Interviewer: T. Pat Matthews
Person Interviewed: Susan High
Location: 519 Haywood Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
My name is Susan High. I wus born in June. I am 70 years old. My mother wus named Piety an’ she belonged to de ole man Giles Underhill before de surrender. My father he wus George Merritt an’ he belonged to Ben Merritt, Ivan Proctor’s grandfather. Dey lived on a plantation near Eagle Rock, Wake County. Dey called de creek near by Mark’s Creek.
My parents said dat dey had a mighty hard time, an’ dat durin’ slavery time, de rules wus mighty strict. De hours of work on de farm wus from sun to sun wid no time ‘cept at Christmas and at lay-by time, 4th of July for anything but work. Dey were not ‘lowed no edication, and very little time to go to church. Sometimes de went to de white folks church. Mother said dey whupped de slaves if dey broke de rules.
Dey said de overseers were worse den de slave owners. De overseers were ginerally white men hired by de marster. My father said dey had poor white men to overseer, and de slave owner would go on about his business and sometimes didn’t know an’ didn’t eben care how mean de overseer wus to de slaves.
Dere wus a lot o’ things to drink, dey said, cider, made from apples, whiskey, an’ brandy. Dey said people didn’t notice it lak dey do now, not many got drunk, cause dere wus plenty of it. Father said it wus ten cents a quart, dat is de whiskey made outen corn, and de brandy wus cheap too.
Dey said de clothes were wove, an’ dat mos’ chillun went barefooted, an’ in dere shirt tails; great big boys, goin’ after de cows, and feedin’ de horses, an’ doin’ work around de house in deir shirt tails. Grown slaves got one pair o’ shoes a year an’ went barefooted de res’ o’ de time. Biscuit wus a thing dey seldom got.
Women cleared land by rollin’ logs into piles and pilin’ brush in de new grounds. Dey were ‘lowed patches, but dey used what dey made to eat. Daddy said dey didn’t have time to fish and hunt any. Dey were too tired for dat. Dey had to work so hard.
Daddy said he wus proud o’ freedom, but wus afraid to own it. Dey prayed fer freedom secretly. When de Yankees come daddy saved a two horse wagon load of meat for marster by takin’ it off in de swamp and hidin’ it, an’ den marster wouldn’t give him nary bit uv it. After de surrender, dey turned him out wid a crowd o’ little chillun wid out a thing. Dey give him nothin’. My mother saved her marster’s life, Charles Underhill.
Well you see he wus takin’ care uv a lot o’ meat and whiskey for Dick Jordon, an’ de Yankees come an’ he treated ‘em from whiskey he had in a bottle, an’ tole ‘em he had no more. Dey searched his home an’ found it in a shed room, an’ den dey said dey were goin’ to kill him for tellin’ ‘em a lie. She herd [HW correction: heard] ‘em talkin’ and she busted through de crowd and told ‘em dat de stuff belonged to anudder man and dat her marster was not lyin’, an’ not to hurt ‘im. De Yankees said, ‘You have saved dis ole son of a bitch, we won’t kill’ em den.’ Dey took all de meat, whiskey, an’ everything dey wanted. Marster promised mother a cow, and calf, a sow, and pigs for what she had done for him an’ to stay on an’ finish de crop. When de fall o’ de year come he did not give her de wrappin’s o’ her finger. Dat’s what my mudder tole me. We wus teached to call ‘em mammie and pappie. I is gwine to tell you just zackly like it is we were taught dese things. I wants to be pasidefily right in what I tell you.
We lef’ dat place an’ mammie an’ pappie farmed wid Solomon Morgan a Free Issue for several years. De family had typhoid fever an’ five were down with it at one time. But de Lawd will provide. Sich as dat makes me say people wont die till deir time comes. Dere is some mighty good white people in dis place in America, and also bad. If it hadn’t been for ‘em we colored folks would have ben in a mighty bad fix. We got our jobs and help from ‘em to git us to de place we are at. Dr. Henry Montague doctored us and none died. It wusn’t dere time to go. No, no, hit wasn’t deir time to go. We then moved back to Marster’s for a year, and then we moved to Rolesville in Wake County.
I married den and moved to Raleigh. I married Robert High. He is dead. He been dead ’bout 30 years. I don’t know much ’bout Abraham Lincoln I think he wus a fine man. Mr. Roosevelt’s ideas is fine if he can carry ‘em out.