Interviewer: Sadie S. Hornsby
Person Interviewed: Rachel Adams
Location: 300 Odd Street, Athens, Georgia
Rachel Adams’ two-room, frame house is perched on the side of a steep hill where peach trees and bamboo form dense shade. Stalks of corn at the rear of the dwelling reach almost to the roof ridge and a portion of the front yard is enclosed for a chicken yard. Stepping gingerly around the amazing number of nondescript articles scattered about the small veranda, the visitor rapped several times on the front door, but received no response. A neighbor said the old woman might be found at her son’s store, but she was finally located at the home of a daughter.
Rachel came to the front door with a sandwich of hoecake and cheese in one hand and a glass of water in the other. “Dis here’s Rachel Adams,” she declared. “Have a seat on de porch.” Rachel is tall, thin, very black, and wears glasses. Her faded pink outing wrapper was partly covered by an apron made of a heavy meal sack. Tennis shoes, worn without hose, and a man’s black hat completed her outfit.
Rachel began her story by saying: “Miss, dats been sich a long time back dat I has most forgot how things went. Anyhow I was borned in Putman County ’bout two miles from Eatonton, Georgia. My Ma and Pa was ‘Melia and Iaaac Little and, far as I knows, dey was borned and bred in dat same county. Pa, he was sold away from Ma when I was still a baby. Ma’s job was to weave all de cloth for de white folks. I have wore many a dress made out of de homespun what she wove. Dere was 17 of us chillun, and I can’t ‘member de names of but two of ‘em now—dey was John and Sarah. John was Ma’s onliest son; all de rest of de other 16 of us was gals.
“Us lived in mud-daubed log cabins what had old stack chimblies made out of sticks and mud. Our old home-made beds didn’t have no slats or metal springs neither. Dey used stout cords for springs. De cloth what dey made the ticks of dem old hay mattresses and pillows out of was so coarse dat it scratched us little chillun most to death, it seemed lak to us dem days. I kin still feel dem old hay mattresses under me now. Evvy time I moved at night it sounded lak de wind blowin’ through dem peach trees and bamboos ’round de front of de house whar I lives now.
“Grandma Anna was 115 years old when she died. She had done wore herself out in slavery time. Grandpa, he was sold off somewhar. Both of ‘em was field hands.
“Potlicker and cornbread was fed to us chillun, out of big old wooden bowls. Two or three chillun et out of de same bowl. Grown folks had meat, greens, syrup, cornbread, ‘taters and de lak. ‘Possums! I should say so. Dey cotch plenty of ‘em and atter dey was kilt ma would scald ‘em and rub ‘em in hot ashes and dat clean’t ‘em jus’ as pretty and white. OO-o-o but dey was good. Lord, Yessum! Dey used to go fishin’ and rabbit huntin’ too. Us jus’ fotched in game galore den, for it was de style dem days. Dere warn’t no market meat in slavery days. Seemed lak to me in dem days dat ash-roasted ‘taters and groundpeas was de best somepin t’eat what anybody could want. ‘Course dey had a gyarden, and it had somepin of jus’ about evvything what us knowed anything ’bout in de way of gyarden sass growin’ in it. All de cookin’ was done in dem big old open fireplaces what was fixed up special for de pots and ovens. Ashcake was most as good as ‘taters cooked in de ashes, but not quite.
“Summertime, us jus’ wore homespun dresses made lak de slips dey use for underwear now. De coats what us wore over our wool dresses in winter was knowed as ‘sacques’ den, ’cause dey was so loose fittin’. Dey was heavy and had wool in ‘em too. Marse Lewis, he had a plenty of sheep, ’cause dey was bound to have lots of warm winter clothes, and den too, dey lakked mutton to eat. Oh! dem old brogan shoes was coarse and rough. When Marse Lewis had a cow kilt dey put de hide in de tannin’ vat. When de hides was ready, Uncle Ben made up de shoes, and sometimes dey let Uncle Jasper holp him if dere was many to be made all at one time. Us wore de same sort of clothes on Sunday as evvyday, only dey had to be clean and fresh when dey was put on Sunday mornin’.
“Marse Lewis Little and his wife, Miss Sallie, owned us, and Old Miss, she died long ‘fore de surrender. Marse Lewis, he was right good to all his slaves; but dat overseer, he would beat us down in a minute if us didn’t do to suit him. When dey give slaves tasks to do and dey warn’t done in a certain time, dat old overseer would whup ‘em ’bout dat. Marster never had to take none of his Niggers to court or put ‘em in jails neither; him and de overseer sot ‘em right. Long as Miss Sallie lived de carriage driver driv her and Marse Lewis around lots, but atter she died dere warn’t so much use of de carriage. He jus’ driv for Marse Lewis and piddled ’round de yard den.
“Some slaves larnt to read and write. If dey went to meetin’ dey had to go wid deir white folks ’cause dey didn’t have no sep’rate churches for de Niggers ’til atter de war. On our Marster’s place, slaves didn’t go off to meetin’ a t’all. Dey jus’ went ’round to one another’s houses and sung songs. Some of ‘em read de Bible by heart. Once I heared a man preach what didn’t know how to read one word in de Bible, and he didn’t even have no Bible yit.
“De fust baptizin’ I ever seed was atter I was nigh ’bout grown. If a slave from our place ever jined up wid a church ‘fore de war was over, I never heared tell nothin’ ’bout it.
“Lordy, Miss! I didn’t know nothin’ ’bout what a funeral was dem days. If a Nigger died dis mornin’, dey sho’ didn’t waste no time a-puttin’ him right on down in de ground dat same day. Dem coffins never had no shape to ‘em; dey was jus’ squar-aidged pine boxes. Now warn’t dat turrible?
“Slaves never went nowhar widout dem patterollers beatin’ ‘em up if dey didn’t have no pass.
“Dere was hunderds of acres in dat dere plantation. Marse Lewis had a heap of slaves. De overseer, he had a bugle what he blowed to wake up de slaves. He blowed it long ‘fore day so dat dey could eat breakfast and be out dere in de fields waitin’ for de sun to rise so dey could see how to wuk, and dey stayed out dar and wukked ’til black dark. When a rainy spell come and de grass got to growin’ fast, dey wukked dem slaves at night, even when de moon warn’t shinin’. On dem dark nights one set of slaves helt lanterns for de others to see how to chop de weeds out of de cotton and corn. Wuk was sho’ tight dem days. Evvy slave had a task to do atter dey got back to dem cabins at night. Dey each one hed to spin deir stint same as de ‘omans, evvy night.
“Young and old washed deir clothes Sadday nights. Dey hardly knowed what Sunday was. Dey didn’t have but one day in de Christmas, and de only diff’unce dey seed dat day was dat dey give ‘em some biscuits on Christmas day. New Year’s Day was rail-splittin’ day. Dey was told how many rails was to be cut, and dem Niggers better split dat many or somebody was gwine to git beat up.
“I don’t ‘member much ’bout what us played, ‘cept de way us run ’round in a ring. Us chillun was allus skeered to play in de thicket nigh de house ’cause Raw Head and Bloody Bones lived der. Dey used to skeer us out ’bout red ‘taters. Dey was fine ‘taters, red on de outside and pretty and white on de inside, but white folks called ‘em ‘nigger-killers.’ Dat was one of deir tricks to keep us from stealin’ dem ‘taters. Dere wern’t nothin’ wrong wid dem ‘taters; dey was jus’ as good and healthy as any other ‘taters. Aunt Lucy, she was de cook, and she told me dat slaves was skeered of dem ‘nigger-killer’ ‘taters and never bothered ‘em much den lak dey does de yam patches dese days. I used to think I seed ha’nts at night, but it allus turned out to be somebody dat was tryin’ to skeer me.
“‘Bout de most fun slaves had was at dem cornshuckin’s. De general would git high on top of de corn pile and whoop and holler down leadin’ dat cornshuckin’ song ’til all de corn was done shucked. Den come de big eats, de likker, and de dancin’. Cotton pickin’s was big fun too, and when dey got through pickin’ de cotton dey et and drunk and danced ’til dey couldn’t dance no more.
“Miss, white folks jus’ had to be good to sick slaves, ’cause slaves was property. For Old Marster to lose a slave, was losin’ money. Dere warn’t so many doctors dem days and home-made medicines was all de go. Oil and turpentine, camphor, assfiddy (asafetida), cherry bark, sweetgum bark; all dem things was used to make teas for grown folks to take for deir ailments. Red oak bark tea was give to chillun for stomach mis’ries.
“All I can ricollect ’bout de comin’ of freedom was Old Marster tellin’ us dat us was free as jack-rabbits and dat from den on Niggers would have to git deir own somepin t’eat. It warn’t long atter dat when dem yankees, wid pretty blue clothes on come through our place and dey stole most evvything our Marster had. Dey kilt his chickens, hogs, and cows and tuk his hosses off and sold ‘em. Dat didn’t look right, did it?
“My aunt give us a big weddin’ feast when I married Tom Adams, and she sho’ did pile up dat table wid heaps of good eatments. My weddin’ dress was blue, trimmed in white. Us had six chillun, nine grandchillun, and 19 great-grandchillun. One of my grandchillun is done been blind since he was three weeks old. I sont him off to de blind school and now he kin git around ‘most as good as I kin. He has made his home wid me ever since his Mammy died.
“‘Cordin’ to my way of thinkin’, Abraham Lincoln done a good thing when he sot us free. Jeff Davis, he was all right too, ’cause if him and Lincoln hadn’t got to fightin’ us would have been slaves to dis very day. It’s mighty good to do jus’ as you please, and bread and water is heaps better dan dat somepin t’eat us had to slave for.
“I jined up wid de church ’cause I wanted to go to Heben when I dies, and if folks lives right dey sho’ is gwine to have a good restin’ place in de next world. Yes Mam, I sho b’lieves in ‘ligion, dat I does. Now, Miss, if you ain’t got nothin’ else to ax me, I’se gwine home and give dat blind boy his somepin t’eat.”