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Interviewer: Mary A. Hicks
Person Interviewed: Mattie Curtis
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Location of Birth: Orange County NC
Before And After The War
An interview with Mattie Curtis, 98 years old, of Raleigh, North Carolina, Route # 4.
I wus borned on de plantation of Mr. John Hayes in Orange County ninety-eight years ago. Seberal of de chilluns had been sold ‘fore de speculator come an’ buyed mammy, pappy an’ we three chilluns. De speculator wus named Bebus an’ he lived in Henderson, but he meant to sell us in de tobacco country.
We come through Raleigh an’ de fust thing dat I ‘members good wus goin’ through de paper mill on Crabtree. We traveled on ter Granville County on de Granville Tobacco path till a preacher named Whitfield buyed us. He lived near de Granville an’ Franklin County line, on de Granville side.
Preacher Whitfield, bein’ a preacher, wus supposed to be good, but he ain’t half fed ner clothed his slaves an’ he whupped ‘em bad. I’se seen him whup my mammy wid all de clothes offen her back. He’d buck her down on a barrel an’ beat de blood outen her. Dar wus some difference in his beatin’ from de neighbors. De folks round dar ‘ud whup in de back yard, but Marse Whitfield ‘ud have de barrel carried in his parlor fer de beatin’.
We ain’t had no sociables, but we went to church on Sunday an’ dey preached to us dat we’d go ter hell alive iffen we sassed our white folks.
Speakin’ ’bout clothes, I went as naked as Yo’ han’ till I wus fourteen years old. I wus naked like dat when my nature come to me. Marse Whitfield ain’t carin’, but atter dat mammy tol’ him dat I had ter have clothes.
Marse Whitfield ain’t never pay fer us so finally we wus sold to Mis’ Fanny Long in Franklin County. Dat ‘oman wus a debil iffen dar eber wus one. When I wus little I had picked up de fruit, fanned flies offen de table wid a peafowl fan an’ nussed de little slave chilluns. De las’ two or three years I had worked in de fiel’ but at Mis’ Long’s I worked in de backer factory.
Yes mam, she had a backer factory whar backer wus stemmed, rolled an’ packed in cases fer sellin’. Dey said dat she had got rich on sellin’ chawin’ terbacker.
We wus at Mis’ Long’s when war wus declared, ‘fore dat she had been purty good, but she am a debil now. Her son am called ter de war an’ he won’t go. Dey comes an’ arrests him, den his mammy tries ter pay him out, but dat ain’t no good.
De officers sez dat he am yaller an’ dat day am gwine ter shoot his head off an’ use hit fer a soap gourd. De Yankees did shoot him down here at Bentonville an’ Mis’ Long went atter de body. De Confederates has got de body but dey won’t let her have it fer love ner money. Dey laughs an’ tells her how yaller he am an’ dey buries him in a ditch like a dog.
Mis’ Long has been bad enough fore den but atter her son is dead she sez dat she am gwine ter fight till she draps dead. De nex’ day she sticks de shot gun in mammy’s back an’ sez dat she am gwine ter shoot her dead. Mammy smiles an’ tells her dat she am ready ter go. Mis’ Long turns on me an’ tells me ter go ter de peach tree an’ cut her ten limbs ’bout a yard long, dis I does an’ atter she ties dem in a bundle she wears dem out on me at a hundret licks. Lemmie tell yo’, dar wus pieces of de peach tree switches stickin’ all in my bloody back when she got through.
Atter dat Mis’ Long ain’t done nothin’ but whup us an’ fight till she shore nuff wore out.
De Yankee captain come ter our place an tol’ us dat de lan’ was goin’ ter be cut up an’ divided among de slaves, dey would also have a mule an’ a house apiece.
I doan know how come hit but jist ‘fore de end of de war we come ter Moses Mordicia’s place, right up de hill from here. He wus mean too, he’d get drunk an’ whup niggers all day off’ an’ on. He’d keep dem tied down dat long too, sometimes from sunrise till dark.
Mr. Mordicia had his yaller gals in one quarter ter dereselves an’ dese gals belongs ter de Mordicia men, dere friends an’ de overseers. When a baby wus born in dat quarter dey’d sen’ hit over ter de black quarter at birth. Dey do say dat some of dese gal babies got grown an’ atter goin’ back ter de yaller quarter had more chilluns fer her own daddy or brother. De Thompson’s sprung from dat set an’ dey say dat a heap of dem is halfwits fer de reason dat I has jist tol’ yo’. Dem yaller wimen wus highfalutin’ too, dey though [HW correction: thought] dey wus better dan de black ones.
Has yo’ ever wondered why de yaller wimen dese days am meaner dan black ones ’bout de men? Well dat’s de reason fer hit, dere mammies raised dem to think ’bout de white men.
When de Yankees come dey come an’ freed us. De woods wus full of Rebs what had deserted, but de Yankees killed some of dem.
Some sort of corporation cut de land up, but de slaves ain’t got none of it dat I ever heard about.
I got married before de war to Joshua Curtis. I loved him too, which is more dam most folks can truthfully say. I always had craved a home an’ a plenty to eat, but freedom ain’t give us notin’ but pickled hoss meat an’ dirty crackers, an’ not half enough of dat.
Josh ain’t really care ’bout no home but through dis land corporation I buyed dese fifteen acres on time. I cut down de big trees dat wus all over dese fields an’ I milled out de wood an’ sold hit, den I plowed up de fields an’ planted dem. Josh did help to build de house an’ he worked out some.
All of dis time I had nineteen chilluns an’ Josh died, but I kep’ on an’ de fifteen what is dead lived to be near ’bout grown, ever one of dem.
Right atter de war northern preachers come around wid a little book a-marrying slaves an’ I seed one of dem marry my pappy an’ mammy. Atter dis dey tried to find dere fourteen oldest chilluns what wus sold away, but dey never did find but three of dem.
But you wants ter find out how I got along. I’ll never fergit my first bale of cotton an’ how I got hit sold. I wus some proud of dat bale of cotton, an’ atter I had hit ginned I set out wid hit on my steercart fer Raleigh. De white folks hated de nigger den, ‘specially de nigger what wus makin’ somethin’ so I dasen’t ax nobody whar de market wus.
I thought dat I could find de place by myself, but I rid all day an’ had to take my cotton home wid me dat night ‘case I can’t find no place to sell hit at. But dat night I think hit over an’ de nex’ day I goes’ back an’ axes a policeman ’bout de market. Lo an’ behold chile, I foun’ hit on Blount Street, an’ I had pass by hit seberal times de day before.
I done a heap of work at night too, all of my sewin’ an’ such an’ de piece of lan’ near de house over dar ain’t never got no work ‘cept at night. I finally paid fer de land. Some of my chilluns wus borned in de field too. When I wus to de house we had a granny an’ I blowed in a bottle to make de labor quick an’ easy.
Dis young generation ain’t worth shucks. Fifteen years ago I hired a big buck nigger to help me shrub an’ ‘fore leben o’clock he passed out on me. You know ’bout leben o’clock in July hit gits in a bloom. De young generation wid dere schools an dere divorcing ain’t gwine ter git nothin’ out of life. Hit wus better when folks jist lived tergether. Dere loafin’ gits dem inter trouble an’ dere novels makes dem bad husban’s an’ wives too.