly an hour, with her feet in the tub of poke root brew and water. He had me slip a good many lizards into the tub and when the woman removed her feet, there were the lizards. She was soon well and believed the lizards had come out of her legs. I was disgusted and would not practice with my cousin again.”
“So you didn’t fight in the Civil War,” was asked Uncle Joe.
“Of course I did, when I got old enough I entered the service and barbacued meat until the war closed.” Barbacueing had been Uncle Joe’s specialty during slavery days and he followed the same profession during his service with the federal army. He was freed by the emancuapation proclamation, and soon met and married Sadie Scott, former Slave of Mr. Scott, a Tennessee planter. Sadie only lived a short time after her marriage. He later married Amy Doolins. Her father was named Carmuel. He was a blacksmith and after he was free, the countrymen were after him to take his life. He was shot nine times and finally killed himself to prevent meeting death at the hands of the clansmen.
Joseph William Carter is a cripple. In 1933 he fell and broke his right thigh-bone and since that time he has walked with a crutch. He stays up quite a lot and is always glad to welcome visitors. He possesses a noble character and is admired by his friends and neighbors. Tall, straight, lean of body, his nose is aquiline; these physical characteristics he inherited from his Indian ancesters. His gentle nature, wit, and good humor are characteristics handed to him by his mother and fostered by the gentle rearing of his southern mistress.
When Uncle Joe Carter celebrated the 100th aniversary of his birth a large cake was presented to him, decorated with 100 candles. The party was attended by children and grandchildren, friends and neighbors. “What is your political viewpoint?” was asked the old man.
“My politics is my love for my country”. “I vote for the man, not the party.”
Uncle Joe’s religion is the religion of decency and virtue. “I don’t want to be hard in my judgement,” said he, “But I wish the whole world would be decent. When I was a young man, women wore more clothes in bed than they now wear on the street.”
“Papa has always been a lover of horses but he does not care for Automobiles nor aeroplanes,” said a daughter of Uncle Joe. Uncle Joe has seven daughters, he says they have always been obedient and attentive to their parents. Their mother passed away seven years ago. The sons and daughters of Uncle Joe remember their grand-mother and recall stories recounted by her of her captivity among the Indians.
“Papa had no gray hairs until after mama died. His hair turned gray from grief at her loss,” said Mrs. Della Smith, one of his daughters. Uncle Joe’s smile reveals a set of unusually sound teeth from which only one tooth is missing.
Like all fathers and grandfathers, Uncle Joe recounts the cute deeds and funny sayings of the little children he has been associated with: how his own children with feather bedecked crowns enacted the capture of their grandmother and often played “Voo-Doo Doctor.”
Uncle Joe stresses the value of work, not the enforced labor of the slave but the cheerful toil of free people. He is glad that his sons and daughters are industrious citizens and is proud they maintain clean homes for their families. He is happy because his children have never known bondage, and he respects the laws of his country and appreciates the interest that the citizens of Evansville have always showed in the negro race.
After Uncle Joe became a young man he met many Indians from the tribe that had held his mother captive. Through them he learned much about his father which his mother had never told him.
Though he was a Gardner slave and would have been Joseph Gardner, he took the name of Carter from a step father and is known as Joseph Carter.