Person Interviewed: Rev. Silas Jackson
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Place of Birth: Virginia
Date of Birth: 1846 or 47
Place of Residence: 1630 N. Gilmor St., Baltimore, Maryland
Age: (about) 90
Reference: Personal interview with Rev. Silas Jackson, ex-slave, at his home, 1630 N. Gilmor St., Baltimore.
“I was born at or near Ashbie’s Gap in Virginia, either in the year of 1846 or 47. I do not know which, but I will say I am 90 years of age. My father’s name was Sling and mother’s Sarah Louis. They were purchased by my master from a slave trader in Richmond, Virginia. My father was a man of large stature and my mother was tall and stately. They originally came from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I think from the Legg estate, beyond that I do not know. I had three brothers and two sisters. My brothers older than I, and my sisters younger. Their names were Silas, Carter, Rap or Raymond, I do not remember; my sisters were Jane and Susie, both of whom are living in Virginia now. Only one I have ever seen and he came north with General Sherman, he died in 1925. He was a Baptist minister like myself.
“The only things I know about my grandparents were: My grandfather ran away through the aid of Harriet Tubman and went to Philadelphia and saved $350, and purchased my grandmother through the aid of a Quaker or an Episcopal minister, I do not know. I have on several occasions tried to trace this part of my family’s past history, but without success.
“I was a large boy for my age, when I was nine years of age my task began and continued until 1864. You see I saw and I was a slave.
“In Virginia where I was, they raised tobacco, wheat, corn and farm products. I have had a taste of all the work on the farm, besides of digging and clearing up new ground to increase the acreage to the farm. We all had task work to do—men, women and boys. We began work on Monday and worked until Saturday. That day we were allowed to work for ourselves and to garden or to do extra work. When we could get work, or work on some one else’s place, we got a pass from the overseer to go off the plantation, but to be back by nine o’clock on Saturday night or when cabin inspection was made. Some time we could earn as much as 50 cents a day, which we used to buy cakes, candies, or clothes.
“On Saturday each slave was given 10 pounds corn meal, a quart of black strap, 6 pounds of fat back, 3 pounds of flour and vegetables, all of which were raised on the farm. All of the slaves hunted or those who wanted, hunted rabbits, opossums or fished. These were our choice food as we did not get anything special from the overseer.
“Our food was cooked by our mothers or sisters and for those who were not married by the old women and men assigned for that work.
“Each family was given 3 acres to raise their chickens or vegetables and if a man raised his own food he was given $10.00 at Christmas time extra, besides his presents.
“In the summer or when warm weather came each slave was given something, the women, linsey goods or gingham clothes, the men overalls, muslin shirts, top and underclothes, two pair of shoes, and a straw hat to work in. In the cold weather, we wore woolen clothes, all made at the sewing cabin.
“My master was named Tom Ashbie, a meaner man was never born in Virginia—brutal, wicked and hard. He always carried a cowhide with him. If he saw anyone doing something that did not suit his taste, he would have the slave tied to a tree, man or woman, and then would cowhide the victim until he got tired, or sometimes, the slave would faint.
“The Ashbie’s home was a large stone mansion, with a porch on three sides. Wide halls in the center up and down stairs, numerous rooms and a stone kitchen built on the back connected with dining room.
“Mrs. Ashbie was kind and lovely to her slaves when Mr. Ashbie was out. The Ashbies did not have any children of their own, but they had boys and girls of his own sister and they were much like him, they had maids or private waiter for the young men if they wanted them.
“I have heard it said by people in authority, Tom Ashbie owned 9000 acres of farm land besides of wood land. He was a large slave owner having more than 100 slaves on his farm. They were awakened by blowing of the horn before sunrise by the overseer, started work at sunrise and worked all day to sundown, with not time to go to the cabin for dinner, you carried your dinner with you. The slaves were driven at top speed and whipped at the snap of the finger, by the overseers, we had four overseers on the farm all hired white men.
“I have seen men beaten until they dropped in their tracks or knocked over by clubs, women stripped down to their waist and cowhided.
“I have heard it said that Tom Ashbie’s father went to one of the cabins late at night, the slaves were having a secret prayer meeting. He heard one slave ask God to change the heart of his master and deliver him from slavery so that he may enjoy freedom. Before the next day the man disappeared, no one ever seeing him again; but after that down in the swamp at certain times of the moon, you could hear the man who prayed in the cabin praying. When old man Ashbie died, just before he died he told the white Baptist minister, that he had killed Zeek for praying and that he was going to hell.
“There was a stone building on the farm, it is there today. I saw it this summer while visiting in Virginia. The old jail, it is now used as a garage. Downstairs there were two rooms, one where some of the whipping was done, and the other used by the overseer. Upstairs was used for women and girls. The iron bars have coroded, but you can see where they were. I have never seen slaves sold on the farm, but I have seen them taken away, and brought there. Several times I have seen slaves chained taken away and chained when they came.
“No one on the place was taught to read or write. On Sunday the slaves who wanted to worship would gather at one of the large cabins with one of the overseers present and have their church. After which the overseer would talk. When communion was given the overseer was paid for staying there with half of the collection taken up, some time he would get 25¢. No one could read the Bible. Sandy Jasper, Mr. Ashbie’s coachman was the preacher, he would go to the white Baptist church on Sunday with family and would be better informed because he heard the white preacher.
“Twice each year, after harvest and after New Year’s, the slaves would have their protracted meeting or their revival and after each closing they would baptize in the creek, sometimes in the winter they would break the ice singing Going to the Water or some other hymn of that nature. And at each funeral, the Ashbies would attend the service conducted in the cabin there the deceased was, from there taken to the slave graveyard. A lot dedicated for that purpose, situated about 3/4 of a mile from cabins near a hill.
“There were a number of slaves on our plantation who ran away, some were captured and sold to a Georgia trader, others who were never captured. To intimidate the slaves, the overseers were connected with the patrollers, not only to watch our slaves, but sometimes for the rewards for other slaves who had run away from other plantations. This feature caused a great deal of trouble between the whites and blacks. In 1858 two white men were murdered near Warrenton on the road by colored people, it was never known whether by free people or slaves.
“When work was done the slaves retired to their cabins, some played games, others cooked or rested or did what they wanted. We did not work on Saturdays unless harvest times, then Saturdays were days of work. At other times, on Saturdays you were at leisure to do what you wanted. On Christmas day Mr. Ashbie would call all the slaves together, give them presents, money, after which they spent the day as they liked. On New Year’s day we all were scared, that was the time for selling, buying and trading slaves. We did not know who was to go or come.
“I do not remember of playing any particular game, my sport was fishing. You see I do not believe in ghost stories nor voodooism, I have nothing to say. We boys used to take the horns of a dead cow or bull, cut the end off of it, we could blow it, some having different notes. We could tell who was blowing and from what plantation.
“When a slave took sick she or he would have to depend on herbs, salves or other remedies prepared by someone who knew the medicinal value. When a valuable hand took sick one of the overseers would go to Upper Ville for a doctor.”