Interviewer: Travis Jordan
Person Interviewed: Sarah Anne Green
Location: Durham County, North Carolina
My mammy an’ pappy wuz Anderson an’ Hannah Watson. We fus’ belonged to Marse Billy an’ Mis Roby Watson, but when Marse Billy’s daughter, Mis’ Susie ma’ied young Marse Billy Headen, Ole Marse give her me, an’ my mammy an’ my pappy for er weddin’ gif’. So, I growed up as Sarah Anne Headen.
My pappy had blue eyes. Dey wuz jus’ like Marse Billy’s eyes, kaze Ole Marse wuz pappy’s marster an’ his pappy too. Ole Marse wuz called Hickory Billy, dey called him dat kaze he chewed hickory bark. He wouldn’ touch ‘bacca, but he kept er twis’ of dis bark in his pocket mos’ all de time. He would make us chillun go down whare de niggers wuz splittin’ rails an’ peel dis bark off de logs befo’ dey wuz split. De stuff he chewed come off de log right under de bark. After dey’d skin de logs we’d peel off dis hickory ‘bacca in long strips an’ make it up in twis’s for Ole Marse. It wuz yellah an’ tas’ sweet an’ sappy, an’ he’d chew an’ spit, an’ chew an’ spit. Mis’ Roby wouldn’ ‘low no chewin’ in de house, but Ole Marse sho done some spittin’ outside. He could stan’ in de barn door an’ spit clear up in de lof’.
Ole Marse an’ Mis Roby lived on er big plantation near Goldston an’ dey had ’bout three hundred slaves. Hannah, my mammy, wuz de head seamstress. She had to ‘ten’ to de makin’ of all de slaves clothes. De niggers had good clothes. De cloth wuz home woven in de weavin’ room. Ten niggers didn’ do nothin’ but weave, but every slave had one Sunday dress a year made out of store bought cloth. Ole Marse seed to dat. Ole Marse made de niggers go to chu’ch too. He had er meetin’ house on plantation an’ every Sunday we wuz ma’ched to meetin’. Dey wuz preachin’ every other Sunday an’ Sunday School every Sunday. Marse Billy an’ Mis’ Roby teached de Sunday School, but dey didn’ teach us to read an’ write, no suh, dey sho didn’. If dey’d see us wid er book dey’d whip us. Dey said niggers didn’ need no knowledge; dat dey mus’ do what dey wuz tole to do. Marse Billy wuz er doctor too. He doctored de slaves when dey got sick, an’ if dey got bad off he sen’ for er sho nuff doctor an’ paid de bills.
Every Chris’mas Marse Billy give de niggers er big time. He called dem up to de big house an’ give dem er bag of candy, niggertoes, an’ sugar plums, den he say: ‘Who wants er egg nog, boys?’ All dem dat wants er dram hol’ up dey han’s.’ Yo’ never seed such holdin’ up of han’s. I would hol’ up mine too, an’ Ole Marse would look at me an say, ‘Go ‘way from hear, Sarah Anne, yo’ too little to be callin’ for nog.’ But he fill up de glass jus’ de same an’ put in er extra spoon of sugar an’ give it to me. Dat sho wuz good nog. ‘Twuz all foamy wid whipped cream an’ rich wid eggs. Marse Billy an’ Mis’ Roby served it demselves from dey Sunday cut glass nog bowl, an’ it kept Estella an’ Rosette busy fillin’ it up. Marse Billy wuz er good man.
When de war come on Marse Billy was too ole to go, but young Marse Billy an’ Marse Gaston went. Dey wuz Ole Marse’s two boys. Young Marse Billy Headen, Mis’ Susie’s husban’ went too.
De day Ole Marse heard dat de Yankees wuz comin’ he took all de meat ‘cept two or three pieces out of de smoke house, den he got de silver an’ things an’ toted dem to de wood pile. He dug er hole an’ buried dem, den he covered de place wid chips, but wid dat he wuzn’ satisfied, so he made pappy bring er load of wood an’ throw it on top of it, so when de Yankees come dey didn’ fin’ it.
When de Yankees come up in de yard Marse Billy took Mis’ Roby an’ locked her up in dey room, den he walk ‘roun’ an’ watched de Yankees, but dey toted off what dey wanted. I wuzn’ skeered of de Yankees; I thought dey wuz pretty mens in dey blue coats an’ brass buttons. I followed dem all ‘roun’ beggin’ for dey coat buttons. I ain’t never seed nothin’ as pretty as dem buttons. When dey lef’ I followed dem way down de road still beggin’, ‘twell one of dem Yankees pull off er button an’ give it to me. ‘Hear, Nigger,’ he say, ‘take dis button. I’s givin’ it to you kaze yo’s got blue eyes. I ain’t never seed blue eyes in er black face befo’.’ I had blue eyes like pappy an’ Marse Billy, an’ I kept dat Yankee button ‘twell I wuz ma’ied, den I los’ it.
De wus’ thing I know dat happened, in de war wuz when Mis’ Roby foun’ de Yankee sojer in de ladies back house.
Down at de back of de garden behin’ de row of lilac bushes wuz de two back houses, one for de mens an’ one for de ladies. Mis’ Roby went down to dis house one day, an’ when she opened de door, dare lay er Yankee sojer on de floor. His head wuz tied up wid er bloody rag an’ he look like he wuz dead.
Mammy say she seed Mis’ Roby when she come out. She looked skeered but she didn’ scream nor nothin’. When she seed mammy she motioned to her. She tole her ’bout de Yankee. ‘He’s jus’ er boy, Hannah,’ she say, ‘he ain’t no older den Marse Gaston, an’ he’s hurt. We got to do somethin’ an’ we can’t tell nobody.’ Den she sen’ mammy to de house for er pan of hot water, de scissors an’ er ole sheet. Mis’ Roby cut off de bloody ran an’ wash dat sojer boy’s head den she tied up de cut places. Den she went to de house an’ made mammy slip him er big milk toddy. ‘Bout dat time she seed some ho’seman comin’ down de road. When dey got closer she seed dey wuz ‘Federate sojers. Dey rode up in de yard an’ Marse Billy went out to meet dem. Dey tole him dat dey wuz lookin’ for er Yankee prisoner dat done got away from dey camp.
After Ole Marse tole dem dat he ain’t seed no Yankee sojer, dey tole him dat dey got to search de place kaze dat wuz orders.
When Mis Roby heard dem say dat she turned an’ went through de house to do back yard. She walk ‘roun’ ‘mong de flowers, but all de time she watchin’ dem ‘Federates search de barns, stables, an’ everywhare. But, when dey start to de lilac bushes, Mis’ Roby lif’ her head an’ walk right down de paf to de ladies back house, an’ right befo’ all dem mens, wid dem lookin’ at her, she opened de door an’ walk in. She sholy did.
Dat night when ‘twuz dark Mis’ Roby wrap’ up er passel of food an’ er bottle of brandy an’ give it to dat sojer Yankee boy. She tole him dey wuz ho’ses in de paster an’ dat de Yankee camp wuz over near Laurinburg or somewhare like dat.
Nobody ain’t seed dat boy since, but somehow dat ho’se come back an’ in his mane wuz er piece of paper. Marse Billy foun’ it an’ brung it to Mis’ Roby an’ ax her what it meant.
Mis’ Roby took it an’ ‘twuz er letter dat sojer boy done wrote tellin’ her dat he wuz safe an’ thankin’ her for what she done for him.
Mis’ Roby tole Marse Billy she couldn’ help savin’ dat Yankee, he too much of er boy.
Marse Billy he look at Mis’ Roby, den he say: ‘Roby, honey, yo’s braver den any sojer I ever seed.’